Behind-the-scenes books on beloved TV shows or films have a tendency to suddenly turn innocent geeky fun into raunchy tales of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The late Carrie Fisher’s last memoir of Star Wars, The Princess Diarist, dropped the bombshell about the sexual affair she had with Harrison Ford in 1976. And if you read the oral history of Star Trek, The Fifty Year Mission, then you would know there was a lot of crazy shit that went on behind the scenes on literally every version of that franchise.
Ed Gross and Mark A. Altman, the authors of The Fifty Year Mission, have turned their excellent journalistic sensibilities to the real story behind Battlestar Galactica. And guess what? Turns out most of the people who worked with each other on Galactica liked each other a lot. In fact, if there’s one huge takeaway So Say We All, it’s that the struggles of both versions of Battlestar Galactica mirrored the premises of both series. The actors and writers faced more adversity from without than within and were constantly in danger of being shut down by tyrannical forces hell-bent on their destruction.
When contrasted with the feuds and controversies surrounding Star Trek, the cast, writers, and crews on both the 1978 Battlestar Galactica and the 2003 reboot series seem like a family when you read numerous interviews with all of them packed into this sizable book. This, of course, is funny for one obvious reason: The basic premise of Battlestar Galactica is much darker and more pessimistic than the optimistic Star Trek, but in real life, it seems like those sensibilities are flipped. In the pages of Gross and Altman’s Fifty Year Mission you discover stories of Gene Roddenberry sending crazy, egotistical, and draconian memos to cast members. You read horror stories about Gates McFadden and Terry Farrell feeling like they were getting pushed off their shows for no reasons. But in So Say We All, you’ll find tons of cast members basically saying they loved each other and they loved the writers they worked with. “Truthfully, Tricia Helfer was just at my house hanging out for four hours,” says actress Katee Sackhoff toward the end of the book. “We’re a family.” So yeah, the hotshot pilot Starbuck and the enigmatic Cylon Number Six hang out together a lot, to this day. In fact, they might be hanging out right now.
This isn’t to say the oral history of both versions of the shows isn’t without conflict and disappointment, it’s just that most of it happens in battles between large studios and the writers and creators who believe in their project. In 1978, Glen A. Larson was in the shadow of George Lucas when he created Galactica, and suffered a crippling lawsuit that several people in the book acknowledge was very bad for the show. And in 2003, miniseries and reboot series writers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick contended with a network that didn’t want a dark and ruminative television show. In the fictional world of Galactica, the notion of eternal recurrence is summed up the often repeated line “this has all happened before and it will all happen again.” Not only does this book demonstrated that Ron Moore ripped that line off from Peter Pan, but more relevantly, draws strands and parallels between both shows that are downright eerie. By now, many geeks have probably forgotten about the ill-fated 2010 Battlestar spin-off show, Caprica. But, for older fans, the original show had a failed spin-off, too, Galactica 1980. Both of these faux-Galacticas were based on planets instead of spaceships. Both were tonally mixed, and also, pretty much forgotten.
In So Say We All, Gross and Altman don’t dwell on these coincidences, but instead let the reader discover for themselves. Like any good oral history, you can jump around in the volume and not get too disoriented. Which makes sense. Chances are you’re either a huge fan of the newer, Peabody award-winning series, and have never watched the cheesy show from ‘78, or you only love the old show and never warmed up to the new version. The great thing about this book is that it will likely make you a fan of both if you weren’t before.
In his introduction, Ed Gross mentions the now-famous Battlestar Galactica episode of Portlandia in which Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen binge the entire series without regard to anything else in their lives. Gross notes that in writing So Say We All, he was drawn back into the series, too, and found himself just like the Portlandia characters, compulsively needing to complete the whole show.
Reading So Say We All is the same way because it will compel you to binge at least some of the show while you’re reading. The insights and stories in So Say We All will remind even a casual fan why the world was briefly obsessed with a science fiction series with a goofy name, and also why we all miss it so frakking much.
So Say We All: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica is available from Tor Books.