In the pantheon of badass female characters, there are iconic names we all know and love. Ellen Ripley. Leia Organa. Buffy Summers. It's definitely not a stretch to include Battlestar Galactica's resident ace Viper pilot, Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) on that list.
Over the course of the 2004 reimagining's four seasons, Kara (who was changed to a female character from the male Lieutenant Starbuck in the original 1978 series) evolved from a confident, hot-tempered fighter pilot to one of the literal saviors of humanity (and a possible angelic being, though the jury's still out on that).
In honor of one of the best sci-fi shows around, we're dedicating this BSG binge guide to none other than Starbuck herself — and all of her wild, wacky and most WTF-worthy moments.
Miniseries (Special Episode)
This is technically the two-part miniseries that aired before the actual show, and it establishes a lot of characters, not just Starbuck. But it's a good place to start if you want to get to know Kara Thrace and how she relates to specific characters — namely, Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) as well as Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber).
“Act of Contrition” (Season 1, Episode 4)
A largely Kara-centric episode shines a little more backstory on her relationship with the Adama family, specifically her romance with youngest son Zak, with whom she was involved while he was under her supervision as a flight school instructor. Allowing her feelings for Zak to cloud her judgment, Kara passes him through basic flight. He is later killed during a routine mission, and while the loss brings Kara and Zak's father Bill closer together, she doesn't initially confess her role in Zak's death.
“You Can’t Go Home Again” (Season 1, Episode 5)
After crash-landing on a small moon during the events of "Act of Contrition," a severely injured Kara is forced to fight to survive. Adama refuses to give up the search for her even at risk to the rest of the fleet, but Starbuck manages to commandeer a downed Cylon Raider ship and fly off the moon to rejoin Galactica. It's an early episode that manages to showcase exactly how badass and capable Kara is, especially in a crisis.
“Flesh and Bone” (Season 1, Episode 8)
When a humanoid Cylon named Leoben Conoy is captured and taken aboard Galactica, Starbuck is tasked with his interrogation. This episode spins out a little more narrative thread to hint at the possibility of the humans finding Earth (and a new home) and gives us the beginnings of the extremely frakked-up fixation Leoben starts to develop for Kara, which has more significant ramifications later on.
“The Hand of God" (Season 1, Episode 10)
Still in recovery from the injuries she sustained in "You Can't Go Home Again," Kara is effectively grounded as a Viper pilot. While she chafes against Adama's orders, the commander tasks her with coming up for a plan to seize control of an asteroid from the Cylons, knowing she's good at "outside the box" thinking.
“Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part I and II” (Season 1, Episode 12 and 13)
Kara uses the re-tooled Cylon Raider to head out on a secret mission for President Laura Roslin, jumping back to Caprica in order to retrieve the legendary Arrow of Apollo. There, she encounters a Number Six Cylon model, who she takes on in life-or-death combat and manages to defeat.
“Scattered”/"Valley of Darkness" (Season 2, Episode 1 and 2)
Still on Caprica, Kara discovers that fellow pilot Karl "Helo" Agathon has survived, as well as Sharon Valerii who she immediately recognizes as a Cylon due to the other version of Sharon currently serving back on Galactica. While Helo's warning that Sharon is pregnant with his child stops Kara from killing her, the Cylon takes advantage of their ensuing argument to escape in Kara's Cylon Raider. Now stranded, Kara and Helo find their way to Kara's old apartment, where they eventually locate the keys to her old SUV. Now they've got a way to move about.
"Resistance"/"The Farm" (Season 2, Episode 4 and 5)
Starbuck and Helo aren't the only human survivors left on Caprica. A group of resistance fighters, led by former Pyramid player Sam Anders and other members of his old team, have been finding small ways to attack the Cylons and steal their supplies. Later, Starbuck challenges Anders to a game of Pyramid and they wind up sleeping together. During a mission with the resistance, Kara is kidnapped by the Cylons. She uncovers the horrifying truth that the Cylons are harvesting ovaries from human women in an attempt to create a hybrid Cylon/human baby. Having tracked Kara down, the resistance (with the help of Caprica-Sharon) comes to her rescue. Kara promises Anders she'll return with more reinforcements to take the resistance members off of Caprica before she, Helo and Sharon depart the planet for Galactica.
