The Space Opera Species Spectacle

A Science Fiction Celebration of Diversity

Ships, wormholes, and ray guns are fun, but the best part of any space opera is always the “Species Spectacle” scene. This is what I call the scene where creators show off the different and unique alien species in their universe. It’s exciting to see the range of sizes and body types, from tiny Greys to huge, hairy beasts, from almost human to weird creatures with tentacles and tails.

The Species Spectacle includes scenes like what TV Tropes calls “Bar Full of Aliens,” “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” and others. They can be a bar, a marketplace, an office building, or anywhere multiple species are gathered in peace. No space battles allowed! The primary purpose of these scenes is to demonstrate the expansiveness of the setting, not just a multi-species war. (Although alien bar fights are known to happen…)

The best known Species Spectacle is probably the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars: A New Hope. Like the famous Cantina scene, the Species Spectacle scene is often transitional, marking the point where the characters leave the ordinary world behind and enter the new world of the story, and their new lives as space adventurers. If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, the Species Spectacle would often occur at or around The Crossing of the First Threshold.

A character might decide to leave her planet for the first time and encounter dozens of aliens at the local spaceport. Or the Galactic Heroes might have a new recruit who needs a tour of the ship, and the audience gets introduced to the other characters at the same time. Or it might just be an encounter with a meatloaf monster at a truck stop diner that happens to be on a space station.

These scenes are a brilliant way of setting up the story to come. Seeing all the species gathered together makes a fictional universe feel vast and exciting and full of wonder. You can show a starship drifting past a thousand different planets, but it’s the species on those planets that really make a space a fascinating place. The best science fiction stories are always about people, and a gallery of species means trillions of different stories.

As Species Spectacle scenes show, the thing that makes space opera magical is the diversity of the characters, cultures, and planets. While some fantasy stories may be based on a particular culture in medieval Europe, space opera is almost inevitably larger in scope, with characters exploring or encountering different cultures across the galaxy.

The Species Spectacle is space opera celebrating diversity. In a genre that is often focused on conflict and war, these scenes show this galaxy of diverse beings and cultures can still be in same place and enjoy and enrich each other. Sure, there might be a couple of creeps causing trouble, but once the heroes chop off their arms, everyone goes right back to sharing drinks and listening to their favorite band.

These depictions of dozens of diverse alien species gathered together in peace are hopeful, inspiring, and something for us humans to aspire to. If Greys and Reptilians and Slime Creatures and a Space Werewolf can all party together, then there might be hope for us, too.

In real life, you’re probably not going to meet Tentacle Creatures from the Zeta Quadrant any time soon, but you can meet all sorts of humans with different abilities, loves, backgrounds, challenges, and personalities. You can meet strange and fantastic beings right here on earth, no hyperdrive required. Isn’t that wonderful?

And yet, some people will watch a scene like the Mos Eisley Cantina and love it, but still get angry when the human characters on screen don’t look or think like they do. If you love space opera and seeing a wide variety of different and unique aliens on screen, it makes no sense to hate the differences and uniqueness in your fellow human beings. If you yearn to explore the vastness of space, don’t make your world smaller by pushing away other people.

Let’s work on building a future where people aren’t divided by how we look or who we love or how our brains and bodies function. Let’s make the future a place where everyone feels welcome. After all, earth and outer space are big enough for everyone.

Species Spectacle Scenes

In addition to the Mos Eisley Cantina, other Species Spectacle scenes include:

  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Appearing in both the TV series and the book, but alas, not the film.)
  • Star Trek films – The court martial scene in Star Trek IV, The bar in Star Trek V, Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI
  • Star Trek TV – the original series, the episode “Journey to Babel,” Quark’s bar in Star Trek DS9 is essentially a reoccurring Species Spectacle, as is most of the Lower Decks series
  • The headquarters lobby scenes in the Men In Black films
  • Big Market in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  • The Knowwhere bar in Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Montressor Spaceport in Treasure Planet
  • Doctor Who, the episodes “The Beast Below”,  “The Rings of Akhaten”, “Gridlock”, The End of Time”, and others
  • As for books, The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven is one of the earliest examples. The Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon book series from Spider Robinson is another great example. I included my own Species Spectacle in my book The Doom Tapes with the story Mystery Meat.

Honorable mentions for the not actually aliens in these Species Spectacle scenes:

  • The mutant bar in Total Recall
  • The troll market in Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  • The quantum realm rebels in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Thanks to Reddit users b0v1n3r3x, GringoTypical, Shadowkiller, ConsidereItHuge, AngryTree76, manystripes, treasurehorse, FakeRedditName2, JasonMaggini, username161013, -Valtr, RagingLeonard, TheBlooDred, and many, many others for their helpful suggestions and examples.

Are there any Species Spectacle examples I’m forgetting?  Leave a comment below!  (But if you mention Firefly, I’ll toss you out the airlock.)

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