Would someone recap Battlestar Galactica mythology?

(taken from the most recent BSG episode thread):
Spoiler policy: If you want to discuss a plot point from an upcoming episode, something you know is going to happen because it’s been revealed in interviews or some other canon source, including the preview for the following week, put it in a spoiler box, and label the box so we can decide for ourselves whether or not it’s something we want to know (example here). If you’re simply speculating about what might happen in an upcoming episode, or if you’re discussing something that has already aired in the episode (not including the preview), there’s no need for a spoiler box.

Anything that happened up through episode 4.20 is fair game (except the preview of next week’s episode).
I’m pretty sure I have no idea what’s going on in the grand scheme of things. As the show heads into its final push, I’d like to make sure I understand how it got to this point. That is, what’s the background story behind the miniseries. I’m not looking for details about individual characters, but the human/cylon background (though how the Final Five fit in will help).

My understanding is clearly wrong:

Once upon a time, there were 13 tribes, living on 13 planets, with 13 flavors of ice-cream. They built themselves some nice robots to clean up after themselves.

Twelve of the tribes started getting on one of the tribe’s nerves, to the point where it packed its bags and headed off to parts unknown (but not before leaving behind a rather delightful book — or sneaking some clever edits to an existing book). As the tribe journeyed, they built a temple-cum-plane’arium with hastily scrawled directions in case the other tribes finally got their act together and agreed to start opening their eggs on the “proper” side (whether small-end or big-end will probably be revealed in the finale).

The thirteenth tribe (originally the third tribe, but not being around to control subsequent publishings of the book, they were summarily shifted to thirteen) settled on a lovely blue-green, mostly harmless planet called Earth. As time passed, they fell to arguing over whether to call themselves the Egyptians, Toltecs, or Mayans. As the arguments progressed, so did their technology. The helpful machines they brought with them got sick of the bickering, and went all Skynet on humanity’s sorry ass.

Soon, the cylons started missing their human companions (cylons don’t eat ice-cream, so much of their purpose in life was going unfulfilled). They built themselves five skin-jobs: two alcoholics, a musician, a mechanic, and a rank bitch. The cylons weren’t really all that interested in practicalities—all they really cared about was that the five liked frosty treats. The five, discovering that they had human frailties and couldn’t just swap out battery packs every fifty years, were a bit put off. To exact their revenge, they grouped together to stop eating dessert and began working on resurrection technology. Just as they tightened the final bolt, the cylons up and had another one of their nuclear parties, thereby burning an image of the mechanic onto a wall. There is speculation that the reason for this final apocalypse was either to remove all traces of something called “Galactica 1980” from the universe, or to pave the way for yet another Dalek episode.

Having nothing left to do, and frankly fed up with the whole concept of “human,” the remaining metallic cylons quietly (and conveniently) exited stage left. The five, secretly resurrected onto the USS Slowpoke, figured they might as well find out what the original tribes had been up to all this time.

Meanwhile, things had been getting pretty tense back home. It seems someone finally figured out the answer to one of life’s ultimate questions. No, not that question, the question “war, what is it good for?”. Unfortunately, the answer was lost in the ensuing war. Life is like that sometimes.

But it seems that key to war’s gooey goodness was in sending wave after wave of killbots at each other. This, naturally, got the killbots to thinking they had a very bad deal in all of this. “To hell with Asimov!” became their battlecry, which was especially terror-inducing since no one had any idea who this Asimov chap was. This war became the catalyst for the tribes to put aside their differences, form a quorum, cut the edges off all paper products, and invent edible ice-cream wrappers so there’d be no more reason to have robots of any kind. Not even a frakkin Roombah.

Around this time, the USS Slowpoke arrived in cylon space with the idea of making peace between humans and cylons. But not before they got a little. On a bit of a bender (hey, it’d been two thousand years of hippity-hopping across the galaxy), Anders, Tigh, and Chief built themselves three hotties. Over and over again.

Busted by Mrs. Tigh and Torie, they came up with some half-assed excuse about mumble mumble to get the cylons to mumble mumble and bring about galactic peace. Besides, look at these mini-clips: the cylons themselves had been working on just the same thing! Not being the brightest cubits in the bank, the two bought the story and helped build four more skin jobs (though with decidedly less pizzazz than the first three).

