RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “Saga of a Star World” (Episode 1) Chapter 4

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[LAST TIME (Yesterday) IN CHAPTER THREE WE PROMISED TO TELL YOU WHAT THE SECRET OF THE ENTIRELY SUPERFLUOUS MYSTERY OF THE FORBIDDEN SUB-BASEMENT (Of Mystery) WAS. WELL, HERE IT IS, BABY:]

The Ovions are eating their guests. They’re sticking ‘em in big hexagonal honeycomb-looking things, and letting their hand puppet larvae eat ‘em. They hear a scream, they run off to investigate, and find some Ovions cramming Cassiopeia into one of the tubes. They kill the aliens and rescue her, and run off without bothering to free anyone else in the containers. Granted, a lot of ‘em are dead and/or dying, but, geez, dude, you’re a hero: at least smash the glass so they can get out! (And by the way, how long did it take for them to get Cassie into that tube? Seriously, didn’t she disappear like two or three days before?)

There’s lots and lots of stray shots, and stuff is burning all over the place, and some looped dialog informs us that if these fires get out of hand, the tylium in the huge mines will catch fire and blow up the planet. They meet up with Boomer, and ride an elevator back up to the casino.

Uri: “…throw away our arms and live in a world where peace begets peace and love begets love.”
Apollo: “Everyone listen up! I want you to move quickly and orderly to the exits!”
Uri: “Stay where you are, I’m in charge here!”
[Cylons barge in, everyone panics, the lights inexplicably begin to strobe]
Uri: “Do what the man says, he’s in charge!”

Suddenly, we’re back in good movie mode: There’s a total panic, people are running and shouting, everyone is shooting, there’s a lot of carnage, a lot of shots of people injured, or clearly dead, including one memorable shot of an obviously-dead warrior on the ground and a woman kneeling over him crying and screaming, trying to drag him away. Then a whole bunch of Landrams show up and open up on the Cylons with their .50 caliber laser dealies. The music kicks in, the good guys rally, the bad guys are a bit confused, and there’s some genuinely exhilarating scenes of over-crowded landrams with people literally hanging off the sides of them while the gunners are blazing away, while spouting off exposition.

Jolly explains the whole (needless) subterfuge, and takes them to a field where all 68 of the Galactica’s fighters are parked (What? The Ovions didn’t notice this?), and with a cheer, Starbuck, Boomer, and Apollo rush to their fighters, but not before Starbuck gets a little face from Cassie (Which is funny, man, Dirk Benedict had some great timing) and Apollo gets a bit from Serina (Which is cloying. Boxey says “I wish he could be my daddy,” which prompted my youngest kid to say “Well. That seems like the kind of thing no kid would ever say.”)

The fighters take off, and not a moment too soon. In fact, actually, a moment too late, since the Cylons have launched about 300 fighters (Full compliment of a Base Ship, as we find out in a later episode), and they’re wailing on the Galactica. The Vipers take them totally by surprise, deal out heavy damage, and the Cylons break off. We were told that 68 Vipers survived the Apocalypse. We see one get destroyed here, which means there are now only 67 left. Let’s keep count, shall we?

Starbuck and Apollo want to go off and look for the Cylon Base Ship that the fighters came from, but Adama says no, they’re safe for now, the best thing to do is run away. (He’s right, by the way) Starbuck and Apollo violate orders and do it anyway, pulling a hokey scam where they pretend to be multiple squadrons in order to frighten the Cylons, and force them to move closer to the planet for cover. This works, and the thing pulls really low to the planet - only a few hundred feet up - until the ruse is discovered and they open fire. Starbuck and Apollo pull away, the planet explodes, and the base ship and the Imperious Leader are all destroyed.

Apollo: “Let’s go home.”
Starbuck: “Some home: a big hunk of metal in the middle of nowhere.”
Apollo: “Beats just plain ‘nowhere,’ at least until we find Earth.”
Starbuck: “You think we’ll ever really find it?”
Apollo: “We’ll find it. Someday.”

