SF/F Genre Glossary

What is Space Opera?

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

Artwork by Alexander Preuss via Concept Ships 3.0

What is Space Opera?

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction characterized by action, adventure, and melodrama, set against the backdrop of space. It often features larger than life characters, high stakes, romance, and large scale political systems. The term was originally used with a negative connotation, and applied to “really bad” science fiction stories, but the subgenre has evolved in recent years.

Literary Examples:

  • The Lensman Series by Edward E. Smith
  • Books set in the Alliance-Union universe by C.J. Cherryh
  • Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard

TV and Movies: Star Wars, Star Trek, Flash Gordon, The Fifth Element, Battlestar Galactica

Further Reading:

Do you enjoy space opera? “Flash, ahh ahh.. savior of the universe…” oh shoot, the theme song’s in my head.


    1. I’ve seen it listed as space opera, but I think it would fit under both categories. I think most space opera seems like it could also be categorized as ‘science fantasy’, with the actual hard facts of science being of less or little emphasis.

    1. I love The Fifth Element, but I would hesitate to classify it as Space Opera. For one thing, it’s so funny! Space Opera, in the traditional sense, was pretty humorless (and I grew up on “Doc” Smith’s Lensman and Skylark series). And Bruce Willis is certainly not a larger than life hero.

      Either way, an exciting and funny movie, with a great cast.

  1. Seconded on Farscape.

    And Seconded that those such as “Star Wars” are perhaps better categorized as “Science Fantasy”. On the other hand, it is a Space Opera, too. It has such a mythic scope and premise, a fanciful “magic” system, mystical knights, etc.

    Of all the subgenres of Sci Fi, Space Opera (and Science Fantasy) are undoubtedly my favorites.

      1. Especially if you expand genres to specific things like Space Opera, they overlap. It’s hard enough to box some authors into straight Horror. Even most Sci Fi is really just Fantasy with a lab coat aesthetic.

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