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One million miles deep in space
—"Battle Beyond the Stars" by Medieval Steel
One of the cornerstones of a Space Opera is for there to be a Space Battle somewhere along the line, where the heroes take part in an event which will change the fate of the everything, then stop for a Victory Dance and a Spot of Tea if the battle is won.
Well, it's not exactly as simple as that, almost. It is meant to be the occasion in a movie, game or TV series where it can show off where most of the budget probably went and why it took as much time as it did. It provides jaw dropping visuals, tons of Frickin' Laser Beams, a lot of tense edge-of-your-seat action, advanced iconic vehicles or weapons, and a totally awesome end sequence. It's supposed to blow your brains out and leave you slack jawed at the awesomeness on display.
Essentially, it is an opportunity to show off the special effects and a ton of ideas that the creator has come up with, to try and blow the audience away and use the potential awesome to lobotomize them into drooling masses as they enjoy the spectacle of it all. Of course making such battles have become easier as special effects have become simpler to make and have become much more advanced. The first film to really push the envelope in terms of this was Star Wars, during the battle against the Death Star. Virtually every battle will stick to the rule of Space Is Noisy, because of Rule of Cool. Now however films with huge battles are commonplace thanks to the advancement of technology.
Typically Space Battles involve the following:
- The enemy will usually have some giant, unstoppable killing machine that the heroes need to destroy before it kills them
- The good guys will be hopelessly outnumbered or simply overpowered.
- There will be hundreds of soldiers or vehicles running amok to show the scale of it (in most productions made after the late 1990s they will all be computer generated).
- They will involve some, or all of the main characters at once alongside many others for whom they are fighting with to show the unified cause.
- The enemy will either be overconfident to the point they see no need in a backup plan or to send everything at the good guys, or they will charge everything in knowing they will win.
- When it looks like the enemy will crush the last pockets of resistance, reinforcements show up to help the good guys.
- The heroes will have a time limit in which they have to win, they will always achieve this with a second to spare.
- Someone will make a Heroic Sacrifice or perform a Heel Face Turn or Face Heel Turn.
This trope has extended into fantasy or historical movies as well as they have become more popular, this is because use several of the same methods and cliches to bring about the same effect. The Lord of the Rings for example required creative use of CGI and minitures to portray and do epic battles described in the books justice.
The Space Battle can also be the Final Battle depending on when it starts in the show. Can also overlap with Decisive Battle depending on if it takes place before the Final Battle. Space Battles often involve Standard Starship Scuffles. Not to be confused with Space Battles, although they do like a good Space Battle at Space Battles.
- Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato, being a quintessential Space Opera, certainly has a bunch of them.
- Robotech— which is to say, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada.
- Vandread most of its episode compose of space battles, and it features most of all the examples mentioned above.
- Star Wars thrives on this, it was the first film to really showcase how to make one. Four out of the six films have an epic space battle along the line while the last two take place on a planet. Ironically one of those ground battles is the best remembered: The Battle of Hoth.
- Serenity had a rather impressive battle between the Alliance fleet and the Reavers chasing Mal, it even had sound (it was technically in the upper atmosphere of Mr. Universe's moon).
- Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning builds up into one.
- Independence Day ends with a space fighter chase through an enormous alien mothership to escape from an imminent nuclear detonation.
- Wing Commander, while almost universally hated by the fans of the original game, does feature some cool space battles, most of these involving the TCS Tiger's Claw (a carrier) against several Kilrathi cruisers. One of the most memorable scenes involves a deadly game of chicken between the Tiger's Claw and the remaining Kilrathi cruiser. The latter, of course, veers off, resulting in it receiving a bull broadside of torpedoes at near-point-blank range.
- The Honor Harrington books each have a great big space battle or two somewhere. In fact, that's their emphasis; the titular heroine is a starship commander.
- The Lensman books contained some titanic space battles, usually described in over-the-top hyperbolic purple prose to get the sense of their bigness across.
- The Dendarii Mercenaries and the Prince Serg(or junior and daddy vorkosigan to put it another way) vs the Cetagandians in the vor game.
- William Shatner's (yes, that one) Quest For Tomorrow series includes several space battles, although most boil down to "forget how many ships you have and how advanced they are; tactics are all that matter - i.e. you need more processing power". The battle that's described in the most detail is the protagonist's first, when the ship he's on is trying to run a blockade. He's not actually supposed to participate in the battle, until all officers are killed by the enemy ships blinking (i.e. they rapidly shift in and out of subspace in a specific pattern to cause brain damage to anyone looking at them). Jim uses abilities he doesn't know he has to jam all the enemy sensors and destroy them one after another.
- Despite being your typical Space Opera, The History of the Galaxy series focuses much less on these than other examples of the genre. Even if they do, the battles are usually described from the viewpoint of a fighter pilot instead of a bridge officer aboard a cruiser. These series instead tends to focus on characters and ground battles involving Humongous Mecha, particularly because one of the author's ongoing themes is War Is Hell, which is not very easy to show with a space battle.
