William Shatner said it best at the beginning of every Star Trek episode, “Space, the final frontier.” For decades since, life amongst the stars has unfolded on screens big and small like western epics, with bounty hunters, gunslingers and the losers of grand wars wandering through lawless lands, their simple quests for survival bombarded with obstacles that force them into the role of hero (or anti-hero). Their steeds may be spaceships, but their goals remain the same.
From the U.S. to Japan, space cowboys have captured the imagination of sci-fi fans. Joss Whedon's short-lived television series Firefly became a cult classic, spawning a feature film, several books, including comics, a role-playing game and a fan convention. More recently, producer Erwin Stoff (The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly) announced that he has a live-action film version of the popular anime Cowboy Bebop in the works, which has kept anime blogs and message boards abuzz with who may star in it. Closer on the horizon is a feature length version of another anime, Trigun, written and directed by the team from the original series, anticipated for a 2009 release.
We've compiled a list of five space cowboys we love. If you have another favorite, simply add it in the comment section.
1) Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds
Firefly (TV), Serenity (Film)
Sidekick: Zoe Alleyne Washburne, who served under Mal in the Unification Wars and has since become his second-in-command.
Backstory: During the Unification Wars, Malcolm Reynolds was a sergeant for the Independents. They lost. After the conflict, he picked up a used spaceship, known as a Firefly, which he named Serenity (as in the Battle of Serenity Valley, this universe's version of Gettysburg), and accumulated a crew of misfits that exist out of reach from the control of the Alliance. Add to this a doctor who boards the ship with a container holding his disturbed genius sister and a new set of troubles begin.
Firefly: Fan Made Trailer
2) Spike Spiegel
Sidekick: Jet Black, officer of the Inter-Solar System Police turned bounty hunter who enlisted Spike in his hunts. He owns Bebop.
Backstory: Back when he was a member of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate, Spike Spiegel fell for his best friend's girl, ultimately forcing him to drop out of sight. He later joined forces with bounty hunter Jet Black and, as the series progresses, a crew that consists of a debt-laden femme fatale, an androgynous teenager hacker and a Welsh Corgi. They travel through a galaxy so vast that law enforcement is nearly impossible and attempt to catch criminals for serious cash while confronting their unpleasant pasts.
Cowboy Bebop: Tainted Donuts AMV (anime music video). This is actually a mashup of Cowboy Bebop and Trigun creating a storyline where Spike is on the hunt for Vash the Stampede.
3) Han Solo
Steed: Millennium Falcon
Sidekick: Chewbacca, co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon.
Backstory: Han Solo was in a bind. He and his right hand Wookiee, Chewbacca, were amongst the greatest smugglers in the galaxy when a run-in with Imperial officials forced them to chuck their stash, thus leaving them in debt to Jabba the Hutt. After Solo shoots a bounty hunter in a Mos Eisley cantina, the two meet Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker and agree to take them Alderaan for a fee. But the planet has been detonated, a princess' life is in danger and the two smugglers are recruited in a quest to bring down the Empire.
Star Wars: Han Shot First.
4) Vash the Stampede
Steed: None, he travels mostly by foot.
Sidekick: Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, two insurance claims examiners assigned to follow Vash and control the destruction left in his wake, who become tangled in his misadventures.
Backstory: Known as “the Humanoid Typhoon,” Vash the Stampede is a man-made creation with a talent for gunslinging. There is a “sixty billion double dollar” bounty on Vash's head for his involvement in the destruction of the city of July. Though perceived to be a menace, he's actually a good-hearted fellow, the sort who always stops to help people in need (particularly damsels in distress), which leads to bigger problems as a slew of bounty hunters pursue him across the planet Gunsmoke.
Trigun: A AMV where Trigun footage is mashed-up with dialogue from the Robert Rodriguez movie Desperado.
5) Marshal William T. O'Neil
Steed: None, he's another pedestrian.
Sidekick: Although Dr. Lazarus tries to assist Marshal O'Neil, he battles alone. Think High Noon.
Backstory: Marshal William T. O'Neil has been assigned a post in a titanium ore mine on Galilean moon Io. This infuriates his wife, who longs to raise their son on Earth, and she prepares to leave without him. Trapped inside a mining colony where the only recreational activities are playing racquetball and hanging out at the nudie bar, O'Neil discovers a string of curious deaths amongst the miners tied to a drug called “polydichloric euthimal.” He investigates the situation only to find that the community's leaders are involved in the drug trafficking, forcing him to take on the bad guys alone.
Outland Theatrical Trailer