Greatest TV Characters - Starbuck (Kara Thrace) from Battlestar Galactica
In our latest greatest TV Characters feature for The Digital Fix, Becky Kukla looks at the modern reimagining of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica...
Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace is an integral character in Battlestar Galactica. Re-imagined as a female pilot played by Katee Sackhoff (as opposed to Dirk Benedict from the original 1970s version), Kara Thrace is a fierce and determined fighter pilot, known commonly as her call-sign: Starbuck.
Her character, in terms of existing in the show, didn't have an easy beginning. When hearing that the show was being reprised, and Lieutenant Starbuck was being re-cast as a woman, Dirk Benedict had this to say on the matter - "There was a time, I know I was there, when men were men, women were women and sometimes a cigar was just a good smoke. But 40 years of feminism have taken their toll." Not a happy bunny.
To no-one's surprise, Benedict turned out to be entirely wrong about Battlestar Galactica's latest iteration. Starbuck 2.0 is a phenomenal character, and one that Battlestar Galactica cannot do without. She's highly intelligent and perceptive with an amusing rebellious streak. The first time we see her in the mini-series, she is playing Triad (a version of poker) and beating XO Saul Tigh - a highly antagonistic move. She's slinging back whisky, smoking a cigar and swearing like a sailor, yet later in the same episode she shows her utter devotion to her fellow crew and almost single-handedly stops the Cylon nuclear missile attacks from landing on Galactica.
In the beginning at least, the characters of Battlestar Galactica exist in a world that doesn't seem to recognise gender in traditional ways. There is no push-back on Starbuck for being a woman (there are certainly no jokes about women not being able to drive). There are plenty of female engineers, pilots and crew aboard Galactica and gender is never bought up as a flaw or a privilege.
In this environment, Starbuck (literally) soars.
Starbuck's journey is one of the most interesting character arcs in the whole series. Of course, the nature of the Cylon attack on Caprica forces every character to perform a role that they were not expecting to, and each have more responsibility given to them. Starbuck, a fighter pilot who has never had to actually fight in a war, quickly becomes a fearless leader who is willing to risk her own life to save the lives of her fellow crew and remaining civilians.
She remains this way for most of the first and second season - her stubbornness (pigheaded-ness is another way to put it) sometimes landing her in hot water with Commander Adama and her fellow crew members.
As well as her love for flying, Starbuck has more than a few love affairs throughout the series. At the beginning of the series, she is wracked with guilt over the death of Zak Adama, and unable to admit that she is in now in love with Lee Adama, Zak's brother. Through the series, she falls in love with others (even marrying fellow crew member Anders) and experiences a kind of maternal love when she is made to believe Kacey, a young child, is biologically hers in The Farm.
Towards the end of season three, Starbuck goes through what is arguably her biggest character transformation. In Rapture, Starbuck discovers that the drawings she used to do as a child match those found in the Temple of Five, a sign that she may know more than she is conscious of. This haunts her quietly until a few episodes later when, in Maelstrom, Starbuck's dreams and visions start becoming reality. Seeing visions of her abusive mother and Cylons which do not exist to anyone else's eye shakes her. In the end, a hazy vision consisting of her old captor Leoben and her mother's death become confused, and Starbuck flies into a storm and seemingly dies. The trauma and pain Starbuck has been carrying for three seasons comes crashing down in one phenomenal show stopping episode.
Though the crew believe her dead, Starbuck returns in the season three finale Crossroads. From here on, Starbuck is changed - she resembles a guardian angel, sent to ensure that the remainder of humanity reach Earth. And so, Starbuck's transformation is complete.
Why She Is Such a Great character
Starbuck is not a simple one-dimensional cardboard cut-out of the 'strong woman' trope. Neither is she a pseudo man. Starbuck walks in traditionally male shoes, yet she isn't just a woman 'blessed' with a man's place in the world. She's well rounded and deeply complex. So there, Dirk.
"You know, everyone I know is fighting to get back what they had. I'm fighting because I don't know how to do anything else."
"Attention on deck. That means move, nuggets"