I’m just going to warn you right up front: this article is going to get extremely nerdy extremely fast. That said it’s time I, the expert ogler of spaceship designs at FleshEatingZipper, decided to go over the best fictional spaceship designs that our collective imagination has ever committed to production. I did my best to only pick one vessel from each major franchise (so sadly, I didn’t get to include my beloved TIE Defender) so with that said, let’s start with a few ships I didn’t pick: the Serenity from Firefly (above). Ship is ugly, on top of that, thirteen episodes and a movie (named after it, impressively) just isn’t enough time to fall in love with a ship that absolutely janky. Also: Discovery from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Classic, but so boring. So let’s move on to the stuff I did pick!
The Pyro from the Descent games
In 1995, Parallax Software (later, Volition Inc., the guys bringing us Red Faction and Saints Row) brought us Descent, a Doom-style shooter (grab this colored key card, open this door, find the next one, etc.) but with a twist: it involved twisting 360 degrees in all directions with 100% less gore. Also: you played it with a joystick, which seems weird now, but certainly not back then. You’ve probably never heard of it *adjusts glasses*, but this was your chariot through hundreds of twisting levels of absolute mayhem as you’re hired by the Post Terran Mining Corporation to clear out a bunch of virally-infected robotic mining ships. The Pyro as your vessel, you had twenty different weapons to dispatch those foes, blow up the mines’ reactors, and flee before everything goes kablooey!, the curved upper wings a sign of how devilish your work was. A work horse if there ever was one, it was sadly lost at the beginning of Descent3. We’ll miss you, Pyro!
The Rectifier from Tron: Legacy
I was a big fan of the design of Sark’s carrier from the original Tron, sleek and asymmetric with an off-center command section, similar to a space age aircraft carrier, but the reimagining of the ship for the new film’s sequel just can’t be beat. Flipping the main deck on its side, washing it with gray, and lighting its hexagonal cutouts with Clu’s trademark orange glow and you have one of the coolest elements of Joe Kosinski’s reimagination of the universe. Okay, so it’s not technically a spaceship, but it exists inside a computer and space in there is probably infinite amount in the 1989-era machine that our protagonists are trapped in. Well, maybe. Besides, the Rectifier has no obvious form of propulsion anyway, who knows how this thing gets around. Pixel dust, probably.
Shadow ships from Babylon 5
Along with the Vorlons, the Shadows are the ancient species of the galaxy, in place to guide the younger races (like us fleshy humans) through hoops and force us against each other. The Shadows were vile beings and their mainstay ships looked like a mix between a spider and your worst nightmares, complete with the ability to slice up your junk with powerful energy weapons. Even with the show’s limited special effects budget, you knew these guys were bad news, even in silhouette. I also have the sinking feeling that they inspired the next item on our list…
Cylon Basestar from Battlestar Galactica (re-imagining)
The remainder of the human race exists in a convoy of ships at the peak of their endurance in a constant sprint from the Cylons, a horrible mechanical race that destroyed their worlds. Each stop on their way to find the mythical Earth is a gasp of air. But just as the crew of the Galactica and the various civilian ships in the fleet begin to collectively stretch their legs, a pair of these things pop up and force them to deploy their limited resources to, at the very least, hold them off until they can make the next jump. These things are frightening blades in the night, able to quickly deploy tons of fighters. Who knew two Y shapes twisted on top of each other could be so frightening?
The Executor Star Dreadnaught from Star Wars
The classic Imperial Star Destroyer, a wedge shape topped with a wide command section and some shield generators, was instantly memorable, but when Darth Vader needs a capital ship, one of those dinky ships just won’t do. At twelve miles long, it easily outclasses any other vessel in the Imperial fleet, its arrowhead shape a glorious extension of the Star Destroyer design language. LEGO recently released a three thousand piece version that I must have immediately. Memorable appearances outside of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi include the Balance of Power campaign from X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Dark Forces, in which you had to shoot your way through the mighty dagger to reach the Dark Trooper production facility, the Ark Hammer.
And now, for the best designed spaceship in history? Why, it has to be…