When I was a kid, the year after the release of the first Star Wars movie, a television series appeared called Battlestar Galactica. The show was not much of a success at the time. The effects were not particularly impressive, the dialog made George Lucas’ writing look good and beyond the basic premise of the pilot there wasn’t much of a plot. The basic premise revolved around a civilization of humans who lived on a group of 12 planets. They had created machines known as Cylons, The Cylons had rebelled and broken away from the humans. The Cylons attacked the humans and attempted to exterminate the humans. The rest of of the original series consisted of the surviving humans, escaping in a rag-tag collection of space ships led by one battlestar, the Galactica going in search of the mythical 13th colony known as Earth. All the remaining episodes consisted of the chase with the humans always making a narrow escape. Nothing particularly compelling.
Then came 2003 and the Sci-fi channel which had been showing re-runs of the old Galactica. They decided to create a new mini-series based on the original plot but with some distinct differences. The new mini series did well enough that they decided to extend it into a regular series. Unlike the original, the plot went way beyond the basic chase, battle and escape. In the new series the Cylons had evolved and some of them had taken human form. They were actually hybrids that were virtually indistinguishable from full humans. As such they were able to infiltrate and attack the humans from within. Unlike most such stories, the new Galactica actually included a lot of self examination. The characters are complex and flawed. The humans aware of the fact that they had created the Cylons, who were now trying to exterminate them, began to look at what they had done. They were at least partly responsible for their fate. The writers actually asked a question which few other shows dared to ask. Should the human race survive.
Galactica has become an allegory for the world around us today. The survival of the species is under direct threat from something created by the actions of the the threatened. In addition as the series enters it’s third season this week we find that the the Cylons are now not just machines but god-fearing religious extremists. They had been trying to eradicate the heathen humans, but now as they occupy the planet that the humans thought would be their new sanctuary they are telling the humans they no longer want to destroy them but rather they want to co-exist in peace. However, as in the world we live in today, the religious extremists regardless of their creed, while professing a wish for peace actually want assimilation. They will live in peace with us as long as we accept what they say as the one true word. We can live together in harmony as long as we accept their variation of god as the true one. Those who resist simply disappear. Arrested, detained, never charged, never given independent legal counsel, never tried. Much like they did in Argentina, in the 80s or in Chile under Pinochet, or as they do today in Iraq, or the United States.
The new Battlestar Galactica, is an exceptionally well executed television series. But it also asks some very important questions. Can humans survive? Should humans survive? Can they overcome a threat of their own making? Should they?