Laser beams, thrusters, explosions that you shouldn’t hear. Just three of the things that make up a great battle in space. I’m going to look at a few of the big ones. I’m not going to put them in order or anything but I will give each one an overall grade. I had to think about all the things that would go towards it and whether I was only going to concentrate on the battle in space and not anything else going on around it. Then I decided to bin all the rules and stop making it difficult for myself. So the grade is based on everything that happens as part of the sequence.
Battle of Endor (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)
I have to say I was a bit disappointed by this one. I watched it with the expectation that it would be bigger and better than the original Death Star battle. It has been a few years since I saw it so maybe I just had a poor memory of it. The music isn’t the best by John Williams’ lofty standards for a start. Although the space section of things is quite fun and it’s nice to see the Death Star take out ships with its cannon, the battle on the forest moon gets a bit silly at times and, once the shields are down, destroying the Death Star is actually not that hard. The high point of the sequence is the best lightsabre duel of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader.
Storming New Caprica (Battlestar Galactica)
I love this. From start to finish, it’s packed with emotion, excitement and surprises. It’s hard to pick out one thing that makes it successful except that everything is cranked up to 11 on the dials. From Bear Macreary’s thumping drums to a flaming Galactica dropping out of the sky and then vanishing, to a lone shot from off screen heralding the arrival of Apollo to save the day. All of these and more are not what makes this as good as it is. It’s the acting! It’s the things on the periphery: Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff nails this) having to hand over the child she’s been brainwashed into thinking is her daughter, Colonel Tigh’s confusion over all the celebrations on such a tragic day, and President Roslin’s calm upon resuming her seat on Colonial One. Magic.
Battle in the Mutara Nebula (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
Both my entries from Star Trek feature individual ship to ship combat as opposed to all out warfare. For any fans of Das Boot out there, you’ll know the tension that can be created when you’re stuck in the dark with things that can kill you. Kirk gambles on a level playing field with his underpowered ship and goads his opponent into following him. The ensuing deadly game of blind man’s buff, underscored by James Horner’s wonderful composing, brings some of the same claustrophobic tension.
Battle for Earth (Mass Effect 3)
If you’ve spent around 3o+ hours going through all the side missions, collecting every war asset you can, playing Multiplayer games to boost your ‘Galactic Readiness’ score, then there’s something deeply satisfying about seeing all your hard earned allies pour through the Mass Effect relay and converge on Earth. You’ve managed to heal old tensions, unite old enemies and now you’re ready to take on the Reapers in one all out battle. Sam Hulick’s rousing ‘The Fleets arrive’ is a great accompaniment to the prelude of this battle. The alliances you’ve built up over the previous 100+ hours of gameplay in three games also give you some lovely pay off moments as you share goodbyes and remembrances with crew members past and present. The ground war you spend most of the battle caught up in is a swarming non-stop barrage of hideous creatures coming at you around every rubble strewn corner of London. Despite what anyone says about the very end, this part is a fitting conclusion and deserves its place in the canon of great space battles.
Alliance vs. Reavers (Serenity)
Malcolm Reynolds’ suicidal plan to bring the chickens home to roost sets up this immense showdown. The forces of the Alliance lined up to spring their trap on Serenity are in no way prepared for the huge Reaver force that emerges through the atmospheric haze. What ensues is utter carnage which we get to experience from the point of view of our one tiny ship that wants nothing to do with any of it. Serenity soars through the opposing sides, dodging and weaving, giving us an observer’s view of the chaos. That she emerges unscathed is a miracle performed by Alan Tudyk’s Hoban Washburne, made all the more bittersweet by the tragedy that awaits. On the surface of the planet the sequence continues to impress, my favourite part being Mr Universe’s poignant last words spoken through his robotic companion.
Battle over Coruscant (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
A hugely impressive sequence in terms of its visuals. There is so much attention to detail, especially in background shots or through windows. This must have taken ages to create and deserves special praise for this. Even the planet below is rendered in such high definition that you can freeze frame and just admire the artwork. Much like the battle from Serenity above, we see this through the eyes of our protagonists as they manoeuvre their way through the setting to reach their destination.
