Battlestar Galactica ended in 2009 and left its viewers with a myriad of questions, one of the most poignant being the real meaning behind Kara “Starbuck” Thrace’s twist ending and resurrection. Like the 1978 original, Ronald D. Moore’s 2004 reboot depicts the small remnants of human civilization living on planets known as the Twelve Colonies. The series was praised for intertwining political and philosophical debate into the science-fiction space adventure genre. The storyline that the character of Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) saw from the end of season 3 till Battlestar Galactica‘s season 4 finale goes to show exactly how well-crafted the show’s religious-philosophical layer is.
In Battlestar Galactica season 3, episode 17, Starbuck pursues a Cylon vessel and descends into a storm system that looks remarkably like the “Eye of Jupiter” mandala she has been drawing. Although the enemy clips her Viper, the ship appears unscathed once she makes her way back to the base. The pilots review her gun camera and see Starbuck shooting at clouds. Starbuck’s visions continue as she flies out again and is hit by the Heavy Raiders – this time, she sees Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) asking her to face her past and fulfill her destiny. She wakes up, tells Lee (Jamie Bamber) “I’ll see you on the other side” and her Viper explodes. But three episodes later, Katee Sackhoff’s Battlestar Galactica character appears again in an intact Viper, claiming she has been to Earth and she wants to guide the Fleet there. Starbuck spends Battlestar Galactica season 4 defending her human identity (while questioning it herself), only to disappear in the series finale after having fulfilled her destiny.
It takes a while for the resurrected Starbuck to convince the crew to let her guide them to Earth. When she is given permission, she behaves erratically and even confesses to Lee she feels distanced from her body. When Starbuck and the crew follow her Viper’s signals to Earth, they find a nuclear war-ravaged planet along with Starbuck’s own ship and dead body. Lost and confused about her identity, Starbucks ends up composing a song her dad once taught her, then uses the song’s number formula as coordinates and takes Battlestar Galactica’s Fleet to the viewers’ version of Earth, 150,000 years ago. Starbuck completes her destiny and vanishes, proving she was an angel-like being (or a messenger), meant to guide mankind to safety.
Starbuck’s resurrection ties into Battlestar Galactica’s recurrent theme of polytheism, hinting that Starbuck is a version of Aurora, one of the Lords of Kobol. Kara Thrace carries an icon of Aurora with her and later gives it as a gift to Adama. When Starbuck fulfills her destiny, she does so by repeating Aurora’s role in the story of the Lords of Kobol by guiding Galactica and the Fleet to Earth, to safety. Starbuck thus completes the series’ as well as mankind’s story. Battlestar Galactica’s ending became quite controversial, as many viewers criticized it for its extensive religious references. Starbuck working in the service of a higher power means that humans finding Earth was “all part of God’s plan,” seemingly removing all human autonomy from the show.
But Battlestar Galactica co-creator Ron Moore said (via Discover): “Kara is what you want her to be. It’s easy to put the label on her of “angel.” [She] died and was resurrected and came back and took the people to their final end.” Moore added that the more the creators would have explained, the less interesting it would have become, so they decided to leave some mystery surrounding Starbuck’s resurrection and disappearance. For that reason, it’s not entirely clear if Starbuck was an angel the entire time, only resurrected as one, or if the resurrected “Starbuck” was an angel imprinted with her likeness and memories. No matter the details, Kara Thrace was resurrected by a higher power in order to serve one last function for mankind. The specifics of how that happened will never be revealed, and perhaps this is exactly what makes the Battlestar Galactica such a smart, intriguing series.