There Is No "Right-Side Up" In Space...

So why have enemy ships in virtually every space movie, television series, or comic book encounter each other “right side up”?

This has always made me laugh, especially when a ships comes out of a worm hole or disable their cloaking device revealing themselves to the awaiting ship that just happens to have the same orientation.

Ideas anyone?

Darn, that’s a good point! Dunno 'bout the wormhole, but maybe while de-cloaking, they orient themselves to better utilise their weaponry?

Darn. I’ll have to be a bit more careful what I write now. Thanks, wishbone!

On second thought, I seem to vaguely, vaguely, vaguely remember a scene from Star Wars or something when the Millenium Falcon pulled out of hyperspeed and reoriented themselves when they cape upon some star destroyers that were all “upsidedown”. Why did they flip over though, wouldn’t it be like a game of “Interstellar Chicken” when one ship would wait for the other to flip over to match their own ship on the “Galactical Horizon” that just happens to coincide with the “right-side up” pubic hair resting on the rim of my toilet bowl? I remember having the sudden urge to flip over my television set but it could all just be wishful thinking on my part.

“The enemy base is down.”

Oh don’t be ridiculous, everybody knows there’s a universal galactic standard for “up” which is indexed to the direction of James Kirk’s chair.

But seriously, this was the central premise of the climactic battle in Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn (written by a fellow graduate of my alma mater, I might add). Nick Meyer said he was aware of the criticism of the 2-dimensional battles in the early TV series, and used that as the central plot element in the final battle. But ya know, IIRC, in the final 3-d battle, even though the don’t fight on the same 2D plane, they STILL met face to face, using the same “up.”

But to be more direct about the answer, this is an old cinematic convention, it is called “crossing the line.” Action has to take place across an imaginary line of division. If you cross the line improperly, it is easy to make people think the combatants are facing away from each other instead of facing each other. This is most distracting and confusing for the audience. Most directors can barely deal with ONE line, let alone the 2 lines needed for handling 3D action properly. I’d love to see an example of a movie that handled this well, but most of the modern space operas borrowed their battle scene cinematography from old WWII dogfighting movies.

All of which goes to prove that we need someone to make a proper cinematographic version of “The Mote in God’s eye”.

For those who haven’t read it: The “Moties” (intelligent aliens) are members of an extremely old species and have adapted to zero gravity to the extent that they don’t align themselves to a common “up”, something the humans after centuries in space haven’t yet learned. Oh, and the space battles are written as if they happened in space. The ships don’t bank, neither do lasers go “whiooofh” when they near-miss.

Of course, how they’d make realistic space battles seem exciting is another problem - the ships are light-seconds apart, appear mainly as dots of light and don’t dogfight.

  • just you wait 'till SPOOFE sees that. He’ll presumably promote the “Universal Darth Vader Vertical Standard” instead.

S. Norman

Best explanation is that it’s probably easier for the ships’ crew to deal with it that way. It gives them less to think about.

However, in the final battle of, say, Return of the Jedi, the scenario is above a celestial body (a moon, in this case, albeit a large one)… so I guess it’s “natural” for the ships to be oriented the same. It helps keep the same reference point.

For peaceful confrontations, it’s probably a mere pleasantry to have the ships oriented the same. Like a space handshake or something.

Tales of my nerdiness have been greatly exaggerated.

Well… okay, no, they haven’t. A couple of the Star Wars books make reference to ships orienting themselves to the galactic plane (one side of the galaxy is “north”, or “up”, or something). However, realistically, this would be an institution that serves no useful purpose other than maintaining commonality.

They do it to “look right”. If you saw a space confrontation with the ships pointing any which way it would look funny. It’s also way easier for the continuity people. (OK, Bob’s attack fighter is at 15º to the Wanglerarian Battle Drone. That’s 17 3/4º off from the Pressidan line troopers’ cordon patrol…)

Everyone faces the same way and no one gets hurt.

Probably easier to set up the models in the old movies that way and to provide less of a distraction for modern ones (“hey, if he’s oriented that way, he has a better shot at the shuttle bay, but…”). Some people would worry about tactics - and the writers didn’t.

Shooting at something while it’s upside down or at some weird angle to your flight path is somewhat disorienting. Check out any space battle game in which you have 3D control and you’ll see what I mean.

Star Wars Starfighter for PS2 is a good example. When you first start playing, you attack things when they’re right side up (or somewhat close). As you get more experienced, though, you learn to attack things from other angles and don’t always take on “right side up” targets.

Here’s the weird thing, though…If you press one of the controls, it activates an “auto-leveling” feature. My question when I first got the game was “level with what plane?” In levels where you’re flying in atmosphere, the auto-leveling feature levels you with the ground. In space-faring levels, though, it orients you according to the other ships. Weird…

pssst…[sub]it’s gate[/sub]

[trek geek answer]
Um… well, it’s gotta do with the warp field which has to be aligned along the plane of the galaxy to work right, what with all those semi-polarized subspace inverse tachyon particles and everything.
[/trek geek answer]

Spiny Norman is correct - The Mote In God’s Eye, and its sequel The Gripping Hand are some of the best, most accurate portrayals of space combat I’ve ever read. If you’re tired of swooping, whooshing Battlestar Galactica combat sequences, you need to read these novels.

When Niven and Pournelle traded off dogfighting and fast action for realism, they managed to find an engaging element of suspense reminiscent of submarine warfare films. And indeed, when you think about it, there are a lot of similar features between submarines and spaceships.