The 21st century re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica adapted a storyline from the short-lived spinoff series Galactica 1980 to save the life of Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff). The original Battestar Galactica had been canceled by ABC in 1979, leading to a letter writing campaign and protests outside their studios demanding the show be recommissioned. Surprised by the public backlash to the decision to cancel Battlestar, ABC contacted show creator Glen A. Larson to see if he could revive the series for a smaller budget.

The revived series, Galactica 1980, was an obvious money-saving exercise that swapped the space battles of the original series for life in contemporary America. The premise was that a new generation of the Galactica crew were now working with human scientists to advance technology and prepare the Earth for an attack by the Cylons. The new Battlestar Galactica series was poorly received by audiences and Galactica 1980 was canceled during the production of episode 11. The final episode to air was “The Return of Starbuck”, which saw the return of Dirk Benedict and would also eventually inspire the plot of the 21st-century BSG episode “You Can’t Go Home Again”. However, despite its poor reception, Galactica 1980 still had its uses.

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What Happened To Starbuck In Galactica 1980

Dirk Benedict as Starbuck in Galactica 1980

When production began on Galactica 1980, Dirk Benedict was unavailable for filming and would therefore be unable to reprise his role as Starbuck. After the passionate response to Battlestar‘s cancelation in 1979, it must have been incredibly frustrating for fans to tune into the show they saved only to find that many of their favorite characters were absent. As well as Starbuck, Apollo (Richard Hatch) was also missing from the new line-up. Richard Hatch would later return for BSG‘s revival, but declined to return for Galactica 1980 because he wasn’t sure where Apollo fitted into the next generation of the Galactica crew.

To address these absences, the writers provided various explanations of what happened to the original BSG characters between the show’s cancelation and Galactica 1980. Apollo was simply dead, with no information given about how he met his fate. As Dirk Benedict was simply unavailable, rather than outright declining to return, the fate of Starbuck was left more open-ended. It was said that Starbuck had crash-landed on a planet, and was missing presumed dead. Starbuck’s fate was eventually revealed in the final episode of Galactica 1980, “The Return of Starbuck”, recounted to Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) by his advisor Doctor Zee (James Patrick Stuart).

It’s revealed that Battlestar Galactica’s commander, Adama had made the difficult decision not to rescue Starbuck to protect the fleet. Starbuck’s Viper was stricken during his and Boomer’s battle with Cylon Raiders, and crashed on a deserted planet where he discovered a downed Cylon ship, and the corpses of several Cylon pilots. Starbuck reprogrammed one of these Cylons, and eventually formed a tentative friendship with his former enemy. Eventually, the Cylons catch up with Starbuck and his new friend Cy (Rex Cutter) while they were aiding the escape of Angela (Judith Chapman), a pregnant woman from another dimension. Cy gave his life to save his human friend from the Cylons, and died in Starbuck’s arms.

The ending revealed a Starbuck twist – that the child Angela was carrying was Zee, and that he may have been the spiritual son of Starbuck. The closing shot is of Starbuck, still alone on the surface of the planet, his ultimate fate unknown. If Galactica 1980 had continued, a sequel entitled “Wheel of Fire” would have revealed that Angela was testing Starbuck to see if he was worthy of becoming one of the ethereal Guardians of the Solar System. This is eerily similar to the eventual fate of the revived BSG‘s Starbuck, Kara Thrace, who became an angel and spirit guide to the Galactica crew.

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How Battlestar Galactica Changed The Story To Save Starbuck

Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) and the downed Cylon Raider in BSG

The most notable difference between Starbuck’s Galactica 1980 story and the revised version in Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot is the response of Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos). The opening of BSG season 1, episode 5, “You Can’t Go Home Again” is incredibly similar to that of “The Return of Starbuck”. Again, Starbuck and Boomer are attacked by Cylon Raiders, and Kara “Starbuck” Thrace was forced to crash-land her Viper on the red moon. Unlike his predecessor, the revival’s Adama refused to leave Starbuck behind, putting the fleet at risk to save her life. Adama’s loyalty to Starbuck became an obsession that led to him being relieved of duty by his second-in-command, Colonel Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan).

While the power struggle between Adama and Tigh took place above the red moon, Starbuck found a downed Cylon Raider with subtle differences from the one found in Galactica 1980. Like the humanoid Cylons created by BSG‘s Final Five, the Raiders were a fusion of cybernetic parts and organic materials. When Starbuck discovers the ship, it’s more like a wounded bird than a fearsome battleship. In changing the wounded Cylon from Galactica 1980 to a damaged, sentient battleship, the BSG reboot gave Starbuck the means to escape being marooned on a barren and inhospitable world.

Battlestar Kept The Spirit Of Cy In The New Series

Starbuck and Cy in Galactica 1980 and Starbuck and Anders in the BSG reboot

The relationship between Starbuck and the Cylon raider is reflective of the symbiotic relationship between a pilot and their craft, enhancing the BSG reboot’s central theme of the relationship between humanity and machines. The sentient Raiders weren’t capable of speech like Cy in Galactica 1980 and could only communicate via their shared consciousness, with each new Raider retaining the memories of their destroyed predecessor. Starbuck’s connection with the new Cylon model Raider on the red moon foreshadowed her own connection with one of the Final Five later in the series.

Resistance leader Samuel T. Anders (Michael Trucco) was introduced in BSG season 2, episode 4, “Resistance” and became Starbuck’s husband in season 3. Anders was later revealed to be a Cylon sleeper, thereby progressing Galactica 1980‘s Starbuck and Cy storyline to the next level. Ultimately, “The Return of Starbuck” was a story about how Starbuck’s loyalty to Cy in spite of his origins was evidence of his inherently good nature. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot is about deeper existential themes like the disappearing distinctions between organic and cybernetic life. Updating Galactica 1980‘s story of friendship as a complex story of love and loyalty was the perfect way to stay true to the spirit of Cy.

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