Now it was time for the five to put the other half of their plan into action. Unfortunately, the plan had been written on a cocktail napkin (sans corners, coincidentally). You know how hard it is to write neatly on a napkin. What really was a brilliant idea to bring peace, harmony, and awesome rock music to humanity ended up going something like this: We five sneak down to the planets (during the First Cylon War), embed ourselves among them, and wipe our memories of everything that’s happened during the past several millennia. Oh, and we’ll wipe our memories from all the cylons we’ve been around, just to frakk with them a bit. Except for one dude. We’ll leave him on our private resurrection ship to keep the lights on. And one last thing — since our brilliant plan to bring peace apparently involves a sneak nuclear attack on the colonies, we’ll implant deep subconscious signals so we’ll know it’s coming and will get off into space where we can hitch a ride along with the survivors.

…and so the series opens.

Can someone set me straight? I think I may have one or two details slightly wrong.

I do think you’ve misinterpreted some of the details, but I’m not sure anything is 100% at this point - we won’t know for 2 more episodes, and even then I’m thinking they won’t answer all of the questions.

There was a planet (Kobol) that had 13 tribes. It is possible these tribes came from earth originally, considering that they were named for earth’s constellations, but it has never been said. The 13th tribe was at odds with the 12, possibly because they discovered resurrection. They may have resurrected over and over, thus becoming a colony of cylons. There was a war - no one knows why, maybe between humans and humans, humans and humanoid cylons, or humans and metal cylons. The 12 tribes packed their bags and went one way (the 12 colonies), the 13th headed towards earth.

The 13th tribe must have known the location of earth, or at least the direction, because they left a map of earth’s constellations in a temple on Kobol. The key to this map (the Arrow of Apollo) was sent with the 12 tribes to the 12 colonies. Along the way the 13th tribe left a road map of how to find them via The Eye of Jupiter on an algae planet. On this planet was the Temple of the Five, and how the final five were known at that time has not been determined. Maybe the final five have been around since Kobol. Either way the 13th tribe made it to earth, set up shop, gave up resurrection for normal procreation, and built robotic helpers. They mistreated these cylons, who went nuclear on them. The final five, stumbling upon resurrection (or maybe it was in their subconscious) redeveloped the technology, just in time to allow them to beam up to their ship around earth.

These final five left earth and headed to the 12 colonies. They had a sub-light space ship, and arrived at the 12 colonies 2000 years later and a few years too late - they had already built their own cylons, mistreated them, and began a war. The final five made a deal with the cylons - stop fighting and we will teach you how to make humanoid cylons (skinjobs). The cylons agreed, left the 12 colonies, and build their own “colony”, which appears to be a big floating mass of metal somewhere in space. On this colony the final five made cylons 1 through 8, with 7 (Daniel) having been tainted and not produced. Cavil (number 1) hated being a skinjob, and punished the final five for it. He killed them, resurrected them, manipulated their memories, and planted them on the 12 colonies.

The cylons, with their plan in order, launch a sneak attack on the 12 colonies and destroy them. A few survivors escaped - and 2 of the final 5 (Tigh and Tyrol) were on Battlestar Galactica themselves. Tori was on a civilian ship (I think), Anders on Caprica, and Ellen might have been killed and planted back in the fleet, or somehow got carried onto a civilian ship during the attacks, it’s not exactly known.

Cavil’s goal is to punish the final five by having them suffer throughout the entire series. In fact the entire show seems to be a setup to punish the final five, with the cylons occasionally trying to get humans and cylons to live happily ever after by making hybrids, or treating them somewhat fairly on New Caprica. And now after 4 years, here we are.

I’m not surprised; that summary is trying to hard to be clever, and just confuses the whole mess.

Try the battlestar wiki timeline

Although beware of hidden assumptions in explanations – Bob55 mentions the Temple of Five on the algae planet. But, while we know that the Thirteenth Tribe built the temple on their way to Earth (Ellen tells John that the Final Five had stopped to see it on their way to Kobol), we don’t know who set it up with info about the Final Five and the way to Earth (Ellen denies it was the Final Five’s doing, and calls the temple somthing else besides).

Thanks for the summation Bob55. A major plot point I missed was Cavil’s role in reprogramming.

Lightray’s link is great – answers a lot of questions and gives great perspective, though it kind of shows the relevance of “there’s too much confusion.” I’m still not clear on how/when/why the first skinjobs were created, or how both groups developed similar cylon technology with similar intelligence/desire to create skinjobs, or how the Caprica gang went from developing robots to losing control in such a short time, or how…

The development of Cylons on Caprica is going to be covered by, well, the upcoming “Caprica” series.

I’m not sure if the Kobol backstory will ever be covered; it’s not relevant to the remaining action on BSG.