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Space Western
aka: Space Cowboy

"In a matter of seconds, the plaza had gone from a ghostly quiet to a shoot out that would have been at home in a holodrama about the Old West."
The Backwards Mask (Traveller New Era Trilogy) by Matthew Carson

The Western IN SPACE!. Basically The Western Meets Wagon Train to the Stars. The actual extent of this varies from series to series, as the term is often synonymous with "Science-Fiction Western." The idea is that the vast distances of space have formed barriers and difficulties similar to those faced by American settlers as they crossed and developed the continent, forcing the people to become independent or even insular, with help from whatever central authority (if any) that laid claim to the land long in coming, and immediate protection once again becoming a personal matter. Technology will vary, usually being less and less high-tech the further out you go from the center of civilization. This causes a curious mix of seemingly anachronistic elements such as robots and horses being used at the same time (of course, robot horses are a common option too).

Essentially, this is nostalgia, allegory, or pragmatism meeting the fact Space is the last unexplored territory, while ignoring that guns and anti-authoritarianism mixes poorly with fragile life-support systems.

Many settings end the similarities there, in spirit, while others seem to have the people deliberately aping the style of The Wild West in response to the situation. Basically, the question is when the hero(es) comes riding/flying into town, how many of them are wearing cowboy hats.

Depending on how epic the story is, a Space Western can also be somewhat of a Space Opera. May involve Asteroid Miners.

Compare New Old West, Cattle Punk, Samurai Cowboy.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

    Comic Books 
  • Many of the 2000 AD strips set in the Cursed Earth play out like Spaghetti Westerns, including "Missionary Man" and "The Dead Man".
    • The batch of early Judge Dredd stories set on Luna 1 were modeled especially as a western set on Earth's moon.
  • Just a Pilgrim is explicitly based on Western tropes.
  • The story "Shootout At Ice Flats" in the 1996 Supergirl Legends of the Dead Earth annual was about a Kara-lookalike sheriff on an ultra-primitive frontier world. Forget laser guns, the people of this world didn't even know what a gun looked like.
  • Traditional Western Anti-Hero Jonah Hex, for a brief time around the Crisis on Infinite Earths, was sent via Time Travel to an After the End future. The Genre Shift was not well received.
  • Bronze Age Superman foe Terra-Man was a human kidnapped by aliens in the 19th century. He grew up as their slave, eventually escaped, and became a successful Space Pirate. He eventually returned to Earth only to find that he'd spent so much of his life traveling at relativistic speeds that 100 years had passed. Despite all his high tech equipment, culturally he was a literal space cowboy, and he dressed appropriately. He even acquired an alien steed named Nova that looked like a winged horse.
  • Fear Agent hits this trope pretty square, with its big-buckle toting, hard-drinking, down-home wisdom spewing, alien exterminating protagonist.
  • Jack T. Chance, the Green Lantern of Garnet, was a gunslinger-turned-lawman, tasked with with cleaning up the Wretched Hive of garnet, armed with his power ring and trusty six-shooter.
  • Charlton Comics published six issues of a comic book actually titled Space Western. Exactly What It Says on the Tin, one issue even upped the ante with a story in which Space Cowboys fight Space NAZIS... in Space!

    Film 
  • Serenity, a continuation of the TV show Firefly, is arguably an example of this. Though it contains more hi-tech elements than most of Firefly's episodes, it still has that Western vibe in places. Sadly, the country theme song is not played until the end of the credits, and then it's a very de-countrified version.
  • Outland has often been described as High Noon in space, though it merely borrows some of its themes. However the basic concept of a gun-toting 'Marshal' in a corrupt frontier mining town, fighting a lone battle for justice, is definitely drawn from the Western genre.
  • Star Wars dabbles in this. Han Solo, for example, is a sort of Old West gunslinger, and the cantina in Mos Eisley is a western bar, complete with random brawling. Boba Fett walks with a sound resembling the jingling of cowboy spurs, too. Tatooine is pretty much the Wild West of Star Wars. Mos Espa spaceport is like a typical old western town with little law enforcement, savage natives wanting their land, farms, shady saloons, smugglers, all set on an endlessly sprawling desert.
  • Peter David wrote a Space Western called Oblivion. With George Takei as an eccentric doctor who talked almost entirely in Star Trek references, and Julie Newmar as Miss Kitty.
  • Moon Zero Two (a movie mostly known these days by having been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) was actually advertised as "the first Moon Western"
  • The American Astronaut is a Space Western musical! Now try to wrap your heads around that. Also Stingray Sam.
  • Ironically, Space Cowboys wasn't a western at all. Despite the presence of Clint Eastwood.
  • Cowboys and Aliens even though it takes place right here on Earth.

