Space Western

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Yeehaw!
"In a matter of seconds, the plaza had gone from a ghostly quiet to a shoot out that would have been at home in a holodrama about the Old West."
The Backwards Mask (Traveller New Era Trilogy) by Matthew Carson

The Western IN SPACE!. Basically The Western Meets Wagon Train to the Stars. The actual extent of this varies from series to series, as the term is often synonymous with "Science-Fiction Western." The idea is that the vast distances of space have formed barriers and difficulties similar to those faced by American settlers as they crossed and developed the continent, forcing the people to become independent or even insular, with help from whatever central authority (if any) that laid claim to the land long in coming, and immediate protection once again becoming a personal matter. Technology will vary, usually being less and less high-tech the further out you go from the center of civilization. This causes a curious mix of seemingly anachronistic elements such as robots and horses being used at the same time (of course, robot horses are a common option too).

Essentially, this is nostalgia, allegory, or pragmatism meeting the fact Space is the last unexplored territory.

Many settings end the similarities there, in spirit, while others seem to have the people deliberately aping the style of The Wild West in response to the situation. Basically, the question is when the hero(es) comes riding/flying into town, how many of them are wearing cowboy hats.

Depending on how epic the story is, a Space Western can also be somewhat of a Space Opera. May involve Asteroid Miners.

Compare New Old West, Cattle Punk, Samurai Cowboy.

Examples of Space Western include:


Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Many of the 2000 AD strips set in the Cursed Earth play out like Spaghetti Westerns, including "Missionary Man" and "The Dead Man".
    • The batch of early Judge Dredd stories set on Luna 1 were modeled especially as a western set on Earth's moon.
  • Just a Pilgrim is explicitly based on Western tropes.
  • The story "Shootout At Ice Flats" in the 1996 Supergirl Legends of the Dead Earth annual was about a Kara-lookalike sheriff on an ultra-primitive frontier world. Forget laser guns, the people of this world didn't even know what a gun looked like.
  • Traditional Western Anti-Hero Jonah Hex, for a brief time around the Crisis on Infinite Earths, was sent via Time Travel to an After the End future. The Genre Shift was not well received.
  • Bronze Age Superman foe Terra-Man was a human kidnapped by aliens in the 19th century. He grew up as their slave, eventually escaped, and became a successful Space Pirate. He eventually returned to Earth only to find that he'd spent so much of his life traveling at relativistic speeds that 100 years had passed. Despite all his high tech equipment, culturally he was a literal space cowboy, and he dressed appropriately. He even acquired an alien steed named Nova that looked like a winged horse.
  • Fear Agent hits this trope pretty square, with its big-buckle toting, hard-drinking, down-home wisdom spewing, alien exterminating protagonist.
  • Jack T. Chance, the Green Lantern of Garnet, was a gunslinger-turned-lawman, tasked with with cleaning up the Wretched Hive of garnet, armed with his power ring and trusty six-shooter.

Fanfic[edit | hide]