- A number of these are described in the Dune prequels, describing the times before the Spacing Guild monopolized interstellar travel. Usually, they are between the League of Nobles armada and Omnius's robotic fleets. Sisterhood of Dune describes an intense battle between the fanatical Butlerians and a number of Venport Holdings ships. While the Butlerian ships outnumber Venhold ships 12 to 1, they are also relics from the Butlerian Jihad, while Venhold ships are top-of-the-line. The battle is a victory for the Butlerians, but they end up losing nearly half of their forces, even though they have one of the greatest mentats onboard the flagship to guide them.
- Star Trek didn't rely on those so much for obvious reasons, the times ships would fight each other were really static affairs with nothing special going on. The first film to feature an epic Space Battle was Star Trek: First Contact although it only happened for 5 minutes. Ironically the best film to show off a decent battle was Star Trek Nemesis. The latest film however does feature sequences when it's remembered that there is no sound up there.
- The movies and shows tended not to have large-scale space battles, with dozens or hundreds of ships flying around, but they did have space battles that were impressive in their own scope. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for instance, features the on-and-off duel between the Enterprise and Reliant, with both ships having to retreat early on to lick their wounds before meeting up for the final clash in the climax. Epic does not necessarily require a lot of participants.
- In Deep Space Nine on the other hand, they had several epic battles, like the Klingon assault on Deep Space Nine, the Dominion assault on Deep Space Nine, the Federation's retaking of Deep Space Nine, the two battles for the Chintoka system, and the battle for Cardassia.
- The last few episodes of season 4 of Babylon 5 are full of these. Huge three way battle between the Shadows, Vorlons and Everybody Else; Huge assault on Earth with Earth Defense satellites acting as the giant killing machines that's going to kill everybody and everything that you need to tie up all the plot lines of the series in four seasons. Then they got extended for a fifth... whoops.
- The new Battlestar Galactica's space battles had quite a wow factor due to the outstanding special effects, despite only having a couple of big ships slugging it out (usually the Galactica versus a couple of basestars).
- The Stargate Verse had more of these as the show went on longer and got a bigger budget. The most visually impressive was probably the Battle of Asuras in Stargate Atlantis, featuring an Atlantis-Wraith-Travellers alliance vs. the Asuran Replicators. And the battle was just a diversion until they could merge all the Asurans together and implode the resulting mass, which also destroyed the planet.
- Some space-themed video games live on the concept of Space Battle, and since this genre is going in a pretty bad way, the ones that done it right have gained a cult status among their geeky fans, becoming the 'Space Battle Generator' to fuel their unending needs of Space Battle. Expect a huge amount of Game Mod to spice things up... a lot. Some of them are Free Space, Homeworld, Freelancer, Sins of a Solar Empire, Star Trek Bridge Commander, with honorable mentions to Star Wars: Empire At War, Gratuitous Space Battles, Nexus the Jupiter Incident and Rogue Squadron.
- Fallout, despite being set in a wasteland with small hints of alien life features one of these in Fallout 3 with the Mothership Zeta add-on, complete with a Death Ray. It's a mostly static affair but the first time can be considered quite tense due to you being unfamiliar with the controls. In fact the wiki advises you to perform Button Mashing to make the battle better. If you go through it again it becomes a pretty predictable "Full power to weapons, reroute power to shields!" etc. Does feature a nice explosion at the end.
- The climax of Mass Effect showcases a cut scene where the Citadel defense fleet is trying to take down Sovereign and save the council until the Human fleet shows up, much ass kicking ensues and it is absolutely awesome!
- Space battles take place at both the beginning and end of Mass Effect 2. The second is much easier on the protagonists, but how much so is up to the player.
- Mass Effect 3 features several, from something small like Cerberus fighters engaging the Normandy at Grissom Academy, to battles as grand as the Migrant Fleet versus the geth and [insert race here] fighting the Reapers. It eventually culminates in the largest fleet the galaxy has ever seen assaulting the main Reaper force at Earth. If you do everything right, this fleet consists of the human, turian, asari, salarian, geth, quarian, volus, and even batarian ships all working as one.
- Half of Sword of the Stars is this, with ships that you have designed, built, and formed into fleets slugging it out with the enemy fleets and/or planetary defenses. With dreadnoughts, though, this is usually a static affair. The game is notable for allowing the player to target any part of the enemy ship, including individual turrets. Each Expansion Pack has added more technologies and weapons to be used in battle, as well as new races with their own advantages and disadvantages. The sequel plans to add even more complexity to battles.
- Several occur throughout Asura's Wrath. The most epic one of all, is in the DLC Part Iv, Nirvana. During the final fight with Chakravartin, Asura becomes the extremely huge planet sized Desturctor Asura, and starts flying towards chakravartin as he throws Planets and starts at you like they are basketballs, and causes a start to supernova just to kill you! It's really cool!
- You can technically have these in Starcraft, if you fight on a space platform map with ships and fighters.
- The into to Alien Crossfire expansion to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri shows a battle between two Progenitor scoutships that results in one of the color-coded ships (they're identical otherwise) doing sufficient damage to the other, causing the loser to fly out-of-control and straight into the path of the other ship. The resulting explosion destroys both ships, except both manage to eject Escape Pods that land on Chiron.
- Exo Squad had a lot of them, using Mini-Mecha in place of more conventional space fighters.
- Shadow Raiders.