A space opera
is a work set in a far future space faring civilization, where the technology is ubiquitous and entirely secondary to the story. It has an epic character to it: The universe is big, there are lots of sprawling civilizations and empires, there are political conflicts and intrigues galore. Frequently it takes place in the Standard Sci Fi Setting
. In perspective, it is a development of the Planetary Romance
that looks beyond the exotic locations that were imagined for the local solar system in early science fiction (which the hard light of science revealed to be barren and lifeless
) out into an infinite universe of imagined exotic locations.
Space opera has a lot of romantic elements: big love stories, epic space battles, oversized heroes and villains, awe-inspiring places, and insanely gorgeous women.
Expect to see a dashing hero cavorting around in sleek, cigar-shaped Retro Rockets
, Green Skinned Space Babes
, Crystal Spires and Togas
civilizations full of Space Elves
, Wave Motion Guns
capable of dealing an Earth-Shattering Kaboom
on a daily basis, and an evil Galactic Empire
with a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet
, including an entire universe full of beat-up mechanical objects
capable of being resurrected with Percussive Maintenance
Note that this is quite different from the original definition of space opera, which was derogatory. It arose from a long line of similar terms for substandard genre fiction: 'horse opera' was bad Western
fiction and 'soap opera' (so named because soap operas began as hour-long ads for soap) was hackneyed drama. The phrase was coined in 1941 by Wilson Tucker to describe what he called "the hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn space-ship yarn". (It's said that before 1975 or so, the only author who ever intentionally set out to write a space opera was Jack Vance
, who wrote a novel about an opera company in space.) Weirdly, this means that many works which were originally touted as examples of 'serious' science fiction, such as the Lensman
series, are today held up as prime examples of Space Opera
. As more authors and writers came to embrace the space opera style, the term came to lose many of its negative connotations. Assisting that process were writers who regarded all tales of action and adventure in space as bad, and so tried to pejoratively label it all "space opera"; they succeeded with the label, but not with keeping it pejorative.
is an older variant, which is basically Heroic Fantasy In Space
— or on a Dying Earth
of some sort. While works such as John Carter of Mars
and various fantasy novels set on a planet are Planetary Romance
, characters like Buck Rogers
and Flash Gordon
essentially codified the Space Opera
concept in the popular imagination by the late 1930s.
is probably the most famous modern example of space opera. (Indeed, The Empire Strikes Back
was an important moment in changing "space opera" from an insult to a more neutral genre descriptor, due to the involvement of writer Leigh Brackett
.) In Star Wars
, technology is either magic
(the Force) or slightly faster versions of today's gadgets (blaster rifles
, hovercars, space ships) and the characters would be right at home in a fantasy novel (evil emperor
The genre is useful for long story- and character-arcs
but also expensive to film. Unless you do it in animated form, like dozens of anime
The opposite of Space Opera would probably be Hard Science Fiction
. In recent years, however, there has been a trend towards incorporating hard sci-fi elements into
space opera, as in Starship Operators
, the 2000s Battlestar Galactica
or especially Revelation Space
— in fact, "New Space Opera" has gained some currency as a term referring to works that combine fast-paced adventure plots with some degree of hard SF rigor.
See also Two-Fisted Tales
, Pulp Magazine
, and Wagon Train to the Stars
. In many ways, this is the science fiction equivalent
of High Fantasy
Note that while many more famous space operas go to the "ideal" side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
, more recent ones are harder
and more cynical: Babylon 5
, Battlestar Galactica
being most prominent in Live-Action TV
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- Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a Space Opera on a scale like no other.
- Space Battleship Yamato, the first space opera anime and among the first space operas to use large scale battles between fleets of spacecraft. Among the first space operas to involve the legend Leiji Matsumoto.
- The Gundam franchise, notable for its (usual) lack of aliens and realistic space colonies.
- The Macross franchise (including Robotech, initially conceived as a parody of Gundam and Yamato.
- Soukou No Strain
- Crusher Joe First novel written by Haruka Takachio right after he saw Star Wars.
