Being a scoundrel is something that knows no gender, though at least in my cursory examination of science fiction, there are very few true scoundrels that are women. Usually, at some point in their character’s evolution, they become part of something larger and abandon their scoundrel-y ways. I was very close to putting Mara Jade (Skywalker) from Star Wars on this list, but that shift to the Jedi Order made me rethink how much of a scoundrel she was at the end. However, there is still one female scoundrel out there that never really lost her edge at some point during her character arc, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace from the modern Battlestar Galactica. She started out as a scoundrel in the military and while she grew as a human being during the four seasons of the show, she was just as much of a scoundrel when the series ended as she was when it began and I appreciate that.
Like many other scoundrels, the seeds of Starbuck’s scoundrel nature were set pretty early on in her life. While they didn’t do any extensive flashbacks showing it, we learned that Starbuck had a pretty troubled childhood. Her mother was an abusive military woman and her father, who she was much closer to, was an artist but he walked out on them when Starbuck was young. Starbuck’s upbringing left her with a serious chip on her shoulder and her military career evidenced that considering how often the word “insubordination” showed up in her file. However, despite her problems dealing with people, it was hard to argue that Starbuck wasn’t an excellent pilot. Starbuck’s first assignment was to the battlestar Triton, but her insubordinate ways got her in trouble with the commander and she was nearly court-martialed. Following her near court-martial, for whatever reason the Colonial military decided to turn an insubordinate pilot into a flight instructor. There, she passed on her skills to future Colonial pilots, including Zak Adama. Starbuck fell in love with Zak and passed him on his final flight exam even though he wasn’t ready. Zak died in a routine mission shortly thereafter and Starbuck blamed herself, though Zak’s brother, Lee, blamed their father, Admiral William Adama, for allowing Zak to skate in the military so long even though he wasn’t reason Zak was allowed to be a pilot. Starbuck kept her role on Zak’s death a secret for many years, carrying the guilt with her in private. Starbuck soon left the academy and joined Admiral Adama on the battlestar Galactica and served there for two years before the massive Cylon attack that wiped out most of humanity.
Aboard the Galactica, Starbuck’s insubordinate nature caused her to butt heads with Colonel Tigh. They butted heads so often, the first time we met Starbuck in the miniseries, she was in the brig because she physically assaulted Colonel Tigh. Of course, the Cylon attack changed everything, but Starbuck’s attitude remained the same. Starbuck wound up bringing the Colonial fleet its biggest intelligence boon when she managed to return with a damaged Cylon raider after both she and the raider crashed into a planet. It may not have been pretty, but Starbuck managed to jury-rig a flight system out of the Cylon’s organic technology and limp it back to the fleet. Her injuries left her sidelined for a while, something that Starbuck hated, though she did have a strong tactical mind and put it to use even though she wasn’t able to be behind the control stick. While injured, Starbuck was also tasked with interrogating a captured Leoben and she was not afraid to cross lines to get information she thought could save her people, though doing so took a toll on her. Starbuck returned to flight status shortly after this interrogation and was ordered by Admiral Adama to plant a nuclear device on a Cylon basestar orbiting Kobol. However, at the same time, President Roslin convinced Starbuck that she needed to return to Caprica to retrieve the Arrow of Apollo because Admiral Adama didn’t actually know where Earth was. Being a secretly very religious person, Starbuck believed President Roslin and disobeyed orders and returned to Caprica to retrieve the artifact. Starbuck wound up stranded on Caprica after Caprica Boomer stole her raider, leaving her and Helo behind. Thankfully, Helo and Starbuck soon found a group of Caprican resistance fighters led by Samuel Anders. Starbuck and Anders bond over their love of the sport Pyramid since much of the resistance group consisted of former pro-Pyramid players trapped on Caprica. Starbuck was captured by Cylons on Caprica and taken to a facility where the Cylons worked on creating more human/Cylon hybrids, but Starbuck escaped as the resistance fighters find the facility. Caprica Boomer rescued the group but Anders decided to stay behind with his resistance group, though Starbuck promises to return with a rescue group to get them off Caprica after she finishes her mission for President Roslin. With the Arrow of Apollo in possession of the fleet, the fleet discovers enough information to determine the actual location of Earth and Galactica sets out to find Earth.
However, such plans were short-lived as Galactica was found by Admiral Cain and the battlestar Pegasus. Admiral Cain outranked Admiral Adama and was the rightful commander of the fleet, something Adama acquiesced to. Starbuck’s performance on missions and boldness impressed Admiral Cain and made the surprising move of promoting Starbuck to captain and making her CAG for Pegasus. Considering the actions that led to this promotion were a direct violation of Admiral Cain’s orders, it was unexpected to say the least. Admiral Adama hoped to use Starbuck as a mole in Cain’s camp, distrusting the admiral’s draconian policies. Starbuck’s loyalty to Adama was tested but she nearly assassinated Cain, only holding off when Adama cryptically ordered her to stand down. Once again, Starbuck’s insubordinate nature reared its head and she winds up in the Pegasus brig after problems with the previous commander of the Pegasus while she was acting as a flight trainer. Starbuck continued to try and hold up her promise to Anders, but it’s only after Lee Adama became commander of the Pegasus that the mission is approved. The fleet arrives at Caprica just in time to save Anders and what’s left of the resistance. Anders’ arrival in the fleet created further tensions between Starbuck and Lee Adama because of Starbuck’s relationship with Lee. Starbuck quietly married Anders just days after telling Lee she loved him and that created a rift between the two former wingmates that lasted many years. Life on New Caprica began with their wedding, but any joy on New Caprica was comparatively shortlived as the Cylons arrived and took over the planet. Starbuck was the first one to call for resistance against the Cylons saying “Fight ‘em until we can’t.”