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • Firefly - Probably the most obvious Space Western. After all, people say "ain't" and "I reckon", carry weapons that resemble six shooters, and live in small towns with wooden buildings and one street.
    • Not to mention The Western background music, the cowboys hats, and, in one of their bigger jobs, actually transporting cattle from one planet to another. Space cowboys and proud of it, gorram it...
    • Watch "Our Mrs Reynolds". You're several minutes in before you see anything outside of the 19th century.
    • Take a look at some of their guns. One is using a Le Mat revolver, and another is using a cut-down lever action. Word of God says it was the same prop used in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr..
    • And then in Castle, Nathan wears his Mal Reynolds outfit from Firefly, for Halloween, only for the idea of a space cowboy to be seen as ridiculous. "Where are you going to find cows in space?"
    • In-universe, the Schizo Tech elements of this setting were explained as the result of more-or-less deliberate suppression of the backwaters by the (substantially less Western-themed) Alliance. You could tell whether a given planet was a Core (Alliance) planet or Rim (Independent) planet by whether it looked like a western where everyone happened to own spaceships, or a space opera where everyone happened to use cowboy slang.
  • The old Battlestar Galactica had many episodes that were take-offs to classic westerns.
    • If you consider the fleet's search for Earth analogous to the Mormon migration (in keeping with the whole Space Mormon theme that infused the entire show) then old BSG entirely fits the mold. Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) trades Mormon allusions with the more accessible Book of Exodus allusions.
  • Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek: The Original Series to the networks as a "Wagon Train to the Stars" (naming that trope.)
    • Almost every Star Trek series had at least one Western episode: the original series had "Spectre of the Gun", Star Trek: The Next Generation had "A Fistful of Datas", and Star Trek: Enterprise had "North Star".
    • Although not a Space Western per se, Deep Space Nine does draw on Western tropes: the sheriff (Odo), the bar/brothel (Quark's, with Dabo girls and Holosuites of Ill-Repute), the frontier town (the space station) near a strategic pass (the wormhole), and so on.
      • The producers stated that Deep Space Nine was The Rifleman IN SPACE!. Gunsmoke would work just as well.
  • Earth 2 is a pretty straight Wagon Train ripoff, just one set on a different planet.
  • True Jackson has a Space Western in it's universe called Space Plantation.
  • Red Dwarf episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse"
  • Doctor Who:
  • Referenced on an episode of Sesame Street when Ernie watches a TV show called Cowboys in Space.
  • Defiance takes place on earth after an apocalyptic alien invasion, but it has many Western tropes. Nolan is the sheriff in all but name with Irisa as his psychic Irathient cohort, you got land disputes with hostile tribes, highway banditry, and Arkhunters looking to find the big one.

    Music 

    New Media 

    Toys 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Rifts features a number of Space Western themes in the "New West" setting, although they're more limited in scope (pretty much the same places as the old Wild West.
  • The D20 game Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex is a space western on an alien planet with dinosaurs.
  • Traveller: The default setting is The Spinward Marches, a semi-civilized place with constant low-key mayhem going on in between wars. Traveller has plenty of room for epic quests, gigantic Space Battle s and secrets that Man Was Not Meant To Know. But it also has low-key adventures for when the players are in a lighter mood.
  • Lost Colony, the final setting produced for the Deadlands system.
  • New Horizon is generally a western ON A WHOLE NEW PLANET!, but nowhere is this more evident than Trapper Town.
  • While not a huge part of the setting, BattleTech did feature a few planets that definitely had this vibe, right down to some fiction featuring cattle ranchers fighting off Comanche raiders.
    • This is the basic feel the novels and campaigns that involve the 17th Recon Regiment, AKA Camacho's Caballeros. They're a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits consisting troublemakers, roughnecks, rancher families, and cowboys, and yet are one of the most tightly-knit mercenary regiments in the game. They basically make situations into Space Westerns, even when they end up having to deal with Space Yakuza (and literal ancient secret society conspiracies).

