Follow TV Tropes


Film / Wing Commander

Go To
As part of the agreement between Electronic Arts and Chris Roberts, in regards to the departure of the latter from the former, he was given contractual permission to make a movie based on the Wing Commander franchise. In 1999, the result was released to the public by 20th Century Fox.

New pilots Christopher Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and his best friend/rival Todd "Maniac" Marshall (Matthew Lillard) are assigned to the TCS Tiger [sic] Claw as the Kilrathi fleet prepares to mount a massive assault on Sol Sector, using navigational information gained in a raid on a major Terran Confederation naval base. Time is short for Admiral Tolwyn (David Warner) to mount a defense, and the Tiger Claw is ordered to buy them more time. Whilst integrating with the Claw's flight wing, led by Jeannette "Angel" Devereaux (Saffron Burrows), Blair finds himself fighting some of the most crucial battles of the war—and trying to keep secret the fact that he's half "Pilgrim," a sub-species of humans subject to Fantastic Racism.

Tropes employed by the movie:

  • Actor Allusion: The Silent Running Mode scene when the Tiger Claw is hiding in an asteroid crater is a clear Shout-Out to Das Boot with Jürgen Prochnow being in both films.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Bossman is depicted as KIA before Blair could meet him where in the first Wing Commander (WC1) video game he flew as your wingman on several missions. Commodore Taggart is captain of a civilian trader, when in WC1 he was an elderly pilot flying with you on the Tiger's Claw and wasn't portrayed as a civilian until Wing Commander 2 (WC2). Though similar to the movie, Taggart was also an intelligence officer in WC2 using a civilian free trader ship as cover for intelligence operations against the Kilrathi. The TCS Concordia is depicted as existing in the same time period as the TCS Tiger's Claw, despite WC2 showing the Tiger's Claw was destroyed by stealth fighters prior to the TCS Concordia's construction years later which carried a anti-ship cannon in WC2 derived from a bigger version used by destroyed Kilrathi ship called the Sivar that fought against the Tiger's Claw in WC1: The Secret Missions 1 expansion (in the video game the Sivar was a "super-dreadnought" never seen before which destroyed the Goddard Colony with the special Gravaton weapon and it was the Claw's job to hunt it down before it destroyed more Confederation colonies, while in the movie the Sivar was just a large battleship escorted by two destroyers which ambushed the Claw). The Skipper Missile that cloaks to avoid detection and decloaks periodically to reposition itself towards the ship it's targeting before recloaking wasn't introduced until Wing Commander 3 (Cloaking technology by the Kilrathi wasn't depicted until WC2, and it was initially only shown to be used on fighters and not missiles until WC3), and at that point in the video game series the Tiger's Claw and Concordia were both depicted as destroyed.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Maniac started out, in the game series, with darker hair. While the jump to Full Motion Video kept close to that with Thomas F. Wilson, in the movie he was depicted as blond.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Admiral Tolwyn, at best a dark and conflicted figure in the games, is presented as far more straightforwardly heroic in the film. Somewhat justified in that the film takes place a decade and a half before his final descent into outright villainy, and Tolwyn was a fan-favorite character at the time, second only to Blair.
  • Artificial Gravity: Done in such a way that it affected objects even as they left the ship, as long as they were within a few meters of it.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • Commander Gerald and several Claw pilots go with the Marines on a raid against the Kilrathi Command And Control ship, even though there's no logical reason (other than to keep the protagonists front and center) for them to join the mission.
    • Despite being a civilian, (though that's actually just a non-official cover for Naval Intelligence Commodore) Taggart is given a bomber and ordered by the Tiger Claw's captain to accompany a strike group to take out the communications ship. In the original storyline, the Tiger's Claw captain Sansky was the traitor on board, and presumably ordered Taggart off the ship so a higher-ranked officer wouldn't relieve him of command, once Taggart noticed Sansky was making some bad decisions in fighting the Kilrathi.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Sound does not travel in a vacuum outside of a spaceship. So Commodore Taggart doesn't need to demand that the crew of the ship remain silent while being hunted by a Kilrathi destroyer.
  • Asteroid Thicket: The Ulysses Corridor.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Two Confed fighters execute a "Jack in the Box", with both of them popping out from behind an asteroid to engage Kilrathi ships at close range.
