Flash Gordon! An Intro into Space Opera

It has recently been announced that Fox, now a subsidiary of Disney, has hired Taika Waititi to develop an animated feature about Flash Gordon. For those of you that enjoyed his earlier work with Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok this will come as welcome news because he has already demonstrated an aptitude for space opera.

In the late 20th century, following the success of STAR WARS space opera became one of the most visible of science fiction sub-genres. Just in the decade following we saw blatant rip-offs like Battlestar Galactica and the more bizarre Star Crash. The literary origins of the genre began to develop in the 19th century when the different components, like space travel, alien civilizations, and futuristic settings were appearing in different stories. In 1928 all of these finally found their way into the first of the Skylark series of stories by E. E. Smith. Space travel! Interplanetary war! Questionable literary value! The stage was set for space opera to flourish.

Intended to mock the serialized melodramatic nature of soap operas, the term “space opera” was introduced by writer and fan Wilson Tucker. Though perhaps a bit more action-heavy, the term fits well because whether it’s Buck Rogers or The Princess of Mars it’s all pretty much melodrama in space. Space opera doesn’t usually involve itself much into the speculative nature of so-called hard science fiction though it does often rely on super advanced technology as plot devices. Since intergalactic space travel is, at the time of this writing, a physical impossibility, you sometimes have to take liberties with your star hopping adventurers and thrill seekers.

The comic strip Flash Gordon came into being in 1934, the creation of Alex Raymond. It was essentially an imitator and then solid competitor of the Buck Rogers comic strip. Buck Rogers, like much of the early space opera, came from a pulp magazine. Like the Skylark series it first appeared in Amazing Stories. My first exposure to Flash came not from the 1980 feature but from reruns of the animated series by Filmation. I wouldn’t come to see the film or the movie serials until I reached high school.

People love space adventures. Whether it’s Space 1999 or Cowboy Bebop or Guardians of the Galaxy or Saga action and romance in a spacey setting will always find an audience. I myself love space battles, outre costumes, and weird space aliens. If I could I could become an expert on any single genre it would likely be space operra.

Like I said in the title, this is simply the briefest introduction to space opera because it is a hugely important facet in the tapestry of geek culture. There have been at least a dozen references to creators and creations in this post and each one of them may, at some time, get more space for discussion or examination by Be A Better Geek. Right now the goal is to just plant seeds. Feel free to follow BABG on Twitter @better_geek and please SHARE THIS POST!