Created By: zarpaulus on June 9, 2013 Last Edited By: zarpaulus on July 20, 2013
Troped

Galactic Superpower

One polity that controls most if not all of known space.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
In a lot of Space Opera there is a single political entity that governs the majority of the setting, even if the setting spans an entire galaxy, or universe in some cases. It may be an Empire, a Republic, a Federation, some even work more like a Fictional United Nations, it doesn't really matter. If there are other polities they are small nations at the outskirts of the Empire or rebellions against them.

There might be several reasons why a writer would employ this trope:
  • The writer doesn't want to go to the extra work of creating and developing lots and lots of tiny nations and creates a dominant Galactic Superpower to save time. And to be honest detailing more than one nation is not really necessary unless the story involves politics.
  • The writer is writing a story of the overthrow of a great galactic tyrant.
  • The superpower fell sometime ago, and the story may be about the attempt to restore it.

Compare Space-Filling Empire, Ungovernable Galaxy

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • The Empire of Valdana in Tytania ruled space at the beginning of the series. But apparently the ruling Tytania clan wasn't as powerful as they thought.
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes the Galactic Empire rules over the majority of the galaxy, with only two other factions even existing. The neutral Phezzan Dominion, and the Free Planets Alliance, which is in fact an offshot of the Galactic Empire and significantly smaller, although it can be said to be a Galactic Superpower in its own right. Reinhard von Lohengramm, as emperor of the Galactic Empire, has the unification of the entire galaxy as his ultimate goal. He more or less succeeds.

Film
  • Star Wars had first the Old Republic after the defeat of the Sith Empire, then the Galactic Empire, then the New Republic, then the Galactic Alliance coexisted with the Fel Empire for a century before the Sith took over the Empire again and conquered most of the Alliance.
    • Predating the Old Republic was the Rakatan Infinite Empire, a race of Abusive Precursors that enslaved most of the galaxy, then were done in when the Force rejected them.

Literature
  • The generally unnamed Empire in Dune that formed after the Butlerian Jihad and lasted up until Leto II manipulated its breaking up (almost 14,000 years).
  • The CoDominium universe went through three. The first was the titular alliance between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., the second was the Empire of Man founded by the former colony world of Sparta after the founders nuked each other into oblivion. The third was a second Spartan Empire that succeeded the first.
  • Honor Harrington is unique in that it initially took place in the "fringe" rather than anywhere near the superpower. The Solarian League is so vast that most maps don't show the entire thing, but their sheer numbers have meant that no one dared to fight them for centuries, as such the "barbarians" like Manticore tore their fleets to pieces when the League was manipulated into trying to extend their reach that far.
  • In the Foundation series there's the Galactic Empire, which is in the process of falling at the beginning of the first Foundation story, and later the Foundation itself, which is designed by Hari Seldon to be the new Galactic Empire after "only" 1,000 years (instead of the 30,000 years he anticipates chaos will reign without the Foundation in place).
  • Averted in the human era of Larry Niven's Known Space universe but two billion years ago the Thrintun (or Slavers) conquered most of the galaxy using their telepathic abilities to enslave other species. Until one of their slave races, the Tnuctipun, rebelled en masse and instead of admitting defeat the Slavers commanded every chordate in the galaxy to commit suicide.
  • In the Star Carrier series the human government, the Terran Confederation of States, is one of the small fringe factions. The series deals with their efforts to avoid being subsumed or destroyed by the Sh'daar Masters, an empire that controls most of the galaxy through a variety of vassal species.
  • The Starways Congress in the sequels to Ender's Game is one of the few examples without Faster-Than-Light Travel, though they do have a Subspace Ansible.
  • In the Distant Finale of Star Trek: Federation set many centuries in the future the UFP has unified the entire galaxy, and ships are now fast enough (using something called a "sidewarp" drive) that crossing it is trivial.
  • Poul Anderson's Technic History series had its Terran Empire phase, in the 31st century, though frequently the stories mention the vast difficulties of it and the limits of the empire's ability to actually control.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, the Back Story includes the wide control of the Psychocrats over many star systems.
  • In Andre Norton's The Zero Stone, Jern contemplates at one point that the Zacathans found evidence of several galaxy-wide civilizations that predated them -- and the Zacathans themselves have millions of years of history recorded.
  • In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, the League. To be sure, with some difficulties in scale.

