In Praise of BSG
Are the Star Wars films overrated? Do they age well? Movies for teenage boys?
The first Star Wars films were iconic, meaningful presences in my childhood. The sage of the Skywalker family, the Empire, the Rebellion, and the Jedi captivated my pre-teen imagination. Star Wars, the first of these films, opened in theaters in 1977. I was 10 years old.
Some twenty years later the second slew of Star Wars movies were released, and I hoped to enjoy them as much. But I was a different person by then. In fact, I was 32 years old when “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” appeared in 1999 and I hoped that the movies would have grown up with me. On this count, I was sorely disappointed. Lucas made cheesey movies designed for 13-year old boys. But I was no longer 13 and looked for more mature fare. I looked in vain. Seeing these new movies made me understand why my father never had any time for the original Star Wars movies in the late 1970s.
But I have found that which Star Wars should have been, and it is in a TV series called “Battlestar Galactica.” The name itself sounds silly and it strains credulity to say the title out loud in the same sentence as “great art” – it sounds like more B-movie Science Fiction. But in its best moments, and there are many, BSG is great art. It is set in space in some other universe but is firmly seated in our human experience in dealing with ultimate themes of good and evil, humans trying to govern themselves, loyalty and betrayal, love and hate. I generally ignore TV and have watched very little of it in the last twenty years. But I heard so much good word-of-mouth reviews of BSG that I decided to get the opening miniseries on Netflix and try it. I was transfixed. I watched all four seasons in the next three months. Not all segments are of the same quality, but I was mesmerized in front of the screen as I had not been in years (decades?).
George Lucas is lionized as a master filmmaker who delves into archetype and myth. Because of Star Wars he is richer than Croesus. But he is a mediocre filmmaker stuck in creating films for adolescent boys. The reality is that Ronald D. Moore, creator of the BSG series, is the real thing. That he makes great art that takes place mostly in space in another universe but holds up a mirror to our experience. Great art tells lies to get at greater truths, and Commander Odama’s and President Roslin’s flight through space “in a universe far, far away” teaches us humans much about ourselves. It is Star Wars all grown up.
The best literature has always asked, “What does it mean to be human?” BSG brings up for our inspection the “foul rag and bone shop of the [human] heart” that is our goodness and our evil, our nobility and baseness – we human beings – we messy, contradictory creatures who will walk our moment on the stage and then disappear –
“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”
Battlestar Galactica saga: great art on TV (of all places!)