  • The Battle Star:
    • TCS Tiger Claw is a carrier that is capable of fighting enemy capital ships toe to toe, but anything from a cruiser on up is considered long odds. She relies on her fighter wing to keep the fight away from her. The follow-on novel (and the outline for the never-completed trilogy capping second sequel) shows that the Claw never quite recovered from the mauling she took during the movie during the one time she did engage another warship directly (as opposed to engaging with her fighters).
    • Admiral Tolwyn's flagship, the TCS Concordia, is indicated to be a straight example of this trope in the Novelization, described as a Supercruiser.
  • Better than Sex: Rosie claims that some hotdog flying with Maniac was better than sex. Angel calls bullshit on the claim, to which Rosie replies, "Well, sex with myself, anyway."
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Blair calls Angel, his squadronnote  commander, on her policy that pilots who died "never existed", as being unfaithful to those who have died in service.
  • Canon Immigrant: The Pilgrims, a race of evolved humans who were never mentioned before in the games. Author Peter Telep, who also wrote the film's novelization, completed two sequel novels that would have fleshed out the Pilgrims and revealed why they never appeared in the games. Sadly, the second novel was never published, which left the series on a cliffhanger.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Jump drive technology allows for interstellar travel, but can only be done from certain points and it can sometimes take days to reach a given destination when traveling at sub-light between jump points. It's implied the Pilgrim War and following Kilrathi War has resulted in the Confederation ceasing most exploration and sticking to safe jump points. Paladin demonstrates that ships can get around a lot faster if they're willing to jump things like pulsars and black holes, however this is incredibly dangerous.
  • The Cavalry: Subverted. Admiral Tolwyn's fleet manages to get to Sol System before the Kilrathi do, and take up orbit over Venus to await the Kilrathi arrival. When Blair arrives in Sol System pursued by a Kilrathi Cruiser, Tolwyn can't send any ships to help Blair without tipping off the Kilrathi to the presence of the Enigma Sector Fleet in Sol System. Even considering that their non-intervention will leave the Kilrathi cruiser free to open fire on Earth, the cost of springing their trap early before the Kilrathi fleet had stepped into it would be much worse. Blair's broadcasting the Kilrathi fleet's intended jump coordinates does allow Tolwyn to move his fleet into position to whale on the Kilrathi as they are forced to make the jump one ship at a time.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Beacon 147 in the outer reaches of the Sol System.
    • If you look closely, you can see a distinctive chain around Taggart's neck supporting his Pilgrim's Cross throughout the entire movie.
  • Classical Mythology: There are many references throughout the plot to The Odyssey.
  • Coming in Hot: Complete with the crashed fighter being pushed off the edge of the deck and falling into the ocean, er, space.
  • Covers Always Lie: The back of the film's DVD cover erroneously replaces the image of Tcheky Karyo with that of Jürgen Prochnow.
  • Creator Cameo: Chris Roberts, creator for both the movie and the game series on which it's based, gets a cameo at the end after the climax of the film, as a rescue ship pilot welcoming Blair to Sol Sector.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Kilrathi attack on Ulysses Station in the beginning of the film as well as Enigma Sector Fleet's ambush of the Kilrathi fleet in Sol System in the film's climax.
  • The Dead Have Names: Inverted. Anyone who dies is said to have not existed, and mention of their name actually forbidden. Blair finds this deplorable, and calls Angel out on it.
  • Deflector Shields: Though they only hold up to so much punishment for the Tiger Claw, given that she isn't designed to get that up close and personal with enemy ships. These shields appear impervious to torpedoes, and the shields must be down for either the ship to launch torpedoes or for enemy torpedoes to hit them. Much of the anti-ship tactics in the film revolve around either timing their shots just right, or goading the enemy into lowering their shields somehow.
  • Delaying Action: The Tiger Claw's primary mission in the film, harassing and delaying the Kilrathi fleet by whatever means possible so Admiral Tolwyn can make up the few hours he needs to be in position.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Maniac and Rosie's brinkmanship contest and choosing to engage enemy fighters against orders ends with Rosie's completely avoidable death, trashing the flight deck in the process.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Due to his special heritage as a Pilgrim, Taggart tells Blair to ignore the warnings of his fighter's computer to calculate the jump to Sol Sector.
