My Childhood Has Been Ruined by JJ Abrams and Needs Replacing!
December 23, 2019 4:02 PM   Subscribe

The last Star Wars movie has eft me so sad and cynical about what this franchise has turned into that I am asking the Mefiverse for a retroactive replacement for my childhood sense of wonder.

Please give me your "this science fiction book/series/film/anthology is WAY BETTER than Star Wars ever was" recommendations. My 10-year old self is very bummed out and would love to get a better Christmas present than The Last Skywalker movie.
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
The Chanur series by CJ Cherryh. All the grubby, working-class feeling of the first Star Wars and over several books the plot widens - for anthropological, biological, political, and diplomatic reasons - into a change of civilizations.

Plus excellent aliens.
posted by clew at 4:06 PM on December 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

OH MY GOSH I haven't read about the Chanur for ages. Unfortunately slim little books, but I do second this recommendation.
posted by Glinn at 4:09 PM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Watch The Expanse on Amazon Prime!!
posted by fshgrl at 4:12 PM on December 23, 2019 [23 favorites]

Iain M. Banks's Culture novels. Maybe start with Use of Weapons.

The "new Dr Who" series, from Christopher Eccleston through Peter Capaldi, definitely puts the "woo!" in Who.

I was, at first, skeptical of The Orville, expecting a jokey Star Trek parody. It is that, but it also seriously examines a lot of questions raised by Trek that Trek never satisfactorily answered.
posted by SPrintF at 4:13 PM on December 23, 2019 [21 favorites]

It's only one movie, but The Fifth Element is one of my favorite SW replacements!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:16 PM on December 23, 2019 [24 favorites]

Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald - Mageworlds series (very Star Wars-ish action adventure SF)
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller - Liaden universe (SF action-adventure family saga involving telepathy and many romance/manners subplots)
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:21 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Star Wars sucks and Star Trek is way better. Anyway you should watch Babylon 5.
/1997 Mizu

But seriously, Babylon 5 has magical space aliens and true love and epic reveals and interplanetary conflict and mental powers.

Galaxy Express 999, the tv series, is a vintage anime that is chock full of incredible scifi concepts, childlike adventure, space shenanigans and mystery. It's got a super groovy soundtrack and is quite long. It's one of my absolute favorites. You may have watched a dub of the movie back when the scifi channel had anime saturdays? But the tv show is quite different from the movie. You might also enjoy the related franchise of Captain Harlock, but Galaxy Express is kinda like my forever girl.
posted by Mizu at 4:27 PM on December 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

The Expanse, both the books and the TV series, if you want something more grown up than Star Wars.
posted by pombe at 4:30 PM on December 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

Steven Universe
posted by speicus at 4:34 PM on December 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

One movie: Contact

One book: Rendezvous with Rama

One trilogy: Asimov's original Foundation series: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation

Also, know this truth: there were only three Star Wars movies and the last one came out in 1983.

Also, yes to Steven Universe and The Fifth Element.
posted by Reverend John at 4:41 PM on December 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

Came to recommend Babylon 5 as well and also the Dune series as they fall also in the same wheelhouse as the first 2 Star Wars Trilogies with lots of politics and mystical religions & the usual Sci Fi Tropes that Star Wars has, just whatever you do do not watch any movies relating to Dune, it got screwed over way worse by the movies than Star Wars ever did, but you'll see Sting naked but for a Sci Fi thong if you do decide to watch it. Also important to remember, this Star Wars film doesn't change the other ones, it's still OK to just like part of something, I say that as someone who thought for a long while that the first trilogy ruined was ruined by the second, everyone thinks their eras version of something was the best. Go watch the films you loved again, they're still there waiting for you.
posted by wwax at 4:41 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Avatar: The Last Airbender
posted by 1970s Antihero at 4:41 PM on December 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

'Empire Star' by Sam Delaney is a SF novella from 1966 that has some interesting similarities to the first Star War movie. (If you keep on reading Delaney, you'll end up somewhere far away from the Star Wars universe;)
posted by ovvl at 4:45 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Single movie: Jupiter Ascending is this silly, utterly joyous fever dream with great design and an absolutely fabulous background universe. I would watch another hundred movies about the adventures of Diomika Tsing of the Aegis.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:02 PM on December 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

Farscape has that perfect balance of gravitas and camp, wonder and adventure. It's got space nazis and roguish heroes, alien archeology and strange religions, cool spaceships and weird muppets. I mean the premise is basically Blake's Seven meets Buck Rogers but the tone and themes are very Star Wars.
posted by iivix at 5:09 PM on December 23, 2019 [19 favorites]

Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar series is long, meandering, a little hacky, and the first book is a definite rip-off of Tolkein, but it gets so good and truly nails the ending. (There's a sorta side quest trilogy that is very good and co-written by Janny Wurts, who is in the currently finishing her own massive series, but I don't recommend it for light reading because it was remarkably dark when I fell out of it a decade ago).
posted by General Malaise at 5:09 PM on December 23, 2019