Starbuck was captured by Cylons at some point during the occupation and in an echo of earlier events, Starbuck was held by another version of Leoben who attempted to turn her to the Cylon’s side. Starbuck resisted, but Leoben’s psychological manipulation definitely left some pretty serious scars on her. Starbuck would lose her flight status for a while and during her down time, she and Colonel Tigh found something to agree on—disgust with the crew of Galactica for retreating from New Caprica at the start of the Cylon occupation and taking so long to rescue them. Their dissent created problems on Galactica and they were both confronted by Admiral Adama, telling them to get back in line and move on with their lives. Adama’s dressing down was just the kick in the pants Starbuck needed, prompting her to return to duty. While back on duty, Starbuck is harassed by a phantom Cylon contact. She chases after it, to near death, several times before going in one last time. On her final attempt to find it, Starbuck has further revelations about Leoben’s prophecy and she decides to go deeper into the storm that the contact is guiding her into, to her apparent death.
You would think that would be the end of Starbuck’s story, but alas, it was not. Starbuck reappears in a pristine Mark II Viper while the Colonial fleet prepared to engage the Cylons near the Ionian nebula and Lee Adama is the first to actually find her. Starbuck says she’s been to Earth and has returned to take the fleet there. Starbuck’s mysterious resurrection after two months, which to her seemed like minutes, leads many, including Starbuck herself, to question if she’s a Cylon. Though much of the fleet doesn’t trust the returned Starbuck, Admiral Adama believes Starbuck knows the way home and gives her command of Demetrius to figure out the course to Earth. Once again, a Leoben unit crosses Starbuck’s path and throws things into chaos. This time, Leoben offers an alliance with the Cylons. Most of the crew doesn’t trust Leoben, but Starbuck jumps Demetrius to the basestar and takes a small team aboard to assist in unboxing Cylon Three, which will reveal the Final Five Cylons and the way to Earth. Starbuck is shocked to learn that not only is she not a Cylon, but her husband, Anders is. The unboxing also reveals that Starbuck’s Viper has been sending out a signal that will lead them all to Earth. The Colonial fleet follows the signal to Earth, only to find a devastated planet. On Earth, Starbuck discovers the source of the homing signal, the wreckage of her crashed Viper…with her still inside it. I’ll freely admit, this is where the show started to go off the rails for me. I finished out the series for completeness’ sake, but honestly, the last bit of Starbuck’s story is just so bizarre, I still really can’t process it.
The discovery of Earth thanks to Cylon help doesn’t soften humanity’s feelings towards the Cylons. Felix Gaeta leads a mutiny aboard Galactica and imprisons Admiral Adama and Colonel Tigh for collaborating with the enemy. While the mutiny would be put down, it wasn’t without costs. Anders took a bullet to the back of the head, and while it was not fatal, it triggered Anders’ previous Cylon memories. Starbuck pressed him for information about what she was, but even Anders didn’t know. The bullet was removed from his skull and left him with no brain activity and becomes the Galactica’s Hybrid. Starbuck attempts to figure out the mystery of the music that activated the Final Five (Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”) and in a desperate hail Mary play when the Galactica is about to be destroyed, uses the notes as coordinates and jumps the fleet to Earth. Her destiny, leading the humans to Earth, complete, Starbuck literally disappears.
Okay, wonky, confusing as all hell ending of the character’s arc aside, Starbuck is still a great character and I respect the series’ writers for not trying to make Starbuck into something she’s not. Yeah, she’s a jerk and a scoundrel, but who cares. She’s still a great character. I’ll admit, I found Starbuck a bit abrasive at first, but like most scoundrels, I developed a respect for her once I realized she had the skills to back up her abrasive arrogance. After all, it’s kind of hard to be pissed at someone who thinks they’re the best pilot out there when they, time and again, prove that they are. Add in her problems with authority, though, and she moves from hotshot pilot to scoundrel. Her relationship with Colonel Tigh was adversarial at best, but as much as I love Colonel Tigh, it’s hard not to admit that Starbuck was right. The man was a drunk who spent a good portion of the series living in a bottle. It’s hard for anyone to trust a commander like that. Like many scoundrels, she’s also pretty damaged. Her mother messed her up and then her time as both Leoben’s captor and later captive both took a toll on her. However, the part that I find most interesting about her is that like many fictional scoundrels, there was an element of bluster to her actions. One of the most gut-wrenching moments in the series for me was Starbuck’s reaction after she vented the Leoben that was her prisoner. After she killed him, she still prayed for her enemy’s soul. It was a powerful moment and considering what we had seen of Starbuck up to that point, part of what made it so powerful was that it was so unexpected. This was someone who came across as not giving much of a damn about anything and winding up so jaded after seeing so much death, yet killing a defenseless prisoner under orders from the president still took her aback. Like many scoundrels, there’s far more than meets the eye to Starbuck, hence her inclusion on Sarcastibots’ Scoundrel Round-Up.