We're technically taking a step backwards in time now, as the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or BSG, started in 2003, but you can't really start a blog on a topic talking about something totally unrelated to the subject itself can you? Regardless of that, BSG continues to run for a few more years after this, ending its run with 4 seasons, a one season spin off, and a few TV movies, but it all started with a simple two part miniseries on cable adapting a rip off of Star Wars from the early 80's. While by the end of its run many of BSG's fans were disillusioned with it, especially with its highly controversial multi-part finale, when WARS was premiering Battlestar Galactica was the premiere Science Fiction of its time. Star Wars, while still massively popular, was considered old hat, and while it enchanted a new generation of youngsters with its Prequel films, many old fans were left feeling high and dry by it. Star Trek was still on TV, but it was ailing on the short lived UPN network, and people barely were aware it was on TV at all. Into this void thats not a void stepped Battlestar Galactica and WARS, and one emerged victorious, at least for a time.
Both BSG and WARS share their awkward status of being a ripoff of Star Wars, and I think we can say that without a hint of shame or condescention. After all, Star Wars itself is a rip off of old Sci-Fi serials like Flash Gordon, the Phantom Empire, and Buck Rogers, as well as the films of Akira Kurasawa, and some other sources. Star Trek was originally pitched as a TV show of “Forbidden Planet”. “The Lord of the Rings” and “the Hobbit” take their eponymous ring from the “Siegfried” myths and the “Ring Cycle”. It goes on and on, and taking parts of old stories a person loved is how new and interesting stories are made. So we shouldn't hold that against BSG or WARS, after all if they weren't ripping off Star Wars they wouldn't exist and we couldn't enjoy them. How they chose to ripoff Star Wars however, is intriguingly different, though BSG has another factor going for it as well.
That is of course, that its a reboot of an older show. The original BSG was a very popular and successful Star Wars ripoff in its own right, but a rather different one, one that shares quite a bit in common with WARS that BSG chose to throw out.
First off, the BSG reboot has no aliens. While these were a central aspect of the old BSG, they've been totally gutted. The cute robot sidekick, ala R2D2, in this case a sort of robot dog, has been removed, and the child character from the original show just sort of disappears from the reboot BSG after a while. The heavy mysticism has also been toned down. Where in Star Wars Luke talks to ghosts and uses magic powers, and literal angels show up in the old BSG, reboot BSG has none of that ( at first, at least). WARS, in contrast, makes magic powers part of the setting right up front, and frames its story with a Buddhist text. That isn't to say that religion isn't very important to the BSG reboot, it is, but its the real world kind of religion where everyday people don't high five angels or watch their dead mentor sit his non-corporeal self down on a tree stump for a chat, and just go to church, pray, and then kill each other over differences of opinion.
This is quite the differentiation, and it really pushes BSG away from the new-age mentality that went into both Star Wars and the show it was based on. Part of that mentality though, was optimism. Star Wars came in at the perfect point in the zeitgeist of the 70's, telling an uncritically optimistic story at a time when things just looked horrid. It was just what people needed and wanted to see, and the old BSG picked up from that. Sure, it starts with an unthinkably horrific tragedy, where billions of people are slaughtered, but the show itself is oddly hopeful after that. They suffer setbacks, and struggles, and people die, but the crew of the Battlestar manage to stay strong and hopeful. In the face of horrible loss and violence, they remain true, and while the show was canceled before they reached their final destination, it does end with them reaching the edge of Cylon (their enemies) space, meaning that the people who murdered them are now finally in their past as they set out for a new life.
In contrast, the new BSG keeps a running count of how many humans are still alive in the opening credits, has the main characters blow up a civilian transport full of people to save the other civilian transports, and generally have a very pessimistic tone. It was what people wanted to see at that time, after all. Faced in the US with the horrific tragedy of 9/11, as well as being involved in two wars, the national mindset was pretty dreary. Though it hadn't been gone long, the peace of the last few decades felt broken, and though it hadn't been peaceful outside the US, it was now impossible to ignore that we were involved in other countries business when they were blowing up our buildings and we were invading them right back. The nihilism of BSG fit the Zeitgeist of the time perfectly, and I absolutely hated it.