Live Action TV
  • The Systems Commonwealth in Andromeda covered three galaxies before its fall.
  • Humanity in Doctor Who goes through a succession of progressively bigger empires in the future. Many covering multiple galaxies before eventually encompassing most of the universe.
  • Stargate Verse: For a good twenty millennia prior to Earth's stargate program, the Goa'uld Empire ruled most of the Milky Way with only a few small pockets resisting them. The fact that the Tau'ri were able to do in a decade what the Asgard, Furlings[[note]]according to the RPG they were involved in some of the fighting against Ra around the time he discovered humanity[[/note]] and Tok'ra couldn't do in thousands of years is quite impressive.
  • The Federation in Blake's 7 initially controlled all of the settled galaxy, except for some outlying settlements, the anomalous Aurons, and a few insular and well-hidden aliens.
  • The Anglo-Sino Alliance has jurisdiction over almost the entirety of the star system in which the Firefly franchise takes place (a half dozen stars with attendant planets and moons), though this is only very recent. Prior to the Unification War six years ago only the inner planets were members; the outer ones were independent. How much control they actually have varies from planet to planet.

Radio
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a galactic empire that Zaphod Beeblebrox used to be president of. And which seems to have nothing better to do than demolish planets to build hyperspace express lanes or chase after the ex-president.
    • There was also a hugely prosperous empire that collapsed five million years ago, due in large part to everyone's money going to Magrathea's luxury planet industry.
  • The Space Gypsy Adventures has the Federal Alliance, though Zenophon is outside it's jurisdiction.

Tabletop Games
  • The Imperium of Man in Warhammer40000 spans the Milky Way galaxy, but there are many worlds within that expanse that are controlled by other factions which the Imperium is constantly at war with. And the Eastern Reach where the Tau reside is still being explored.
  • The Terran Hegemony and Star League in the backstory of BattleTech ruled over most of known space but ever since it broke up the four successor states and the Clans have been pretty much in a stalemate.
  • The three Imperiums in Traveller were largely this in their times, though the Third Imperium encountered similarly sized alien Empires on its borders.

Video Games
  • The Terran Confederacy in StarCraft was thought to be the sole power in the Koprulu sector until contact with the Protoss. After its fall the succeeding Terran Dominion is the largest Terran polity in the sector but has competition from the Kel-Morian Combine and the Umojan Protectorate.
  • Subverted in Mass Effect. Most of the known Milky Way is controlled by the Citadel Council, but because of the limitations of mass effect drive and laws against opening mass relays willy-nilly barely 1% of the galaxy is actually explored.
    • 50,000 years ago the Prothean Empire dominated. And in previous cycles other empires ruled, the Citadel Council is implied to be an unusual method.
  • Escape Velocity:
    • Escape Velocity Override over half the map is controlled by the Crescent, a loose alliance of four alien races kept in check by an Omniscient Council of Vagueness that plays them off against each other.
    • In EV Nova the closest thing to this is the Auroran Empire, which isn't a single polity so much as a loose confederation of warrior clans that fight among themselves as often as they fight the Federation or the Polaris. Collectively they control a huge swathe of territory along the bottom half of the map bigger than the other two superpowers put together.
    • In the Starfleet Adventures mod for Nova (a total conversion for 23rd-century Star Trek) the Federation controls a patchwork of systems that amount to roughly half the map (which covers both the Alpha and Beta Quadrants), with other polities (Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Gorn, etc.) interspersed among them.
  • The Pangalactic Federation in the Star Ocean series.
  • Homeworld: The Taiidan Empire. In ancient history the Hiigarans were the dominant power before the Taiidan overthrew them.

Web Original
  • In Orion's Arm the First Federation attempted this in the 10th century a.t., more or less succeeding in unifying the Solar System and the few interstellar colonies that existed at the time. But as expansion continued the Federation became more or less a "rubber stamp" body and after about 1800 a.t. it was essentially irrelevant. The Second Federation of 3800 to 4450 a.t. was not so much a polity as a universal protocol of interactions between polities, which pretty much ended with the Version War. In the 106th century a.t. Terragen space is divided between several Sephirotic Empires that are starting to fragment.
Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • June 9, 2013
    StarSword
    Compare Space Filling Empire.

    Star Wars:
    • Predating the Old Republic was the Rakatan Infinite Empire, a race of Abusive Precursors that enslaved most of the galaxy, then were done in when the Force rejected them.

    TV:
    • Stargate Verse: For a good twenty millennia prior to Earth's stargate program, the Goa'uld Empire ruled most of the Milky Way with only a few small pockets resisting them. The fact that the Tau'ri were able to do in a decade what the Asgard, Furlings[[note]]according to the RPG they were involved in some of the fighting against Ra around the time he discovered humanity[[/note]] and Tok'ra couldn't do in thousands of years is quite impressive.

