Battlestar Galactica Starts With The Greatest First Episode In Sci-Fi History For One Reason

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

When SyFy rebooted the campy classic series Battlestar Galactica, it did so with a highly successful mini-series, but that only led to a new problem: How can viewers be kept interested in the new series? The show’s first episode had to be one of the greatest episodes of any sci-fi series, so creator Ronald Moore wrote “33.” Centered around Cylon attacks every 33 minutes, the episode took a major risk by being incredibly dark and depressing from the beginning, letting fans know this is not a happy, feel-good story.

The best part of Battlestar Galactica’s first episode is how it respects the viewer’s intelligence and pulls no punches.

Trusts The Viewers To Figure Out What’s Happening

Battlestar Galactica picks up after the miniseries, which ends on a positive note, following Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) giving a rallying speech to the surviving refugees of the colonies. In stark contrast, “33” opens with the human fleet suffering from sleep deprivation as the Cylons keep arriving at their jump coordinates every 33 minutes.

The constant vigilance and military action slowly wear down the effectiveness of the Galactica’s crew, and the viewers are thrown into the middle of the story after this has happened over two hundred times already.

Lets The Audience Know What The Series Will Be Like

I have seen countless sci-fi shows launch with generic first episodes that are a series of character introductions, a brief hint at the overarching story, and maybe one or two shocking character moments that establish the stakes of the universe.

No series premiere has ever been as risky, dark, and depressing as “33,” which throws viewers into the deep end and trusts that they can keep up. By the third time that the 33 minutes are up, viewers will either be hooked into the world of Battlestar Galactica or desperately tapping out for a less demanding show.

No Good Choices To Be Made

An attack every 33 minutes sounds like a simple enough hook, but Battlestar Galactica adds layers, each more soul-crushing than the next, especially when Adama has to decide the fate of one of the ships in the colony convoy, and it’s clear that there are no good answers. The acceptance from Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber) and Lieutenant Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), as they execute the orders, makes it very clear that this is not Star Trek’s Starfleet.

Network Interference

“33” ends on a bittersweet note, with the count of colonists growing by one following the birth of the first boy since the exodus from Caprica, in fact, the episode was originally so dark that it had to be lightened up in editing. Roger Moore explained some of the changes in a question-and-answer session with fans, which included the child’s birth as the new ending. Though the uncompromising attacks every 33 minutes matched the show’s tone, one change adjusted a fan-favorite character’s arc.

Concerns Viewers Wouldn’t Come Back

When Apollo and Starbuck went out to deal with the compromised human passenger ship, as Moore originally wrote the scene, Apollo would be looking at citizens in the windows as he opened fire. A change was made, and while it’s still dark and depressing, it doesn’t immediately show Apollo dealing with the weight of his decisions, which comes later in the series. The network got the change to the final 33-minute segment after telling Moore that the episodes might have to be aired out of order, as they worried the audience would be turned away.

The Start Of A Smart Sci-Fi Series For Hardcore Fans

Instead of getting turned away, I believe the hardcore sci-fi audience that fell in love with Battlestar Galactica did so precisely because of episodes like “33.” After years of Enterprise, Andromeda, and Lexx, there was a desire for a new series, more like Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine, that showed the dark side of living in a world embroiled in constant conflict. Smart, well-written sci-fi that tosses the viewers into the world alongside the characters, so we feel the strain of 33 minutes of rest between each attack will always find an audience.

No matter how the series may have ended, “33” remains a high mark for Battlestar Galactica and should be the standard for every series pilot moving forward.

Battlestar Galactica can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.