“Home, Part I and II” (Season 2, Episode 6 and 7)
Starbuck is reunited with her friends on Galactica, but none seem more pleased to see her than Lee, who promptly kisses her upon her return (and later lets it slip that he loves her). Later, a team consisting of Roslin, Lee, Adama, Starbuck, Helo and Sharon land on the planet Kobol to use the Arrow of Apollo in order to track a successful course to Earth.
“Pegasus”/”Resurrection Ship, Part I and II” (Season 2, Episode 10, 11 and 12)
Galactica unexpectedly encounters Pegasus, another fleet ship that managed to jump away before the Cylon nuclear attack on Caprica. Pegasus admiral Helena Cain immediately reassigns Kara and Lee to her ship as the ranking senior officer, but her severity in command presents a risk to the entire fleet. Although Kara is sent on a successful stealth mission to gain intelligence on the nearby Cylon Resurrection Ship, Adama later privately asks her to assassinate Cain after the attack is over. Cain eventually meets her end at the hands of a Number Six Cylon model she had subjected to extreme torture and rape from her subordinates.
“Scar” (Season 2, Episode 15)
Kara's feeling particularly useless thanks to a combination of problems. She can't convince Galactica and the fleet to go back to Caprica to rescue Anders and the resistance, and there's a pesky Cylon Raider (nicknamed "Scar") that presents a dangerous threat. Starbuck works together with fellow Viper pilot Louanne "Kat" Katraine to eventually take down Scar.
“Lay Down Your Burdens, Part I and II” (Season 2, Episode 19 and 20)
Kara's plea to lead the Caprica rescue mission is finally given the go-ahead, but a surprising ceasefire from the Cylons lulls everyone into a false sense of security. After the humans found a new colony called New Caprica, fast forward a year and Kara and Sam are now married. When the Cylons unexpectedly return and force a surrender from the colony, Galactica and the orbiting fleet jump away in order to plot a long-term return. Back on New Caprica, Kara watches the Cylons march in and informs the others that she plans to fight.
“Occupation”/ “Precipice” / “Exodus, Part I and II” (Season 3, Episode 1, 2, 3 and 4)
Remember when we said Leoben had a creepy obsession with Starbuck? It rears its ugly head here during the Cylon occupation. Not only does Leoben keep Starbuck prisoner, he also attempts to convince her that she's in love with him. Kara kills Leoben five different times, but because of his ability to download into a new body, he's able to keep coming back. Later, he gives Kara a young girl named Kacey who he insists is their daughter, cobbled together from one of her ovaries (harvested in "The Farm") and his genetics. This is revealed to be a lie after Galactica's return to rescue the colonists from the Cylons, and Kara discovers that Kacey is actually a human child Leoben had taken from her mother.
“Torn” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Still experiencing post-traumatic stress from her time in captivity on New Caprica, Starbuck is restless and lashing out, which leads to Lee revoking her flight status. Her marriage to Anders is also crumbling. Kara's discontent eventually leads to Adama pulling her aside for a dressing down, but this conversation is enough to shake Kara out of her funk, and she eventually spends a moment with Kacey and her mother towards the end of the episode.
“Unfinished Business” (Season 3, Episode 9)
One of the best hours of Battlestar Galactica, period, this is also a great ep that furthers the Kara/Lee romance. We learn that they finally acted on their feelings for one another with a sexual interlude on New Caprica, but the following day Kara got up and married Anders instead. These flashbacks all occur while Kara and Lee are literally boxing each other, and their tensions culminate in the pair making up.
"The Eye of Jupiter"/“Rapture” (Season 3, Episode 11 and 12)
With Kara and Lee both back on Galactica, they initially decide to pick up where they left off on New Caprica. Lee wants them both to divorce their respective spouses, but Kara's religious beliefs dictate that she can't divorce her husband in the eyes of the gods. During a recon flight, Starbuck's Raptor is hit by a missile and she's eventually rescued by none other than Lee's wife, Lieutenant Dualla. The ancient Temple of Five also uncovers a surprising link to Starbuck's destiny.
