DeSanto/Singer: The Story

Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer’s Battlestar Galactica revival effort generated a lot of comment and discussion as it got underway.  Rumors, unfounded or otherwise, ran rampant; the internet discussion sites buzzed with this rumor and that.

One such speculative rumor was that the DeSanto/Singer production would be a remake of the pilot Saga of a Star World.  A report that the studios weren’t interested in recalling the original series actors to reprise their roles (a report confirmed by Tom DeSanto in his exclusive interview with us) played a large part in that rumor, together with pre-production, conceptual art and models being created, and photographs made public:

Vince Gustani’s Cylon concepts:

A re-made, more menacing Ovion?:

However, as Tom DeSanto told us:

It is probable, then, that these concepts were under consideration as elements of their continuation tale but, as to be expected, little about the story was made public during the production’s life. 

But in Oct 2003, at the 25th Anniversary celebration of Battlestar Galactica held at Galacticon, Tom DeSanto revealed much of the final intended storyline.  He revealed fragments of the story through direct talks, private meeting, and a number of personal conversations.

(NOTE: This synopsis is pieced together from those talks and is as accurate a portrayal of the final shooting script as possible. The Tombs of Kobol welcomes any corrections or additional information you might have regarding this effort, the Galactica that could have been.)

The film opens in a schoolhouse, where children are being taught the history of the Colonies and their destruction by the Cylon machine race. The young students inquire about these alien invaders, knowing little about this unseen enemy, their only memory coming from electronic games that portray the historic foe. By their questions, we learn the events between the present and the end of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica television series.

Pre-production artwork of Colonial schoolhouse

Through either a flashback or key dialog throughout the film, we discover that two years after Battlestar Galactica: “The Hand of God”, the colonials finally threw off their Cylon pursuers in a great space battle, in which the Galactica, having reunited with the Battlestar Pegasus, faced the largest Cylon challenge since the destruction of the colonies.

During this ferocity, the Pegasus was lost, along with Commander Cain, his daughter Sheba, and Bojay, all of whom had returned to serve in her crew.  The Cylons suffered an even worse defeat.  The cost of this victory was high.  When the conflict ended, Apollo was missing in action, his fate unknown.

Time passed and the Fleet continued its search for Earth. During this interim, Adama died and Tigh gained command of the Galactica. The burden of full command weighed heavily on him. He was worn down by the challenges of leading the people and dealing with the ever-plotting Council of the 12.  Amidst this background, the people grew increasingly weary of their flight until the fleet stumbled across a huge asteroid field containing an abundance of natural resources. The masses revolted and voted to cease fleeing and settle.  Having been lulled into a sense of security after driving the Cylons back, they sought a new life in this far away place.  It wasn’t the promised land of Earth, but most felt it was good enough.

Over the next 23 years, the settlers built a rich new culture, centered around their principle colony, New Caprica. They engaged in pleasure, food, drink, and gambling. Their life became one of complete pleasure, with little care for the mindset of the original Colonies.  They turned from the wary ways of their previous generation, forgetting the culture based on war and strife for a culture based on comfort.

During this time, the Cylons had not been dormant. While the Colonials were occupied building their new society, the Cylons were themselves undergoing important changes.  The Cylon belief that they were the supreme element to organize the universe conflicted with the military defeats they’d experienced. After their resounding defeat at the hands of the Galactica and Pegasus, elements of the Cylons had already begun to believe that, despite the commands of their Imperious Leaders, their real enemy wasn’t the human race after all, but the very concept of free will, a plague that had already infected some elements of the machine society.  Thus, the Cylons were left with a quandary that bothered many.

This was further aggravated when the Cylons discovered Baltar, marooned on an isolated planet.  Baltar’s joy at being rescued was short-lived when he discovered the new nature of the Cylons.  They determined that Baltar, a foremost example of free will, had completed his usefulness. 

New Cylon Model

Realizing his peril, Baltar decided that if he couldn’t save himself as a whole being, he would at least save part of himself.  He convinced the Cylons that humans had many attributes useful to their society, as proven by their ability to outfight overwhelming odds.  If free will was the enemy, then the Cylons could still use humans by simply eliminating the harmful concepts within them.Baltar volunteered to become the first converted subject.  Cylon technicians designed nano-technology to adapt his body, disallowing any ideas of individuality and transforming him into a loyal servant.  In the end, this experiment proved fatal to the Cylon order.  Many leaders objected to the alteration to what they saw as the perfect order.  Others demanded unquestionable loyalty to the Imperious Leader.  The gulf between the two groups grew and the Cylons did the unthinkable. They engaged in a civil war.

What emerged was a new and deadlier Cylon race. This machine order recognized the useful elements of humans and opted to incorporate them into their own. They ceased slaughtering the fragments of human survivors on the devastated Colonial Worlds. Instead, they captured them for conversion into loyal servants of the Cylon Empire.  For the first time, the Cylons were served by living, breathing machines.

The present human condition is introduced by a close camera shot that focuses on a section of the Galactica’s bridge’s railing. Here, a match is struck and ignited. The camera follows the burning match until it lights the tip of a fumerello (cigar). The smoker turns to the camera as the camera pulls back, revealing the face of Starbuck. Although he wears his old flight jacket, he is now a seasoned master warrior on the bridge crew.

Pre-production Painting of Galactica Bridge

Surprisingly, Starbuck is not the Galactica’s commander. That honor lies with Boxey, who is now called Orin (not Troy as portrayed in Galactica 1980).  Orin has many challenges and Starbuck has grown from being a fighter pilot to a mentor for the younger commander. As advisor, Starbuck has changed from the happy-go-lucky character we once knew to the rock upon which the military structure stands. He misses parts of his old life, including his relationship with Cassiopeia, who is now happily married to another man and a mother. He regards her as his greatest mistake, seeing her as an icon of his life that could have been. When they last saw each other, there is tension between them.  They hadn’t communicated in yahrens.