The End. Except, not really…

We get an epilog, which actually is titled “Epilog.” Baltar is dragged into the Imperious Leader’s throne room, and dropped on the floor. The Imperious Leader is chatty, and explains that he’s the *NEW* Imperious Leader, since the previous one “Misjudged the will of your people” and got himself killed. Baltar, sensing a chance to save his own neck, tries to turn this to his advantage, but he doesn’t realize that the new Leader has already decided to spare Baltar anyway. The late John Colicos, it must be said, plays the hell out of this scene. He’s pretty amazingly great here, disheveled, sweaty, defiant, like he’s been in a cage for weeks, resigned to die, and then, suddenly, there’s a glimmer of hope, and you see his whole attitude change. Then the new hope turns out to be stranger than his previous fate, and his attitude changes again. Colicos really was a pretty amazing actor.
In essence, the new Imperious Leader says that his predecessor was programmed at a time when Cylons were more vulnerable, but “Now that we are omnipotent, we can afford to be more charitable.” (Wow! Crazy talk for a robot!) He tells Baltar that “I have spared you, I will spare them,” and informs him that he wants him to take his message of truce to the refugees. He places a base ship at his command, and summons a creepy-looking robot named “Lucifer…”

Wow! What the heck are we to make of this? Is the Imperious Leader telling the truth? Is it a trap? What the heck is going on here?

It should be noted that in the original script, Baltar was thrown in prison by the Imperious Leader, then hauled out again when the Galactica got to Carillon (Which the Cylons’ weren’t expecting) and placed in charge of the operations there. He dies in the destruction of the planet.

The End. Except not really….

Folks who’ve stuck with this interminable review thus far will have noticed my making frequent references to earlier versions of the script. This is because they were shooting wet - without a firmly finished script - when they made this. That’s astounding for a production of this scale. I’ve never seen any firm numbers on how much this three-hour telemovie cost - some figures run as high as $20 million, which is certainly an exaggeration (I think the entire series came in at about 25 or 30 million), the average estimate seems to be about $10 million - which seems more likely, and is roughly the same budget Star Wars had a year earlier) Lowball estimates say this thing cost a minimum of $3 million. Let’s assume the lowball is right: allowing for inflation, that’s $10.5 million in 2010 dollars. If the middle-of-the-road estimate is correct (And I think it’s the most likely to be) then that’s about $35 million dollars in modern terms! And yet, as amazing as that may seem, they were continually re-writing the script on the fly, introducing and axing characters, fiddling with the ending.

I think this might go a long way towards explaining the massive tonal shifts in the second half of the episode - they knew the setup really well, but they really didn’t know how to wrap it up. I mean, what exactly do you *do* with the Israelites after they’ve escaped Egypt? Yeah, they get to the promised land eventually, but, really, there’s a whole lot of running in circles for forty years before that happens. In essence, they had a premise - a very strong and well-realized one - but not a story as such.

As evidence of this, there’s about 45 minutes of alternate takes, extended scenes clipped from the finished version, deleted scenes, alternate scenes, and two entire important subplots, as well as a moving final scene that were included on the DVD release. About a half an hour’s worth of these are pretty substantial. There were unquestionably other scenes filmed that weren’t completed, or simply haven’t survived thirty years in storage. Some of these are worth going into here, just because they give a fuller picture of what a mess production was, how loose the concept was, and how lucky they we are that it cohered together as well as it did.

- During the “Last Supper” scene with the Council of the Twelve in the beginning, when Adar ‘lifts his chalice’ to Baltar, Baltar interrupts him saying it’s “Inappropriate,” and insists that they all drink to the man who finally united all of humanity under one banner - President Adar. This embarrasses Adar a bit.

Baltar was the dictator of Orion, and the deal he made with the Imperious Leader was either (A) to have humanity subjugated under him, or (B) to have Orion spared while everyone else was killed. (The details drift a bit through the story) We can surmise that Baltar might have resented Adar and the Colonies because they reduced his autocracy by subjecting him to a mere state in a larger nation.

It’d be interesting to know how Baltar came to power, and you know, I’ve never heard anyone speculate about that. Was he the hereditary leader of Orion? Did his daddy join the Colonial government, and Baltar didn’t like it when he came to power? Was their a coup? Though Adar formed the government, it clearly wasn’t brand new - Adama’s predecessor was Uri, after all - it seems likely they were at least a generation into this regime, and Baltar seems too young to have been involved in it from the beginning. What is he? Fifty? Since he’s the ruler of Orion, wouldn’t it have been easier simply to have Orion withdraw from the government - like France withdrew from NATO - rather than all this cloak-and-dagger stuff, and trying to kill 44 billion other people? But that said, they make it very clear that Baltar’s people had lied about the presence of fuel on Carillon, and that was like 20 or 30 years back, so, again, Baltar’s been planning this for a really long time. It’s a good thing he’s crazy and isn’t subject to things making sense, because if he wasn’t, well…

- The gambling scene on the Galactica right before the alert goes on much longer, and is pretty funny. This is in the novel - after a fashion - but it’s not in the episode at all: Starbuck is attempting to sucker a Gemonese fighter pilot in a game of Pyramid (Note to people who only know the RDM Galactica: “Pyramid” is a card game, the colonial equivalent of poker. “Triad” is the volleyball-like game that they call pyramid in the RDM version). It turns out that the Gemonese pilot is suckering Starbuck. The other pilots - including a shirtless Jolly - and Jolly should never be shirtless. Very fat. Very, very, very hairy - express some annoyance that Starbuck is gambling with their money, but he talks them into ponying up more cash. And then loses.