  • The Star-Crossed story cycle of Undocumented Features features a pair of strangers arriving in a frontier settlement, both trying to escape their pasts—until a lawman with a vendetta finally catches up to them. Of course this frontier settlement is on a Halo orbiting a gas giant, and the lawman is actually a Lovely Angel.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Serenity, a continuation of the TV show Firefly, is arguably an example of this. Though it contains more hi-tech elements than most of Firefly's episodes, it still has that Western vibe in places. Sadly, the country theme song is not played until the end of the credits, and then it's a very de-countrified version.
  • Outland has often been described as High Noon in space, though it merely borrows some of its themes. However the basic concept of a gun-toting 'Marshal' in a corrupt frontier mining town, fighting a lone battle for justice, is definitely drawn from the Western genre.
  • Star Wars. An American Space Opera based on the Western via the samurai film, though presumably there was direct influence as well.
    • Its a bit more complicated than that. Han Solo for example is based on a gunslinger, and Boba Fett is essentially the Man With No Name, the cantina in Mos Eisley is a western bar. Jedi and their swords were based off of Samurai films and Errol Flynn-style Swashbuckler films.
      • Tatooine is pretty much the Wild West of Star Wars, with little law enforcement, savage natives wanting their land, farms, shady saloons, smugglers, all set on an endlessly sprawling desert.
      • It's like a Louis L'Amour novel...IN SPACE !!!
  • Peter David wrote a Space Western called Oblivion. With George Takei as an eccentric doctor who talked almost entirely in Star Trek references, and Julie Newmar as Miss Kitty.
  • Moon Zero Two (a movie mostly known these days by having been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) was actually advertised as "the first Moon Western"
  • The American Astronaut is a Space Western musical! Now try to wrap your heads around that. Also Stingray Sam.
  • Ironically, Space Cowboys wasn't a western at all. Despite the presence of Clint Eastwood.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Many works by Mike Resnick, especially Santiago: A Myth of The Far Future.
  • L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth. Kinda sorta.
  • Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's first Hoka story features the Hokas cheerfully recreating the Wild West.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love has a story, "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter", which takes place on a frontier planet that is a Western in space—but just barely in space; most of the elements could have been transplanted from Kansas with little modification.
  • Parodied in Bat Durston, Space Marshall, a short story by G. Richard Bozarth.
  • Dragonfall 5 and the Space Cowboys, one of the sci-fi juveniles by Brian Earnshaw.
  • "On The High Frontier" by Michael Flynn deliberately transplants Western cliches into space and gives them a hard-science spin.
  • H. Beam Piper's "Lone Star Planet" is something of an Affectionate Parody - take a planet of Texan stereotypes and add a courtroom drama (with a system based on working out whether the politician you shot had it coming, no less).
  • Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero.
  • Andre Norton's Beast Master and its sequel Lord of Thunder.
    • Andre Norton does this several times. Certainly the Solar Queen series has this air with it's grungy planets and thinly spread law. And if the Queen is a tramp ship rather then a wagon, well America's great days of merchant sailing were at roughly the same time as the Wild West and often overlapped geographically(as when a ship put in to a West Coast port or stopped for fur before heading to China).
  • In Honor Harrington, the planet of Montana has settlers that have deliberately recreated the Old West. Naturally their chief industry is cattle.
    • The Planet of Sphinx is much like the Pacific Northwest and it's people are rural frontier folk. The people are more or less law-abiding but nature is a threat.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Firefly - Probably the most obvious Space Western. After all, people say "ain't" and "I reckon", carry weapons that resemble six shooters, and live in small towns with wooden buildings and one street.
    • Not to mention The Western background music and the cowboys hats. Space cowboys and proud of it, gorram it...
    • Watch "Our Ms Reynolds". You're several minutes in before you see anything outside of the 19th century.
    • Take a look at some of their guns. One is using a Le Mat revolver, and another is using a cut-down lever action. Word of God says it was the same prop used in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
    • And then in Castle, Nathan wears his Mal Reynolds outfit from Firefly, for Halloween, only for the idea of a space cowboy to be seen as ridiculous. "Where are you going to find cows in space?"
      • Fun fact: the crew of Serenity did in fact once herd cows in space. They didn't find them in space, per se (rather, they were hired to haul them through space) but that's beside the point.
    • In-universe, the Schizo-Tech elements of this setting were explained as the result of more-or-less deliberate suppression of the backwaters by the (substantially less Western-themed) Alliance. You could tell whether a given planet was a Core (Alliance) planet or Rim (Independent) planet by whether it looked like a western where everyone happened to own spaceships, or a space opera where everyone happened to use cowboy slang.
  • The old Battlestar Galactica had many episodes that were take-offs to classic westerns.
    • If you consider the fleet's search for Earth analogous to the Mormon migration (in keeping with the whole Space Mormon theme that infused the entire show) then old BSG entirely fits the mold.
  • Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to the networks as a "Wagon Train to the Stars" (naming that trope.)
    • Almost every Star Trek series had at least one Western episode: Star Trek: Enterprise had "North Star", the original series had "Spectre of the Gun", and Star Trek: The Next Generation had "A Fistful of Datas".
    • Although not a Space Western per se, Deep Space Nine does draw on Western tropes: the sheriff (Odo), the bar/brothel (Quark's, with Dabo girls and Holosuites of Ill-Repute), the frontier town (the space station) near a strategic pass (the wormhole), and so on.
      • The producers stated that Deep Space Nine was The Rifleman In Space.
      • Gunsmoke would work just as well.
  • Earth 2 is a pretty straight Wagon Train ripoff, just one set on a different planet.
  • True Jackson has a Space Western in it's universe called Space Rangers or something like that.
  • Red Dwarf episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse"
  • The Doctor Who serial Colony in Space. As Doctor Who Magazine puts it: "Bullets richochet through this story of stouthearted frontiersmen, inscrutable natives, and ruthless claim-jumpers".

Music[edit | hide]

  • Knights of Cydonia by Muse.
  • Steve Miller's Space Cowboy.
    • Not to be confused with "The Joker," which has a line referencing the earlier song.
  • Kenny Rogers' Planet Texas.
  • The ZZ Top album Afterburner.
  • Joe Bethancourt's "Benson, Arizona", as used in Dark Star, might technically be covered under this trope by dint of being a Country and Western ballad with sci-fi themes.

Toys[edit | hide]

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Rifts features a number of Space Western themes in the "New West" setting, although they're more limited in scope (pretty much the same places as the old Wild West.
  • The D20 game Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex is a space western on an alien planet with dinosaurs.
  • Traveller: The default setting is The Spinward Marches, a semi-civilized place with constant low-key mayhem going on in between wars. Traveller has plenty of room for epic quests, gigantic Space Battle s and secrets that Man Was Not Meant to Know. But it also has low-key adventures for when the players are in a lighter mood.
  • Lost Colony, the final setting produced for the Deadlands system.
  • New Horizon is generally a western ON A WHOLE NEW PLANET!, but nowhere is this more evident than Trapper Town.

Theatre[edit | hide]

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Natsume's Wild Guns for the Super NES.
  • Borderlands is set on a lawless desert planet where everyone has a Texan accent.
    • And on a planet that's filled to the gills with alien tech and giant fuck-off rocket launchers, the best weapons are revolvers, natch.
  • The Gunman Chronicles commercial total conversion for Half Life purported to have a Western theme
  • The old Mac-originated lightweight 4X game Spaceward Ho! is notable for it's cutesy æsthetic, including the distinctive be-Stetson'd planet pictured at the top of the page.
  • Also M.U.L.E. to some extent.
  • Blizzard's popular StarCraft franchise heavily favors this trope, especially with the Deep South-flavored Terran faction. Cut off from Earth, the Terrans of the sector have had to make do and forge an existence for themselves. Much of their technology is cobbled together and has a rough, industrial look to it, resulting in frontier saloons where soldiers in power armor go to drink.
    • Notably, this trait increases in StarCraft II, where the Dixieland aesthetic is replaced for a grungy, pseudo-Firefly one, complete with saloons, revolvers, and Western-style musical cues. The singleplayer campaign for the first installment, Wings of Liberty, even has a cantina on a starship where “Sweet Home Alabama” plays on a jukebox.
  • Billy Frontier
  • Pokémon Colosseum lifts a fare bit of the western genre, including character archetype and setting (and a soundtrack with a decent use of harmonica), but is clearly futuristic in setting. Also, it includes the cowboy fashioned "Rider" trainer class.
  • Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 3 to a lesser extent.

Western Animation[edit | hide]