- Space Adventure Cobra
- Outlaw Star
- Angel Links
- Heroic Age
- The Five Star Stories
- Ginga Sengoku Gunyuuden Rai
- Voltron (the vehicle one) / Dairugger XV
- Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, particularly the Non Indicative First Minute, but also later on.
- Stellvia of the Universe
- The works of Leiji Matsumoto.
- Tytania, the closest thing to an anime Dune and written by the same author as Legend of Galactic Heroes though it is an independent story.
- Glass Fleet
- Crest of the Stars
- Starship Operators, notable for its extreme realism, one of the hardest space operas out there.
- Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki has many Space Opera elements despite taking place mostly on Earth, while spinoff Tenchi Muyo GXP and the second half of Tenchi Universe are clear-cut examples.
- Dragon Ball gradually worked its way into this, starting with Dragon Ball Z. Though the series initially concentrated on Earth-based stories, the Saiyan Saga was where things began to exhibit a more galactic scope.
- Irresponsible Captain Tylor...albeit slightly off
- Toward the Terra
- Trigun (more so in the manga).
- Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers are the Trope Codifiers, and both feature lots of Retro Rockets and a Galactic Empire of some sort. Star Wars started after Lucas couldn't get the rights to Flash. King Features, realizing their mistake, made the Flash Gordon film after Star Wars came out.
- Marvel Comics turned cosmic part of their Shared Universe into one giant Space Opera, since 2006. Starting with X-Men: Rise And Fall Of The Shi'Ar Empire and Annihilation, we got one epic story after another - Annihilation Conquest, War of Kings, The Thanos Imperative and adventures of many cosmic-themed heroes, like Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy between them.
- The whole Jodoverse - but particularly The Metabarons.
- Green Lantern has a foot firmly placed in Space Opera, especially for Crisis Crossover comics like Sinestro Corps War where Sinestro himself set the war up so he wins either way.
- X-Men ventures here occasionally, such as for The Dark Phoenix Saga.
- Dan Dare
- The Ballad Of Halo Jones
- Paperinik New Adventures goes into Space Opera territory sometimes, such as for the Xadhoom Trilogy.
- Star Wars, as mentioned in the main text.
- The Chronicles of Riddick
- Flash Gordon. The film came out after Star Wars.
- Battle Beyond the Stars
- The Star Trek films, except for The Voyage Home, which was a comedy set on then-modern Earth.
- The Fifth Element, a Space Opera with an opera in space!
- The Last Starfighter
- The Ice Pirates
- Spaceballs (although technically, it's a parody of space operas...)
- Starchaser: The Legend of Orin
- Alien (which also utilizes the genre of SF horror)
- Titan A.E.
- Dune — features a galactic jihad in a Feudal Future containing Spacing Guilds and spice mines.
- Queen Of Outer Space
- The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy
- Transformers: The Movie. some edits even have the Opening Crawl.
- Star Odyssey
- Pandorum has a love story (Bower's wife), battles, a dashing hero (Mahn) and a insanely gorgeous female lead (Nadia).
- Captain EO, a Disney Theme Parks 3-D Movie, is less than 20 minutes long but clearly takes place in this genre: A dashing hero with a crew of misfit alien creatures is sent on a mission to transform a grim, H.R. Giger-esque planet. There's a skirmish with the evil Supreme Commander's fleet of starships, and later the heroes are taken captive by her forces — but they use The Power of Rock to turn into it a land of Crystal Spires and Togas and its people (including the ruler) into happy, Day-Glo dancers.
- The Guardians of the Galaxy film
- The Lensman series by E. E. “Doc” Smith is generally given as the defining example, along with its predecessor and spiritual twin the Skylark Series.
- Buck Rogers, an early and influential example, is probably the Trope Codifier in pulp fiction.
- John Carter of Mars and other Planetary Romance novels contain elements of Space Opera, making it an Unbuilt Trope.
- Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, an extremely influential series inspired in part by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and which in turn partly inspired Star Wars.
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.
