AUSTIN, Texas — The cast and creator of Syfy's Battlestar Galactica reunited in its first official capacity Saturday night at ATX Television Festival. "Official" must be emphasized, because the cast on hand — Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Michael Trucco and James Callis — has had plenty of minireunions of its own in the eight years since the show went off the air.
"It really is profoundly different than I think what happens to a lot of casts when it's time to run away from each other," McDonnell told the crowd. "I live by the airport, so I get the stop-bys," Sackhoff added.
That camaraderie was clear throughout the reunion, which reflected on the series' enduring legacy as one of the greatest pieces of science fiction ever made, while allowing the cast members to reflect on their favorite moments of the series. It also allowed creator Ronald D. Moore to explain how a trip to Blockbuster to revisit the original Battlestar series led to its creation, which had a particular resonance in the aftermath of 9/11.
"I was very struck by the idea of doing that show in that moment in time, because when I watched that pilot, three months after 9/11, it had a completely different resonance," Moore said. "The story was about the survivors who ran away. ... and I immediately thought if you did that show now, it was an opportunity to talk about the things that were happening in the world."
The process to reboot Battlestar Galactica wasn't without its setbacks. For starters, Olmos initially said no to the role of Admiral Adama, citing the somewhat nonsensical name of the show. It was through his agent convincing him to read the script for the miniseries that he changed his mind.
"I hadn’t seen anything like this since — not even Blade Runner was this well crafted," he explained.
Another member of the cast had to deal with what has unfortunately become commonplace among shows: internet outrage. For Sackhoff, it was taking the role of Starbuck, who, in the original series, was a male character. She recalled not knowing much about the show but watched the original series and discovered that Starbuck was a male. "I marched down to an internet cafe, paid my $11.99 and I logged onto a chat group just to see what they thought," Sackhoff said. "And I learned in that moment, fuck 'em." Yes, a real F-bomb, not the constant "fraks" Moore had to employ for Syfy's TV censorship. The crowd roared with approval.
The reunion also tried to bring in Jamie Bamber, aka Lee Adama, through a Skype call from France, though his spotty connection ultimately served delayed reactions and subsequent laughs from the panel and crowd. But before the group hung up on their guest, the cast took turns going straight toward the camera, blowing kisses his way.
As the cast reflected on some of their favorite moments filming the show, the answers shifted between genuinely hilarious slip-ups and some of the darkest moments in Battlestar Galactica's four season run. Helfer talked about her controversial scene in the pilot, in which her Cylon character snaps a baby's neck, killing it before a cataclysmic event destroyed the Twelve Colonies.
"To make the choice to end its life quickly and painlessly as opposed to suffering hours later, to me that was a very integral moment that showing this other side — this evil side — has some sort of empathy," Helfer said. Still, she added, it was enough to get her sister to stop watching the show, as she'd just had a baby.
Trucco's story fell on the other end of the spectrum. Discussing a season three scene in which his character is temporarily pinned down and incapacitated, the crew received a visit from executive producer David Eick. Eick, apparently not realizing that Trucco was in character for a scene, stepped over his body and invited everyone else for food. Eick later told Trucco, apologizing profusely, that he mistook him for a literal dummy on set.
While Syfy is still looking for its next series to match the ambition and scope of Battlestar Galactica — The Expanse, entering its third season next year, is perhaps its most promising concept since — the show's overarching themes remain relevant today. It was conceived at a time of intense turmoil in the United States; many Americans feel a certain dread with our current administration.
Battlestar Galactica, a show that spanned many galaxies and several potential homes for mankind, literally ends with the inception of the human race on Earth. Our current existence, in the guise of the show, was originally a hodgepodge of humans and Cylons, the same creatures that nearly wiped out humanity. Practicing clemency, putting peace above tribalism and, most all, empathy. That's something we could all use today.
"I think that the idea that humanity could be reduced to 55,000 people all of a sudden forces that collective group of people to have to see each other as one," McDonnell said. "We are living in a time where the powers that be are trying to create as much difference between us as their pocket books will allow. With Battlestar Galactica, we have a reminder that it could all go away like that. Perhaps we can stop dividing each other and seeing each other as the Other."
So say we all.