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • Natsume's Wild Guns for the Super NES.
  • Borderlands is set on a lawless desert planet where everyone has a Texan accent.
    • And on a planet that's filled to the gills with alien tech and giant fuck-off rocket launchers, the best weapons are revolvers, natch.
    • In the sequel, Jakobs guns exemplify this, being anachronistically Western-themed guns. There's also the town of Lynchwood, modeled in a specifically western theme by the Sheriff.
    • Tales From The Borderlands seems set to continue this theme.
  • The Gunman Chronicles commercial total conversion for Half-Life purported to have a Western theme.
  • The old Mac-originated lightweight 4X game Spaceward Ho! is notable for its cutesy frontier ęsthetic, including the distinctive be-Stetson'd planet pictured at the top of its page.
  • M.U.L.E., to some extent.
  • Blizzard's StarCraft franchise heavily favors this trope, especially with the Deep South-flavored Terran faction. Cut off from Earth, the Terrans of the sector have had to make do and forge an existence for themselves. Much of their technology is cobbled together and has a rough, industrial look to it, resulting in frontier saloons where soldiers in power armor go to drink.
  • Billy Frontier
  • Pokémon Colosseum lifts a fare bit of the western genre, including character archetype and setting (and a soundtrack with a decent use of harmonica), but is clearly futuristic in setting. Also, it includes the cowboy fashioned "Rider" trainer class.
  • Awesomenauts has a very literal one in the form of Sheriff Lonestar. An Artificial Cowboy created by a band of cow-people in the image of their boogeyman, he was initialy intended as a tourist attraction, to show how cowboys live their life. But then he got out, and the cow-people got a hands-on demonstration of how a cowboy wrangles cattle. One wrangled planet later, he grabbed a space vessel, rode off into the sunset and joined the Awesomenauts to earn Solar and live like the Western stereotype he is.
  • Wild Star has this, Magitek, and an ongoing war between a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits Faction and The Empire.
  • Starbound has a race of western-themed Celestial Body aliens called the Novakid, who make their clothing and technology like literal space cowboys, even carrying revolvers as weapons, and distilling nebulae to make moonshine. Oddly enough, this is more of an average than being stuck in an era, as they have both high intelligence and a very short memory and attention span, both as a race and individually, so they can swing from stone age to space age and back in the span of a couple centuries.
  • Titanfall has humanity sending homesteaders and settlers to colonize an area of space called The Frontier, creating some very Western-esqe towns and settlements. These settlers and colonists have banded together along with assorted mercenaries,pirates,smugglers and ex-military members to throw the corrupt IMC out of the Frontier. The menu music also has a distinctly western feel to it, mixing Firefly with Pacific Rim, which pretty much sums up the entirety of the game itself.
  • Nearly all of the Wild Arms RPG games are this, though the sci-fi elements all tend to be ancient technology found in bits and pieces by prospectors, not part of the player's experience until several hours in. The first two games even have Ennio Morricone "inspired" musical scores.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Northern Legend is a different take on the genre in an effort to avoid the usual cliches or take them from new angles.

    Western Animation 


Canadian WesternShow GenresSpaghetti Western
Space OperaSpeculative FictionSpeculative Documentary
New Old WestSettingsWooden Ships and Iron Men
Space Suits Are SCUBA GearTropes in SpaceSpace Whale
Cattle PunkThe WesternWeird West
Wild GunsImageSource/Video GamesWolfenstein 3D

alternative title(s): Space Cowboy
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