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Editorial
January 27, 2004

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What Would Captain Kirk Think of the New Battlestar Galactica?

"That was the equation!...Survival must cancel out programming!"
Ruk, Star Trek: What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Living in Canada, I only recently got to see the four hour remake of Battlestar Galactica when it premiered in this country.  Now, I never really liked the original series back in the early 1980s.  Still riding the Star Wars high, I was looking for special effects and, while the John Dykstra effects in Battlestar Galactica were pretty mindblowing, even a kid could see the same effects shots cropping up again and again in the course of the series.  There were only so many times you could see that same damn Viper banking through that same damn debris cloud from that same damn exploding Cylon ship before you wanted to chuck your Buster Browns at the damn screen!

Then too, I was severely conflicted where the bad guy Cylons were concerned.  On the one hand, I thought the Cylons, with their glowing eye slits, were honking cool; on the other hand, I began to get tired of seeing the same villains week after week.  I quit watching about the time our heroes visited a wild west planet and the desperado terrorizing the townsfolk turned out to be, you guessed it, a malfunctioning Cylon!  I guess I was kind of looking for Star Trek stories but with Star Wars special effects.  Yeah, I know -- take a number.

But, with the passage of time, I've developed a nostalgic soft-spot for that series.  The effects may have been repetitive, but they were still better than the modern computer generated cartoons we get now.  And the characters were likeable.  You wanted them to survive, which is more than I can say for, oh, Wesley Crusher.  I wouldn't call myself a fan exactly...more like a fanlet. 

So, you'll understand if I, like the legion of hard core Battlestar Galactica fans, was a little offended by the recent remake.  Whereas the original series was intended to be a fun-filled, sci-fi adventure, the modern remake, as scripted by Ronald D. Moore, was meant to be, if you'll pardon my French, some serious sheet. 

If you've seen the remake, you already know the filmmakers kept most of the main character names -- Commander Adama, Apollo, Starbuck, Boomer, etc. -- and stuck to the basic premise of the original series.  So, again, we witness a surprise attack by the evil robotic Cylons on the twelve colonies of humans who exist somewhere out among the stars in a galaxy far, far away.  Again, the human survivors band together to form a "rag-tag fugitive fleet", led by the only surviving armed-to-the-teeth-and-loaded-for-bear warship, Battlestar Galactica.  Unable to defeat the Cylons, our heroes do the only sensible thing and, to quote Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "run like a girl".  Next stop, Earth...(yeah, like we'd have 'em!).

But the filmmakers indicated in interviews that they felt the amiable flavour of the original series was a product of its time and they wanted to "update" the idea, making it a product for our time.  Specifically, for the "post 9/11 world".  They fiddled with the characters, giving them different (read, "darker") personalities.  And, more importantly, they changed the tone of the story, the mood.  Now, the emphasis was on the dark and gritty REALITY of war.  Tough decisions had to be made and our heroes had to make them.  Weak kneed Liberals need not apply.

Now, the reason I was offended was because I felt, if you're going to cash in on a name like Battlestar Galactica, you have a certain obligation to respect the fans and their feelings.  There's nothing wrong with doing a dark and gritty take on future warfare, but then don't call it Battlestar Galactica.  Call it something else, like, oh, I don't know, Space: Above and Beyond?

Still, it's no big deal.  Like I said, I was a little offended and I mean that.  Only a little.  It was something else that really bothered me and that I want to talk about here.  I want to talk about the NATURE OF HEROES.

Here at the Mighty PDF, our bannerline reads: "Where the heroes are!"  That's because behind most good stories, especially Pulp stories, there stands a hero.  And the nature of heroism is kind of important if you're going to tell stories about heroes.  It's a truism that villains get the better parts, but in the end, the  hero gets the applause.  We identify with them.  And, in some special cases, we emulate them.  In which case they are a special breed of hero which we call "a role model".

We could probably come up with all sorts of definitions of heroism.  But intrinsic to heroism is the concept of SACRIFICE.  A hero is someone who makes a sacrifice for the good of others.

I think we can all get behind that definition, right?  But here's a hum-dinger of a question.  Which is more heroic: a hero who sacrifices his own life; or a hero who sacrifices the life of someone he cares about?

The reason I ask is because I have noticed that second breed of hero -- the hero who sacrifices someone else -- cropping up an awful lot.  Stephen King has used the idea several times, notably in The Stand.  Terry Brooks, the author of the Shannara fantasy series, has used it as well.  I recall an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Deanna Troi ordered a crewman to his death.  And now, we have the remake of Battlestar Galactica.

In the remake, there are no less than three scenes which involve a hero sacrificing someone else.  First, a fire breaks out on board the Galactica and, in order to save the ship, a character orders all the crewmen trapped in the flaming sections to be flushed out into space.  Then, in another scene, the refugees' hide-out is discovered by a Cylon scout and the human president (on the advice of the heroic Apollo) makes the decision to abandon half the refugees to certain death while the others (including Apollo and the human president) make a run for it.  Thirdly, when a blood test suggests that a civilian may be a Cylon in disguise, the civilian is marooned on a planet and left behind, even though there is some doubt as to the accuracy of the blood test.  The civilian cries: "What sort of people are you?"  To which one of our heroes grimly replies, "We can't take the chance."

