Episode 1: Saga of a Star World, Part 3 (of 3)

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Finally, the last piece of the introductory puzzle. Watching the non-theatrical release, you get extra scenes here and there, and it definitely rounds things out a little for character development. The theatrical version is about 23 minutes shorter. You don’t lose any action, but you don’t get as much background or insight into some of the characters. Going for part three of the television version, let’s jump into the

 

Overly Long Synopsis

Open the third storyline with reconnaissance missions on Carelon. We’re riding around in some funky armoured vehicles called Land Rams. It’s a crummy planet that no one really likes and is more or less dark even in the day time. Our primary objective is a substance called Tylium that can be refined into fuel. And, apparently, we’re hard up for trained staff because both Boxey and Serina are in the land ram with Apollo.

Starbuck and Boomer have their own vehicle and their recon route, after some exclamations of disbelief and some creepy music, puts them at the entrance of a casino. And not just a casino, but a serious pleasure resort where everyone has a great time and the casino always pays out. There’s lots of flashing lights and people yelling and disco music. Don’t look for the casino or the games we’re seeing to make sense; they’re not supposed to, it’s just a backdrop.

They enjoy a show with alien singers who have two mouths and two sets of vocal chords, and who can harmonize with themselves. Talking about what’s not right at the resort, how everyone wins, which is unusual except for Starbuck. Starbuck wants to hire the girls.

Meanwhile, looking for tylium, Apollo tries to explain the Cylons (who are or were reptiles) to Boxey. The Cylons made the robots to conquer for them and the Colonials don’t believe there are any true Cylons left. With the looks Serina is giving him during the ride, it’s obvious she’s totally in love with Apollo. Still, it’s exciting when the reading gets to ten and they find Tylium. Muffit gets away and Boxey goes after him, and we freeze frame with Boxey getting grabbed.  This is likely where episode 2 is actually supposed to end, but instead we move to no one being able to find Boxey, and Apollo and Jolly have totally looked all over the place just before they’re captured by insectoid aliens who take them to see the queen after wandering through the tylium mine (the largest in the star system). Apollo pulls out is pocket Languatron (seriously) to translate her squeaks and scratches and they learn Boxey is safe and sound and playing with other kids. A door opens into the casino, finding Starbuck and Boomer with Boxey.

Enter Sire Uri again, thrilled that the Ovions have everything the Colonials need and they’re happy to share. He’s so thrilled, in fact, that he issues landing permits to pretty much anyone who wants one and it’s party time. But the Ovions are slow to ship things up and the humans are having a good time and there are only maintenance crews left to keep the ships running. Everyone wants to forget the Cylons and just party it up in the disco casino where no one can lose.

Starbuck’s immaturity bites him in the butt as he gets hit on by both Cassiopeia and Athena. After a little conflict and a bit of foot-in-mouth disease, Starbuck winds up alone for the night.

Interlude: an elevator full of guests, some of whom aren’t sure how long they’ve been there, gets dropped off at the bottom level. The doors open. A guest screams. Cut.

We find out that Baltar’s people arranged the intelligence on Carelon. The Ovions are very secretive and separate from the resort operations. Adama and Tigh are suspicious, worried about the Cylons but their people are having the time of their lives.

Sire Uri strikes again, convincing the Council that it’s a good place to settle and put down their weapons. They’re isolated and no threat to the Cylons, so life should be good. Adama doesn’t like it, but he’s outvoted by the Council, even letting the council know that the Cylons are their enemies because the humans helped their neighbours (and saved them from being enslaved. He walks away very unhappy and outright contemptuous as the rest of the council hatches a scheme to have a celebration and present our three young heroes some medals.

After being hit on by a pushy warrior, Cassiopeia gets kidnapped by the Ovions with the same elevator trick and screams even louder than the first woman we saw. Even as that happens, Starbuck is over his rejection and trying to hire the singers, but they don’t see a future in it and walk away as Boomer comes to take him back up to the Galactica to put on dress uniforms so they can receive medals from the Council.

And on the Galactica, Tigh and Adama sit in fighters to talk quietly, hatching a cunning plan to fool Uri and have all of the warriors prepared for a sneak attack. Tigh hadn’t realized Adama was so paranoid, but gets into the swing of things quickly. Following the plan, he sneaks into the pilots’ quarters and steals a whole bunch of uniforms so they can send random folks to the celebration in them. The pilots will be in their fighters waiting on the ground. To fully invest the plan, Adama misleads his son about what’s going on, but Apollo makes it hard.

