29 October 2009: Space opera on TV

Space fighter craft

This is my fifth and last blog post (for now) looking at the new genre television season by subgenre. I’ve noted before that within speculative fiction — which starts with the question “What if?” — supernatural conspiracy shows, vampire romances, and metahuman melodramas have been more popular lately than space opera. That’s too bad, because my some of first loves in science fiction were the late-1970s TV heroes of Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica (see above and reruns), as well as the novels of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and many others.

The recent success of Star Trek‘s cinematic reboot could be an early sign of the pendulum swinging back to rockets and ray guns. Not surprisingly, the best space opera on the air right now is the computer-animated Star Wars: Clone Wars. Loosely based on the Tartakovsky shorts that took place between Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, the pilot movie turned off some fans by focusing on young Padawan (Jedi apprentice) Ashoka Tano.

However, since then, I think that Clone Wars has done an excellent job of exploring and expanding various corners of George Lucas’ universe. It has humanized the clone troopers, showed how the Jedi knights are outmaneuvered by the cunning Sith, and demonstrated what Yoda described as the futility of war. Plus, Clone Wars has the blazing space and lightsaber battles, kid-friendly humor, and strange aliens we’ve come to expect from the Star Wars franchise.

I’m still on the fence about Stargate Universe. On the one hand, it’s part of the franchise established by the retro action movie and long-running Stargate SG1. On the other hand, the large conflict-ridden ensemble, dark and shaky cinematography, and focus on survival over heroism are more in the style of Battlestar Galactica: the Plan or Flash Forwardthan I’d prefer.

We’ll see how the major cast and crew changes coming to Doctor Who will affect that British time-travel franchise. I’ve enjoyed its mix of space opera, pseudohistorical swashbuckling, and alien horrors from the Jon Pertwee incarnation through Tom Baker and David Tennant, and I’m willing to give Matt Smith, the eleventh eponymous Time Lord, a shot. Spin-offs include the more adult-themed Torchwood,
the adolescent-aimed Sarah Jane Adventures, and the dubious reboot of K-9
and Friends
. Have a Happy Halloween!