I spent some time jotting down a few commonalities of various popular Science Fiction franchises. Here’s what I have so far.
|Franchise||Genre||Location||Time||Aliens||Focus||Protag||Base of Ops||Antag|
|Star Wars||Space Fantasy||Other Galaxy||Past||Countless||War||Soldiers||Ship||Evil Empire|
|Star Trek||Space Opera||Orion spur||Centuries in the future||Countless||Exploration||Soldiers||Ship||Evil Aliens|
|Babylon 5||Space Opera||Orion spur||Centuries in the future||Many||War||Soldiers||Space station||Evil Aliens|
|Firefly||Space Western||Distant system||Centuries in the future||None||Crime||Criminals||Ship||Evil Empire|
|Farscape||Space Opera||Distant region||Present||Many||Exploration, Escape||Fugitives||Ship||Evil Empire|
|Eve Online||Space Opera||Distant cluster||Millenia in the future||None||War, Economy, Exploration||Various||Ship||Everybody else|
|Mass Effect||Space Opera||Milky Way||Centuries in the future||Many||War, Exploration||Soldiers||Ship||Evil Aliens|
|Traveller||Space Opera||Orion spur||Millenia in the future||Many||Exploration, Economy||Various||Ship||Evil Empire|
|Known Space||Space Opera||40ly||Centuries in the future||Several||Exploration||Explorers||Planets||Various|
|Battlestar Galactica (2004)||Space Opera||Milky Way||Past||None||War||Soldiers||Ship||Robots|
|Stargate||Space Opera||Milky Way||Present||Several||Exploration||Soldiers||Earth||Evil Aliens|
|Doctor Who||Space Comedy||Milky Way||Present||Many||Timetravel||Special||Ship||Robots|
|Alien||Space Horror||Close to Earth||Centuries in the future||Few||Horror||Soldiers||Planets||Evil Aliens|
|Warhammer 40k||Space Horror||Milky Way||Millenia in the future||Many||War||Soldiers||Planets||Evil Aliens|
|Dune||?||Orion spur||Millenia in the future||None||Politics||Nobles||Planets||Evil Empire|
|Piper||Space Opera||Milky Way Galaxy||Centuries in the future||Some||Politics, Exploration||Various||Planets||Various|
Now, obviously a few of these entries require comments:
Dune: Not exactly sure what “genre” this is. I’d say science fiction politics, since the dynastic struggle is a big focus. But then there are also religious/philosophical tones to it. I do have to admit I never could bring myself to finish even the first book, so take this with a grain of salt.
Warhammer 40k: It’s also a space fantasy if there ever was one (Elves and stuff, hello?)
Doctor Who: It isn’t really a comedy, but while it has gotten more “mature”, I still have a hard time taking the show serious. It’s a weird mix, at any rate; it’s kind of a time travel show (though time travel is really only a gimmick), sort of space opera, and sort of zany. The protagonists are The Doctor (a time traveller) who is aided by “everyday people” companions.
Traveller: Did not really have an antagonist per se. The Zhodani work as an “evil empire”. The New Era featured the vampire computer virus.
Known Space: Doesn’t really have an enemy per se. The Pakh protectors, the Kizinti, the Thrint, and so on all count but there is not really one standard enemy. It’s more a series about exploration in my opinion.
Piper: Very similar to Known Space in that there is not one enemy species or polity. The Federation serves as an antagonist in some novels, but is the protagonist in others.
So, what sort of conclusion do we draw from this?
A successful space franchise should either have no aliens at all or a whole bunch of them (and in any case most of them are clearly strange humans in strange rubber suits). It’s set centuries or millenia in the future, covers a large volume of space and features soldiers or rebels who use a spaceship as their basis. No real surprises there.
Of course this ‘research’ is very unscientific, I’d like to include more franchises and a measure of success for each franchise (Star Trek is more successful than Firefly – by far – and thus should probably weigh more in the analysis).