Battle of Corrin (Legends of Dune prequel trilogy)
My only Literary entry to the group. I wanted to include something from a book and this was the first one to spring to mind. I can’t say that I’m a massive fan of Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s expanded Dune novels. They lack the depth of Frank Herbert’s original sextet. One thing they do have, however is lots of action. What’s interesting about the Battle of Corrin is that it sees the roots of the Atreides/Harkonnen rivalry that features so heavily in the original books. The set up is simple. The armies of Humanity are poised for a final attack on the Planet Corrin, last stronghold of the thinking machines. The machines put up a ring of cargo containers in orbit packed full of millions of human hostages. If a line is crossed, it will trigger their deaths. Supreme Bashar Vorian Atreides knows that this is the last chance they have to finally wipe out the thinking machines after a war that has already cost billions of lives. He is willing to pay the price in collateral damage. His second in command, Abulurd Harkonnen, is not. Echoes of a Crimson Tide, bith right, both wrong situation.
Enterprise vs. Romulan Bird of Prey (Star Trek Original Series: Balance of Terror)
My second Enterprise duel involves a much more wily adversary than Khan. Khan is bent on revenge and blinded into mistakes because of it. In Balance of Terror, which I shamefully overlooked in my Top Ten Star Trek episodes a few weeks ago, we have a battle of wits between two highly skilled Captains. The delicate subterfuge and tactical knowledge is like a fencing match. Reminiscent of Curt Jurgens and Robert Mitchum in 1957’s The Enemy Below, the two Captains build a respect for each other. The only sour note for me is the fact that the Romulan commander does start the episode by committing genocide. I know he’s under orders but that stayed with me and I was unable to fully absolve him.
Assault on the Colony (Battlestar Galactica)
Trying to go one up on Storming New Caprica was always going to be a tall order. The writers decided to go all out and it worked. On one hand we have Galactica jumping right into the middle of a hornet’s nest of cannons and ramming into the Cylon colony. On the other we have the call back to the Opera House blended so seamlessly that, as someone trying to create a story myself, I can just gaze at in awe, wondering how all the pieces get fitted together so perfectly. There’s gun battles and dogfights and everything else that you expect. It all leads nicely into a stand off, punctuated by some shocking revelations between people and another wonderfully edited blend of Starbuck’s musical notations and the fate of the human race. Quite simply, brilliant. As I write this, I can’t help thinking just how much I loved this series.
Battle for Star One (Blake’s 7)
Season 2 of Blake’s 7 culminates in the Liberator facing off against the entire Andromedan fleet in a Zulu/Alamo style holding action. I love the ‘enemy of my enemy’ stuff as Blake and Jenna throw in their lot with the evil Federation to save humanity. Also, Avon doing the right thing because, as he puts it, “Why not?” We don’t see the actual battle because, well, money, but it’s worth a place here for its potential and the concept.
Battle of Yavin (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)
Watching the second Death Star battle from Return of the Jedi seemed to leave me a bit cold. Somehow beforehand I had it in mind that it was better than the original. How wrong I was! This is about as iconic as you can get, setting the standard for anything else that comes after. The sense of urgency that runs through it is palpable, with the fate of the rebellion hanging in the balance. Alright, so it takes a very long time for them to charge that weapon, much longer than with Alderaan, but who cares. It’s like wondering how Indy has time to get his hat after the crashing door is only an inch from the ground when he rolls through it. I did always wonder why they entered the trench so far away from the exhaust port too. Never mind. The end result is magnificent to watch. Pace and excitement follows all the way through, stuffed into the confined space of the trench, right up until Luke switches off his computer, uses the force and fires his torpedoes. That deep inhale as he sees them hit the mark sums up the release of tension we all feel watching. Unmatched to this day
Well, that’s the lot. I know that there are more. Please make your case in the comments section, argue with the grades, call me an idiot if you want. If you think any of this is interesting, though, please share it with others. Thanks as always for reading.