"One million miles deep in space"
"The battle rages on"
— "Battle Beyond the Stars" by Medieval Steel
One of the cornerstones of a Space Opera
is for there to be a Space Battle somewhere along the line, where the heroes take part in an event which will change the fate of the everything, then stop for a Victory Dance
and a Spot of Tea
if the battle is won.
Well, it's not exactly as simple as that, almost.
It is meant to be the occasion in a movie, game or TV series where it can show off where most of the budget probably went and why it took as much time as it did. It provides jaw dropping visuals, tons of Frickin' Laser Beams
, a lot of tense edge-of-your-seat action, advanced iconic vehicles or weapons, and a totally awesome end sequence. It's supposed to blow your brains out and leave you slack jawed at the awesomeness on display.
Essentially, it is an opportunity to show off the special effects and a ton of ideas that the creator has come up with, to try and blow the audience away and use the potential awesome to lobotomize them into drooling masses as they enjoy the spectacle of it all. Of course making such battles have become easier as special effects have become simpler to make and have become much more advanced. The first film to really push the envelope in terms of this was Star Wars
, during the battle against the Death Star. Virtually every battle will stick to the rule of Space Is Noisy
, because of Rule of Cool
. Now however films with huge battles are commonplace thanks to the advancement of technology.
Typically Space Battles involve the following:
- The enemy will usually have some giant, unstoppable killing machine that the heroes need to destroy before it kills them
- The good guys will be hopelessly outnumbered or simply overpowered.
- There will be hundreds of soldiers or vehicles running amok to show the scale of it (in most productions made after the late 1990s they will all be computer generated).
- They will involve some, or all of the main characters at once alongside many others for whom they are fighting with to show the unified cause.
- The enemy will either be overconfident to the point they see no need in a backup plan or to send everything at the good guys, or they will charge everything in knowing they will win.
- When it looks like the enemy will crush the last pockets of resistance, reinforcements show up to help the good guys.
- The heroes will have a time limit in which they have to win, they will always achieve this with a second to spare.
- Someone will make a Heroic Sacrifice or perform a Heel-Face Turn or Face-Heel Turn.
This trope has extended into fantasy or historical movies as well as they have become more popular, this is because use several of the same methods and cliches to bring about the same effect. The Lord of the Rings
for example required creative use of CGI and minitures to portray and do epic battles described in the books justice.
The earliest visualization of the concept of space battles on film has its roots in the rocket ship aerial combat scenes from the Flash Gordon
and Buck Rogers
serials of the 1930s-40s. However, such battes were much rarer than is commonly thought (most rocket ships being unarmed) and often involved nothing more than a chase scene with rocketships standing in for horses and buggies
. Also, these don't quite count as space battles technically since they were generally restricted to the stratosphere of either Mongo or Earth. But these are the roots of the depiction of space battles as aerial dogfights
The Space Battle
can also be the Final Battle
depending on when it starts in the show. Can also overlap with Decisive Battle
depending on if it takes place before the Final Battle
. Space Battles
often involve Standard Starship Scuffles
. Not to be confused with Spacebattles
, although they do like a good Space Battle
open/close all folders
- Star Wars thrives on this, it was the first film to really showcase how to make one. Four out of the six films have an epic space battle along the line while the last two take place on a planet. Ironically one of those ground battles is the best remembered: The Battle of Hoth.
- Serenity had a rather impressive battle between the Alliance fleet and the Reavers chasing Mal, it even had sound (it was technically in the upper atmosphere of Mr. Universe's moon).
- Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning builds up into one.
- Independence Day ends with a space fighter chase through an enormous alien mothership to escape from an imminent nuclear detonation.
- Wing Commander, while almost universally hated by the fans of the original game, does feature some cool space battles, most of these involving the TCS Tiger's Claw (a carrier) against several Kilrathi cruisers. One of the most memorable scenes involves a deadly game of chicken between the Tiger's Claw and the remaining Kilrathi cruiser. The latter, of course, veers off, resulting in it receiving a bull broadside of torpedoes at near-point-blank range.