Not just disliked, hated. While other people found solace in the bleakness of BSG's reboot, I had been a fan of the old show, and was expecting the optimism in the face of darkness the old show had brought. I was highly disappointed. In a more fanboyish way I was also disappointed that so much of the mythology of the show had been dumped, like the aliens. Of course, making BSG like the old show wouldn't have fit modern tastes at all. Having the remains of humanity go hang out on a casino planet after watching all their friends die back home might be a nice way to relax in reality, but it would hard to sell convincingly nowadays. I grew to like the new BSG, but it took me time to get used to the difference between the old and new shows, and enjoy the new show for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be.
What I did latch onto at the time was of course WARS, a story that tried to strike a balance between the optimism of Star Wars and the pessimism of BSG. WARS kept the aliens Star Wars and old BSG had, but only had two types of them, not an endless variety. It also kept the magic powers, only renaming them Kizen powers instead of the Force. It had mega corporations, godlike aliens, communist governments, and horrid cartels merging all the best of gritty reality and sleazy cyberpunk, but despite all the big groups doing awful things individuals still had the chance to really make a difference because they had magic powers. Things suck in WARS, they suck a lot, but there is a chance for one person to change the entire tide of history. Hope isn't just something to old onto to keep yourself from dying, its in the very fabric of your being in WARS.
Hope didn't stop terrorist attacks, and it didn't stop the wars the US was in from going on and on, and BSG in the end hit the zeitgeist right on. But the zeitgeist didn't last, people can only remain helpless for so long before they either submit to reality, or rise up to change it. By the end of BSG's run, things were looking better for the future finally, maybe, or maybe it wasn't but there was at least a hope it would, and its pessimism just didn't quite fit anymore. The creators tried to swing with that, and created the ending of the show, which while it fits with the changing perceptions of the nation at the time (as it is overall an upbeat hopeful ending), it also doesn't really mesh with the tone of the rest of the series. Of course, BSG's pessimism was highly influential, and its gritty nature has spawned countless imitators. It can be easily argued that hits like Game of Thrones wouldn't be on TV if BSG hadn't proved there was a market for a much darker sort of sci-fi on TV.
WARS never made it to TV, and it never made it anywhere near as long as BSG did, but ironically its Roleplaying game ended up producing more supplement’s than BSG's did, and the licensed BSG Trading Card Game ended up exactly like WARS, with two released sets and one developed but unreleased set. This is sort of puzzling, after all BSG was at least for a time the king of Sci-Fi. It may not have garnered massive ratings of the “everyone is watching this” variety, but it was popular enough to get four seasons a spin off and some TV movies, that's fairly impressive for the reboot of a TV show canceled after one season. WARS puttered out quickly, but its comparable games did just as well, or slightly better. On the surface, this doesn't make sense, but there is an underlying reason here, one that really gets to something interesting about WARS and BSG.
While both settings are dangerous, WARS' setting is a dangerous adventure, and a place that sounds exciting to explore. BSG's setting is a place no sane person would want to live in. This doesn't make WARS' setting better, in fact the darkness of BSG's setting is what makes it have such great drama. Because there is so much conflict, and the state of the character's lives so dire, the drama comes so naturally that while individual scripts can get messed up, the over all flow of the show always remains deeply gripping. WARS on the other hand has surprisingly little war for a setting called WARS. The characters are mostly anticipating conflict, or recalling it, waiting for the moment to really strike them so they can spring into action. That moment is all the time in BSG. This makes WARS a more ideal setting for a Roleplaying game than BSG though, because it has more options for the characters to take while still feeling natural to the setting. The BSG roleplaying game can certainly be very fun, but you know exactly what kind of campaign you're getting out of it for the most part: one of survival against Cylon oppressors. WARS hasn't really focused us on anything, hopping around with their stories. While I've said before this was bad for WARS, and lets face it, it was, it gave WARS a strange leg up in the only area it ever really had a chance with: lettings its fans imaginations run rampant.
WARS has benefited greatly from the sheer amount of freespace there is for fans to mess around in, its a ridiculously versatile setting, where you could easily imagine playing out an adventure of humans trying to flee to the legendary planet of Caprica from Earth after the Shi invade it, as anything else. It may have meant that the setting was muddy and hard to really get into for its first fans, but for us now its a goldmine.
Battlestar isn't the closest comparison we'll have to WARS, that will come next Friday, but its a darn good one, and it was by far more successful in nearly every way, not to mention highly entertaining in its own right. There are other minor comparisons between the two: the characters of Adama and Hicks, for instance, hold several similarities. But overall BSG plugged into the times it was in perfectly, and left WARS behind in its dust, alas. If only they could have run in tandem...
But for now, lets return to WARS, and talk about the last story from Michael Stackpole, and meet the Quay finally....