On the way down and in the casino, Apollo, Boomer and Starbuck separately notice people who are in dress uniform (which include a very snazzy knee-length cape) who shouldn’t be.

With a blaster assist, Apollo and Starbuck convince the elevator to take them to the lowest level, discovering that the Ovions and the Cylons are in league. The Cylons don’t need a translator, by the way; it’s probably a built-in feature. They try not to shoot the Cylons, though. Because tylium is so flammable that if we set enough fires we could blow up the whole planet. That plan goes out the window as Boxey appears chasing Muffit, having run off as Uri started his speech. It’s not long before they find a horror show with people being used as food for Ovion offspring, rescuing Cassiopeia just in the nick of time.

Lots of shooting, lots of fires, and Starbuck offers to stay behind and blow things up, but Apollo couldn’t stand to lose him too. He’s already lost his brother and this time has some control over things. They run into Boomer and continue the firefight.

The Cylons roll out the garrison and a base star launches an attack on a supposedly defenseless fleet. They interrupt Uri’s speech and we finally get to see him as a public coward. Lots of panic and confusion and we see that Cylons are better shots than storm troopers, but then they have lots of densely-packed targets. Outise, the land rams show up, courtesy of Commander Adama to help with evacuations and shooting Cylons. Warriors get into the fighters with both Apollo and Starbuck getting tearful goodbyes just before the fighters launch from the surface and into battle, surprising the Cylons and exterminating the robots’ attack craft.

Starbuck and Apollo track down the base star, hidden behind the planet, and, against orders, skim just above the planet’s surface to go after it. They lie to each other across an open frequency to convince the Cylons the each represent two squadrons. The Cylons are confused, but Tigh and Adama figure it out and the look they exchange in reaction is priceless. The Cylons move closer and closer to the planet, but when they realize they’ve been fooled, it’s too late. Some glowing scenery and lightning effects and the planet goes up, taking the Base Star with it.

Starbuck and Apollo head for home. Not the best home there is, but the only one they’ve got. Triumphant music as they land.

One more short scene before the credits roll. Baltar, not so publicly executed as we thought, is given a chance to suck up to the new Imperious Leader, who gives him a base star to command and a first officer named Lucifer, claiming there will be a truce and Baltar will offer it.

 

Story

This piece completes the first big epic storyline that has the last bits of Colonial humanity escaping the Cylons. We have the impression that there’s still a lot of hostile space to go through, but that they’re away from the main lines and can just slowly (because a lot of the ships are pretty old and rickety) slip away with no one noticing. At least, that’s the hope.

We’ve established the main characters, the heroes and villains, the overarching story that’s going to guide the series, and the basic setting. This last arc of the pilot has more writing issues for me, some of which shows up in the language section below, but is also worth mentioning from a story perspective.

I’m a life-long geek and I don’t have a hard time with suspension of disbelief as long as the story stays internally consistent and doesn’t get ridiculous with things it wants me to believe. The really superhot starfield and melting cockpits were a problem for me in the last story arc, but there are a couple of big issues that threw me out of the story this time.

First, the existence of some kind of ore, that is so flammable that it can set an entire planet on fire and later blow it up, but that the native species actually builds their homes out of it.

And second, bringing civilians everywhere on military missions, most notably the hero’s love interest and her child. This was just a lazy way to get Apollo to meet up with Starbuck and Boomer at the casino while conveniently meeting the Ovions on the way.

The idea that biologies are compatible enough for the Ovions to use humans as hatching hosts (sort of like parasitic wasps) didn’t bother me too much. There’s been a lot of use of this in television and movie SF, and we’ve established that there are a lot of species around, even if we’ve only seen the mostly robot Cylons and the alien singers at this point.

I do think we had just the right amount of comedy from the too-literal centurions in this story. My favourite bit, when the Imperious leader is upset that the fighters are all fully engaged and can’t be recalled because the surprise attack wasn’t an instant victory, the Centurion delivery the news quips, “Apparently, it was not as big a surprise as we had hoped for.” I’ll admit to actually laughing at this the first time through. It’s obvious and it’s silly, but the delivery was great.

And then, at the end of the episode, we get the Adama quote over a shot of the fleet, the quote I remember closing every show as a kid. “Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag, fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet known as Earth.” Not chills, exactly, but certainly a warm feeling of nostalgia.

 

Langauge

The language starts to get amusing here, and I’m not sure if it’s due to designed cheesiness or television writers who’ve never written science fiction before and think that mashing together two words or adding -on, -ium, or -ator to the end of a word makes it sound science fiction-y. So we get sentences like, “I took a skybus from a tour company arranged by my travellator.” And, previously, we know that Cassiopeia is a “socialator” still undefined, but probably something in a legalized sex trade.

