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The History of the Rank Insignia Chart for Battlestar Galactica 2003
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

The Beginning

Like most everyone else reading this article, I was enthralled at the prospect of Battlestar Galactica coming back to television for the first time in over 20 years. I was determined to get into the plots and subplots in search for hidden clues that might link this new incarnation of the Colonials from the Cyrannus System (Yep! The system of the 12 Colonies had a name – Cyrannus) to their Earth cousins. When the Mini-Series and subsequent 1st Season aired, I was quite enamored with the art direction, set design and other aspects of the show. Then, the first question appeared in the Battlestar Galactica section inside TrekBBS, “where are the rank devices?” Knowing that certain aspects within the fandom would not rest until someone started studying this particular area of the show’s design, I decided to dig into it. I had already been heavily involved in the identification of various military and non-military origins of patches, medals and other costuming elements from The Original Series Battlestar Galactica, and I found this as a natural extension to that process. There seemed to be a similar need in this new incarnation of my favorite show to place subtle recognizable things into the mix. So, it begins…

The Process

After watching a few episodes strictly to get an idea of how rank grades worked in the Nu-BSG world, it was at that point I realized that it wasn’t immediately clear how to discern between a Commander vs. Colonel vs. Captain, etc. Then I noticed these little arrowhead-shaped things on the collars. Initially, I thought it was a branch insignia indicator, denoting Navy vs. Marines, as there weren’t too many clear close-ups at the time of these pins. I was shocked at the smallness of these devices – a trend that seems to be happening in the sci-fi world, starting with the Star Trek movies, Next Generation and beyond. Rank devices are supposed to be clearly identifiable – subordinates should know from a distance away if they need to salute to an oncoming superior. Higher-ranking personnel need to know to expect a salute from a subordinate. Having been a Navy ROTC cadet, I had half-expected Ron Moore to have gold braid on the sleeves, but I guess that would have too closely resembled TOS Star Trek. These new rank designs, in my opinion, look cool but violate almost every rule of military heraldry. The similarities between many of the rank devices could cause confusion as well (such as Captain vs. Major), but more on that later.

I started going deeply back to my…ahem…“archive” of episodes to see if I could get a better idea of what these things might be. Sure enough, patterns started forming. The enlisted and NCO’s were (originally) a green cloisonné/enamel inside silver, the junior officers were a bright gold/silver and senior officers were straight gold with additions. Later, in Season 2 (I think it was “Fragged”), I noticed that they had switched over to a depressed green layer in the enlisted ranks, similar to the depressed gold layer for the junior officers. I guess doing enamel pins cost more as a two-step process than a single-process stamping.

So, after doing some basic sketches, I set out to create the first comprehensive guide to rank devices. Information from official sources was virtually zero. All we ever officially got was a list from Ron Moore in his February, 2005 blog stating this list of rank grades in the Colonial Fleet:

Officers --
Admiral
Commander
Colonel
Major
Captain
Lieutenant
Lieutenant Junior Grade
Ensign

Enlisted --
Master Chief Petty Officer
Chief Petty Officer
Petty Officer 1st Class
Petty Officer 2nd Class
Specialist
Deck Hand
Recruit

As a side note, this list may now be in question, as newly undeleted scenes from the Season 2.5 DVD version of the episode “Pegasus” now officially states Helena Cain as a “Rear Admiral”. The original airing of this episode never had this exchange between Adama and Roslin, where he explains Cain’s military record. I’m holding off making any updates to the chart in this regard until I see more tangible proof of other levels within the Admiralty. Of course, as RDM mentioned in his blog, the Marines have a different layout than what is shown here, but we won’t get into that as we know less about the Marines than we do about the Navy!

After finishing the first set of sketches, I set out to create the first chart in Adobe Photoshop. As you can see below, it’s a bit rough compared to the latest version and not very accurate:

Ranks 

The devices were too clunky, the fonts were too difficult to read, despite the “kewlness” factor, and the Major’s device was COMPLETELY wrong. I did, however, discover that the uniform piping also had additional meaning in the officers’ grades – with junior officers having a single silver pipe, red-and-silver for Colonel, red-and-gold for Commander and gold-and-silver for Admiral. Once again, however, the standards have been muddied, as even though Admiral Cain wore gold-and-silver piping on her uniform Admiral Adama still seems to like the red-and-gold on his. Lee Adama now has red-and-gold piping to match his rank, but they can’t seem to decide whether or not he should have the junior or senior flight qualification wings. But that’s a whole different can of worms.

The Inconsistencies

In addition to the uniform piping and “wings” confusions, other curious costuming errors started popping up here and there. Specialist, PO1 and PO2 devices seemed to be used interchangeably among the second- and third-tier characters. Captain and Major ranks also seemed to be interchangeable early on. In the episode “Captain’s Hand”, where Lee Adama is briefly promoted to Major, it looks as if the costuming department didn’t get a new Major’s device until well into filming, as the devices on Apollo’s collar are still clearly those of Captain:

Ranks 

Doc Cottle has been a Major from the beginning, but wore Captain’s pins up until after Apollo became Commander of the Pegasus. Donnelly Rhodes’ costume probably inherited Jamie Bamber’s rank devices and are likely the only “official” set in existence. Back in the Mini-Series, the original CAG of Galactica, Jackson “Ripper” Spencer, was listed as a Major in the original script in the novelization, but is listed as a Captain at the Battlestar Wiki. This is probably due to the fact that he, too, incorrectly wore Captain’s pins.

…And then we have the Dualla weirdness. In the final minutes of the final episode of Season 2, “Lay Down Your Burdens, Pt. 2”, we see a startlingly tubby Commander Lee Adama and a freshly promoted…and married…“Lieutenant” Anastasia Dualla Adama. The problem with this picture is, not only does she seem to be wearing a rank device that is clearly NOT any kind of Lieutenant we’ve ever seen, but her uniform also seems to be missing its customary left breast pocket!

Ranks 

Ranks 

The dialog clearly implies that she’s an LT:

Dualla: Commander?
Apollo: Wait. Yeah, Lieutenant. What is it?
Dualla: I'm not sure. Picking up something on Dradis.
Apollo: Dradis? How can you see anything in that soup?
Dualla: There it is.

…But what is this curious alteration in the uniform design? It looks a little like a Colonel’s rank, but without the extra flange around the edge and a smaller starburst on a raised center arrowhead section – no chevrons to be seen as with normal rank devices within her supposed grade. My only guess is that she was, for a brief time, a “Brevet” Lieutenant. Much like in Star Trek: The Next Generation Wesley Crusher was an “Acting Ensign” (sorry to invoke the “Wesley name”, but it is a case-in-point), with different colored rank insignia and uniform. Even his comm-badge was a different color than everyone else (all silver vs. the normal two-tone gold-and-silver). By the time the first episode of Season 3 rolls around, Dee has had her uniform corrected, and she now wears the typical LT JG rank devices that we all know and love.

The Future and Indications of Things to Come

I conclude this essay with the latest version of the chart, which has been since re-worked using Adobe Illustrator, an application that makes for much better design and resolution. We’re up to Version 4, now. I would like to thank the members of Dewback Wing ASAP at http://pub23.ezboard.com/bpropreplicas/ and its moderator Frank Bono (aka Mara Jade’s Father) in particular for helping me to identify and accurize my designs for the Battlestar Galactica costuming community. Rest assured that the chart is a living work in progress, and that I intend to continue to tweak and update its content as more information becomes available, from official and non-official sources.

 Version 4 – Latest

Ranks 

 

Read further: The Rank Insignia Chart for Battlestar Galactica 2003: Update

 
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