22 September 2018

Top 10: The Most Iconic Warships of Sci-Fi

One of the most important elements in most science fiction works that contain a combat warship that will take a starring role is the design/style of that spacegoing warship. While it may be sad to think that the visuals account for the failure or success of an sci-fi spaceship, it is the truth. In the realm of science fiction, there those combat starships that have been an influence on all elements of wider culture and all areas of science fiction. This was a tough list to assemble and I had to limit the list to iconic actual combat spaceships that were (mostly) tasked with standard naval duties and operated under a military organization framework. Due to this…I did not include the USS Enterprise. As a reader of FWS observed (Christopher Phoenix), Federation starships are bipolar in nature and do not perform the competing roles of defense and exploration equally. While some may label Starfleet has a military organization, its mission is one of diplomacy, exploration, research, and defense, causing their starships to be not purpose-designed for war. The only canon warship developed by Starfleet for the sole purpose of combat was the 2371 experimental NX-74205 Defiant that was critical to the Dominion War effort. While the Enterprise is one of the most important fictional starships of all time, it is not a "pure" warship.

Progentiors: Zarkov's Rocketship from Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers’ Battlecruiser Rocket
The first combat starship featured in science fiction comes from the nonofficial sequel to War of the Worlds: Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss published in 1898. While this important work laid the groundwork for many ideas central to military science fiction, it was the armed rocketships of the early sci-fi heros of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers along with the warships of E.E. Doc Smith that put the concept of combat starships into the public's imagination and lit the fires of creativity in younger audience members. 

1. The Galactica Space Carrier from BSG
When the title of your show is the name of your primary spaceship, it means that the ship better be memorable and it is the centerpieces of the entire fictional world to a large degree. After the massive success of Star Wars, the entire entertainment industry was in a rush to capitalize on the success and popularity of Star Wars with their own space adventure product. For ABC, that became Glenn Larson’s Battlestar Galactica that actually developed by Universal/NBC. At the time, classic BSG was the most expensive show on Television. The show centers around the one of the last two surviving Battlestars, the Galatica, that is the great protector of the rag-tag fleet heading toward the home of the lost 13th tribe: Earth. The Battlestar was the frontline warship of the 12 Colonies of Man and was a heavily armed space carrier that could transport an entire taskforce of Colonial Warriors and their equipment to the battlefield while guarding the orbital high ground or engage Cylon basestars in space naval warfare.
What is amazing is that Space Carriers, a dream of sci-fi creators for some time, were brought to life via the Galactica. The original model of the Galactica was created by experienced model builders John Dykstra, Grant McCune and Richard Edlund based on the concept art by Ralph McQuarrie. Within short order, the show and the title battlestar were forever icons of space warships. Only cementing that title further was the 2003 reboot with a more streamlined organic Galactica and Pegasus that were just even more badass. The moment when the Pegasus comes to rescue the struggling Galactica is one of the finest moments in MSF history.
   
2. The Yamato Battlecruiser from Space Cruiser Yamato
There is no spacegoing warship that has as much power in my life and development as the Argo from Starblazers AKA the Yamato from UchÅ« Senkan Yamato. Constructed during a time of global emergency, the Yamato was the last Terran warship developed during the alien siege of the Earth in the underground cities with an infusion of friendly alien technology to accomplish the mission of saving Terra from the deadly radiation. The kicker was that the Yamato was constructed using the hull of the old Imperial Japanese Navy Yamato battleship…the largest ever constructed.
In 2199, the Yamato flew again to protect its homeland and became one of the greatest space battleships of all time and a symbol of my childhood. The original story by Yoshinobu Nishizaki was rejected by the new design supervisor Leiji Matsumoto in 1974, and he created the basic story we know today along with the familiar overall Yamato design that morphed from an original idea of submarine encased in an asteroid(!). For many, the Yamato is one of the symbols of anime and it has been reproduced countless times in art, video games, models, and even wargames. Adding to its longevity is 2010 live-action movie and 2012-2013 rebooting of the franchise with Space Battleship Yamato 2199

3. The Star Destroyer Class Capital Ship from Star Wars
The wedged shaped primary warship of the evil Empire is as much an icon of the Star Wars, as the lightsaber, the X-Wing, or the breathing of Lord Vader. These vessels were also as much a symbol of the Empire as the white armored Stormtroopers and these vessels were designed to protect power and fear across the galaxy, being a physical reminder of the strenght of the Imperial boot. In the early of Star Wars, the "Star Destroyer" was a two-man fighter then it was altered to a capital warship. In the original opening scene of A New Hope, the Blockade Runner was to be chased by no less than four of the deadly triangles. Due to budget, it was reduced to one. Since the first film in 1977, the Star Destroyer class warship has been reproduced repeatedly for the toy, model, and collector market.  

