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THE BETA PIRATES

spacer.gif (836 bytes)Leslie Stevens produced the early episodes of Battlestar Galactica and later went on to produce Buck Rogers. According to Alan J. Levi, director of half of the premiere and of Gun on Ice Planet Zero, Stevens was at least in part responsible for the premiere script and Stevens was also credited along with Don Bellisario and Michael Sloan for Gun, which they expanded from John Ireland’s early script Crossfire. The Beta Pirates is dated October 31, 1977, making it one of the earliest extent BG scripts along with Crossfire. It appears to be a very early draft since it was not numbered and divided into scenes. The script is 119 pages long and probably would have produced a 2-hour episode. It seems possible that there was something of a competition for the two follow-on movies planned after the 3-hour premiere (BG originally being scheduled as a 3-hour special followed by two 2-hour TV movies); Beta Pirates, Crossfire, and probably the early Michael Sloan Fire in Space may well have been written with this in mind.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Of all the unfilmed scripts I have read, this one is the best, although Sloan’s Fire in Space was also pretty good. It’s not perfect; like all too many of the other BG scripts it’s riddled with scientific inanities. But the plot, while derivative, is interesting, and the quality of writing is high.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)There are a few interesting differences from BG as we came to know it; as in Crossfire, Apollo is called Skyler. Boxey is an orphan with no particular attachment to anyone—Adama hardly knows who he is and it seems evident that Athena, not Skyler, is the person who looks after him. Beta Pirates also follows the original version of the premiere in that both Serina and Cassiopiea are absent.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)The screenplay opens with an interesting vocal prologue by Commander Adama, considerably different from the Patrick Macnee prologue used, but including the words used as the tag to every episode, “Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny….” The story begins on the Galactica’s bridge with the crew worried about ships in the fleet that can’t keep up with the rest. The fleet is approaching a region of space, the so-called Beta Triangle, where a black hole causes severe distortion. In a gravity disturbance, the engines of the Gemini freighter are knocked out. Because the area is infested with pirates, Adama can’t risk stopping to help, but he sends Athena and Starbuck back with a salvage vehicle to attempt repairs. Surprisingly, the cargo of the repair ship includes two repair robots (this was before the Cylons themselves became robots, thus the Colonials did not have an anti-droid attitude). Unsurprisingly, Starbuck and Athena find that Boxey and Muffit have stowed away on their repair ship. This is very likely the origin of Boxey’s stowaway in Gun, cowritten by Stevens, who evidently was sufficiently taken with the idea to reuse it.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Athena, Starbuck, the surviving Gemini crew and the repair drones set to work trying to get the freighter underway again. Unfortunately, before they can do so, the ship is set upon by a pirate vessel. The crew of the Gemini is killed, Starbuck is knocked out, and the pirates take Athena, Boxey, and Muffit with them when they leave.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Knowing that something has gone wrong, Skyler and Boomer set out in a fighter bomber, a somewhat larger and more powerful vessel than a viper, to find out what happened to the salvage vehicle and the Gemini. Aboard the Gemini they find and revive Starbuck and escape from the disintegrating vessel just in time. Before they can get things sorted out, they come across an emergency pod and dock with it. On board they find a man, Aleph, who claims to be a castaway whose ship was stolen by the pirates (he’s actually the commander of the pirates who boarded the Gemini and has been cast away by them, but of course Starbuck et al don’t find that out until much later although the audience knows it all along). They return to the Galactica with him.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Skyler and the others naturally want to find and rescue Athena and Boxey (not to mention the daggit!), which gives Adama another chance to whip out his reliable (and boring) “I will not risk the lives of everyone in the fleet even to rescue my son/daughter/Starbuck/Boomer/insert name here” speech and makes plain his intention to continue on across the Beta Triangle. Aleph warns Adama that the way is extremely hazardous and suggests that he could guide the fleet safely through if he had his personal charts, which were aboard his “captured” ship. Aleph suggests that they send a mission to Cordugo Pit, a central asteroid in the Beta Triangle, where he’s sure his ship has been taken. As an afterthought, he adds that at the same time they can rescue Athena and Boxey. And the daggit, of course.