Once lambasted as a prime-time "Star Wars" knock-off, "Battlestar Galactica" has been reincarnated as an edgy, moody human drama. A "reimagining" of the original 1978 series, the current incarnation follows the survivors of the "twelve colonies of man" as they search for the mythical planet Earth following an apocalyptic sneak attack by the Cylons, a mechanical race created by human beings.
Brought back first as a mini-series in 2003, the show debuted on the Sci Fi Channel in 2005 with 3.1 million viewers, making it the network's most-watched premiere. Airing on Friday nights, the show is currently in repeats with the second season scheduled to begin in July.
While fans of the original series may notice some changes to familiar characters-Starbuck is now a woman and the Cylons no longer look like toasters-the truly devoted will also note a change in the show's theology.
That's right. Amidst spaceship shoot-outs, bizarre love triangles, and sketchy political maneuvering is a great deal of theology and religious reflection in the show's writing.
Debates about sin and redemption? "Battlestar" has `em. Philosophical inquiries into religio-political motivations? Got those too. The idea of the legitimacy of the soul? The battle between monotheism and paganism? Holy lands and prophets? Check, check, and check.
But that's really nothing new for the "Galactica" series.
Unbeknownst to most viewers, "Battlestar Galactica" has been steeped in religion since its very inception. First pitched by uber-producer Glen A. Larson as a series of Bible stories set in space called "Adam's Ark," the reworked "Battlestar Galactica" was also influenced by another religious book: the Book of Mormon. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Larson borrowed plot points from his faith's sacred texts.
"'Battlestar Galactica' and the Book of Mormon both start from the premise that civilization is either about to be destroyed or has just been destroyed and that there's this remnant, this ragtag fleet that is preserved," explains Jana Reiss, author of "What Would Buffy Do?" "The story of the Book of Mormon is set in the time frame of the destruction of Jerusalem. The prophet Lehi has a vision of the destruction of Jerusalem and was able to get his family out in time."
Additionally, on the original series, the ruling colonial governmental body was known as "The Quorum of Twelve," the name given to the top leadership council of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Perhaps the most obvious parallel between Mormonism and the show is the Kolob/Kobol connection. Continues Reiss, "Kobol on 'Battlestar Galactica' is where the gods live and in Mormonism Kolob is supposed to be the greatest star in the universe and is the dwelling place of God."
While developer and executive producer Ronald D. Moore did not intentionally move away from the original show's basic Mormon cosmology in the current incarnation, he chose not to expand upon it.
"I was aware that Glen had used Mormon influences and how he had created the cosmology, but I'm not that familiar with Mormon belief or practice so it was kind of like whatever was in the show is what I was dealing with," concedes Moore, who also worked on the "Star Trek" franchise. "I essentially looked at the original series as mythos and the way it dealt with religion in sort of a global sense."
Taking inspiration from a post-9/11 world, the religious universe of the new "Battlestar Galactica" is as diverse and as complex as our own.
The refugee humans, the Colonials, are polytheists in the mold of the Romans and Greeks, while their creations, the mechanical Cylons, have a strict belief in a singular God and in the soul, and are on a mission to eradicate the non-believing humans.
"I sort of assumed that the Colonials would have a belief system and figured it would probably be polytheistic, that seemed to be what they referred to in the original," explains Moore. "But it wasn't really until relatively late in the game that I sort of randomly gave the Cylons a belief system."