Now, make no mistake, I know precisely what the filmmakers would say to my criticism.  They'd say, the people making those decisions aren't heroes, they're just human.  In fact, at one point a character says precisely that.  Having sacrificed half the refugees, the human president reveals that she is dying of cancer.  With humanity on the brink of extinction, all she can think about is how scared she is of dying of cancer.  How selfish is that? she asks, wracked with guilt.  To which another character replies:  "It's only  human."

But that's just playing with words.  When we say they are human, we mean they aren't perfect; we don't mean they are outright wrong.  They can't control basic emotions like, for example, fear of cancer.   But we still assume that their actions are essentially as heroic as can be expected, given that they are human.  In a sense, these characters serve to mark a level of behaviour to which we should all aspire -- even if we can't quite reach it.

So why is it that, watching the remake of Battlestar Galactica, I kept wondering...What would Captain Kirk say about all this?

Now, I'm not one of those Star Trek fans with a T-shirt that says, "Everything I know in life, I learned from Star Trek".  But Captain Kirk, after all, was designed to be the ultimate "Hero", with a capital H.  For him, there were no greys in life where moral questions were concerned.  There was my way and there was the highway.  And we all remember those righteous speeches he loved to make, (usually broken up by carefully spaced pauses, so that, years later, every two-bit impersonator could do a fair imitation).  And that's why it isn't hard to picture Kirk's reaction to the remake of Battlestar Galactica. 

Take the scene where our heroes decided to abandon half the refugees to the Cylons so that the other half might escape.  Certainly, the filmmakers had set up a terrible dilemma.  The Cylons had discovered the refugees' hide-out.  It was only a matter of time until they attacked.  If those who were able to escape waited for the others, they would almost certainly all be killed and the human race would perish.  If, on the other hand, half the refugees escaped now, abandoning the other half, the human race might survive.  All they had to do was agree to sacrifice thousands of people.  As the heroic Apollo summed things up: "I hate to play the numbers game but..."

To all this, Captain Kirk would have come out swinging.  He would have made some impassioned speech about how we have to stand together because that's what makes us human.  If the only way we can survive is by turning on each other, then what's the point in surviving?  Sure we could survive by sacrificing thousands, but would we deserve to?  Is survival the ultimate imperative or are there other issues at stake?   Doesn't morality trump survival?  That's what he would say.

Of course, the filmmakers would no doubt argue that, sure Captain Kirk would say all those things, but that's because Captain Kirk lived in TV Land, where all problems can be worked out in time for the final credits, where we can afford to espouse impossibly lofty ideals, where heroes are more than human.  But the remake of Battlestar Galactica (they would argue) was trying for something more realistic.  It was showing us the REAL WORLD -- specifically, the post 9/11 world.

In the REAL WORLD there is no place for Captain Kirks.  Terrible decisions must be made.  But that doesn't mean there are no heroes.  It just means there are different heroes.  Because, you see, Apollo and the human president both have to live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives.  They have to live with the knowledge that they sacrificed all those lives.  And in that sense, they are perhaps more heroic than the hero who sacrifices his own life (this is still the filmmakers talking, remember), because if you sacrifice your own life, by definition you won't be around to suffer the consequences.  But if you sacrifice someone else, you carry that burden the rest of your life.

Here's what I think of that.

In theory that makes sense.  But in reality, the survival instinct is so strong in the human beast that, when the moment comes to make such a decision, it takes a lot more guts to sacrifice your own life than it does to sacrifice the life of someone else, even someone you care about.  When you're standing on the deck of the Titanic and that ice cold water is lapping at your toes, it takes something pretty damn special under the hood to give up your seat in the lifeboat to the lady with her child.  Guilt or no guilt, you want to live, dammit!

The fact is, I would have had less objection to that scene in Battlestar Galactica if the filmmakers had at least put forward the Captain Kirk viewpoint with some conviction.  Instead, it was the heroic Apollo who argued for abandoning the refugees while the character who took the contrary (Captain Kirk) position later turned out to be...a Cylon in disguise!  How fair is that?

Now, let me make one thing clear.  I am not saying that I think the filmmakers should have created idealized characters who espouse values impossible in a post 9/11 world.  I am saying that those Captain Kirk values are not impossible -- in fact, they are essential... especially in a post 9/11 world.

I can't tell you the number of times I have heard someone say, in the two years since that horrible September 11th, that "we live in a new world now".  That "we have to be prepared to make sacrifices".  I notice that those sacrifices usually involve giving up someone else's freedoms.  Like the heroes in the Battlestar Galactica remake, we shed crocodile tears and convince ourselves that we are making tough but heroic decisions, even as it is someone else who gets it in the neck.  That isn't heroism.  That is just plain selling out.

My brother and co-editor gave me this take on heroes.  Fictional heroes serve to show us how we ought to behave.  Of course we often fall short, but by their actions, they tell us what we are aiming for.  If we lower our heroes, we lower our own expectations.  We no longer even try.

Apparently, the filmmakers who gave us the remake of Battlestar Galactica feel there is no room for Captain Kirk in the new post 9/11 world.  It is a tougher, grittier world where we don't have the luxury of  ideals.  Now isn't the time for Captain Kirks.

Well, don't you believe it.  Now, more than ever, the world needs a Captain Kirk.

Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com



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