4. The Omega class Destroyer from B5 Universe
At the time B5 was being aired, it was a banner year of science fiction television, and it was directly competing with several other space shows with a starship at their center (and one futuristic submarine) along with another space station center show. During the second season premiere of B5, the first Omega class Terran Destroyer is seen in the opening seconds:  the EAS Agamemnon. This was unlike any futuristic warship ever seen in a sci-fi work and became a star of the show to many of us due to the duality of the design of the Omega class; being both high-tech/low-tech at the same time.
While this EarthForce brawler rose out of the ash of the near defeat of humanity and could show the flag via its extensive muscle, it relayed on primitive artificial gravity generation via spinning sections. This was one of the most unique elements of the warship and it was a very rare sight on television. The centrifuge coupled with the overall design caused fans to the Alexei Leonov Soviet spacecraft from the 1984 film 2010: the Year We Make Contact which was designed by sci-fi wizard Syd Mead. All of these factors, coupled with just how tough this warship was, caused it to be one of most iconic space combat ships in science fictions.

5. The Sulaco armed FLT troop transport from the ALIENS Universe

The ALIENS universe is most often having the characters and events around very alien exo-planets and industrial starships that are very far away from the sterile corridors of the Enterprise. Taking the place of the space cargo vessel Nostromo is the United States AeroSpace Force Sulaco, an armed transport vessel designed to delivery men and material to the distant battlefields of deep space with enough firepower to serve as a warship if needed. When tasked with creating the warship for ALIENS, Syd Mead original drew an sphere shaped craft that was rejected by James Cameron due to the complexity of shooting a sphere shaped vessel that informed the audience just how big this vessel was.
With some drawings from Cameron, Syd Mead designed the Sulaco to appear more like a gun in outer space that was armed, but appeared to be a service vessel. Oddly, to save money, the actually shooting model of the armed transport was only finished on one side by model markers Peter Astin, Pat McClung, John Lee and Robert Skotak. Nearly everything in this 1986 film has become an important part of science fiction, and the Sulaco is no different. Many designers and creators have drawn direct inspiration from this design, allowing to be copied over and over as we saw in the opening of HALO: Combat Evolved.   


6. The Rodger Young from SST Universe
FWS has stated time and time again about the lofty status of the Starship Troopers 1958 book and how unique it was. One of the areas that made the SST novel unique was the treatment of the one of the warships in the novel: the Terran Federation Corvette Transport Rodger Young. Designed for rapid deployment of a platoon of MI troopers in their CLASS-II powered armor, the Rodger Young Corvette was in keeping with Mobile Infantry tactical doctrine of flexibility and speed. Often Corvette Transports were used to launch raids on Bug and Skinny worlds. Unlike many other starships at the time, the Rodger Young was more fleshed out; more realistic in name and role, and it was not the star of book, but a place. I’ve thought that the Rodger Young Corvette was template for other future military sci-fi creators. It also helps that the ship was named for an US Army Medal of Honor World War II recipient in the Pacific theater that saved lives via his valiant actions. When it came time for the 1997 live-action film, it surprised me that the film kept the name of the ship, despite the many alternations to the universe of SST. However, unlike the book vision of the ship being a fast assault vessel, the film would greatly expand the Roger Young in a warship that was more or less identical to the other Federation warships in the Fleet.
The film vision of the Terran Federation Corvette Transport Rodger Young was conceptualized by Jim Martin (as was most of the look of the 1997 film) and the models of the iconic warship was constructed by noted model marker George Willis (who also designed the starship for the CBS Space Rangers). According to a Den of Geeks interview, three sizes were constructed with one being massive 18 foot monster designed for the close-up worked needed for the split-in-half scene during the invasion of Planet P. Some of the models were popular giveaway items to VIPs, much some found there way into the hands of the production staff. Due to the popularity of SST, the Rodger Young was naturally inserted into the various tabletop wargames, the various animations films, and video games.

7. The Normandy from the Mass Effect Universe
Looming large over the realm of sci-fi video games is BioWare's legendary series of Mass Effect that has fallen on hard times with Andromeda. During the research phase of this article, I ran across repeated references and praise aimed at the advanced warship/scout of the Systems Alliance, the Normandy,  and the design and technology spoke to the relationship between Terra and Palaven. This little ship became the focal point of galactic history and the platform for decisions that altered galactic history. It was the ship of design that has become a beloved place for us fans of the series.
That is the interesting thing is what the Normandy represents to us gamers: a interstellar home for our dreams and hopes. Mass Effect is a game experience that we, the player, tailored to our will; making the game a reflect of us. That directly applies to the Normandy. Through all of the evolution of the design, layout, and mission, you could customize it and interact with it in very different ways that extended beyond just the ship models, fish, and space hamster. For many, the Normandy was our ship and we used it to explore our vision of the Mass Effect universe. While you could not directly control the ship, you inhabited the space that felt familiar and became a virtual home for many of us and a place we would love to go. While the Normandy may not have spawned other ships other than the Tempest, it become iconic because we made it in your own image and part of us is there onboard that ship.     

