Nobody Told Me Battlestar Galactica Was a Romance

I love love stories. My favorite part of any book, TV, movie, musical, play or other form of media, is always the romance. I swoon for soulmates; I rejoice at happy endings. That being said, you’d probably think my favorite fictional couple of all time would be iconic lovers from an epic romance. Perhaps Rhett and Scarlett, or Romeo and Juliet, right?

Wrong. My OTP* is a couple of space pilots at the end of the world: Kara Thrace and Lee Adama. (Or as you probably know them: Starbuck and Apollo.)

The weird thing is that I’m not a science fiction fan. At all. Star Wars, Star Trek, pretty much anything with “Star” in the title had heretofore put me to sleep. But then in early 2008, I found the exception to my rule: Battlestar Galactica (BSG). Craving more of the incredible Katee Sackhoff who stole every scene in the not-very-good remake of Bionic Woman, I added the BSG miniseries (which serves as a precursor to the show) to my Netflix queue and started watching. I met snarky, swaggering Kara (Sackhoff), then prissy, intelligent Lee

Oh, Those Glowing Eyes That Never Did Make Any Sense...

(played by British actor Jamie Bamber), and I saw the fireworks they made and the rest, as they say, was history. I devoured the first three seasons on DVD and waited impatiently for the fourth to begin, satiating my newfound fixation with countless hours of consuming fan fic and fan vids* about the couple. Oh, Those Glowing Eyes That Never Did Make Any Sense…

Much ink has been spilled about the show’s relevant political allegories to 9/11 and Iraq or its chutzpah in genderbending the classic hero role of Starbuck (played by the increasingly bitter Dirk Benedict in the original 1970s version of the show). But the thing that gets less acclaim, and the thing that kept me tuning in disc after disc and then extended hiatus after extended hiatus, was the network of complicated relationships between the complex and fascinating characters. And the most complicated and fascinating of all was the relationship between Starbuck and Apollo.

Can You Feel the Heat Yet?

Here’s their story: Boy meets girl (while girl is engaged to boy’s younger brother!). Boy’s brother dies tragically. Girl drowns in guilt (she was partially responsible). Boy and girl do not see each other for two years.  THE WORLD ENDS. Boy and girl angstily, then later joyously, reunite . . . but not before they both nearly die multiple times and angsty confessions are made and she has to pull an insane retina-detaching move to save his tail. Can You Feel the Heat Yet?

That’s a lot, right? And we haven’t even gotten to the actual weekly episodes yet. But I’ll spare you the play-by-play (because you should really watch it for yourselves!) and just tell you a few reasons why I ship* them like burning:

  1. They have a connection that is unparalleled. The word soulmate is bandied around a lot these days, so much so that it’s often mocked. But I can’t think of a better word to describe Kara and Lee. They seem bonded at an elemental level. It’s something that’s there in the first moment they meet each other (which you don’t actually get to see until the show’s final episode) and they fight it like the dickens, but it’s irrepressible, incontrovertible . . . even a little co-dependent. Over the course of the show, they’re split apart again and again by conflicts internal (crushing guilt!) and external (other spouses!), but they’re pulled back together again and again, because they need each other.
  2. They complement each other.  On the surface, they’re nothing alike. Kara is brash and bold, self-destructive and spontaneous. Lee is introspective and hesitant, overachieving and cautious. But together they just work. He grounds her wilder side, she enlivens his uptight demeanor. The show frequently depicts them as a unit:they go on patrol together, they play good cop/bad cop, they synchronize their gunshots, and they even finish each other’s sentences when presenting plans in military tactical meetings.
  3. They almost never talk about their relationship. Subtext is text in this relationship. Kara is a doer, Lee is a thinker, neither one is a talker. Instead of long discussions about what things mean or where they stand, the real emotion and currency of their relationship is often expressed through their complete disregard of personal space boundaries when they get near each other. Or the way their voices break sometimes when they say each other’s names (and oh, lords, do they love to say each other’s names!). Accidental touches, meaningful eye contact—these are the telltale signs of their simmering, repressed love. The actors have an insane amount of chemistry—it’s like you can almost see the air crackling between them when they lean into each other—and the UST* is sky-high all the time.
  4. They subvert traditional gender roles in non-stereotypical ways. Kara’s a badass babe who smokes, drinks, enjoys sex for sex’s sake, and likes to kick a little ass every now and then. If you only focused on these aspects, it would be easy to say—and many of her critics do—that she’s just a man in a woman’s body. But she’s also vulnerable and in need of comfort and a nurturer at various points in the show. Likewise, Lee is often in need of rescuing, or is the pining one in the relationship , so he’s sometimes decried as weak or too “emo,” but he can also be a strong leader and quite forceful when facing an enemy.  It’s an interesting subversion of the usual stereotypes presented in fictional media. They’re not defined by their gender, but are layered and complex blends of feminine and masculine both . . . you know, like real people.
  5. They are everything to each other. Family, friends, enemies, coworkers, lovers—Kara and Lee are every romantic trope all wrapped up in one relationship. There’s the I’m-almost-like-your-sister thing. There’s the I’m-your-boss-and-it’s-inappropriate thing. There’s the you’re-my-best -friend-and-I-can’t-mess-that-up thing. There’s an I-love-you-so-much-it-scares-the-crap-out-of-me thing. There’s an I’m-gonna-leave-you-because-I’m-afraid-I’ll-hurt-you thing. There’s an our-timing-is-always-starcrossed (literally!) thing.  There’s . . . well, I could go on and on, but that’s a lot of things! All of which offer chewy emotional drama to savor.

In short, they banter like ’30s film stars and punch each other bloody, they go into battle together and have each other’s backs, they love each other and they hurt each other, they even defy death (sci-fi, remember?), and through it all, no matter what, they always come back to each other. That’s why they’re my most romantic couple of all time.


OTP= One True Pairing (the couple you love above all others)

Ship  (v.) = To root for, follow, and squee over a specific relationship (also referred to as a ship (n.)). If you ship a couple, you are a shipper (n.).

Fic/vids= Short (or sometimes long) fiction and videos made by fans, often shippy in nature

UST= Unresolved Sexual Tension

For more BSG and/or Starbuck & Apollo, check out Galactica Sitrep, No Takebacks, S.A.S.A., and Battlestar Blog.

This post originally appeared on our romance sister site Heroes & Heartbreakers.

Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.


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