Battlestar Galactica re-imagined creator and executive producer Ron Moore. Photo by Steve Freeman and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel
It was back in 1979 that TV audiences first became aware of the futuristic war between humans and the robotic Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. While the series became a cult favorite with fans, it did not fare well in the ratings and after a year the show was cancelled. The same fate befell its short-lived sequel Galactica 1980. Twenty-three years later, writer/executive producer Ron Moore re-imagined the Galactica story with a 2003 miniseries, which led to a hugely successful weekly series. In it, Commander William Adama and his crew of the Battlestar Galactica together with President Laura Roslin fight to protect the survivors of the human race from annihilation by the Cylons. Like the original series, this one has plenty of action and drama, but it is also far darker in tone, which was deliberate on the part of its makers.
“I felt it was important to never lose sight of the basic premise of the show, which is that it was born out of an apocalypse,” explained Moore in a conference call with journalists earlier this year. “Billions of people were literally wiped out and their world taken away from them. Everything they know is gone and what they’re left with are four walls along with a ceiling and the floor, all of which are made of metal. These people are nomads in the truest sense. They’re going from place to place seeking an oasis, a home, this place called Earth.
“In that context I didn’t want to just magically say a few episodes down the line that, OK, these people got over it and life goes on. It just felt that in order to be truthful to that kind of event, the emotional reverberations of it would continue forever and that they would never really get over it. It would never be truly behind these people and always be with them in some way. However, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t laugh and tell jokes every once in a while. You could do stuff like that, but you had to maintain the reality of where they were.
“If, again, you could be truthful to their experiences as human beings in the wake of this unimaginable disaster, then that, in turn, would allow audiences to invest themselves in what we were doing. So they would go with us on this ride, deal with killer robots from outer space and whatever else we wanted as long as we dealt honestly with the human emotions of it. That sort of dictated that there had to be a dark and oppressive type of air to a lot of things. They could never really just let go and have fun again, and even when they did, it was always with this thing hovering in the background.”
Although audiences did choose to come along with the ride, Moore had no idea that his re-imagined Galactica would appeal not only to Sci-Fi fans but also the casual viewer looking for a well-crafted dramatic story. “I didn’t anticipate the critical acclaim of the show, how deeply it would penetrate out into the general audience or that it would be talked about as much as it has been and receive the awards that it has,” says the executive producer. “I just thought that it was a good show. I believed in what we were doing and felt it would be special as well as something that I could be proud of, but that was about it.
“So creatively, I’m very surprised where we ended up with the characters and mythologies. I had none of that at the start. I more or less trusted that we’d figure it out and we did, but I didn’t really have a grand master plan of how it was all going to fit together. The first season was a lot about experimentation and trying different structures in terms of storytelling and what did and did not fit the program. By the end of the season, I figured that I had the answer to that and I better understood where we were going, what it was about and the best way that Galactica could tell its stories.”
Throughout the first two-and-a-half years on Galactica, the Cylons were determined to destroy what remained of humanity. However, in the season three episode Rapture, they changed course, literally as well as figuratively, and began a race with the humans to find Earth. At the same time, a civil war amongst the humanoid Cylons began to gain momentum. By the show’s fourth year, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) agreed to an alliance with a faction of rebel Cylons, and together in Revelations they made it to Earth. Sadly, it turned out to be a barren wasteland, and the following story, Sometimes a Great Notion, shows how this affected our heroes, including Lt. Anastasia “Dee” Dualla (Kandyse McClure) who went to pieces and then committed suicide.
“We designed this episode and structured the fourth season with the intention that our characters would get to Earth and show the impact it had on them,” notes Moore. “As far as what happened with Dee, I think it was because she always appeared to be one of the strongest characters. Dee was the one who, in many situations, had always been the voice of reason and would try to soldier on. She’d buck up [Admiral] Adama as well as his son Lee [Jamie Bamber] when either of them was down. There was this sense of her being the rock, and it was important to me that when they found Earth was a wasteland, that the psychological damage from that would be profound.
“I mean, this was everything they had hoped for since the miniseries. If you take that dream away, then there’s a consequence and a price to be paid,” continues the executive producer. “Like I was saying earlier, it didn’t seem like they should simply shrug their shoulders and move on. Given the circumstances, it felt that somebody would check out, and there was something shocking about it being Dee because they had relied on her and she had always been there.
“Just because a person has been your rock and bucking you up, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own vulnerabilities or breaking point. And that breaking point might surprise you, which is why we chose Dee because it felt like the audience would be shocked, but her response would be true. I don’t think she consciously thought about it. On a subconscious level she soldiered on, but then there came a time when she was like, ‘I don’t want to soldier on any more. I’m going to try to feel good one last time and then I’m out of here.’ And it got a huge response from viewers. Every once in a while you want to reach out and grab them by the throat and say, ‘Have a reaction, get involved. What does it mean to you that Dualla has suddenly and shockingly blown her brains out?’ I thought it was great, and people can have whatever specific reaction they want as long as they’re emotionally caught up in a show and it means something to them.”
Not everyone is pleased about the alliance with the Cylons, and in the Galactica fourth season’s A Disquiet Follows My Soul, Colonial Vice President Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) and Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) set into motion their plans to lead a mutiny amongst the fleet. This episode marked Moore’s directorial debut on the program, which was a very positive experience for him.