8. The Klingon Bird of Prey from the Star Trek Universe
There is no sci-fi franchise in history that has the steer volume of starships as Star Trek, and while FWS discusses the ships of Trek extensive over the years, there are few "pure" warships that are iconic outside of the community. According to my research, one of the most celebrated Trek warships is the Klingon Bird of Prey that was seen originally in ST III: The Search for Spock and for good reason. In the original idea for the third film, the new Bird-of-Prey would have been Romulan and the designers of the new cloaked warship took elements from the classic Trek series Romulan ships and incorporated into the new Bird of Prey. Then the villain was altered to the Klingon, with the Captain Kruge stealing an cloaked device equipped warship from the Romulan Star Empire to learn the secrets of Project Genesis. Finally, the Bird of Prey was made to be completely an Klingon warship by the time of the final script. While the Enterprise is the most iconic statship of the Trek universe, the Bird of Prey is an icon in of itself and since its debut in The Search for Spock in 1984, it has appeared in nearly every Star Trek product since, including ST: IV, V, VI, VII! Even when the Trek work is forward or backward in the established timeline, the producers find a way to fit the Bird of Prey into that timeframe as seen with ST: Enterprise and ST: DISCO.

9. The SDF-1from ROBOTECH/Macross Universe
At times, it is not the ship itself that is iconic, but it is work itself that makes this entry iconic among science fiction warships. In 1982, Shoji Kawamori developed one of the most celebrated and beloved anime franchises of all time for Studio Nue: Macross. For many of us westerns, Macross would be fused with two other anime TV series to form the legendary series of ROBOTECH. At the heart of the first story in the ROBOTECH series is the abandoned alien fortress ship, the SDF-1 and the city it carries around: Macross that was designed by the legendary Kazutaka Miyatake .
Originally named "Alien Star Ship 1" (ASS-1) in the Macross or the "Visitor" in ROBOTECH Graphic Novel by Comico. In both of the series, the ship was renamed the "SDF-1"which the  "Super Dimensional" portion of the name comes from the vessel's ability to travel faster-than-light. While heavily recycled in the Japanese Macross universe, the ROBOTECH SDF-1 was destroyed along with the smaller SDF-2. It would not appear in the other two series save for a flashback or mention. The REF SDF-1 of the Pioneer Mission was very different and more akin to a Robotech Master warship. Here is the odd thing about the SDF-1, while it is popular on its own, it is inclusion in the Macross/ROBOTECH universe that causes longevity and popularly. Since 1982, the mecha of these series have been in production, in one form or another, and while the Veritech fighter is the most popular mecha, plastic SDF-1s are made year-after-year due to massive popularity of the series. While the SDF-1 holds a special place in my heart, I can see that it is mainly due to ROBOTECH. 

10. The C57D Saucer from Forbidden Planet
In the early heady days of science fiction film, the design of spaceships came down to two types: rocket ships and flying saucers. Often the flying saucers were the vehicle of the monstrous alien invaders and the good guys, like Buck Rogers, flew in sleek atomic rocket ships. That was altered by one of the best early sci-fi films: Forbidden Planet. In the film, the United Planets starcruiser that is a flying saucer shaped craft, the C57D, is on investigation mission to determine what happened to a colonial venture on Altar IV some 20 years ago in 2220. Given the time period, the model of the C57D was recycled for classic The Twilight Zone, increasing the iconic status of the old C57D.

Next Time on FWS...
There are just some firearms that are ahead of their time that become a pathfinder for the advancement of the entire firearms industry. Due to the look and/or their technological advancement of these cutting edge firearms, many are easily inserted into futuristic films, TV shows, and video games without much alternation. In the first installment of the new FWS serial, "Guns from the Future", will be exploring and explaining one of the most iconic, celebrated, and misunderstood "futuristic" firearms that is a darling of the science fiction: the FN P90!

7 comments:

  1. A well researched and thoroughly informative article, as usual, William. As to be expected with any Top 10 lists the winnowing of candidates is a difficult and mostly subjective process. The decision not to include the most iconic starship design of all is justified, as the Enterprise is an exploration vessel not dedicated to warfare (but certainly able to defend itself). I must make Honorable Mentions of the Liberator from Terry Nation's excellent Blake's 7 and the utilitarian Space Fortress that served as base of operations for 2000AD's adventurer Dan Dare.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know when composing a list like this not every candidate can be included. I was however surprised that you didn't include the space carrier USS Saratoga from Space Above and Beyond. The Saratoga and the Galactica run neck and neck as the best designs for a space carrier.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought of including it, however, it show was not popular enough to warrant a place on the list. In addition, it did not influence as directly as some of the other entries on the list.

      Delete
  3. Although many of the design choices in ST:TNG failed, the new Romulan cruisers were things of beauty. Those were the last on screen ST ships I thought had an immediate "cool" factor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the look and presence of the Romulan D'deridex class warbird!

      Delete
  4. I normally don't like these kinds of lists, because they just end up being various Enterprises and the Millenium Falcon, but this is actually a really good one. Quite diverse. The fact that the original Galactica *AND* the Agamemnon makes the list made me very happy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Will there be fictional war story speculation on what if Earth(2019AD) in the Star Wars universe? Suggest u watch this: https://youtu.be/iqOuHunl-nk

    Also please read my still in production Tom Clancy's universe and Star Wars Crossover with Alien timeline included, will ya? Read here: https://www.wattpad.com/story/126613878-the-ghost-outsiders-of-mandalore-a-tom-clancy%27s

    ReplyDelete