    Video Games:
    • Subverted in Mass Effect. Most of the known Milky Way is controlled by the Citadel Council, but because of the limitations of mass effect drive and laws against opening mass relays willy-nilly barely 1% of the galaxy is actually explored.
  • June 9, 2013
    StarSword
    Also, another government type for your list would be the Fictional United Nations.

  • June 9, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    In the Foundation series there's the Galactic Empire, which is in the process of falling at the beginning of the first Foundadion story, and later the Foundation itself, which is designed by Hari Seldon to be the new Galactic Empire after "only" 1,000 years (instead of the 30,000 years he anticipates chaos will reign without the Foundation in place).
  • June 10, 2013
    Larkmarn
    How is this different from The Federation?
  • June 10, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    The Federation is not a Space-only trope, and The Federation cannot be The Empire.
  • June 10, 2013
    StarSword
    Video Games:
  • June 10, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Comic Books
    • In his own words, The Beyonder from Marvel's Fantastic Four has always been "the all and the everything" in his universe.

    Western Animation
    • This is alluded to in Star Trek The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon." In the early eons of the galaxy, one race of cyclopean alligators conquered and subjugated a great many worlds, ruling them with an iron fist. A massive insurrection swept them from power, and their remnants were expunged until only a handful of stasis boxes remained.
  • June 10, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ That was the episode written by Larry Niven, right? I think I'll add the Known Space example he based that on instead.
  • June 10, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    ^ Yup, that was Niven all righty. So, ol' Larry "cheated" and borrowed some of his characters into Roddenberry's Star Trek 'verse. Tsk tsk. :)
  • June 15, 2013
    StarSword
    @Larkmarn: This doesn't make any distinctions between government type. All it requires is that one polity controls the majority of known space.

    Literature:
    • In the Star Carrier series the human government, the Terran Confederation of States, is one of the small fringe factions. The series deals with their efforts to avoid being subsumed or destroyed by the Sh'daar Masters, an empire that controls most of the galaxy through a variety of vassal species.

    Escape Velocity:
    • In EV Nova the closest thing to this is the Auroran Empire, which isn't a single polity so much as a loose confederation of warrior clans that fight among themselves as often as they fight the Federation or the Polaris. Collectively they control a huge swathe of territory along the bottom half of the map bigger than the other two superpowers put together.
    • In the Starfleet Adventures mod for Nova (a total conversion for 23rd-century Star Trek) the Federation controls a patchwork of systems that amount to roughly half the map (which covers both the Alpha and Beta Quadrants), with other polities (Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, Gorn, etc.) interspersed among them.
  • June 15, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    How much of a single polity does it have to be? Being a Fictional United Nations is listed as a possibility, but does it count if the F.U.N. has almost no capacity to enforce any laws, and the "polity" is better compared to Real Life Earth (many separate states, one sort-of-global civilization, many shared customs, intertwined economy, some shared institutions) ?
  • June 15, 2013
    StarSword
    ^It's a question of how closely tied together the FUN is and how powerful the central governing apparatus is (the trope has a somewhat nebulous definition; basically The Alliance specifically of polities, plus The Federation-style central government, plus no restrictions on Character Alignment). It all depends on how willing to work together and abide by the ruling council's decrees the member states are. One equivalent to modern day Earth where the FUN is largely ignorable probably wouldn't count (ref: the Community of Planets in the X-Universe, which is ineffective at doing anything but regulating trade unless there's an outside threat), but one where the member states are more closely tied (ref: Mass Effect and the Citadel Council, which can back up its decisions with anything from the Spectres to the turian military) would. Best to judge such examples on a case-by-case basis.
  • June 15, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ Think the Old Republic in The Phantom Menace or the Citadel Council in Mass Effect. Officially has jurisdiction over most of known space but has no real military to enforce it.
  • June 15, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    The one I'm thinking of is Galactic civilization in the Uplift series. Each clan (multiple species) is its own political unit. The unifying institutions are a shared culture/civilization, shared languages, and the Galactic Institutes. The Institute rules amount to inter-clan laws, but they can only be enforced if the Institute can get a clan to lend a military to punish the offending species (and the big militaries can pretty much do anything they want), convince the offending species to submit willingly to the laws (through intimidation or actual reverence for law), or if an Institute is internally punishing one of its own people and that person's species doesn't intervene politically to protect them.

    The books are also set during an era when the laws are especially unenforced, and all remaining sense of law largely evaporates.