Wrestling with these ghosts, Starbuck guides Orin through his difficulties.  Chief among these problems are keeping the Galactica supplied and reasonably repaired. After 25 yahrens of peace, the new Colonials see little use in maintaining a powerful and increasingly aging warship. Since its flight from the colonies, the Galactica’s weapons have been significantly enhanced, but those weapons seem of little use in the present peaceful circumstances. Most of the old fleet remains intact, accompanied by new spacecraft that buzz about performing various tasks. The older ships of the 12 Colonies seem like relics, poorly suited to the task of servicing the individual asteroid colonies. The newer craft, designed and built for the new society, take on the bulk of the work, leaving the remnants of the rag-tag fleet to serve as memories of the darker times most humans wish to forget.

President Mara’s Ship

This thinking has influenced the current Council of the 12, led by a female, President Mara.  With her leadership, the counsel has opted to decommission to Galactica. Complying with the order, the noble Battlestar is powered down, her systems dormant. Technicians shut off the ship’s vital equipment and prepare to abandon her.

At this moment, the Cylons reappear.

Having known the humans location for a while, the Cylons have opted to hide from their ancient foes, monitoring their condition.  Learning from their mistakes of the past, they’ve tracked the progress of the human settlements, learned of their situation, and prepared battle plans that would lead to success.  Hiding within the crater of a large asteroid, they’ve watched the humans, evaluating them, and preparing for the time to strike.  That time arrives when the Colonials deactivate the main systems on the Galactica.

Pre-production artwork of Cylon Basestar hiding in asteroid belt

Advanced Cylon fighters burst into the area and rampage through the asteroid settlements with nothing to stop them. The new, faster, and more maneuverable craft outmatch the traditional Colonial vipers which they obliterate. The Galactica takes significant damage, suffering from heavy blasts from the new Cylon weapons. She starts to burn and is about to be destroyed when the Cylons suddenly disengage and leave the area.

Advanced Cylon Raider

They have been called away by Cylon controllers whose voices carry across the stars directing their every movement. One central controller seems particularly interested in the Galactica and has ordered the retreat before her complete destruction, a strange quirk given the Cylons decades old edict to destroy the last Battlestar.

The humans have very little time to rejoice at their salvation. Their disbelief is broken by a Cylon transmission that tells the survivors to board any ships that will carry them and head to a specific point in space where they will be met by a Cylon task force, led by a new basestar. The new Cylons aren’t interested in killing their foes. They want to incorporate them into their order of transformed servants whose importance is increasing throughout the Cylon Empire. In essence, the humans are told to join the Cylon race.

Orin, transmitting from the bridge of the Galactica, refuses the order. The Cylons coldly reply that if he doesn’t comply, all of the humans will be destroyed. The situation seems hopeless.

Yet, while his fellow humans have reveled in food, drink, and endless pleasure, Orin has prepared for such a disaster. In an apparently foolish act, he rallies the remaining crew and powers up the damaged Galactica.

Swinging the vessel about, he maneuvers her to engage the threatening Basestar. The new Cylon command ship easily outmatches the weathered Galactica, but Orin has a secret. He has developed a new generation of Viper fighters that he has kept hidden from the Council of the 12. These launch from the Galactica and engage the advanced Cylon raiders. They prove to be as effective in their design as anything the Cylons have. Unfortunately, there are too few of them to completely turn the tide of battle. The Colonial warriors inflict serious blows to the Cylon fighter fleet but the basestar’s firepower is overwhelming.

New Viper

The new Vipers might successfully defeat the numerically superior Cylon raiders but not when they are assisted by the basestar. Outgunned and outnumbered, the outcome seems inevitable. Through all of this, some humans attempt to comply with the order, preferring life as a Cylon to death in any form. Fighters swoop all around them and energy blasts fly past the slower spacecraft.  During the dogfight, a Cylon fighter fires at a Viper and inadvertently ruptures a water tanker ship, ripping apart its storage container. Water spews into space, instantly freezing, creating an unexpected barrier in front of a squadron of attacking Vipers. The human fighters slam into the ice and explode.

Concept sketch of Watership

Momentarily ignoring those attempting to surrender, the Cylons turn their attention towards New Caprica. The basestar moves in and begins bombarding the colony from orbit while simultaneously continuing to fire on the Galactica. Orin, spins the battlestar about, and aims its main thrusters at the huge floating blob of ice. Igniting the Galactica’s main drives while firing its retrothrusters, it shoves the ice towards the basestar. The mass melts, refreezes, and collides with the Cylon mothership, destroying it.

The tide of the battle turns and the Cylons are driven off.

Orin wastes no time in taking action. Recognizing the danger, he gathers a makeshift fleet of survivors and organizes them under the badly wounded Galactica and heads out into space. The human race, once again, is engaged in an Exodus to find Earth.

After their escape, Orin and Starbuck speculate a flaw in the Cylon strategy and realize the Cylons aborted their attack sooner than they should have.

Rather than following their most logical course, which would have been to destroy the Galactica and then demand the settler’s surrender, they abruptly halted the attack. Both officers are left wondering why.

Eden FX Demo of Cylon Homeworld

The film ends with a scene on the Cylon homeworld.  This scene is best described by Tom DeSanto himself:

Eden FX Demo of Cylon Homeworld

– written by Russell Sanders

Author Note:  The images used on this page were gathered from a number of sources.  The initial battle sequence is a fan artwork image I created using Newtek’s Lightwave program.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Sanders is being too modest.  The ‘Advanced Cylon Raider’ is also his work, based on information from the production. The ‘New Viper’ is the work of David Kerin and Russell Sanders.