I’m ashamed to say that up until a few years ago I honestly believed that Space Opera had everything to do with singing and was some sort of movie length music video set in space.
I was wrong. REALLY WRONG.
Good thing the topic doesn’t come up in conversation very often or I’d be in real trouble. That is unless you hang out with other writers, especially those who work in speculative fiction. Whoops. I guess I was lucky, in the course of all the different writer’s conventions, retreats, and critique meetings, no one brought it up either.
Which is a little strange when you consider the different franchises that have made millions with their space opera titles. Here’s a list:
- Star Wars
- Babylon 5
- Ender’s Game
- Flash Gordon
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Red Dwarf
- Star Trek
- Doctor Who
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. These titles are the ones that I have personally experienced. There are dozens, if not hundreds more.
So, what does it take to make space opera?
Wikipedia defines space opera this way: “a subgenre of science fiction that often emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, weapons, and other technology. The term has no relation to music but is instead a play on the term ‘soap opera’.”
A space opera will have a strong sympathetic protagonist who for the most part is traveling in space. His goal is almost always something noble and romantic, like efforts to save a civilization, save the universe, restore peace between two worlds, return a valuable artifact, or explore strange new worlds. There will always be something big he is fighting against, like an empire, or a space monster, or a massive death-dealing spaceship. He will have advanced technology and expertise at his disposal, but so will his opposition. In his travels, he will fall in love with someone and have to choose between her or his goal, but usually ends up bringing her along. Sometimes she is in league with the bad guy, sometimes not. In the end he will win, but never in the way he set out to do.
To put things simply: good must conquer evil, it’s gotta be big and epic, lives must be at stake, and don’t forget an unforgettable space battle with explosions!