28 April 2023

FWS Top 10: The Strangest Starship Designs

I have been wanting to do this list for some time now because the vast array of starship design is so very interesting and compelling to me given the rocket and UFO roots of science fiction spacecraft. For this snack-sized article, I am listing ten space vehicle that made me think how odd their designs are. These are not joke entries, these were designed starships and so, you will not see an entry from Spaceballs or some sort of space-themed Hentai or entries from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

1. Slave-1 from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
When SW:TESB was released in 1980, I can clearly remember seeing the film seven times in the theater and how my brother got as many of the toys as possible...one of them was Slave-1...the oddball ship of Boba Fett. The ship itself, in universe, was the Firespray-31 class patrol and attack craft...but it was really my interaction with the toy. I just could not figure out the ship, but I loved the design. It deeply vexed me as a kid and even as a adult, especially given the oddball chair and cockpit design of the toy. The ship was designed by Nilo Rodis-Jamero and was based on a radar dish with Lone Peterson was one of the two modelmakers that worked on the filming model. This ship always reminds me of the Francis Bacon quote: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion".

2. V'Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The first Star Trek film, The Motionless Picture, was a dull film and its plot was recycled from the pilot "In Thy Image" to second Star Trek TV series, Phase II that would have been the flagship show to the planned 4th TV network: The Paramount Television Service. When those plans were abandoned, the pilot was transformed into the first Trek film. The primary enemy of the film was the massive cloud entity (2 AUs not 82!) that arrived in Federation space on an interception course to Terra...the only starship able to intercept was the refit USS Enterprise. Typical. 
During the over two hour film, the Enterprise make their way through the entity called "V'Ger" and it was a long strange trip through the bowls of this oddball design. Nothing about this design made any sense and the original concept of a physical "Living Machine" ship (seen above in the art for Phase II) was abandoned for being too similar to other alien superweapons from TOS. According to the sources, the physical ship was hidden in the layers of clouds and this ship was seen later in one of the many reedits of this bad film. Later on, Eaglemoss would release the exposed miles long vessel and it was odd to see it exposed. V'Ger was strange for its inclusion into Trek lore, the debate and changes to the size and look of the vessel, and just how the journey to the heart of the ship took hours of screen time. 

3. The Derelict Cargo Ship from ALIEN
When first seen in the 1979 ALIEN film, the Derelict cargo ship was a shocking slight and looked completely alien to the ships we were used to in wider science fiction. The original design of the alien spacecraft was done by sci-fi master Ron Cobb, but rejected for being "too rational" and the design needed to be inhuman. After several more designs that were just too grounded for Ridley Scott's tastes, he asked H.R. Giger to take a stable at it and within a few hours, we got the Derelict cargo ship that we are familiar with. I can still remember seeing the Derelict ship the first time and thinking how alien it was, but compelling. Despite the mystery of the ship and its pilot being lifted in 2014's Prometheus, the design still stands as well tne mastery of how it was presented on film..  

4. The Constitution class Starship from the Star Trek Universe
Unknown to the designers and construction team that made the original Enterprise in 1964, which was to be the Yorktown, this would be one of the most iconic starships of all time and that very model would be featured in one of the finest museums in the world. Unlike the vast array of fictional and real spacecraft in the 1960's, Gene Roddenberry laid down that his spaceship would not be a rocket. Matt Jefferies would be the one who designed the Enterprise with input from Gene through a process of submitting drawings by Jefferies, Gene would review and send back notes, and Jefferies would alter the design. 
In this wonderful article on Forgotten Trek, we can see that Jefferies also designed the Daedalus class starship as well without knowing it. So...why is the fucking Enterprise on this list? If you study the design of the ship, especially given the context when the show originally came out in 1966, there is nothing like the Enterprise and it was a revolution in starship design.  I grew up with the Enterprise and it is as familiar as the faces of my family and my work computer screens are filled with Master Systems Display of various Starfleet vessels. But when you stare at the original Enterprise, you can see how odd the design is and even to this day, it is a very original design. 

5. Nell from Battle Beyond the Stars
In 1980, during the wave that Star Wars had made, studios and creators were rushing to put out more Star Wars themed science fiction works and we got Battle Beyond the Stars. This was released in the theaters to the horror of movie audiences and all got to witness the orange spaceship called "Nell" that had her design based on the female reproductive anatomy. Oh, Lords of Kobol protect us from the orange space boobs! This "movie" was based on the much superior 1954 The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa and this semi-organic interplanetary fighter was the key hero ship of the film that just happened to have James Cameron working on models, the music by James Horner, and even Bill Paxton worked on set as a carpenter. Oh, and Sybil Danning was in it and she was stunning as a space warrior woman.  

6. The Reimagined Cylon Basestar/Baseship from Battlestar Galactica
In 2003, the world of science fiction changed with the one of the best sci-fi TV shows of all time, the Reimagined Battlestar Galactica helmed by Ronald D. Moore. Most of the iconic spacecraft in the new series were upgraded designs from the original NBC 1978 series. The Cylon Basestar was massively altered for the new series and was more based on organic technology. Unlike the Human Battlestar carriers, the Cylon Basestar was a pure space fighter carrier that had limited offensive and defensive abilities, instead relaying on their cyberwarfare systems, over 200 missile batteries, and the nearly 800 Cylon Raider fighters. What makes the RDM BSG Baseships appear on this list is how very different these Basestars were from the 1978 original Basestars along with how odd their command-and-control systems are, their weapons, their lack of sublight propulsion, and how the humanoid Cylon model interact with the Baseship and their pilots. 

