Battlestar Galactica: What’s Going On With the New Movie and TV Shared Universe?

A Battlestar Galactica movie and a new TV series were foretold but have yet to actually happen.

Battlestar Galactica
Photo: NBCUniversal

It’s been 13 years since the Galactica reached Earth. We watched in the 2009 finale “Daybreak” as Admiral Adama, President Roslin, Apollo, Starbuck, Gaius Baltar, and Caprica Six walked towards a bright and unwritten future in their new home. It was a cathartic (but predictably divisive) ending to a six-year TV journey that remains one of the best and most influential in science fiction history. There’s no question that Battlestar Galactica paved the way for other serious, gritty political sci-fi dramas like The Expanse and the recently released Foundation adaptation.

But Battlestar Galactica‘s legacy is one thing. What about its future? That’s a question NBCUniversal has struggled to answer in the years since our heroes first touched down on our planet. There were multiple attempts at spin-offs directly after the flagship series finale on the Syfy channel, including two prequels — Caprica, which told the story of Bill Adama’s father and how the Cylons were first created, and Blood & Chrome, which would have followed the adventures of a younger Adama during the First Cylon War. Universal Pictures has also tried and failed to get a film adaptation off the ground since before the show reached its conclusion.

Even if none of these projects have struck the same spark as Ronald D. Moore’s reimagination of humanity’s quest for survival across the stars, NBCUniversal was clearly on to something back in 2009. Franchises don’t end, anymore. They just expand further out with prequels and sequels. A definitive ending to a story is just an ending in the larger scheme of things. One only has to look as far as what HBO is doing with Game of Thrones, which after coming to a conclusion after eight seasons of war, is getting a prequel series this August in the form of House of the Dragon as well as a sequel show starring Jon Snow. The grand finale of the MCU’s Infinity Saga was just paving the way for Phase 4 to introduce the multiverse and many more characters. The end of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy just means Lucasfilm can now explore other eras of the galaxy far, far away.

In other words, the Battlestar Galactica franchise was ahead of the curve when it refused to close the book. But while a 19-episode first season of Caprica failed to convince folks they needed to watch more stories set in this universe, NBCUniversal has two more projects in the works that could bring the franchise back for a new generation of viewers.

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The Battlestar Galactica Movie’s Long Voyage

The first is the aforementioned movie, which has languished in development hell for the past 13 years. Many different filmmakers have signed on to tackle this big screen take on the franchise, but production has stalled time after time. Like the Colonial Fleet trying to find a new home, the creative teams working on this film have hit endless roadblocks.

This movie reboot was first reported in Feb. 2009 to be under the auspices of the late Glen A. Larson, creator of the original 1978 series as well Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In August of that year, it was revealed that X-Men franchise director Bryan Singer was attached to helm the movie, marking the second time the filmmaker had tried to get a Battlestar Galactica project off the ground — in 2001, Singer and producer Tom DeSanto had pitched a continuation of the ’78 series to the USA network, but the pilot was shelved after the September 11 attacks. In 2011, John Orloff (Band of Brothers) was tapped to write the script, which the following year, Singer described to IGN as “existing quite well between the Glen Larson and Ron Moore universes.”

But Singer was out by 2014 when Variety reported that Larson was now producing a movie with Transcendence and Alien: Covenant scribe Jack Paglen. Larson passed away later that year and a revolving door of creators followed at Universal Pictures, including Westworld co-creator and writer Lisa Joy, director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Hunger Games: Mockingjay), and The Girl in the Spider’s Web scribe Jay Basu.

The custodians of the project since 2020 are producers Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix) and Dylan Clark (The Batman), with Kinberg also penning the screenplay. While there’s been little movement beyond a second draft of the script, Kinberg gave an update on the project in earlier this year.

“We are in the process of going out to directors and the hope is to attach a director and start prepping the movie this year,” Kinberg told Collider in January. “It’s a megillah, humongous film and the prep will be a very long prep period so I would imagine even if we attached a director today it would take six, nine months to prep this movie properly. So at the earliest, we’d be shooting at the end of this year. We’d probably be shooting at the beginning of next year.”

As of this writing, Kinberg and Clark have yet to reveal a director for the project, meaning that it’s highly likely time tables will shift again. You certainly shouldn’t expect a Battlestar Galactica movie to begin filming in early 2023 (or ever, if history is any indication). Fortunately, NBCUniversal’s ambitions for this franchise stretch beyond the big screen.

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Kinberg revealed to Collider earlier this year that the media empire actually hopes to create a shared universe between the upcoming movie and a new TV project being developed for the Peacock streaming service by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail.