- Iron Sky features three (or one, if you think of it as a single continuous battle). First, the USS George W. Bush attacks the Moon-Nazi Zeppelin battleships and their Flying Saucer fighters. Despite the initial success, it begins to be overwhelmed, at which points reinforcements from every other nation (except Finland) arrive and obliterate the Nazi ships. Then the Nazis bring out the Götterdämmerung, a gigantic ship capable of simply plowing through the fleet and blowing up 1/5 of the Moon with a single shot. The other ships can do very little against it due to its sheer size. After it's brought down from the inside, the battle seems to be over. Then all the ships start shooting at one another in an attempt to get Helium-3.
- The Ender’s Game film shows some cool-looking battle simulations at the Command School (they're actually live feeds via Subspace Ansible from the actual fleet engaging the Formics via orders received from Ender's battlegroup commanders). Since both fleets rely heavily on Space Fighters (Formics) and Attack Drones (IF), battles frequently take place at close ranges, even though IF also has a number of dreadnoughts.
- The Honor Harrington books each have a great big space battle or two somewhere. In fact, that's their emphasis; the titular heroine is a starship commander.
- The Lensman books contained some titanic space battles, usually described in over-the-top hyperbolic purple prose to get the sense of their bigness across.
- The Dendarii Mercenaries and the Prince Serg (or junior and daddy Vorkosigan to put it another way) vs the Cetagandians in The Vor Game.
- William Shatner's (yes, that one) Quest For Tomorrow series includes several space battles, although most boil down to "forget how many ships you have and how advanced they are; tactics are all that matter - i.e. you need more processing power". The battle that's described in the most detail is the protagonist's first, when the ship he's on is trying to run a blockade. He's not actually supposed to participate in the battle, until all officers are killed by the enemy ships blinking (i.e. they rapidly shift in and out of subspace in a specific pattern to cause brain damage to anyone looking at them). Jim uses abilities he doesn't know he has to jam all the enemy sensors and destroy them one after another.
- Despite being your typical Space Opera, The History of the Galaxy series focuses much less on these than other examples of the genre. Even if they do, the battles are usually described from the viewpoint of a fighter pilot instead of a bridge officer aboard a cruiser. These series instead tends to focus on characters and ground battles involving Humongous Mecha, particularly because one of the author's ongoing themes is War Is Hell, which is not very easy to show with a space battle.
- A number of these are described in the Dune prequels, describing the times before the Spacing Guild monopolized interstellar travel. Usually, they are between the League of Nobles armada and Omnius's robotic fleets. Sisterhood of Dune describes an intense battle between the fanatical Butlerians and a number of Venport Holdings ships. While the Butlerian ships outnumber Venhold ships 12 to 1, they are also relics from the Butlerian Jihad, while Venhold ships are top-of-the-line. The battle is a victory for the Butlerians, but they end up losing nearly half of their forces, even though they have one of the greatest mentats onboard the flagship to guide them.
- The Starfire novels co-written by David Weber and Steve White have plenty of large space battles. The Shiva Option gets special mention for the sheer size of some of these battles.
- Also written by David Weber, the Empire from the Ashes trilogy has some extraordinarily large scale space battles. A single battle in the second book (The Armaggedon Inheritance) involves the protagonists using a few dozen warships that are individually larger than Earth's moon to fight against an enemy fleet that had millions of more normally sized ships in it.
- The The Lost Fleet series is full with space battles as two fleets battle it out at around twenty percent light speed. Each book usually has two or more instances of combat, while always having a major one. The battles usually involve the fleets passing one another in the blink of an eye and trading shots as they pass, as a mix of naval combat and Old-School Dogfighting.
- All Star Carrier books feature a number of battles with great emphasis placed on relativity. The battles are generally portrayed from the viewpoints of one or two fighter pilots and a ship/fleet commander (usually aboard the TC/USNA America). Great emphasis is placed on the opening rounds of any battle, usually involving a near-light-speed attack run by a number of fighter wings as soon as the battle group jumps in. The goal is to surprise the enemy with a relativistic strike just as the light from the arriving fleet reaches them.