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Hurriedly, the Colonials disguise the fighter bomber (another robot paints stripes on it!), and Aleph, Skyler, and Starbuck set off. They arrive on Cordugo Pit without much incident, only to be waylaid by the local Ovion (!) police. Aleph pulls a Han Solo and blasts them stealthily, stealing their IDs in the process. In a docking bay (Cordugo Pit is more than a little reminiscent of Tatooine), they find Aleph’s ship. Aleph ambushes the crew (his old pirate crew, of course), and finds out that they sold Athena and Boxey (and….). Aleph wants to grab the starcharts and forget about the captives, but Skyler and Starbuck force him to lead them to the slave market so they can search for them.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)In the slave market, the three partake of alien drinks and watch as the slaves to be auctioned off are brought in, including Athena, Boxey, and you-know-what. After some fairly weird creatures are sold, bidding starts on Athena, Boxey, and the daggit. The auctioneer comments that Athena is a “droid” (?!) and continues, “The small one is something for the children to play with. Doesn’t eat much…purchase includes the daggit.” Starbuck immediately puts in a suspiciously high bid of thirty cubits. Aleph warns him that humans just aren’t in demand, but Starbuck replies, “For two of them? Plus the daggit? Athena’s worth that alone!” Indeed…. Unfortunately an alien Bablion joins the bidding, and Bablions evidently don’t like to lose. The Bablion bids up to a ridiculous price until Starbuck casually strolls over and shuts off its breathing tube, knocking it out. Just when he thinks he’s won, another creature, Voyar, who proves to be a sort of Jabba the Hutt prototype, buys the three captives.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Starbuck, Skyler, and Aleph set off to rescue them (again), this time with the somewhat irritated pirate band trailing them. The pirates are quickly snapped up by the Ovion police and dragged off to the local Cylon garrison for interrogation. Naturally, the pirates immediately tell the Cylons all they know about the rescue mission.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)In the meantime, Voyar is busy trying to seduce Athena. Dinner is served by three veiled house-slaves, who of course turn out to be our heroes. They dump the food on Voyar and escape from his house only to run head-on into the released pirate gang, who are hidden around the house planning to re-kidnap Athena. The pirates capture everyone except Aleph, Boxey, and the daggit, who are able to sneak off.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)The captured Colonials are hauled off to jail, only to find out that Voyar is the local magistrate and after having had his dinner dumped on him he is not inclined to be generous. The Colonials are interrogated and asked if they know of “a large fleet of vessels, led by a Colonial battlestar.” They deny it, and are hauled off to the torture chambers.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Aleph is intending to write off the captured humans, but Boxey demands that he rescue them. When Aleph refuses, he and Muffit run off to do so themselves.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)In the torture chamber, the very threat of torture to Athena causes Skyler and Starbuck to reveal their true identities. Such courage! However, they use the revelation to give an incorrect location for the Galactica and fleet.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Taken back to their cells, they are soon saved by Boxey and Muffit, who unlock their cells. On the verge of escape, the Cylons are alerted and would surely recapture or kill the humans save for the timely arrival of Aleph, who has had a change of heart (remember when I compared him to Han Solo?). To make a long story short, they return to the Galactica, the attacking Cylon force is conveniently sucked into the black hole, and Aleph leads the fleet safely through the Beta Triangle. Whew!
spacer.gif (836 bytes)Admittedly some of this has more than a passing resemblance to a certain famous 1977 science fiction movie, but even so it would have been a fairly exciting, if somewhat lightweight, episode. Without having any information, I would hazard a guess that it was not filmed due to cost. The script calls for a lot of extras, a lot of aliens, lots of new sets, new spaceship models, and new SFX, and that all adds up to money. Gun and Lost Planet were not cheap, but at around $2 million each they probably cost half of what this script would have.
spacer.gif (836 bytes)The characterization is serviceable, and certainly better than that seen in any of the other unfilmed scripts. There’s some entertaining dialogue (when docking with Aleph’s escape pod, Skyler warns Starbuck, “Easy, try not to crumple it.” Starbuck replies, typically, “Have I ever crumpled anything, ever?” to which Skyler’s natural reply is, “Everything, often.”). The plot moves along well and Stevens’ scene-setting descriptions are vividly written and interesting. The Beta Pirates would not have made a great BG episode, but it would have been considerably better than several that were actually shot. Happily, the script has survived to give us some idea of what this episode that never was might have been like.

1988, 1999 by Susan J. Paxton
Originally published in
ANOMALY 14

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