Oh, and nthing The Expanse. I haven't seen the new season yet, but everything heretofore has been terrific.
posted by General Malaise at 5:10 PM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Or go more trashy, Jupiter Ascending plus Chronicles of Riddick back to back is a really fun combo for pulpy space adventure nonsense.
posted by iivix at 5:11 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Actually make that a triple bill with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets too, why not.
posted by iivix at 5:17 PM on December 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Babylon 5 is amazing - starting with season 3. In the first two seasons the actors are finding their characters and the pacing is off. It gets better (much better), and is worth it in the end, so stick with it.
posted by rakaidan at 5:19 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Let me second Babylon 5 and the Chanur stuff, and add some H Beam Piper. Little Fuzzy is wonderful.
posted by Alensin at 5:21 PM on December 23, 2019

Also recommending The Expanse. Both the books and the show are excellent.
posted by chbrooks at 5:24 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Valerian and the city of a thousand planets.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:43 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, I'd recommend Farscape also, has an epic scale and is good fun, while dealing with serious life and dark themes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:49 PM on December 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Enjoying the Expanse; and surprised it never got much digital footprint until now. OTOH; Firefly was over for years before it got much reach, and Alice DJ seems to have finally crossed the pond.

Farscape and Babylon 5 can appear a little dated; but if they were new from square one I'd be hooked all over again.
posted by buzzman at 6:16 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Maybe not appropriate for your 10 year old self, but your adult self will love the Murderbot series!
posted by brookeb at 6:17 PM on December 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Bobiverse series
posted by kindall at 6:19 PM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fullmetal Alchemist! A science fantasy adventure about loyalty, friendship, and moral courage. I'm not big into manga, but I love this series to pieces. (If you prefer a show, FMA: Brotherhood is the anime adaptation that's been recommended to me.)
posted by toastedcheese at 6:22 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Go find the latest version of Harmy's Despecialized Edition. The best Star Wars is still Star Wars!
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:31 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

nthing the expanse, so very good.

the 3 body problem is a fantastic sci-fi trilogy of novels by Liu Cixin, probably too much for a young reader but I thought the books are the best sci-fi I've ever read
posted by askmehow at 6:59 PM on December 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Harry Potter and the Methods of rationality.

Terry Pratchett Books

The mandalorian is really good.

Star Trek, TNG, DS9 have really bad episodes, but there are guides online for what to skip. Discovery is good, but a little Abrams -y

The Halo series of books is surprisingly amazing. Start with the fall of reach.

Enders game and related series has some of the best written characters of any series. The movie sucks.

The Martian is good. Not really sci-fi as much as space-survival. The book and movie are both great in either order.

The Orville is amazing. Funny but serious tv show.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:16 PM on December 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't know about a sense of wonder (I don't think there was much budget for elaborately designed planets and alien landscapes) but Killjoys is probably worth your time and attention and it concludes in a way that left FanFare viewers mostly happy (or at least not dejected).
posted by sardonyx at 7:24 PM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Definitely want to second the Mageworlds recommendation: it's really fun epic space-fantasy-opera stuff.

Also despite JJAbrams, I am enjoying reading Chuck Wendig's Star Wars novels set between ROTJ and TFA: they are gritty and messy and have lots of different planets and interesting characters.
posted by suelac at 8:06 PM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am old. These titles always bring me joy on a re-read:

Helliconia Trilogy
Lord of Light
Chronicles of Amber (1st three)
Martian Chronicles
posted by j_curiouser at 8:07 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ursula LeGuin. Samuel Delany. Done.
posted by shadygrove at 8:14 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Brian Daley's space opera trilogy (book 1 is Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds)
Minor Terran bureaucrat, Hobart Floyt, has been left a mysterious inheritance by the ruler of an empire located many light-years away. Earth's government is broke and its functionaries want Floyt to collect the money. To make sure he succeeds, they blackmail a brash young spacer named Alacrity Fitzhugh into shepherding him on a dangerous interstellar quest.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:39 PM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Right, so fully acknowledging that this is outside the bounds of the original brief, the game The Outer Wilds (NOT Outer Worlds) is currently evoking in me the strongest, purest sense of wonder and discovery and also sense of I Am Experiencing Science Fiction that any media ever has. It's wonderful. And it's picking up a bunch of Game of the Year awards, so it seems it's not just me.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:36 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Baahubali: The Beginning / Baahubali: The Conclusion - If you haven't seen this two-part Telugu masterpiece yet, move it to the top of your list!

John Carter - Underrated at release, but now undergoing a cult reappreciation

Ender's Game - Forget Card's politics, this is a kickass story - where's my Speaker of the Dead sequel?

