Geek Speak

The Importance of Space Opera, from Star Trek to Guardians of the Galaxy

Space. The final frontier, and perhaps my very favorite setting for any and every kind of media. Big adventures in an almost limitless universe. Exploration, contact and conflict with aliens, rebel alliances versus evil empires — I love it all. Give me a spaceship, a crew — ragtag or highly competent are both fine — and a swath of deep space full of adventure, mystery and discovery and I am on board, no matter what the medium.

I got my start as a geek due in large part to Star Wars, and I suspect it’s no coincidence that space opera has been at the forefront of my geeky interests ever since. If Star Wars was the bait, then Star Trek set the hook, reeling me in with its promises of a vast universe to explore and a peaceful, egalitarian society that wanted nothing more than to seek out new worlds and new civilizations.

Once I was reading I dove headlong into weird nonsense like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (a title that suggests an entirely different kind of space trip to my cynical adult self) before I discovered the incredible, archaic futures of Robert Heinlein’s juveniles, starting with Spaceman Jones and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and then working my way through his extensive catalogue as quickly as I could. Dozens of authors followed, from the breezy work of Alan Dean Foster to the insane world-building of Iain M. Banks. All expanded my love of high adventure and strange happenings in deep space.

Games, too — after Dungeons & Dragons taught me the ropes, I made the jump to lightspeed with Star Frontiers, moving on to Traveller and other, more esoteric RPG systems, filling notebook after notebook with spaceship drawings and descriptions of alien planets, flora and fauna. On my consoles and computers, I played every space game I could lay my hands on, from classics like Star Control II to an obscure Atari computer game whose name escapes me but that I spent a good fifty or sixty hours engrossed in before I even started middle school.

None of this stopped once I grew up, either. I still love a good space opera as much as I ever did, even if they are increasingly hard to find (they do still happen, as Guardians of the Galaxy, showing August 31 at Red Rocks, proves). Looking at our fractured politics, failing environment and state of constant warfare, it’s easy to understand why: They give hope in a world where hope can be damn hard to find.

Even in the grimiest, most dystopian space opera — something like, say, the much beloved Battlestar Galactica reboot — there is hope aplenty. No matter how fucked-up things are, there’s still the simple reality that, hey, people can get on spaceships and go to other planets! That’s a big deal. That’s the biggest deal, really — if we’re still stuck here when the asteroid comes, or the nukes fall, then that’s game over, man. We have only one hope for the longterm survival of the species, and it involves warp drives, orbital colonies and maybe some sexy green alien hotties of indeterminate gender.

That big emptiness in the sky is just waiting for us to come out and explore it, to move our species off this muddy little rock and out into the universe. We may be decades, even centuries away from fulfilling that promise, but if we ever get there it will be because generations of starry-eyed kids, much like me, fell in love with the descendants of Star Trek and Heinlein and Star Control II, grew up yearning and hoping and working toward getting off this stupid planet and on to bigger and better things out there, in the infinite sky. Do your part and embrace outer space the next time you pick up a book, game or film. Your far future descendants will thank you.

Film on the Rocks presents Guardians of the Galaxy at 7 p.m. Monday, August 31. Find more details on the Red Rocks website.