- Perry Rhodan series (over more than 2500 books that span from 1971 to 5050).
- The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, complete with an in-story Space Ballet.
- Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space Series actually does consider seriously how changes in technology would affect culture, even language.
- The Culture books by Iain M. Banks, although again it does have a society changed by technology - in particular near-perfect medicine and a lack of the need for money due to massive technological advances.
- Lacuna is firmly in the "New Space Opera" (space opera with hard science) genre.
- Larry Niven's Known Space universe.
- The Rowan series by Anne McCaffrey.
- Most of Peter F. Hamilton's books, though technological advances have significant societal and cultural impacts.
- The Saga of Seven Suns
- Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's opus Battlefield Earth.
- David Weber has an extensive one in Honor Harrington. As well as everything else he's written.
- Walter Jon Williams' trilogy Dread Empire's Fall is space opera on the fairly hard science side.
- Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series. It adopts many Speculative Fiction tropes but plays them for Space Opera themes.
- Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap Cycle is this, as it's Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung cycle IN SPACE!. Newer editions of the first volume have a cool author's note explaining how the dramatic elements (and thus, tropes) of Opera work in a sci-fi setting.
- Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought series.
- David Brin's Uplift.
- C. J. Cherryh's enormous Alliance/Union universe. Probably the "hardest" of all Space Opera, with Faster-Than-Light Travel being the only deviation from known physics.
- Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder. Probably even harder than Alliance/Union, with no Faster-Than-Light Travel whatsoever.
- Parodied and lampshaded in Jack Vance's Space Opera, which is a space opera about - yes - a touring Opera company.
- Many of Vance's works - such as The Demon Princes- are more straightforward examples.
- Parodied by Harry Harrison in his Bill the Galactic Hero and Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy derives a lot of its humor through parodying space opera conventions. The unrealistic elements typical of the genre are either lampshaded or replaced with even sillier ideas.
- The Space Captain Smith series by Toby Frost is a very tongue-in-cheek version.
- Simon R. Green's Deathstalker books.
- The Deathstalker series is both a parody and an homage to more traditional Space Opera's and exaggerating or taking various tropes to their most extreme conclusion.
- Karin Lowachee's Warchild Series.
- Julie E. Czerneda's Species Imperative.
- John Barnes Occitan series.
- Philip Reeve's Larklight series, which combines Space Opera with Steam Punk.
- Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence may well be the ultimate example in terms of scale, as well as being much harder sci-fi than the average space opera.
- Margaret Weis' tetralogy The Star of the Guardians.
- Edmond Hamilton: Big love stories? Check. Epic space battles? Oh Yeah! Oversized heroes and villains? You might say that; Awe-inspiring places? Yep. Insanely gorgeous women? Yes! And they usually rule the universe - or at least a star kingdom to boot.
- The Stardoc series has elements of both this and Medical Drama.
- Space Vulture, a Genre Throwback to the original pulp Space Opera, by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Meyers.
- The Commamder Toad picture books by Jane Yolen are a parody of space opera.
- Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm series
- John C. Wright's Count to the Eschaton
- The Sirantha Jax Series by Ann Aguirre.
- The Flight Engineer trilogy by S.M. Sterling and James Doohan.
- The Conquerors Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.
- Hugh Howey's Molly Fyde series is a Young Adult version.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek (all series). Though there is (some) serious consideration of how technology and science would change society. Coincidentally, there was, in fact, a Star Trek Opera performed on stage in NY.
- And then there is Klingon opera. Perhaps today IS a good day to sing!
- Battlestar Galactica (Classic) and Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) are at opposite ends of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
- Power Rangers Lost Galaxy is one of the clearest examples in the franchise, but Power Rangers in Space started to drift this way before the season ended.
- Firefly, which has the unusual distinction of being both a Space Opera and a Horse Opera.