“Maelstrom” (Season 3, Episode 17)
Starbuck continues to wrestle with questions about her fate and the prophecy Leoben has apparently foretold about her destiny. After experiencing a powerful sequence of visions, Starbuck flies her Viper into a planetary storm in the hopes of finding answers, and her ship appears to explode in front of Lee's eyes.
“Crossroads, Part II” (Season 3, Episode 20)
Kara makes a seemingly miraculous return to the fleet, telling an incredulous Lee that she has been to Earth and now intends to take everyone there. Meanwhile, Anders becomes aware that he is a Cylon, one of the "Final Five" models created thousands of years ago.
“He That Believeth In Me”/"Six of One" (Season 4, Episode 1 and 2)
Understandably, the rest of the fleet is equal parts confused and terrified by Kara's unexpected return, especially since she has no memory of how she even got to Earth and her Viper looks practically brand new. According to Kara, only a few hours have passed for her, but it's actually been over two months since she disappeared. She claims that her intuition will lead the fleet to Earth, but when Galactica jumps in the wrong direction Kara confronts Roslin at gunpoint. As a result, she's confined to the brig but is later given command of a ship called the Demetrius and a small crew (which includes Anders and Helo) to try to find Earth.
“The Ties That Bind” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Kara's been experiencing a serious sense of ennui since her return, mostly keeping to her own quarters on the Demetrius and poring over star charts. When Anders tries to reconcile with her, she informs him that she isn't the same person she married. Though they eventually have sex, she confesses that she feels detached from herself and everything happening around her.
“The Road Less Traveled”/"Faith" (Season 4, Episode 5 and 6)
A Leoben copy links up with the Demetrius to pose a potential alliance, but growing tensions among the crew and concerns over Starbuck's leadership decisions lead to a fight breaking out when she orders the ship to jump to a nearby Cylon basestar. Anders also fears that Leoben will expose his identity as a Cylon to Kara. On the basestar, the central computer known as the Hybrid informs Kara that she will be the "harbinger of death" that will lead humanity to their end.
“Revelations”/"Sometimes a Great Notion" (Season 4, Episode 10 and 11)
Kara is rattled when she learns that Anders is a Cylon, and this discovery also takes place around the same time she decides to study the Viper she returned to Galactica in. It turns out to be emitting a signal that leads the colonists directly to Earth, but when Kara and a small group arrive on the surface, they find only devastation and ruin. Kara also discovers the remains of a crashed Viper and a charred body, which she identifies as her own. After quietly cremating the body, she doesn't tell anyone about what she unearthed.
“The Oath”/"Blood on the Scales" (Season 4, Episode 13 and 14)
A mutiny aboard Galactica led by Lieutenant Felix Gaeta and Vice President Tom Zarek force Kara to take action. After rescuing Lee from a group of discontented pilots, Kara also frees several prisoners from Galactica's brig, including Anders. In the fight that ensues, Anders is shot in the back of the head, though he survives the attack on his life.
“No Exit”/”Deadlock”/"Someone to Watch Over Me" (Season 4, Episode 15, 16 and 17)
The bullet still in Anders' head is apparently triggering memories of his previous Cylon life, but when pressed he claims to have no knowledge of what happened to Kara or why she returned. Once the bullet is removed, Anders falls unconscious with no signs of brain activity. Starbuck rediscovers a piece of music composed by her father that may be the key to new Earth.
“Daybreak, Part I, II and III” (Season 4, Episode 19 and 20)
In the heat of a battle with the Cylons, Starbuck uses the notes of the music to plot coordinates to an unknown destination, which they later learn is their new home. Anders, serving as the new Hybrid, is ordered to fly the entire fleet into the sun, destroying Galactica and all other ships. Down on the surface, Kara says goodbye to both Adama and Lee, telling the latter that she has fulfilled her destiny to bring the fleet to Earth. With that, she disappears, and Lee promises she will never be forgotten.