Battle of the Starbucks

I’m hooked. As a pre-adolescent, I was very much a fan of Battlestar Galactica, the television series that fell on the heals of George Lucas’ Star Wars and took advantage of the tremendous potential for the space opera genre of science fiction.

Humans battled robots called Cylons as they escaped the destruction of their world and began their search for the “13th colony,” Earth. As dramas go, Battlestar Galactica offered very little for the intellectual and made no attempt to do anything beyond entertain those hungry for space opera and action in the post-Star Wars world of science fiction. For an eleven year-old, the show was perfect and needed no improvement and I watched it with great enthusiasm each week.

Lorne Greene, as Commander Adama, was the intended star of the show, but from my perspective it was Dirk Benedict, who embodied the role of Starbuck: the cigar-smoking, wise-creaking rogue that had a way with the ladies. Exactly the kind of hero every preteen boy aspires to become!

Cancelled, only to be briefly resurrected as Galactica 1980, the show finally ended with the Colonial Fleet finding Earth.

As is the trend of late, Battlestar Galactica has found itself once again resurrected, this time as a remake on the SciFi Channel. Some remakes make it and some don’t: Smallville has shown itself to be a successful resurrection of the Superman theme; Spiderman has enjoyed good acclaim at the hands of Tobey Maguire; Enterprise had a mixed following among Trek fans, but was ultimately considered a flop; and even Star Wars had mixed reviews of its various sequels and has a TV series in the works –the success of which is to be announced.

The newest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica is definitely an improvement over the old. Our favorite characters are back: the honorable leadership of Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos); his responsible and rational son, Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber); and the carefree, hotshot Lt. Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Katee Sackhoff). What’s new to Battlestar Galactica is the way the Cylons are depicted. Some are the metal robots with the back-and-forth red eyes, but the newest Cylon models are human-like and virtually indistinguishable from the humans they are attempting to destroy.

Improved in the new SciFi Channel release of the show is Starbuck! Dirk Benedict would (and has elsewhere) disagree with that assessment, however, and from his point of view, Starbuck was “castrated.” But I would assert that my one-time hero’s opinion is a minority one. Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck has a depth of character and charisma that far exceeds Benedict’s version. Moreover, Sackhoff ‘s Starbuck is very believable and we see not just the wise-cracking, cigar-smoking (she does both!) side, but also the vulnerabilities we might expect from a woman in her position: a top-gun pilot whose best friend is a handsome and dashing male (Apollo). She finds challenges in living up to her top-gun reputation and occasionally even with her rogue reputation, but some of the best challenges for her character come with romance and intimacy as she experiences the conflicts that some opposite-sex best friends encounter and deals with the grief of being separated from someone she falls in love with. The sexual tension that remains between Starbuck and Apollo adds a compelling twist to the show that obviously didn’t exist between Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch in the earlier series (though, maybe it should have!).
Overall, the new Battlestar Galactica applies far more realism to the story than the 1980’s version. We are made to think about what it means to be at war; what an enemy truly is; how these roles can change; and it makes us examine religious worldview and how it can affect how we perceive others. The producers and writers do an excellent job of painting a picture of war that is wrought with emotion, passion, doubt, heroism, and patriotism. They present war as that human institution that isn’t defined in absolute terms of black and white as some would like to have us believe, but as being comprised of many, many shades of grey. Having served in war myself, I can agree with their depiction. We want black and white, but grey areas keep getting in the way. The people you thought you knew can surprise you and change suddenly before your very eyes, sometimes to extreme degrees. Some of these exceed all expectations in their competencies and capabilities; others fall flat on their faces or lose touch with reality. And Battlestar Galactica, a science fiction television series, captures this effect extremely well. If Battlestar Galactica 1980 was the perfect show for children of the 80’s, Battlestar Galactica 2006 is the perfect show for these kids, all grown up.

Benedict’s reaction in a recent article to the gender change of the Starbuck character struck me as the whining of a washed-out actor, resentful that he didn’t get a cameo in the show. His former co-star, Richard Hatch, found his place among the “re-imagined” series and has begun fleshing out a very interesting character as Tom Zarek, a shady but power-hungry terrorist-turned-politician. Perhaps I’m wrong. I probably am. Maybe Benedict is genuinely put off by what he sees as the downfall of a character that he worked hard to create. Maybe he sees the new Starbuck as a loss rather than a gain for the story that the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica offers. Maybe he really perceives the cartoonish effects and simple but canned plots of the 1980’s version as somehow superior to the thought provoking storylines of the new millennium’s version. It’s my opinion, however, that Benedict is suffering from a bruised ego when his macho, chauvinistic Starbuck was transformed from the hero every teen boy wanted to be to the hero every teen boy wants to kiss!

If Benedict’s account of the development of the original Starbuck is true, then he certainly worked hard and overcame the objections of “the suits” to establish a character that we all came to love. But Benedict’s inability to see the artistic and intellectual merit of the new (and improved!) Battlestar Galactica speaks either to his stubbornness or his intellectual handicaps –or both. Benedict’s vernacular was certainly angry if not belligerent toward the stellar efforts Sackhoff has put into the character. His derision of her character, which included calling her “Stardoe” and his attempts at machismo came off as contrived and insincere. It was as if Mr. Benedict believed he actually was Starbuck, somehow court-martialed by Commander Adama and run out of the Colonial Fleet.

References:

Lost in Castration, by Dirk Benedict.

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