It's been quite some time since the third season of "Battlestar Galactica" came to a close, and fans have been craving new material in the seemingly endless intervening months. The fourth and final season won't begin until at least April 2008, but in the meantime, there's a new two-hour film to absorb and debate. And the fans will debate, especially once the end credits finally scroll down the screen.
While there are a number of surprises in store before all is said and done, some elements are already well known. "Razor" tells a specific story set in the latter half of the second season, shortly before the discovery of New Caprica, as Commander Lee Adama takes command of the Battlestar Pegasus. One of his first command decisions on the Pegasus involves the promotion of Kendra Shaw to Executive Officer. "Razor" is essentially her story, reaching back to the moments before the attack on the Twelve Colonies, slowly but surely catching up to the period of her promotion, where a simple search and rescue operation turns into something far more important.
This perspective allows the writers to tell the full story of the Pegasus under Admiral Cain's command. Those familiar with the Cain-centric episodes of the second season already know the basics; this is not a pleasant story, and the material is often incredibly dark. More than a simple recounting, known events are placed in a very new context, and Cain's complicated morality is a key point of interest. In essence, Kendra Shaw becomes Cain's trusted acolyte, and by the time she runs into Lee Adama, that reality has led to some serious psychological issues.
Thankfully, Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen is more than capable of portraying Shaw with the kind of subtlety necessary to communicate that complexity of character. It's never easy to bring a new character into an established series with this kind of integral important, in an act of retroactive continuity, so the choice in actress was critical. The writers did a fine job of making sense of Shaw's prominence in the story, and Chaves-Jacobsen sold the performance beautifully.
This is also the best-looking "Galactica" material in recent memory. The production quality is cinematic to say the least, often exceeding the norm for the series and rivaling feature films. This could have been shown on the big screen with little or no modification; it's simply that polished throughout the entire product. Even the structure is closer to that of a film that a simple two-part episode.
On the other hand, the story is firmly rooted in the series' mythology, so bringing this to the general audience would have been a miscalculation. Generally speaking, the story relies on underlying knowledge of the character dynamics and the broad history of the Cylon conflict. A number of plot elements, including the true nature of the search and rescue mission, will mean nothing to those unfamiliar with the third season. Despite the setting of the film itself, the story is correctly placed as a bridge between the third and fourth seasons.
Longtime fans will be rewarded for their patience. Flashbacks to the First Cylon War are remarkably well-done, particularly the casting of the young William Adama, and the first look at "live" first-generation Cylons will produce a few nostalgic moments. As previously mentioned, elements of the third season are placed in context, and unexpected connections are made in the process. The final act will leave the audience frustrated by the long wait until the fourth season begins.
In the end, "Razor" is full of surprises. Not everyone will be pleased with the decision to focus the story on a new character, but the intersections are necessary to tell the story correctly and thoroughly. The end result is a film that comes very close to meeting the level of excellence that marked the beginning of the series, delivering some of the best material since the New Caprica period. One can only hope that the fourth season can match the same intensity.