- The Cylons all have different voices, and the Imperious Leader is voiced by Ted “Lurch” Cassidy, who died about a year or so later. Patrick MacNee was a much better choice. I’m glad they went with that.

- The scene with the starving survivors on the freighter plays out longer, and is a bit grimmer. The follow-up scene on the shuttle taking wounded to the Galactica is a bit longer, and a bit more chaotic, with Starbuck trying to get information out of the old Gemmonese couple who don’t speak English (Or colonial, or whatever). There’s a funny coda to his conversation with Cassie, where he leaves, then pops back into frame complaining about how he’s got bad headaches, and could probably use a good…uhm…yeah. Cassie - who you’ll recall is a call girl - tells him to make an appointment. He says he might just. This would be one of “My little jokes back on the shuttle” that Starbuck refers to later (Unseen in the episode as broadcast).

- There’s an extended version of the scene where Zac pulls Starbuck’s patrol. Starbuck says his stomach is upset, “I smoked too many cigars.” This sets up the unexplained line later on in the televised version of the scene where Apollo tells Starbuck “Take care of the stomach.”

- There’s a completely alternate, Starbuck-free scene in which Apollo and Zac are heading to the flight bay, where we discover Zac didn’t really want the assignment, but got stuck with it since he had less seniority than anyone else, and can’t figure why Apollo wants the job. We’re told that Zac graduated with the highest marks in the history of the academy.

- There’s an alternate SFX shot of Zac’s fighter blowing up, as seen from inside the hanger bay.

- There’s a scene where Boomer and Starbuck discuss rumors of disappearances in the Casino.

- There’s a lengthy scene in the landram where Boxey and Apollo discuss the REPTILE Cylons, and why they want to kill humans. Frankly, the awkwardly re-shot second version is better, though Boxey gets in a great line in this one:
Apollo: “I suppose when you get right down to it, it is all a matter of life and death, but that’s a little too serious a talk to have with a little boy.”
Boxey: “Why? You can die at any age, can’t you?” [He then looks at his mom, who is, of course, dying]

- The scene where Athena walks in on a very depressed Adama, and he gives his “I don’t want it anymore” speech is much longer, and much more emotional. He’s really suffering from survivors’ guilt, and Lorne Greene plays the hell out of it. Athena jumps in and points out that the only reason the human race has survived at all is because of him, that most died, but there’s a whole universe out there where they can live and “Maybe be happy.” Adama thanks her, but won’t be swayed. He tells her she looks a lot like her mother, and then gets really depressed. This, in turn, sets up a completely excised subplot about Adama attempting to resign his command. We get several scenes of this - him telling Tigh, who’s aghast, and a clunkily-written (“Let‘s not let what remains of our family become a maelstrom of invective!”), but neat scene of Apollo, Adama, and Athena arguing about it.

There’s an interesting relationship here, I think, similar - probably deliberately - to the Kirk/Spock/McCoy troika. In this case, Athena is McCoy and Apollo is Spock. (For those Trekies in the audience who might have trouble following such subtle deductions, I’ll point out the obvious: Adama is in the Kirk position. Unfurrow your brows.) Though none of this ever made it on to the air, it explains a lot about these characters, and the stiffness that plagues Apollo in the earlier episodes: He’s supposed to be a brainiac. It also explains the quick evaporation of Athena’s character: without providing council for her father, and a riposte for her brother, she’s got nothing to do but be a love interest for Starbuck, and once they decided to give that role over to Cassie…well…there was really nothing left for her, right?

Incidentally, while it’s a matter of common opinion that the character’s quick degeneration into “Also ran” status is because of Maren Jensen’s acting, I don’t really buy it. She’s fine in all these deleted scenes, and she’s consistently good in all the ones that made it to the air in this ep. I don’t know why they stepped away from the character, but I do know they weren’t happy with it. Had the show made it to a second season, they were going to recast Athena, kill off Colonel Tigh, and have her become the new first officer of the Galactica, as per the script treatment for “Return of the Pegasus.” (That’s quite a jump in rank!)

[TO BE CONCLUDED - FINALLY - TOMORROW. OH, GO ON, READ IT. YOU'VE LASTED THIS FAR. DON'T LET IT BE 'A REVIEW TOO FAR']

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