Shiny-Looking Spaceships

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    Older and more idealistic Speculative Fiction Series feature spacecraft that are shiny, pristine and bright in almost all conditions. This trope was pretty much the standard before the 1970s brought films like Silent Running (1972), Dark Star (1974), Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979), which depicted many space vessels as a heavily lived-in, industrial or pragmatic; i.e. function over form, whereas Shiny-Looking Spaceships are more form over function.

    For ships that never enter the atmosphere of a planet, this is actually (semi-)realistic. There is no mud or dust in interstellar space that would leave grit or dirt on the outsides of passing spaceships, though there are micrometeorites that gradually erode the surface, so older vessels would have more of a matte hull. Also, having a reflective surface means that Frickin' Laser Beams will have a harder time burning a hole in your hull, and you have some degree of innate heat-shielding.

    The interiors of said ships are also often curiously spotless considering how many people are crammed into them for extended periods of time. This can be hand waved away by having very efficient air filtering systems, or micro/nanoscopic cleaner robots (or just really good visible-scale robots offcamera). It can also be answered with very dedicated crews (as aboard military vessels with many enlisted men and women to keep occupied), or—as in the case of Andromeda's early seasons—the simple fact that the ship is mostly deserted. Or simply by saying that The Bridge is a place where only the Command Roster goes and the Red Shirts quarters are less pleasant.

    Contrast Used Future, Zeerust. See also Ascetic Aesthetic.

    Examples of Shiny-Looking Spaceships include:

    Anime and Manga


    • 2001: A Space Odyssey
      • However, averted in the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, where the Discovery is entirely covered with a thin layer of fine yellow dust having spent 9 years in orbit around Io, and the Russian ship Leonov looks significantly more practical and "used".
    • Any ship from the planet Naboo in the Star Wars prequels, which were not just shiny, but chromed. This was intentional, to contrast with the Used Future of the original trilogy. See the picture above.
      • The chrome paint job was reserved only for royal ships. As the Naboo starfighters are only half chrome.
    • The ginormous glowy flying saucers from Close Encounters of the Third Kind are surely the brightest, shiniest spaceships ever put on film.
    • This is lampshaded in Galaxy Quest, with Fred Kwan commenting "Wow, the floors are so clean!"
    • The perfectly shiny ship in Flight of the Navigator qualifies. Hell, if the starship had been named in the movie, it could well have been the Trope Namer.
      • It's a Trimaxian droneship, though of course that's strictly a model rather than a name.
    • The Icarus II in Sunshine, which has a big shiny sunshield out in front. This is for purely practical purposes, to prevent the ship, and more importantly, its payload, from getting destroyed by heat as it approaches the Sun.


    • In Wraith Squadron, twelve factory-new X-Wings are delivered to the hangar. One of the pilots stands among them, happily looking over their shiny new surfaces. Then the squadron mechanic comes in and says he hates new snubfighters. They're untested, and there's always some idiot at the factory deciding to either skimp on materials or try something new without telling anyone, and you never know if there's a horrific fatal flaw until you've opened up every single one and examined everything.
      • Before too much longer, the squadron finds out he was right--only it wasn't anybody at the factory, it was an Imperial plot to attach hidden tracking device droids to starfighters and have them jump from ship to ship and map the New Republic's military bases.
      • That was actually unrelated to the fighters being new, though the main character noticing a weird addition to one of the fighters eventually leads to them finding out about the plot. The fighters did have other problems though.

    Live Action TV

    • Every Federation ship in all of the Star Trek series.
      • Especially Egregious for Voyager since the ship was far, far away from support facilities and starbases. Outside of a few special episodes, the ship spent most of the series looking fresh out of drydock. Glad to know they're using their replicator rations for paint.
      • Was averted in the Xindi arc of Enterprise, where the ship keeps (most of) its battlescars from episode to episode.
      • Also averted between Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, as the Enterprise pulls into space dock with the scars the Reliant gave it still black (including the damage to the bridge).
    • Andromeda
    • The Minbari in Babylon 5, in keeping with their Crystal Spires and Togas/Space Elves characteristic. The Centauri, in keeping with their pompous Bling of War, has elements of this. Narns have exotic looking ships to make them look more advanced than they really are. Human vessels on the other hand, are rather more functional-looking.
      • At least a few Minbari like to poke fun at the humans for taking this entirely in the opposite direction, claiming that humans think the only colors that should be anywhere on a starship are green or grey. The Narn and Centauri ships at least can back up their flashy looks with actual performance, although the Centauri tend to come out on top, presumably because their use of Artificial Gravity allows their ships to be much faster [1]
    • The Liberator in Blake's 7. Averted in Season 4 with the broken-down cargo ship Scorpio.
    • Space: 1999
      • The Eagle, workhorse spacecraft of Moonbase: Alpha, was eminently functional in form, but it was also usually squeaky-clean. This seems incredible considering the amount of moondust kicked up by its engines every time it takes off. The real Apollo astronauts had to frequently wipe the moon dust from their helmets just to maintain visibility.
        • In behind-the-scenes photographs it's obvious that the miniatures were heavily weathered. Unfortunately, it just didn't show up very well on TV.
    • An odd juxtaposition of Shiny-Looking Spaceships and Used Future can be seen in the Mystery Science Theater 3000, episode 820 - Space Mutiny. The control room of the Southern Sun seems white, pristine and shiny (like a movie set), and the action scenes in the rest of the ship look as though they were filmed in a grungy, 50-year old bottling plant. (With brightly lit exterior windows to boot. Hmmmm....)
    • Cylon basestars in the new Battlestar Galactica are very shiny indeed. This contrasts with the titular ship, an obsolete old bucket which gets more and more damaged as the series goes on (though notably it still outperforms a shiny basestar one on one—someone had their priorities wrong among the Cylon designers). The battlestar Pegasus has a cleaner look to it, as it's a newer model, but still looks more utilitarian.
      • That would be because the Cylons meant for the Basestars to be more straight-up aircraft carriers (IN SPACE!!), relying on their Raider wings and long-range missiles to attack their enemies, while the Colonials with their less sophisticated technology preferred to built their Battlestars as... well... Battlestars, using their Vipers to protect the mothership while she pressed the attack at closer ranges with heavy cannons.
    • The Heart Of Gold in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, justified in that it's brand new (with some controls still wrapped in cellophane). Arthur favorably compares it to the "dingy Vogon crate" he and Ford have just left.
      • The blacker-than-black spaceship they stole from the Restaurant's parking lot was even shinier—an amazing feat for a surface that absorbed all incident light.
        • Actually, Hotblack Desiato's ship was perfectly frictionless. The light just sort of... slid off it.