7. The Romulan Narada Mining Vessel from Star Trek (2009)
Okay, I hate the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films...they are a waste of money, talent, and time that could have been used to forward the Trek franchise. In the first "film" we see this "Romulan" vessel that looks nothing like pervious Romulan design and it appears more like an seed of some terrible alien plant that wants lay its seeds inside of your colon. Is that just me? This was a mining vessel used by the Romulan government in the late 24th century. While it seems that the design was the plan, I still never liked the exterior or interior design of this ship. It does not help that the movie is terribly jumpy like a toddler on a IV of Red Bull. 

8. The Living Starships of D&D Spelljammer 
When I was a kid, we would visit Tulsa nearly ever weekend and I would run into my favorite comic book store Starbase 21. I would explore spaces where the RPGs were kept and the wall of unpainted miniatures along with a display case of painted miniatures. In the case were these organic spaceships and the owner of the store told me that these were living ships from a new D&D module called Spelljammer. In this setting, both the classic Spelljammer and the new, the ships (called Spelljammers) are fashioned on organic beings or are living themselves. It was a crazy module and was regarded as one of the more unique D&D settings of all time. I never played Spelljammer during my time with D&D, but it made an impression on me on just how odd these designs and concepts were. For 5th Edition of D&D, Spelljammer has returned and we shall see how the rollers of the table response to this legendary setting. 

9. The Acanti and the Star Sharks from the Marvel Universe
In the 1980's, my brother was buying X-Men comics, which I read, and there were these aliens called the Brood that rode space sharks through the stars to kill entire worlds. Even as a kid, I thought how bizzare this was and yet how compelling.  Along with the terrifying Starsharks, there were the peaceful Acanti. I wonder if these creatures will make onto the silverscreen in one of the MCU films before the whole franchise implodes. 

10. The TARDIS from the Doctor Who Universe
There are generations of humans that will grow up and know the words "Police Box" as it relates to an alien space and time vehicle on that iconic British TV show and I count myself among those people. We here in the colonies do not have a history with the police box and most people of the colonies were only introduced to that piece of British law enforcement history via the iconic Doctor Who. So, one of the longest running and most beloved science fiction TV shows has the main hero of the series travel to adventures in time and space in a blue box that looks like a phone booth? That is an odd. Damn odd, but endearing and wonderful. The Doctor's Police Box was based on the Mackenzie Trench-style police box that were named after their designed and were first seen in 1929. These relics of a time before handheld radios were used for the police on the beat and the general public to contact the police. The interior of the Police Box was used for housing criminals until transport could be arranged, as a mini-police station were officers could take breaks, eat a meal, and file out reports. 

Honored Mention: the Lexx from Lexx
It is a space insect penis ship and the show had double xx in the title giving the whole show a space porn vibe. I never watched this show and I will not, but the Lexx ship, the most powerful in two universe, is one of the oddest designs and it looks like an space alien insect penis. Lovely. 

My Personal Choice: The SDF-3 "Pioneer" from the ROBOTECH II: The Sentinels
There few things that have disappointment me more as a nerd and geek than how I was robbed as a kid of the experience of the sequel to ROBOTECH. I wanted this and I didn't get to have it and I still want it. Not the fucking comic books, the shitty attempts by Harmony Fucking Gold, nor the excellent books by Jack McKinney...I wanted the series and I will never get it. The few proper pieces of The Sentinels we got allowed to see the SDF-3 Pioneer, the massive red-hued organic looking Terran take on a classic Zentraedi design to allow for a Trojan Horse type of scenario. When I first saw the look of the SDF-3 on the cover of the 3rd ROBOTECH: The Sentinels Del-Rey book, I was shocked. It was nothing like I had pictures, but there it was in all of red hued organic glory and seen then...I have become a fan of the pre-refit design of the SDF-3 Pioneer, but it strange concerning the look of the original and how we fans saw the SDF classification of Terran and Tirolian warships. 


  1. The Klingon Blade ship Star Trek Discovery. So you being a warrior race decides to construct a starship about 940m long and most of the ships mass and structure is a massive sharpened metal blade. A giant Cleaver.

  2. Interesting selection, especially when it came to some designs that most of us grew up getting used to over the decades, though I can understand your confusion with the design of the Narada. Extra-cinematic lore explained that the design was due to some secret Romulan space dock with access to Borg technology that was detailed in some book that I've never even heard about before I even saw the film. Now they expect us to do homework before going to the film? Isn't that more of an after thing?

    And I too had only my experience with the SDF-3 Pioneer through the Del-Ray Books, Palladium, and the Sentinels Pilot on DVD. Shame that it didn't go any further then that, considering all the unanswered questions the series left open back in the day in anticipation of sequel series that never came to fruition due to who cares what.

    Though personally I don't think I have seen any odd-looking starships beyond this list off the top of my head. Closest would be the Paranoid ships from the Gall Force of the OVA franchise. Almost found it funny how the shape of the ships seemed to match up with the head designs of the on-screen officers and commanders.

  3. A bit late here but my vote for at least Honorable Mention goes to the Cygnus from The Black Hole (1979). in 1974, Bob McCall designed a perfectly reasonable deep-space vessel, the Centaurus, for the original film concept, Star Probe, with a very "1970s NASA look". Disney's art department somehow morphed it into a pseudo-Victorian "Crystal Palace in Space". Compare the Cygnus to the Palomino and the latter's design cues gives you some idea of what the original Centaurus might have looked like on screen. No, there is no explanation for why the Cygnus looks like something Jules Verne might have drawn after a particularly horrid nightmare. The only place it would really make any sense would be in a steampunk SF game like Castle Falkenstein.

    There. I've been waiting to get that off my chest for forty-four years. Thank you.

    clear ether


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