- Given that the setting features both fairly casual faster-than-light travel and fairly powerful interstellar (sometimes even galactic) empires and such that occasionally clash, these are a natural feature of the Perry Rhodan universe — from duels all the way up to large-scale fleet actions involving tens of thousands of capital ships.
- Starworld by Harry Harrison has the rebel admiral screening a space battle scene from an old movie, then pointing out how unrealistic it is. He then goes on to demonstrate that Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better.
- Subverted by Iain Banks in Surface Detail and The Algebraist, in which the 'battles' involve the other side being curb-stomped without even the chance to fire a shot.
- Star Trek didn't rely on those so much for budget reasons, the times ships would fight each other it was either reminiscent of submarine/destroyer battles taking place at long ranges (usually in TOS) or a couple of ships putting around a stone's throw from on another (usually TNG).
- The movies and shows tended not to have large-scale space battles, with dozens or hundreds of ships flying around, but they did have space battles that were impressive in their own scope. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for instance, features the on-and-off duel between the Enterprise and Reliant, with both ships having to retreat early on to lick their wounds before meeting up for the final clash in the climax. Epic does not necessarily require a lot of participants.
- In Deep Space Nine on the other hand, they had several epic battles, like the Klingon assault on Deep Space Nine, the Dominion assault on Deep Space Nine, the Federation's retaking of Deep Space Nine, the two battles for the Chintoka system, and the battle for Cardassia.
- The last few episodes of season 4 of Babylon 5 are full of these. Huge three way battle between the Shadows, Vorlons and Everybody Else; Huge assault on Earth with Earth Defense satellites acting as the giant killing machines that's going to kill everybody and everything.
- The new Battlestar Galactica's space battles had quite a wow factor due to the outstanding special effects, despite only having a couple of big ships slugging it out (usually the Galactica versus a couple of basestars).
- The Stargate Verse had more of these as the show went on longer and got a bigger budget. The most visually impressive was probably the Battle of Asuras in Stargate Atlantis, featuring an Atlantis-Wraith-Travellers alliance vs. the Asuran Replicators. And the battle was just a diversion until they could merge all the Asurans together and implode the resulting mass, which also destroyed the planet.
- Some space-themed video games live on the concept of Space Battle, and since this genre is going in a pretty bad way, the ones that done it right have gained a cult status among their geeky fans, becoming the 'Space Battle Generator' to fuel their unending needs of Space Battle. Expect a huge amount of Game Mod to spice things up... a lot. Some of them are Freespace, Homeworld, Freelancer, Sins of a Solar Empire, Star Trek: Bridge Commander, with honorable mentions to Star Wars: Empire At War, Gratuitous Spacebattles, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident and Rogue Squadron.
- The X-wing Series. Sure, the earlier games lacked scale due to the limits of computing technology of the day, but X-wing had more than its share of epic engagements.
- Fallout, despite being set in a wasteland with small hints of alien life features one of these in Fallout 3 with the Mothership Zeta add-on, complete with a Death Ray. It's a mostly static affair but the first time can be considered quite tense due to you being unfamiliar with the controls. In fact the wiki advises you to perform Button Mashing to make the battle better. If you go through it again it becomes a pretty predictable "Full power to weapons, reroute power to shields!" etc. Does feature a nice explosion at the end.
- The climax of Mass Effect showcases a cut scene where the Citadel defense fleet is trying to take down Sovereign and save the council until the Human fleet shows up, much ass kicking ensues and it is absolutely awesome!
- Space battles take place at both the beginning and end of Mass Effect 2. The second is much easier on the protagonists, but how much so is up to the player.
- Mass Effect 3 features several, from something small like Cerberus fighters engaging the Normandy at Grissom Academy, to battles as grand as the Migrant Fleet versus the geth and [insert race here] fighting the Reapers. It eventually culminates in the largest fleet the galaxy has ever seen assaulting the main Reaper force at Earth. If you do everything right, this fleet consists of the human, turian, asari, salarian, geth, quarian, volus, and even batarian ships all working as one.