“I had a tremendous amount of fun,” he enthuses. “It was great to do it [direct] on a show that had been mine for several years and one where I knew the cast as well as the crew intimately. There was a huge amount of support and a lot of people wanting me to succeed. I got plenty of extra-special attention and help figuring things out. It was an environment where I could say, ‘I don’t know what to do here,’ or, ‘I’m confused about this technology,’ and there was someone ready to help me. Things I wanted to do, they would make happen, so it was an incredibly collegial and welcoming type of atmosphere to step into.
“It was also really gratifying because I got to do something that I’d never done before. I mean, you write it [the story] and then someone else realizes it. I would subsequently edit it or be very involved in editing the pieces together. However, I was always missing that middle step, and now I had a chance to shoot the movie in my head. When I write, I write themes to a script and I’m always playing the story out in my head – where would they [the actors] stand, how would the team be blocked and choreographed, where would the camera be – and this was the first time I could actually go and make that movie. I found that extremely fulfilling as well as fun and something I will be doing again.”
At the end of Galactica‘s third season, the identities of four of the five final Cylons were revealed. It was not, however, until halfway through the fourth year in the episode Sometimes a Great Notion did audiences discover that Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon) was the fifth Cylon. While this character was always a top contender for this coveted spot, there were other names being bandied about by Moore.
“We considered all of our regulars, including Adama and Roslin,” says the executive producer, “but we dismissed them pretty quickly because I thought that that would take something away from the show and actually hurt it. If, for example, we had said that Adama was a Cylon, it would have felt like part of the journey itself wasn’t right and wouldn’t have had the same meaning that I wanted it to have. We also talked briefly about Dualla as well as Gaeta and, while interesting characters, it didn’t feel like it heightened the stakes, but with Ellen it did.”
While choosing Ellen to be the fifth Cylon was certainly a feather in the caps of Galactica‘s creative team, there have been other not-so-popular ideas along the way. “There are always lots of blinds that you go down when you’re in the writers’ room,” says Moore, “and you either watch it in the editing room and go, ‘Ooops,’ and cut it out, or you cut it out in the script or censor it in the writers’ room. That’s part of the [creative] process, though, and one of the things I like to do with writers is to not have any bad ideas. We’ll take any idea seriously. If it doesn’t work, fine, but you’ve got to be willing to take the risk. The big ideas that have really paid off were risky ones, such as jumping ahead a year in our [story] narrative, and revealing four of the [humanoid] Cylons at once.
“There were some ideas, though, that were kicked off the chuck wagon and left by the wayside. There was a story point that I wrote for the season one finale that is now regarded within fan circles as the great stupid idea of Ron Moore,” he jokes. “I had a premise where Baltar [James Callis] finds a temple on the surface of Kobol, which was a planet we were involved with at the time. He goes inside and the Number Six [Tricia Helfer] in his head tells him, ‘Keep going, you’ll find something.’ Baltar walks into this dark room, where Dirk Benedict [who played Starbuck in the original Galactica] appears and says, ‘Hello, Gaius. I’m God,’ and shakes his hand. We were going to end on that moment.
“Now, setting aside the fact that Dirk Benedict hates everything about this show and probably would never have done it in a million years, more fundenmentally, it was just a crazy concept. Back then I was seeking to find things about breaking reality and fantasy and what is and what is not a story and what is the link between Galactica‘s world and ours. I was playing around and this was a wacky idea that I came up with and put in the script. Well, there was a pretty universal reaction that everyone hated it, and I quickly said, ‘OK, bad idea. That one’s mine; let’s kick it out and move on.’ Sometimes, though, you have to swing for the fences.”
Although Galactica may have ended this year, Moore will be exploring yet another chapter of the Battlestar saga with a new series called Caprica. Set 50 years prior to Galactica, it tells the story of two families, the Graystones and the Adamas, living on the planet Caprica, where experiments in creating an artificial intelligence ushers in a new and dangerous era for humanity.”
“Caprica is getting under way,” says Moore. “We’re putting together the writers’ room as we speak. It’s a very different type of show and a very type of challenge. Galactica has set a very high bar, which makes everyone want to bring their A-game [to the table], and I think that’s the spirit in which we approach Caprica. There’s a sense of uncharted territory, and that’s exciting as well as scary. It’s daunting to have to get one of these things off the ground and hope that people will like it, especially when we know it’s going to be compared to Galactica. But that’s part of the reason why we’re in this business, to take on these types of challenges.”
Prior to Galactica, Moore worked on such other shows as Carnivale, Roswell, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. While not averse to taking on other genres, he always seems to return to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy world, and happily so. “There was a point years ago when I was doing Trek that I thought, ‘You know, I want to do something different; I want to get out of this genre.’” says Moore, “but I always seemed to find something that brought me back to it, either with an idea that was presented to me, like Galactica, or one of my own, such as the various pilots I’ve come up with over the years or movie concepts.
“I just enjoy playing in this genre, but I like other things, too, that are not Sci-Fi or Fantasy. I will, however, continue to do what I think is interesting at the time. I think I’ve learned enough not to try to predict what next great creative thing I want to get involved with. You just have to sort of wait and see.”
As stated above, the photo of Ron Moore is by Steve Freeman and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!