- Babylon 5
- The Stargate Verse is a borderline example. Technically the center-of-operations is on a single planet (Earth in Stargate SG-1, the Atlantis base in Stargate Atlantis), but with the instant wormholes provided by the Stargate, the bases function like a spaceship or space station in a standard Space Opera, as far as most story purposes go. Both series also have the Big Universe, Big Empires, Big Heroes, and Big Villains elements in spades, and it gets bigger yet once Earth has a space fleet. However, many individual episodes, especially in early seasons, feel more like Planetary Romance. Stargate Universe, the second spin-off, is probably closer to a traditional Space Opera.
- Space Cases
- Although Doctor Who is not itself a Space Opera, a couple of individual stories are:
- The Daleks' Master Plan
- The Space Pirates
- Frontier In Space
- The long-running The Stars My Degradation, (a parody of the Alfred Bester classic SF novel The Stars My Destination), a cartoon strip that ran in the Sounds music paper in the 1970's-80's:
Dempster Dingbuster is my name, Sputwang is my nation;
The depths of space gob in my face,
The stars, my degradation.
- It was drawn and written by a then-nearly-unknown Alan Moore. Examples may be seen here
- Warhammer 40,000 is a Space Opera setting, although it's about as cynical, grim and dark as you can get. Actually, it's that, turned Up to Eleven.
- Battletech. The RPG, as distinguished from the series below.
- Star Frontiers was TSR's attempt to do D&D in a space opera setting
- Traveller was the first RPG set in the Space Opera genre, and set the standard for those that followed. It's in the "semi-hardened" category of Space Opera and an incredible amount of work went into the Backstory including fairly realistic science and social science.
- Traveller is a fairly flexible game that has a Space Opera like Backstory and can be played at the Space Opera level. Much of the point is that the Traveller Universe is a Framing Device of sorts, which means local circumstances can be adapted to taste quite a ways.
- The forgotten board game Imperium was used as a source for some of the Traveller universe. It depicts a young and expansionist republic on earth, conquering a Vestigial Empire in space. There are a number of other Space Opera board wargames, but this one is notable for historical reasons.
- Fading Suns
- There was a RPG named Space Opera.
- The Cathedral setting in Big Eyes, Small Mouth is intended for this kind of adventure.
- The Star*Drive setting originally made for the Alternity system and later reused for d20 Modern.
- Pacesetter's 1980s Star Ace RPG — definitely at least somewhat in the spirit of Star Wars, but set in its own original universe with fewer mystical undertones.
- Rifts has the Three Galaxies setting, a Space Opera with the same blend of magic, technology, and plain weirdness as the main setting. As may be expected, it's way way down on the hardness scale, but it has pretty much all the elements of the Standard Sci Fi Setting.
- Asura's Wrath has some of this. It's mixed with South Asian Mythology.
- The Halo series.
- Bungie's Destiny is a more direct example, as the company calls it "mythic science fiction" and a "mix of science fiction and fantasy".
- The Mass Effect series could be seen as putting the Opera back into Space Operas, with lavish and often dreamy environments, exotic cultures, and tales of great personal tragedy. At the same time, it ranks suprisingly high on the Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness and is quite serious in tone. Once the Reapers come knocking, it evolves full-tilt into a Cosmic Horror Story, although it never truly casts off its Space Opera roots.
- Star Control
- Many a science fiction TBSG (turn based strategy game) - most prominently Master of Orion II
- Wing Commander
- Star Fox mixes Funny Animals with Space Opera.
- EVE Online
- The Metroid series, although this slides more towards After the End Planetary Romance in the context of individual games. Played straight with Metroid Prime Hunters and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, as they are the only games in the franchise that internally take place on multiple planets, and the latter shows a bigger interaction with the Galactic Federation.
- Total Annihilation
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
- Galaxy Angel gameverse
- Advent Rising
- Infinite Space
- Colony Wars
- Ratchet & Clank, a space opera with a hefty dose of Looney Tunes thrown in.
- The Star Ocean series, when you aren't exploring underdeveloped planets.
- Spore's Space Stage.
- MechQuest and WarpForce by Artix Entertainment.
- Super Robot Wars, depending on the plot and series involved.
- Legacy Of A Thousand Suns
- Sins of a Solar Empire