- Half of Sword of the Stars is this, with ships that you have designed, built, and formed into fleets slugging it out with the enemy fleets and/or planetary defenses. With dreadnoughts, though, this is usually a static affair. The game is notable for allowing the player to target any part of the enemy ship, including individual turrets. Each Expansion Pack has added more technologies and weapons to be used in battle, as well as new races with their own advantages and disadvantages. The sequel plans to add even more complexity to battles. And did I mention that the battles are in real time while the strategic actions are turn-based?
- Star Ruler is frequently home to space battles of increasingly larger levels of ridiculousness. Early battles will consist of skyscraper sized "dreadnaughts" at most duking it out with kinetic weaponry till they run out of both ammo and fuel, causing both sides to loose all ships. Then the arms race begins! Ships grow increasingly large until the destruction of stars may become a tactical action when engaging enemy ships, and unmanned fighter craft dwarf the dreadnaughts of old. Fortunately, blowing up stars stops being necessary once you get a chance to analyze the enemy ship designs and pick out any flaws the space battles will stop being several hour battles, and instead resemble rather glorious curb stomp battles. Unfortunately, the base games graphics cause the battles to not necessarily be as dramatic as they could possibly be.
- Several occur throughout Asura's Wrath. The most epic one of all, is in the DLC Part Iv, Nirvana. During the final fight with Chakravartin, Asura becomes the extremely huge planet sized Desturctor Asura, and starts flying towards chakravartin as he throws Planets and starts at you like they are basketballs, and causes a start to supernova just to kill you! It's really cool!
- You can technically have these in Starcraft, if you fight on a space platform map with ships and fighters.
- The into to Alien Crossfire expansion to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri shows a battle between two Progenitor scoutships that results in one of the color-coded ships (they're identical otherwise) doing sufficient damage to the other, causing the loser to fly out-of-control and straight into the path of the other ship. The resulting explosion destroys both ships, except both manage to eject Escape Pods that land on Chiron.
- Galactic Civilizations handles space battles as a short video with no player input beyond the forces they commit. A bit like Civilization in space really.
- Battles are simplified in Endless Space, as the game's main focus is economy. They consist of four stages: arrival (no shots exchanged), long-range (missiles most effective), mid-range (lasers most effective), and short-range (kinetic weapons most effective). If no side is obliterated by the last stage, the battle is a draw. Visually, ships simply travel towards a planet in standard naval battle lines and exchange shots. Combat is affected by tactics (which act as cards in card-based games) pre-selected at the start of the battle and locked in for that stage at the start of the stage. To this end, if you're not planning on changing your tactics/cards during battle, you may as well let it play out automatically. The result will be the same.
- Mission Critical is a Myst-style adventure game, but you do have to engage in ship-to-ship combat one at mid-game and once during the climax. All combat is done with the capital ships hanging in orbit and acting as bases, rearming and repairing Attack Drones. These drones are the ones that do all the fighting. Capital ships do have some weapons, like anti-ship missiles (that are fairly easily swatted by a single drone) and point-defense lasers that are fairly useless against the fast-moving drones. The game notes that the primary reason why The Alliance is losing to the UN is because the UN has better (and more) drones. Normally, all battles are computer-controlled due to humans being too slow to match their speed. However, the Alliance has developed a top-secret substance that temporarily boosts a human's reaction Up to Eleven, allowing the player to control drones and beat the more predictable enemy computers. Visually, the battles employ vector graphics. Additionally, while there is no Stealth in Space, enemy ships will often be hiding on the other side of the planet, requiring drones to be sent to scout beyond the horizon.
- As per the trope image, these do appear in The Old Republic. They tend to be more along the lines of space skirmishes, however, and the non-PvP ones usually involve the player's small ship slaughtering everything.
- Exo Squad had a lot of them, using Mini-Mecha in place of more conventional space fighters.
- Shadow Raiders.
- Futurama has planty of these (often in humorous manner though). To name a few: Battle against Omicron Persei invasion fleet, and big surprisingly epic battle against fleet of golden Death Stars in Bender's Big Score.