Falling Between Stars: What About BSG‘s Starbuck?

Published on May 30th, 2011 in: Climb Onto The Nearest Star, Feminism, Issues, Science Fiction, TV |

By Magda Underdown-DuBois

What is it about Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, played by Katee Sackhoff, which excites the fans of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) so much? Could it be her singular passion for the thrill of flight and fight? Perhaps it is her rebellion against authority. Or maybe it is something less clear and more ambiguous—her ability to step between expectations and limits and dance between the stars.

starbuck BSG
Katee Sackhoff as
Kara “Starbuck” Thrace

Those familiar with the 1978 television series may have been surprised to see Sackhoff playing a traditionally male character, originally portrayed by Dirk “Face” Benedict. Yet, this new Starbuck refuses to permit her femininity to lessen her excessive drinking, love of cigars, and high stakes gambling with her fellow pilots. Her skill in the cockpit is viewed as superior and her male and female cohorts follow her cool headed lead in missions, despite her peacock strutting and loud bragging in the rec room. She is emotional and logical, rebellious and respectful, masculine and feminine, combining the most unlikely of characteristics.

From an abusive childhood, torn between polar opposites of parents—a musician and strict disciplinarian—Starbuck must have had a turbulent voyage, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis, the original “rock and a hard place.” Still she ends up playing multiple roles herself, especially in relationship to the Adama family: from lover-killer of Zack; to the best friend-lover-sister of his younger brother “Apollo”/Lee; to treasured pilot-daughter to “old Zeus” himself, Admiral William Adama. She also serves as both a special agent for President Laura Roslin, acting as the hands for the oracle’s visions, and an ambassador to the Cylons, chosen by the spiritualist Leoben.

Starbuck’s dualities grow stronger as the series progresses. Her strong faith in her patron “Lords of Kobol” Artemis and Aphrodite, illustrates the seeming conflicts of her own personality. In ancient Greece, these two goddesses were reflections of one another. Artemis rejected the traditional roles of wife and mother to become a hunter and leader in her own right, while Aphrodite was forced into marriage and came to symbolize all that was good about traditional feminine love and beauty.

In her own life, Starbuck values independence and beauty equally, as seen in her roles as warrior and artist. It is her combination of these right and left brain skills that brings humanity to the end of its long search. She uses the logistical and level-headed skills she learns as a fighter to sort the intuitive and artistic visions she sees and hears, balancing them to find a clear path to Earth.

Starbuck personifies that search for balance all of us are seeking, which frightens us to our core. She admits her own fears, while insisting on bravery. When our path is not true, it is her voice we hear, screaming, “You are going the wrong way!” Because of her diverse humanness and ability to survive and still remember music, she is our guide to home.

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