by Robin Reed
I was glad to see that the new Battlestar Galactica movie, based during the first Cylon war and starring the young and enthusiastic Bill Adama, later to be the older and wearier Admiral Adama of the other SyFy series, was not a jingoistic rah rah war movie. It was more in the tradition of Vietnam War movies in which the reasons for the war are unclear and the motives of the leaders who order young people into battle are murky.
And yet, this movie is a jingoistic rah rah war movie, because as someone said, you can’t make an anti-war movie. War is exciting, and addicting. It is more interesting than getting a job and having a family. For many people, once they have experienced it, they want to go back to it. You can call it meaningless and question why it happens all you want, but just showing it is attractive to many people.
This movie takes place after the Cylons, robots created as warriors, then used as servants, have rebelled against the humans of the Colonies. (Ask colonies from where, and you get into the never-explained backstory of the original 1980’s Battlestar Galactica. They seem to be colonies from Earth, but when did they leave Earth? In the original show, the viper pilots had helmets that looked Egyptian. Did ancient Egypt have space flight? The show never said. Oh, and the Cylons were an alien race in the original show, they weren’t created by the colonies.)
Young, cocky Bill Adama is given to a “milk run” for his first active duty assignment, but it turns out to be a secret mission to deliver a woman to coordinates on the border of Cylon space. Of course everything goes wrong, and Bill’s cockiness is tempered by the realities of war. In the process he meets a Vietnam War movie character, the guy who has been out on the fringes of the war too long and is a little crazy. He learns that his government has a lot of secrets, and his mission has several layers of deception built into it. By the very end, he is given a Viper, a one-man fighter, as he always dreamed, and grins ear to ear as he goes out to kill toasters. Toasters equals krauts, japs, gooks, commies; it is the single word that sums up the inherent otherness of the enemy. They aren’t people, they are….insert current word here.
So this is both a Vietnam War movie with its cynicism and questions about why wars exist, and a jingoistic rah rah war movie. Since the United States of America seems to be in a perpetual state of war, you can go either way and still make young people want to join up and fight. The enemy in this movie, the Cylons, seem to be the perfect enemy. They are demonstrably not human, and killing them is like destroying a, well, a toaster. Anyone who saw the short-lived series Caprica know that the Cylon operating system is partly based on the personality of a human girl, and in this movie it is said that the Cylons feel pain. So I hope the series that Syfy no doubt plans, if the ratings for the movie are good, will explore some of the humanity of the enemy.
Human societies, at least the people in charge of them, seem to need an outside enemy to function well at home. The constant wars and expansion of many empires provided glory for the leaders and killed off many young men who might cause trouble by challenging the leaders. I’m sure the producers of this movie and any future series based on it won’t say that they Cylons were meant to serve such a purpose, but clearly they do. A few decades later they go a little over the top with it by nuking the colonies, but war always has unintended consequences. Rome didn’t expect the far flung barbarians they fought to destroy the empire either.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome is a pretty good movie if you treat it as just an entertainment, but it can also lead to thought about all the issues I have mentioned. One final note: Women and men serving equally in combat is a common idea in science fiction, and with a recent decision by the Obama Administration it has become real. Once again science fiction becomes reality.