    Tabletop Games

    • Eldar and Tau vessels in Warhammer 40,000. Just those two races.
      • Eldar, of course, have the aforementioned 'cleaner robots'(like the small 'warp spiders' that maintain each ship's Infinity Circuit-the aspect warriors were actually called after those, apparently), and goodness knows what else keeping their psychically alive spacecraft made out of a self-regenerating material clean. And tau? Well, this is the race with the caste system that makes them consider the guy that cleans out the latrines to be on par with a bureaucrat.
        • They really only stand out because by contrast the Ork "ships" are salvaged junkers called Space Hulks held together by garbage and good feelings, while the human ships are basically city-sized space-faring cathedrals.
        • Necron ships...don't shine, exactly, but have very clean lines.
      • Tau ships aren't shiny, per se, but along with the rest of their tech they have a clean, brightly-coloured aesthetic to them.
    • In Traveller one option is to give your ship a coating that allows you display screensavers on the hull. Thus your ship can be as shiny as you want. This can also be done on interior bulkheads too, though naturally that would be more for crews quarters, wardrooms, etc, then for the hold. On the other hand maintenance and cleaning are as constant a job as they would be in Real Life. Traveller averts the assumption that Big Damn Heroes are immune to mundane considerations.
      • The screen-savers can of course be anything. In something of an appeal to realism, advertisments are a possibility. Though some might want to give some more artistic ideas, something in the vein of a Pakistani jingle-truck or a laptop skin or similar traditions of decorating everyday items.

    Web Comics

    Western Animation

    • This was parodied in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "SB-129". Squidward gets frozen in a freezer for centuries, and is thawed out in a future were everything is chrome, including the ground and the plants. When a plant grows, a fish immediately shows up to spray paint it chrome.

    Video Games

    • The Paranid ships in the X-Universe are basically flying mirrors, and the Earth/Terran ships are blindingly white.
    • The Covenant ships in Halo. Even their ground vehicles, that are built for war are very well polished. Human ships are dull, and generally follow the Used Future.
      • Averted with Brute vehicles which are essentially driver's seats attached to a rocket sled or a giant rotary saw (with guns!).
        • Those were designed by a Huragok (Engineer) based on human farming equipment with a few pieces of Covenant tech added (such as anti-gravity) in a peaceful gesture towards humans. The Brutes' first question upon seeing those... "Where are its weapons?"
    • In EVE Online, Amarrian and (to lesser extent) Gallentean design is all about this. The Minmatar and (to less extent) the Caldari opt for Used Future.
    • In Tachyon the Fringe, GalSpan ships all shiny with smooth lines and exotic shapes and are also colored with white and blue paint. They are shown to be less sturdy than their Bora counterparts, which are converted cargo haulers and look accordingly.
    • In keeping with the clean, futuristic aesthetic of Mass Effect, there are many ship designs that are shiny, spotless and strangely lacking in right angles. Most of these belong to the Asari or the Geth.
    • The pulp fiction stylings of Red Alert 3 Paradox demanded this. Soviet spacecraft are even chromed against radiation.
    • The Thul ships in Dark Star One. Since they want to prove that they are better than the other races (especially the Terrans, who they were descended from) in every way, it's natural that they make their ships look much better than all of the rest.
    • In StarCraft the Protoss all have bright and shiny space ships that have gold-like paint jobs, and shields surrounding them.

    Real Life

    • The International Space Station, due to its reflective metal and white paint, and its prominent solar panels.
    • Solar sail craft, like Nanosail-D2 and IKAROS, are shiny by necessity since the solar sail works by reflecting sunlight to propel the craft, and their shininess is a byproduct of their reflectivity. Theoretically, any solar sail or laser-based beamrider would therefore have to be a shiny-looking spaceship.
    • NASA's fleet of Space Shuttles, while noticeably worn at points on the exterior, were spotlessly clean inside the crew space. At 400 million dollars per launch, cleaning the carpets adds a negligible cost to each mission. (That, plus the fact that any dust or dirt could drift in microgravity indefinitely.)
      • That, plus everything was taken apart, tested and refitted or replaced during the turnaround between missions. It's why the shuttle cost more than intended.
    1. Compare the sluggish movements of the Earth and Narn ships, with their reaction drives, versus the Minbari and Centauri ships, which use gravity-based drives