Themes of Battlestar Galactica, Pt I
September 13th, 2006
I get asked pretty frequently about the use (or lack thereof) of “themes” in Battlestar Galactica. The word “theme” was something that the producers wanted to avoid as they re-launched Galactica, I think because they felt that strong, orchestral fanfare had been done to death in science fiction. Beyond that conceptual premise, the reality is that orchestral bombast in the score would ruin the carefully constructed sense of realism in the writing and production.
However, a musical theme is more malleable and subtle than many people realize. Star Wars and Star Trek have defined “theme” for more than a generation. In reality, many of those “themes” are full-fledged songs, with a unique A-section, B-secton and coda. A theme can be much simpler and more minimal, consisting of the smallest amount of musical information necessary to form identity. This is the model I’ve based Battlestar on. Think Close Encounters instead of Star Wars.
One of the interesting things about working on a television series (as opposed to a stand-alone film) is that you never know when or how characters are going to develop. I will sometimes introduce a theme for a character and then find out that character dies in the next episode! As a result, I’ve ended up with close to 60 themes, or signature musical elements, in the 35 shows I’ve scored thus far. While some of them ended up being unique to their specific episode, many have woven themselves into the sonic tapestry of the show.
I’ve picked a handful of these themes to show you guys. If you find this interesting at all, I may do this again in the future and highlight some of the other themes as well. Anyway, here goes…
Composed by Richard Gibbs for the miniseries in 2003, this simple 9-note motive has become the closest thing to a catchy main title theme you’re going to get. In addition to being heard practically every time #6 does anything, it also serves as the “Prologue” for each show.
The 9/8 figure is divided unevenly into a group of 3, followed by 3 groups of 2. It is almost always performed on a Balinese instrument called a gamelan.
- Every episode (Prologue), virtually all #6 scenes
- Six Sex, The Sense of Six (miniseries)
- In Downloaded, when #6 sees a Gaius Baltar in her head, the #6 theme is featured, but it has been digitally reversed, signifying the turning of the tables.
I initially introduced this melody in the first episode (33) as a possible Helo-Sharon Love Theme. However, its haunting and introspective quality connected itself more to Sharon’s inner conflict than her feelings for Helo. As a result, this might be the most obvious and frequently occurring theme on the show, outside of the #6 theme.
While occasionally placed in the ethnic woodwinds or string orchestra, this theme is almost always performed by an ensemble of gamelans and bells.
- virtually all Boomer scenes
- Boomer Flees (s1), Allegro (s2)
- I also composed an 11/8 percussion theme for Boomer for the episode Water (watch the teaser and you’ll hear it). The idea was that the Boomer on Caprica and the Boomer on Galactica would have different themes. However, this approach was ultimately abandoned.
This theme was originally composed for You Can’t Go Home Again, as a triumphant cue for when Starbuck takes off from the barren planet she was stranded on. It also scored the heart-felt finale when Adama forgives her for the death of his son.
I never intended this simple theme to become a signature for Starbuck, but since it played both warm/bitter-sweet and triumphant/exciting in one episode it obviously had potential as a malleable thematic idea. In fact, in Flesh and Bone, this theme was given a dark variation as Starbuck mercilessly tortured Leoben and her motives for doing so became questionable.
This theme is played on all the score’s melodic instruments, often heard in duduk, vocals or strings.
- virtually all Starbuck scenes
- Forgiven (s1), Escape from the Farm (s2), Deathbed and Maelstron (s3)
- Since there are very few “happy” themes in the soundscape of the show, this theme will often sneak in during events involving other characters. It has arguably evolved into the go-to “triumphant Galactica theme,” which makes sense since Starbuck is the most heroic lead character in the series.
a.k.a. Wander My Friends
Ironically, the most obvious and unusual theme in Battlestar Galactica is also the most traditional in the Star Wars sense (It even has a B-section which I’ve not shown, since it is used so rarely!).
Originally introduced during Hand of God, and even set to lyrics in Gaelic, this tune has come back occasionally for heartfelt moments between Bill and Lee Adama. It ranges from the full-blown arrangement of Wander My Friends (with choir and Celtic ensemble, in Hand of God) to the short wisp of an Irish whistle playing the first phrase as Lee says farewell to his comatose father (in Resistance).
The simple melody set to Celtic modes and instrumentation simultaneously brings to mind warmth and compassion as well as military honor and nobility.
- Hand of God, Home Part 1, Exodus I and II
- A Good Lighter (s1), Reuniting the Fleet (s2), Admiral and Commander (s3)
- The original “Wander My Friends” lyrics were inspired by the events of Hand of God, and were deliberately somber and reflective, a foil against the jubilant celebration of the scene they accompanied.
Well, that’s a start! If this was of any interest to you guys at all, I might do some more. There are plenty more themes where these came from. See if you can keep an ear out and spot these in the show!
So Say We All,