The Women of Battlestar:Galactica; Kera Thrace/Starbuck

Spoilers for season one of Battlestar: Galactica. No reference to the original series.

There was an uproar in the scifi community when it became known that the creators of the new Battlestar: Galactica series planned to turn the hero, Starbuck, into a heroine. But all but the most puritan of critics have quietened over Katee Sackoff’s interpretation, after the BG PTB went back to the Ellen Ripley School of Scifi Heroines and created a character whose personality traits, assets and liabilities had nothing to do with her gender.

Captain Kera Thrace, aka Starbuck, is a brilliant, daring pilot with a short temper; if the fleet didn’t need her piloting skills so desperately on account of their civilization being in near annihilation, they would have thrown her out already. She carries the remorse of being partially responsible for her lover’s death, but this never comes across as a female-only thing, and it helps that her lover’s surviving brother and father are equally as screwed up over it. In fact, when Thrace goes missing, the two men put the fleet in jeopardy to look for her, stubbornly refusing to let go of their only link to the dead man. This is one of the most stereotyped “˜womanly’ actions in the entire season; stop what we’re doing, put everyone at risk to save one person who’s sentimental value outweighs her strategic value – and it’s committed by the two male leads, and needs to be stopped by the female civilian leader.

Meanwhile, when Thrace is stranded on a hostile planet, we get to see the quick-thinking which made her such strategic value; while everyone else is wasting time and fuel looking for her, she commandeers an enemy ship, gerry-rigs it to work, and flies it home, innovatively marking it so the fleet knows it’s her. If the Stargate PTB had ever shown Carter’s brilliance at work – and her fallibility in the form of acknowledged poor judgement, a nasty injury that takes her out of action for weeks or a murderous temper – there probably wouldn’t be such division among the fans today.

And while Sackoff looks like she could scrub up quite nicely, Thrace is decidedly unglamorous, even when in a ballgown. Several scenes which have her in standard-issue military garb have her looking little more feminine then a small (but still muscly) guy. And don’t even get me started raving about the novel approach of putting muscles on a military women 😛

Thrace is an intellectual match for most of the men on the fleet and kicks most of their asses when it comes to piloting and military tactics. At the end of season one, she’s promoted to a tactical behind-the-scenes position, and unlike Carter, we appreciate that she’s earned the promotion. She’s brilliant – if fallible – at what she does. We don’t need to be told this, as we do Carter; we can see it with our own two eyes.


  1. Gategrrl says

    Yeah. I really liked the Starbuck of the first season. She was like a revelation to someone who’d only been spoonfed a “feminist” with big tits and blond hair on Stargate. At least, that’s what Carter had turned into by the middle of the fourth season of Stargate.

    There was NO comparison between the two characters – they’re the night and day portrayal of women in fiction. Thrace is WHAT she does and WHO she is. Carter is WHAT others think she is and WHO others think she is. Even Carter’s bad judgements are glamorized as being “good” and “not a mistake”. While Thrace’s bad decisions come back to bite her in the ass. (Could you ever see Carter bedding down with Kinsey on Stargate? the equivalent, Thrace slept with Baltar and they showed it! And she *owned* it!)

  2. scarlett says

    Yeah, and I forgot that bit when I was writing the article – I loved that they showed it was a dumb thing to do, and she accepted it was a dumb thing to do.

  3. Patrick says

    Starbuck quickly became my favprite character on the show in part because the show actually acknowledges that she’s a screw-up and makes it a part of her character, rather than dismissing her lapses of judgment because she’s a “girl.”

    Also, Starbuck’s muscles? Sexy. But try explaining that to the network.

  4. scarlett says

    I liked that she was as well-built as the guys on the show, which was a case of ‘well, duh, I’m sure the miltary has standards of physical fitness’ – Carter always looked a bit soft to me. I loved that scene after she’d damaged her knee and she couldn’t push up the Gweight thing that stimulated gforce – basically she’d suffered from a nasty injury which took her a few episodes to properly recover from.
    I love everything about BsG, not just the great characters, although I suppose when you commit to writing great characters and consistant storylines across the board, that trickles down to your female characters…

  5. Patrick says

    The commitment to believability that the creators show, with things like injuries actually taking several episodes to heal (even if it’s just a bad cut on someone’s face) is one of the show’s best features. I’ve often found that the things that snap my disbelief suspenders are not the big sci-fi or genre elements, but human details like injuries or inconsistent characters (part of what drove me far away from SG-1).

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, they definitely do an amazing job with little consistencies like that. It almost feels like a documentary at times.

    I’ve heard it used to be thought that audiences weren’t sophisticated enough to keep up with injuries from one week to the next, so it was better to pretend Last Week never happened than to reference it visually without explaining it AND relating it to this week’s episode.

  7. scarlett says

    Actually, I – and most of the people I knew – were always griping about that LACK of consistancy, like ‘that person damaged their knee badly last week, what are they doing running a marathon?’ It seems that the only time they bother to be consistant like that is when the ACTOR is injured and can’t PHYSICALLY PERFORM a certain way.
    Another thing I like about Starbuck is there’s a few references to the fact that, despite being a brilliant fighter/tactician, she’s something of a loose cannon, which is probably why she’s never promoted. A scenario like SG1, even though the team would be highly in demand BECAUSE they’re renegades, the military wouldn’t keep promoting Carter and O’Niell precicely because they couldn’t be trusted to follow orders.

  8. SunlessNick says

    And she said “Lee” doing so – which annoyed me in that I didn’t really want Kara/Lee attraction, but it did add a certain something to the scene.

  9. scarlett says

    I thought the whole ‘Lee’ thing was part of the fracked-up dysfunctional relationship they had. I think their relationship is facinating, the way they had, IMHO, a mutual attraction which they may have acted on in different circumstances, and residual grief/guilt over Lee’s brother, their mutual respect for one another, their understanding of one another. If someone can summarise this better, go ahead, but a little bit of repressed sexual tension seemed naturual given the convulted history they had.

    If, only the other hand, TPTB tried to flog it as ‘yeah, they went through all this crap together but have never had any sexual or romantic thoughts of one another whatsoever’ I would have been thinking ‘yeah, right’, and not writing a series about the fantastic female characters and their dynamics of their relationships with men.


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