  • Fantastic Racism: Against the Pilgrims.
  • Finish Him!: Give him a broadside, Mr. Gerald!
  • God Help Us All: During the film's opening montage, which is capped with an audio snippet of the president of the Terran Confederation informing the Senate that all attempts at a peaceful resolution with the Kilrathi have failed:
    It is my sad duty to inform you… that as of 6:00 a.m. this morning, we are formally at war with the Kilrathi. God help us all.
  • Gravity Sucks: Beacon 147, a Negative Space Wedgie also known as Scylla. Two Confed ships nearly fall victim to this trope, and an unsuspecting Kilrathi warship does fall victim to this.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: The Confederation Marines wear red armored suits.
  • Hollywood Evolution: As told in the Confederation Handbook and hinted at during the Opening Monologue, Pilgrims are a result of spacers who worked and lived in the less-shielded outer sections of space stations, over generations mutating to have special powers.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Most noticeable in the broadside scene, given the cinematic reasons to have the larger ships close enough to be on the same screen.
  • Holographic Terminal: Used for displaying the sensor readouts on stations and capital warships, in particular the maps used to plot the Kilrathi approach path to Sol Sector.
  • Hyperspeed Ambush: Blair transmits the Kilrathi fleet's intended jump coordinates, allowing Tolwyn to position his fleet to strike the Kilrathi as soon as the enemy makes their jump, one at a time as per normal jump tactics.
  • I Am Very British: Angel. Ironic, as her character is supposedly Belgian.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: Maniac and Rosie are squad-mates rather quick to hop into the sack together, and their rivalry/romance directly leads to Rosie's pointless and preventable death when the two of them decide to disobey a direct order to return to the Tiger Claw leads to her fighter being damaged and crashing during landing. Maniac falls apart after that. Blair and Angel have a slower-burning romance that's still highly inappropriate given that she's his squad leader and thus direct commander.
  • In the Blood: Pilgrims' navigational talents.
  • Invisibility Cloak: The Kilrathi Skipper missile is a cloak-equipped missile that travels a certain distance, decloaks and changes course, then cloaks again. It's slower than a normal missile, but the cloaking makes it impossible to destroy unless a fighter can chase it down.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: Based on a series of computer games.
  • Membership Token: The Pilgrim Crosses for Blair and Taggart, as well as the class ring of Admiral Tolwyn: Annapolis, Class of 1942. The novelization takes this further, with the Pilgrim Crosses also eventually identifying the traitors: Admiral Wilson and Captain Sansky.
  • The Mole: Cut from the film due to poor test audience response. Instead we just have lots of Fantastic Racism and unexplained system failures that lead one to believe that Confed's ships are definitely built by the lowest bidder. The novelization retained the traitor subplot, ultimately revealing the mole: Captain Sansky, working for Admiral Wilson.
  • New Meat: Blair and Maniac both initially receive a frosty reception due to their inexperience.
  • Nom de Guerre: Maniac, Maverick, Angel, Iceman, Paladin, et al. Most of the characters are fighter pilots, after all.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Saffron Burrows' character Devereaux is Belgian. She doesn't attempt an accent, however, just using her normal English one.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Averted and played straight in the same scene, when the hangar bay was depressurizing due to damage from an attack. Blair plays it straight, when he grabs an item on the deck to stop his being sucked out into space, without any obvious discomfort or injuries. Maniac's rush towards the vacuum is stopped by a cable tied around his waist and held at the other end by other pilots. The sudden stop when the cable that was tied around his midsection catches makes him visibly wince in pain, and afterwards it's shown to have badly dug into his midsection, causing him to cough up blood. He is later shown shirtless in his quarters wearing bandages on the affected area.
  • One-Hit Kill: The shields of a Kilrathi destroyer do not seem to provide much protection, collapsing after a single hit during the ambush of the Tiger Claw and the Confederation's ambush of the arriving Kilrathi fleet at the end
  • Opening Monologue: The intro pans over space charts while playing a recording of John F. Kennedy giving a speech about the Space Race, which segues into other radio broadcasts delivering exposition about the Pilgrams, mankind's invention of Faster-Than-Light Travel, and the disastrous First Contact with the Kilrathi.