Jodorowsky's Dune - Even though this is a documentary, Jodorowsky's pitch for the adaptation he never made, still plays as the best ever Dune movie in my head.

Cloud Atlas - Best film of the past decade.

Alita: Battle Angel - Well told tale utilizing the maturing of cgi technology. Sequel, please.

The Wandering Earth - Old school sci-fi disaster movie done right.

Attack The Block - Beautifully underplayed sci-fi comedy.

Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds - Gleefully overwrought mythology in the best tradition of Korean cinema. Sadly, the sequel didn't live up to the original.

Gods Of Egypt - Sadly out of fashion nowadays, but this is the fantasy adventure B-movie with an A-budget that Ray Harryhausen might have made with modern FX tech.

Mortal Engines - Yet another grand old school adventure movie left by the wayside for endless homogenous superhero movie product.
posted by fairmettle at 1:46 AM on December 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ye gods, I cannot disrec Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality enough; it's howmanyeverthousand words of a pretentious asshole subjecting us to his warped I'm-always-right worldview via self-insert. I would rather watch RoS on repeat. Or even Cursed Child.

Actual recs:

Jupiter Ascending is camp and fun and only got as much shit as it did bc it had the nerve to cater to preteen girls rather than boys.

Becky Chambers' work

Martha Wells' Murderbot

Pratchett, of course. Start with Good Omens if you don't feel like wading into his massive oeuvre.

Cat Valente's Space Opera is delightful.
posted by Tamanna at 3:24 AM on December 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. Set in an ancient China that never was (so, a country long ago and far, far away), the first book in the Master Li and Number Ten Ox series has a wondrous, dreamy quality where everything is possible, including a rural farmhand defeating an evil empire.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:42 AM on December 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Future Man!
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 7:33 AM on December 24, 2019

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a french comic series so even if there is only the one movie there is more to consume.

Descender is a comic book series about a boy robot who is trying to find his place in a world where robots have been outlawed. Space ships, strange aliens, huge robots and even some magic all beautifully rendered in watercolour.

I'll Nth the recommendations for the Culture novels as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:09 AM on December 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

A new Dune movie is coming out next year, so there's that.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 10:11 AM on December 24, 2019

The Expanse is dark but hopeful. Much more violent than Star Wars. The TV show is high quality sci fi but starts off without any primer, so give it a few episodes to figure out what is going on. Childlike wonder, though, not so much.

Avatar: the Last Airbender (the series) and Legend of Korra, do everything Star Wars set out to do, but better. I swear to you, this is your new go-to.
posted by rikschell at 11:02 AM on December 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Expanse is really as good as so many have said above. Also nthing Murderbot. I felt like Blade Runner 2049 was a decent follow up to the original Blade Runner and if you somehow haven't seen Mad Max Fury Road, well, you are in for a real treat!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:52 PM on December 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also de-rec for Harry Potter & The Methods of Rationality, I found it very smug and not strong on characterization all that much

Avatar: the Last Airbender is fantastic & funny & full of heart & bonus: features a rich backlog of fanfiction that explores the world for further enjoyment. (I couldn't finish The Legend of Korra personally, but YMMV)

Also would rec Fullmetal Alchemist (the manga, but if you want to watch it as an anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood follows the manga more closely, which most people prefer. Actually sticks the landing really darn well) Has a large and active fandom & fanfiction community, especially now that Netflix added FMA:B to its catalog.
posted by devrim at 4:47 PM on December 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (Wikipedia). I've only read the original trilogy, but it's really good. It's more magic than sci-fi, but closer to Star Wars than Lord of the Rings. Orphan kid versus the Evil Empire, blighted land, and things of that sort.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:31 PM on December 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

While we are in a C. J. Cherryh appreciation mood, try the series she edited, Merovingen Nights. Eight books in the series, published from 1985 to 1991.

Seconding Terry Pratchett. I also recommend the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, if you like your world building in an alternative United Kingdom.
posted by TrishaU at 1:29 AM on December 25, 2019

Nthing Chanur and Murderbot. I also strongly recommend Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. The first two are about the parents, the rest about their incredible son. Definitely read in order. I love them all (though some of the way later books get a little soft, but that’s deep into the series, and ymmv), but the first and third in the series were her first novels, and they are a little rougher stylistically. Still brilliant, but once she really hit her stride there is no one like her. Book after book of ingenious space adventures with wonderful smart, feminist characters and wild planetary cultures and tons of excitement. So much fun!!!
posted by sumiami at 12:00 PM on December 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hugo. It has been described as Martin Scorsese's love letter to the movies, and I wholeheartedly endorse that description. If you thought Scorsese only made movies about gangsters/corruption/violence/etc., this will demonstrate otherwise. And when I read "childhood sense of wonder" in your question, Hugo immediately came to mind.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:58 AM on December 26, 2019

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