The Battlestar Galactica Writers Are Still Defending that Starbuck Plot

In a new oral history book of Battlestar Galactica, the cast and creators recount the story of Starbuck's death.

Entertainment Weekly has a sneak peek into So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica, a new book that dives deep into the iconic science fiction series. The snippet focuses on the third season choice to temporarily kill Katee Sackhoff’s character, Starbuck, off of the series, a decision that came as a shock not only to fans, but to the cast and crew of the show, who were initially left in the dark about the fact Sackhoff would be returning a few episodes later.

Almost 15 years later, this writer is still upset about the narrative choice, which resulted in a half-baked plot about Starbuck’s greater destiny as some kind of Christ figure, leading the last vestiges of humanity to Earth. In the Say So We All snippets, the writers try to explain themselves (she typed, with love)…

“We didn’t really know how we were going to pay things off yet, because it was such an organic process on Battlestar,” explains writer and producer David Weddle. “I was up for the preproduction in the first couple days of shooting on ‘Rapture’ and ‘The Eye of Jupiter.’ Katee Sackhoff came up to me and said, ‘So what’s the deal with the mandala? What does that mean?’ Of course I didn’t know yet, and I said, ‘Well, we’re still developing that. It’s kind of premature to talk about it.’ I was tap-­dancing.”

Sackhoff put forth her idea. At this point, showrunner Ronald D. Moore had already talked to Sackhoff about Starbuck having a larger destiny, and Sackhoff wondered if the mandala triggers a recollection of the mandala in her own past that she now interprets in a completely different way.

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“I came back to the writers’ room in L.A.,” continues Weddle, “and the story up on the board for the episode that they were going to have Brad and I write. In it, Lee and Kara are orbiting this planet with a lot of cloud cover, and while they’re doing their missions, they talk about their fraught relationship. I said, ‘Well, we kind of have done that over and over. Can’t we try to advance it in some way? And here’s what Katee Sackhoff has to say.'”

Ron just grabbed that and ran with it and said, ‘Yes. Let’s do that.’ Then we got the idea of the cloud around the planet starting to look to her like the mandala, and then this whole theme of her always tiptoeing up to the edge of death. You know this might be a vehicle for exploring that.

From there, the idea for Starbuck’s temporary death eventually came, a narrative twist that the BSG writers didn’t have a definite end in mind for when the plan was first hatched. Weddle calls the plan to kill off Starbuck’s character “an incredible, radical idea none of us would have ever dared to think of.” 

Of course, in an attempt to keep Starbuck’s imminent return from the dead a secret, the BSG writers didn’t tell the rest of the cast or crew about temporary nature of Sackhoff’s departure.

“This was one of the stupidest things that David [Eick] and I did in the entire run of the show,” recounts Moore. “You’re right at the cusp of social media and the internet starting to ferret out spoilers from shows. Various plotlines are getting blown online for the first time. This is becoming a thing that none of us had ever had to deal with before. Our feeling was this was only going to work if the audience thinks we mean it, and the characters mean it. We’ll take her name out of the main credits, we want this to be a shock. Katee knows she’s coming back and we swear her to secrecy, so then, of course, it just becomes a fiasco and Katee is telling everyone she’s leaving the show.”

Edward James Olmos, who played Commander Adama, was particularly against the departure. Apparently, when he read the script, he declared: “The show will never be the same.” Edward James Olmos is officially all of us.

Olmos’ resistance to the apparent cast change led Sackhoff to tell Olmos the truth. He turned around and told the whole cast, but, of course, the audience was kept in the dark, leading to a narrative experience that, while impressive and admirable in its determination to manipulate the viewer, never felt like it was worth it.

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Battlestar Galactica remains one of my favorite shows of all time and I appreciate the fact that the writers room was so organic in the development of its story. I don’t think a TV show should have to have a plan from the beginning, especially given how many elements of TV production are outside of the writers’ control. That being said, I still think this was a dumb plot that didn’t make sense within the show’s larger mythology that only served to undermine the realism of this world and the integrity of this objectively wonderful TV character.

In related news, you better believe I am going to consume every page of this book. So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica(by the wonderful Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman) is available for purchase starting today.

Kayti Burt serves as a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. A long-term lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, she is an unabashed defender of the power of speculative storytelling and a proponent of sentimental TV. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.