  • People in Rubber Suits: The Kilrathi. However, Chris Roberts has never liked the appearance of any of the Kilrathi, from any source. Sources (i.e., rumors circulating online) say that the Kilrathi costumes actually were very imposing when allowed to stand to their full height, but cramped sets meant they spent the movie hunched at the waist and shoulders, resulting in their less-than-impressive final appearance.
  • Planar Shockwave: From destroyed Kilrathi capships, and they look pretty freaking awesome. Also from a Skipper missile near the end of the movie, but this time Angel tries to outrun a fireball which is less tall than her ship is, instead of, say, pulling up a few meters. They even refer to it as the "planar wave" in dialog.
  • Point Defenseless: The Confederation and the Kilrathi appear incapable of stopping eachother's torpedoes before they hit.
  • Poor Communication Kills: What turns Beacon 147 from a warning to pure High Octane Schmuck Bait.
  • Race Against the Clock: With the loss of the Vega Sector Fleet, the door is open for the Kilrathi fleet to move on to attack Earth. Admiral Tolwyn's Enigma Sector Fleet, moving at top speed, will arrive a few hours too late to intervene. The Tiger Claw's mission is to delay the Kilrathi fleet to buy as much time as possible for Tolwyn to get in position.
  • Right in Front of Me: Blair is sitting in the cockpit of a Rapier, when a woman suddenly standing next to the ship quizzes him on his dogfighting skills with a couple hypothetical scenarios. She is brutally honest in explaining why Blair's responses would only get him killed, leading to the following:
    Devereaux: What's wrong, Lieutenant? Did I bruise your ego?
    Blair: No, it's just that I'm not used to getting combat advice from a grease monkey.
    Devereaux: [introducing herself] Commander Devereaux, Lieutenant. Your wing commander.
  • Right Behind Me: Happens to Maniac after his inverted landing.
  • Rule of Cool: The reason for using Artificial Gravity to make the Tiger Claw work like an ocean-bound aircraft carrier. Is it the most sensible way to operate an aircraft carrier in space? Goodness no, but it's entertaining to watch.
  • See the Whites of Their Eyes: Averted during the ambush of the Tiger Claw where torpedoes are launched, and the perspective switches to the opposing force with the launching ship nowhere to be seen; played straight with the Rapiers whenever they engage with cannon, and even with missiles in multiple scenes.
  • Shout-Out: Quite a few to The Odyssey – evidently the Pilgrims who named everything were fans of the Classics.
  • Silent Running Mode: Via Stealth in Space. Ships, from small fighters up to entire fleets of capital ships, try to avoid detection by shutting down all non-essential power systems and getting as close as they can to asteroids, debris, or planets (in the case of the aforementioned fleet). Works to varying degrees depending on how close the enemy gets. At one point the Tiger Claw plays up Roberts' inspiration from Das Boot with the Claw doing this while damaged, to try to avoid the Kilrathi fleet. They go as far as requiring everyone aboard the ship to stay as quiet as possible, despite the fact that sound doesn't travel through vacuum.
  • Space Is an Ocean: And space carriers are submarines.
  • Space Nomads: The Pilgrims are a group of these, notable for their ability to navigate without the help of computers. They suffer from prejudice and persecution by most of the society, having previously waged war against the Terran Confederation. It turns out Blair's mother was one. He keeps it quiet due to prejudice, but his abilities definitely come in handy during the film.
  • Take a Third Option: Suggested by Rosie, after Maniac introduces himself and Blair to Tiger Claw's pilots in the rec room. The first option is that the new pilots and the old pilots get into a brawl. The second option is that they instead share a friendly bottle of Scotch. Rosie's proposed third option? Kick the new pilots' asses, then drink their Scotch.
  • That Man Is Dead: Bossman, a recently-deceased veteran of the Tiger Claw, who his own former squadron goes so far as to say never existed. This is apparently in line with how they've treated the deaths of all their former comrades.
  • Tim Taylor Technology: Played to its logical conclusion: several of Tolywn's ships suffer catastrophic meltdowns from running their engines too hard in the push to get in position to defend Earth. Upon being informed of this, he orders the ships to raise their engine output again.
  • Vanilla Edition: All three releases (non-anamorphic DVD in 1999, anamorphic DVD in 2011, and Blu-ray in 2013) have nothing more than a fairly barebones menu and the theatrical trailer included.