Anyone else enjoy the idea of hypercombustion? Because, you know, the whole planet could blow up because of it.

The made up fuel mineral of tylium is just a macguffin, something to advance the story, so that one doesn’t bother me much as even non-genre entertainment has a long history of using those.

We’re introduced to the idea of cubits as units of money, but without any clear idea of what one is worth, or why a fleet of humanity’s last members is still using money at all.

And are microns as a unit of time or distance?

“Ah, Felgarcarb.”

 

The Ships

Not so much a ship, but the last addition we have to active vehicles are the Land Rams, which Adama slurs together into one word that sounds more like landrum. These are funky armoured vehicles with a laser turret on top that remind me somewhat of light armoured vehicles in use today, tracked instead of wheeled.

 

Effects

New things during this period, aside from the preponderance of capes and robes, come down to three things Ovion costumes, Lucifer, and the moments preceding the planetary explosion.

The Ovion costumes are pretty detailed, giving the best insectoid appearance the shops were probably able to manage at the time. I’m fairly certain there were only two or three actual costumes and it was the same people in them every time. 1978 television budget.

Lucifer is clearly a guy with a curtain over his head and a jar glued on top. The jar does have a whole bunch of lights inside and a pair of the cylon roving eyes where actual humanoid eyes would be. The effect is a little awkward to look at now, but I think was kind of creepy when I was a kid. And calling the Cylon in question Lucifer would have been a nice touch in the late 70s. Ah, Lucifer. He must be evil since he’s named after the devil.

And speaking of awkward effects, the glowing, pulsing scenery with the lightning overlay just before Carelon blows up doesn’t hold very well if you look at it on its own. But if you’re good with the suspension of disbelief in the story as a whole, it’s not enough to through you out. Taken with the rest of the show’s aesthetic, it actually fits in quite nicely.

On the subject of budget savings, we’re already seeing a fair bit of re-used battle footage, both in terms of piloting and hand controls. In fact, I feel like no matter who the pilot is, Boomer is the one pressing the firing stud.

 

 

The Tech

The computer on Adama’s desk can face in different directions. Okay, so that doesn’t make it a lap top or even all that exciting as a desk top. But its built into the desk, and at the very least it can face the wall beside the door and it can face away from that wall. That’s kind of cool, at least for the time period. Sure, it’s not the data pads from Star Trek TNG that would eventually inspire tablets, but it was a glimpse of things that might be coming down the technology pipeline.

The Languatron. Seriously.

Convenient that Apollo was carrying one on a planet with abandoned mines, or maybe it’s standard equipment stored in a land ram, but the ridiculousness of the device on the surface goes away when you look just a little ahead of where we are now. I can already install translation apps on my phone, and these are only going to get better from here. That BSG had one in 1978 is a neat predictor. I’m not suggesting that it’s anything other than a gimmick that was supposed to look cool, but SF often gets things at least a little right when it looks ahead.

 

The Acting

The shining moment for me in this arc is Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) getting caught stealing pilot’s uniforms. Thinking very fast, he gives Starbuck and Boomer beautifully delivered tirade about a flash inspection and the state of the uniforms, giving us, and his targets, a harried, overworked, and slightly unbalanced senior officer in dire need of a weekend off.

In the background, Jolly waking up from a nap to straighten his uniform is a nice touch.

 

One More Note On The Writing

And the Cylons missed the Casino planet how?

Oh, right. It was a trap. Clearly set up a long time before just in case the humans escaped the main trap and somehow outran all of the Cylon base stars or successfully navigated the mine field. Because how long could a tour company run with its customers failing to return because they were being fed to alien insect hatchlings?

 

Final Note

So that’s it. Something close to two and a half hours of introduction to an epic science fiction series. We have heroes and villains, many of them larger than life, an established conflict and enemy, a basic view of the universe the story is happening in, and both tension and hope. We have great actors and not so great ones, a mixture of high technology and strange references to mystical woo, which I suppose we’re supposed to take as some almost-lost memories carried into our culture as the thirteenth tribe. We also have some classical mythology notes and some very clear heroic imagery.

From here, it looks like we’re in for a wild ride.

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Lance
Lance Schonberg is an eclectic genre fiction author with more than two dozen stories published or on the way. 2019 is the year he dives into independent publishing, starting with "Thorvald's Wyrd", "Skip To My Luu", and "Turn the World Around". And he needs a more exciting short bio.

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