When the Sci-Fi channel started work on the Battlestar Galactica reboot their original plan would have made a very different show and likely would have been bad for the franchise. In the book Battlestar Galactica: Designing Starships, Eric Chu talks about his work on the 2003 miniseries and 2004 TV series and creating the new versions of different starships. His original concept sketches and commentary reveal how the Battlestar Galactica reboot became a success and how close it came to failing.
The original Battlestar Galactica TV series first aired in 1978 and ran for just 24 episodes. However, the show developed a devoted fanbase and the following decades saw multiple new works within the franchise and several attempts to reboot the TV show. One reboot almost made it to production before the events of September the 11th led executives to feel that audiences would not appreciate the subject matter at that time and to pull the plug. Shortly afterward, in 2003, the Sci-Fi Channel commissioned a TV mini-series of Battlestar Galactica which succeeded where other attempts had failed and spawned the 2004 Battlestar Galactica TV series.
While Battlestar Galactica had already faced many problems in trying to return to screens, the Sci-Fi Channel attempted to impose one more hurdle that could have led to the reboot falling flat immediately. In Battlestar Galactica: Designing Starships, Eric Chu discusses how the Sci-Fi channel was adamant that the new series should not resemble the original series in any way. As a fan of the original series, Chu was able to see that abandoning the feel could spell doom, especially as it would quickly alienate the fanbase for the original series.
While the rebooted Battlestar Galactica would go on to pick up entirely new viewers who were not familiar with the original series or any other part of the franchise, its success would always hinge on how it adapted the 1978 Battlestar Galactica TV series. Any adaptation of a work is going to be compared to previous versions of itself by fans and failing to capture the essence of what has come before has been the failing of plenty of past adaptations. Although the 2004 Battlestar Galactica needed to define itself as its own creature in the 21st century, it was also essential that it demonstrated an understanding of what the original series meant to people and properly honored their source material, otherwise, it would make more sense to start work on an entirely new intellectual property.
Fortunately, while Eric Chu worked hard to ensure that the Sci-Fi Channel remained on board with the new Battlestar Galactica reboot and didn’t pull the plug on the franchise again, he was able to do a lot of work behind the scenes. The Battlestar Galactica herself got a hefty update, but one which still kept some notable elements of the original, such as its distinctive nose shape. The smaller Vipers, however, Eric Chu managed to make extremely minimal changes to and Battlestar Galactica: Designing Starships demonstrates how close the new design always was to the original ships. Chu’s work against the Sci-Fi Channel’s wishes likely saved the Battlestar Galactica reboot and he should be credited alongside for it alongside Richard Hatch who played Apollo in the original series, Tom Zarek in the reboot, and always championed a return to the franchise.