    On the other hand, most clans do mostly obey the law even then, and the books do have instances of some species and clans successfully punished for infractions against the laws. For three books, the majority of characters are criminals who live in fear of the law, and belive it could impact them.

    The main law that does get enforced fairly regularly is "don't intrude on space inhabited by non-oxygen-breathers" because they kill intruders.
  • June 15, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ Maybe, could you try summing that up for entry?
  • June 15, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I'm asking if it's even an example of a "single polity".
  • June 15, 2013
    StarSword
    For that example, I'm leaning towards no. Central diplomatic apparatus isn't strong enough.
  • June 20, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    The Federation in Blakes Seven initially controlled all of the settled galaxy, except for some outlying settlements, the anomalous Aurons, and a few insular and well-hidden aliens.
  • June 24, 2013
    Clevomon
    The Pangalactic Federation in the Star Ocean series.
  • June 24, 2013
    StarSword
    TV:
    • The Anglo-Sino Alliance has jurisdiction over almost the entirety of the star system in which the Firefly franchise takes place (four or five stars with attendant planets and moons, all orbiting a red supergiant), though this is only very recent. Prior to the Unification War six years ago only the inner planets were members; the outer ones were independent. How much control they actually have varies from planet to planet.
  • June 27, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    I would modify the last sentence above to "How much control they exert varies from planet to planet. 'Border' planets can expect second-class treatment at best while 'Central' planets have eliminated poverty and similar social ills in exchange for Big Brother."
  • June 30, 2013
    Goldfritha
    Should note that it usually has FTL and quite possibly some form of FTL communition.
  • June 30, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ That's generally a given, considering how difficult it would be to govern an area that took years to even send messages across.

    I suppose that the Starways Congress from the sequels to Enders Game could be an example with STL travel but FTL communication.
  • July 1, 2013
    MattStriker
    Would the Empire of Valdana from Tytania count? As a subversion, possibly, since while the Empire is nominally in control of pretty much the whole of known space, it has very little actual power (most of that is held by the Tytania family).
  • July 3, 2013
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • In the Distant Finale of Star Trek Federation set many centuries in the future the UFP has unified the entire galaxy, and ships are now fast enough (using something called a "sidewarp" drive) that crossing it is trivial.
  • July 5, 2013
    Excelion
    Anime:
    • In Legend Of Galactic Heroes the Galactic Empire rules over the majority of the galaxy, with only two other factions even existing. The neutral Phezzan Dominion, and the Free Planets Alliance, which is in fact an offshot of the Galactic Empire and significantly smaller, although it can be said to be a Galactic Superpower in its own right. Reinhard von Lohengramm, as emperor of the Galactic Empire, has the unification of the entire galaxy as his ultimate goal. He more or less succeeds.
  • July 5, 2013
    1810072342
    The inversion of this is a YKTTW called Ungovernable Galaxy.
  • July 5, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ I know, read the comments on that one.
  • July 8, 2013
    StarSword
    Need to make a correction to the Firefly example. I misremembered my source; there's no supergiant, though there are about a half-dozen stars.
  • July 13, 2013
    Goldfritha
    • Poul Anderson's Technic History series had its Terran Empire phase, in the 31st century, though frequently the stories mention the vast difficulties of it and the limits of the empire's ability to actually control.
  • July 13, 2013
    Goldfritha
  • July 13, 2013
    Goldfritha
  • July 14, 2013
    StarSword
    Suggestion for the description: to make it more meaty, add some possible reasons to use the trope. Off the top of my head:
    • The writer doesn't want to go to the extra work of creating and developing lots and lots of tiny nations and creates a dominant Galactic Superpower to save time.
    • The writer is writing a story of the overthrow of a great galactic tyrant.
  • July 14, 2013
    lilliterra
    • In Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox is the (figurehead) President of the Galaxy. The real government consists of a shadowy council of six unknown life-forms, but is nonetheless galactic.
  • July 15, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ That one's already on the page, under "radio".

    ^^ Maybe that could help with the description.
  • July 15, 2013
    Goldfritha
    • In Andre Norton's The Zero Stone, Jern contemplates at one point that the Zacathans found evidence of several galaxy-wide civilizations that predated them -- and the Zacathans themselves have millions of years of history recorded.
  • July 16, 2013
    zarpaulus
    @Star Sword: I added your suggestions to the description, along with one of my own and a note on one of yours.
  • July 16, 2013
    Goldfritha
  • July 18, 2013
    zarpaulus
    Looking for hats at this point.
  • July 20, 2013
    StarSword
    I hatted this a while ago...
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=eeoc1vy7cx8ornil3lwzy6kg&trope=GalacticSuperpower