“In terms of the situation with Sam and the show, I can’t say too much about it other than there is synergy between the two enterprises and constant communication between us,” Kinberg told the outlet. “We’ve become close and been having a really good time together and there will be, for lack of a better phrase and it’s an overused phrase, a shared universe.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While the thought of a Battlestar Galactica cinematic universe exploring different corners of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol and beyond might seem enticing, there’s not much movement on the TV side, either.

Sam Esmail’s Battlestar Galactica TV Series

In 2019, NBCUniversal announced a straight-to-series order for Esmail’s new take on Battlestar Galactica that would “explore a new story within the mythology while staying true to the spirit of Battlestar.”

BSG fans, this will NOT be a remake of the amazing series @RonDMoore launched because … why mess with perfection?” Esmail tweeted (via THR) after the announcement. The creator told Collider that he had consulted with Moore before even taking on the project: “Look, it’s a big universe, it’s a big world, I want to respect the Ronald Moore Battlestar. I spoke to him before I even took on the project to make sure that it’s all kosher with him, because the last thing I want to do is step on his toes, and the one thing we both agreed on is that it won’t be a reboot of what he did. Which I think we both wanted.”

While Esmail was brought on as executive producer, Michael Lesslie (The Little Drummer Boy, Assassin’s Creed) was tapped to actually write the series and act as showrunner in 2020. Things seemed to finally be full steam ahead for the Galactica.

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In Jan. 2021, Esmail gave another update to Collider, confirming that the team was “still working on the pilot” but that progress had been made: “I think we’ve got the basic construction of the type of story we want to tell, the part of mythology that we’re gonna explore – because Battlestar does have a rich mythology and again I have to give Ron a lot of credit for that – and so now we’re sort of closing in on what that pilot’s gonna look like.”

Esmail also said at the time that he and Lesslie were considering a more experimental approach to how episodes would be released on the streamer.

“For me it was like let’s get in there and tell the right story and it will tell us how many episodes,” Esmail explained to Collider. “We may dump three episodes in a row because it’s a three-episode-long battle sequence that needs to be dropped in a row even though they’re three signifying chapters, and maybe each chapter is switching a point of view within that battle sequence. There may be a 20-minute episode that’s the backstory of one of the characters that gets dropped right after that…

“So I can’t tell you the number of episodes, but it’s also kind of a little meaningless because I think we’re gonna look at it as sort of like a spider web where we can plot and point and say, ‘Well this isn’t chronologically after episode 1 or episode 2, it’s the backstory of someone, but let’s release that so audiences can check that out if they want or they can just jump into the battle sequence’. We’re really gonna experiment with form in that way, and again I think with a property like Battlestar it lends to that.”

While Esmail said at the time that he hoped to begin filming later that year, he admitted “it would be tough to get it off the ground” due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the amount of work still needed to “start up production and build the sets and start getting the VFX fine-tuned.”

Then the Galactica hit another roadblock: in March 2021, Lesslie exited the project to lead Hulu’s next Margaret Atwood adaptation, Maddaddam, leaving Esmail’s project without its head. At this point, you might be asking, “But Esmail is a remarkable storyteller, can’t he pen this thing himself?” The producer addressed this exact question to Collider.

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“I felt like for me, in terms of that specific hard sci-fi… it’s probably a level one too deep for me, and I didn’t think I’d be the perfect candidate. But I know what I like about Battlestar so that’s why I think I’d be better in more of an EP role on this show, and again Mike who’s tackling it is doing a fantastic job.”

With Lesslie out, this ship seems to have lost all of its momentum. A year later, Esmail may now be too busy. In March, it was announced that the creator was set to write and direct an eight-part series based on Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis for Apple TV+, with shooting to take place in Australia in early 2023, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Esmail is also working on a Netflix film, Leave the World Behind, starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke, all while recently producing other shows for Peacock and Starz.

Mr. Robot was a showcase for Esmail’s talent for telling winding, ambitious sci-fi stories, and it sounds that with Battlestar Galactica he wanted to push things to an even grander scale, down to how the series was structured. But with Esmail now seemingly spoken for through 2023, thanks to Metropolis, is this Battlestar Galactica reboot destined for a similar fate as the film?

Let’s just say the “Battlestar Galactica shared universe” is still quite a few years away — if it ever happens at all. But that’s always been part of the franchise’s legacy, too. It took 23 years, plenty of false starts, and a creative visionary to bring back Larson’s sci-fi universe to our TV screens in 2003. When it comes to Battlestar Galactica, the journey is never an easy one. But a little hope seems to go a long way.