To Close Comic-Con, One Spacecraft To Rule Them All

Originally published on July 26, 2011 11:19 am

Football fans have the Super Bowl. Soccer fans have The World Cup. Sci-fi geeks have Starship Smackdown.

Everything you need to know about the event is in the name, says panelist Mark A. Altman, creator of the Cinemax show Femme Fatales: "'Starship Smackdown' says it all."

In case you need a little more: For the last 10 years, the event has been the closing panel for San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest annual pop culture convention in the U.S. Starship Smackdown answers the continual debate geeks have about whether the Enterprise would kick the Millennium Falcon's butt in a space rumble.

"We only allow real starships to compete: no cartoon ones, no animated characters," Altman explains.

Here's how it all goes down. Hundreds of people pack into a meeting room. Then expert panelists and avid fans — some even sporting their team's logos — suggest ships that fill up tournament brackets, kind of like in March Madness. This year one of the brackets pitted the new Battlestar Galactica against the old Battlestar Galactica. The panelists who evaluate the matchups have to be savvy on the strengths and weaknesses of everything from Star Trek to Star Wars to Serenity, and from H.G. Wells to H.R. Puffinstuff. Fans eagerly yell out their suggestions in the hopes of getting their favorite ship into the competition before the brackets close.

This year fans threw the panel a curveball. They wanted one of the ships to be the Chevy Malibu from the trippy '80s cult film Repo Man. Though it did fly away at the end of the movie, one panelist observed that because the Malibu may have had a mothership, it might be better described as a surface-to-air-transport and not a true starship. Finally, it was allowed in the competition.

The starships are helmed by fictitious captains: In the past, Jean-Luc Picard has been in charge of the Millennium Falcon and Captain Crunch helmed Dr. Who's TARDIS. This year, the panel surprised fans by denying them human captains. The infamous Windows 7 was loaded up on Deep Space Nine's USS Defiant. When it booted up, it crashed.

"I'm very disappointed," said DS9 fan Christine Rideout. "Windows 7 on the Defiant? What the heck with that? It was over after that."

But disappointment is just part of the game in the rough and tumble world of Starship Smackdown. The whole competition was won by Carl Sagan's Starship of the Imagination, piloted by Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Founder Mark Altman, who favored the Moonraker shuttle, was happy with the final results.

"It's such a delight to see people that we've seen over the last 10 years come back again and again and indulge this bit of insanity, this frivolous nonsense that we do every year," he said.

Even though only one winner emerges victorious, the debate among geeks about which starship is truly the best will go on forever.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Beth Accomando, of member station KPBS, was in the house this year for Starship Smackdown.

BETH ACCOMANDO: Football fans have the Super Bowl. Soccer fans have the World Cup. Sci-fi geeks have Starship Smackdown.

NORRIS: Well, I mean Starship Smackdown says it all - doesn't it, guys? I mean, it's the ultimate conflagration of starships.

ACCOMANDO: Mark A. Altman, creator of the Cinemax show "Femme Fatales," says Starship Smackdown answers the continual debate geeks have about whether the Enterprise would kick the Millennium Falcon's butt in a space rumble.

NORRIS: We only allow real starships to participate - no cartoons, no animated characters. Only real spaceships participate in the fight.

ACCOMANDO: Here's how it all goes down: Hundreds of people pack into a meeting room. Then, expert panelists and avid fans - some even sporting their teams logos - suggest ships that fill up the brackets, kind of like in March Madness.

U: We will have the original Battlestar Galactica and the new Battlestar.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

ACCOMANDO: Panelists have to be savvy on everything from "Star Trek" to "Star Wars" to "Serenity"; from H.G. Wells to H.R. Puffinstuff. Fans eagerly yell out their suggestions in the hopes of getting their favorite ship into the competition before the brackets close.

U: One at a time!

ACCOMANDO: This year, fans threw the panel a curveball. They wanted one of the ships to be the Chevy Malibu from the trippy '80s cult film "Repo Man."

U: Are you talking about the car in "Repo Man"? That's not a star - well, it did fly away at the end, but we don't know where it went.

U: I've got to say...

U: It might have had a mothership, so it wouldn't have been a starship; it would have just been a surface-to-air transport.

U: You know what? Since it's the first time we've heard it, I think it's a valid entry.

ACCOMANDO: Then the panel surprised fans by denying them a human captain. They put famous computers at the helm. This year, the infamous Windows 7 was loaded up on "Deepspace Nine's" U.S.S. Defiant.

U: The Defiant immediately crashes on boot-up.

ACCOMANDO: This elicited cries of foul play from panelist Robert Hewitt Wolfe, a Syfy TV writer and producer.

NORRIS: I think the fix was in. Once they put the Windows 7 program on the Defiant, there was no possible way it was going to win.

NORRIS: By declaration of this committee, the winner of the 10th anniversary Starship Smackdown is none other than Starship of the Imagination, piloted by Hal. Thank you. We'll see you next year. Good job.

ACCOMANDO: Fan Christine Rideout was upset that her beloved "Deepspace Nine" craft wasn't given a fair shake.

NORRIS: I'm very disappointed. I mean, they put Windows 7 on the Defiant? What the heck is that? We didn't have a chance after that. We just crashed.

ACCOMANDO: Disappointment is just part of the game in this rough-and-tumble world of Starship Smackdown. Founder Mark Altman had his sights set on the Moonraker space shuttle but was still happy with the final results.

NORRIS: It's such a delight to see people that we've seen over the last 10 years come back again and again, and indulge this bit of insanity, this frivolous nonsense that we do every year.

ACCOMANDO: For NPR News in San Diego, I'm Beth Accomando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.