The untapped potential of gas planets in fiction
While browsing online about the Hasbro Universe (which you do when you enjoy IDW’s Transformers and G.I. Joe comics), I learned about a forgotten 80s property called Air Raiders. The synopsis of the toy line reads,
“On the planet of Airlandia, two groups fight for the control of all the air. The Air Raiders, a band of daring rebels fight to usurp the dictatorship of the evil Emperor Aerozar, his 4 Lords of the Winds, and the evil Enforcer warriors. The Air Raiders’ secret base, located in the Petrified Cloud Forest, is Airlandia’s only safe haven for air. The struggle for life, power, and air are all inclusive, and only one group shall claim the victor.”
Disappointingly, the art for the franchise indicates Airlandia is a terrestrial silicate planet, just like Earth and Mars, the planets we typically see in stories like Dune, Star Trek, Star Wars or Mass Effect. Visions of an acrobatic Mad Max gave way to Waterworld’s arid counterpart. I wracked my memory to think of gas giants showcased prominently in sci-fi, and sadly only Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back came to mind.
But what a showcase that was: with Luke Skywalker clinging onto dear life on a weather vane, waiting agonisingly for the Millennium Falcon to pick him up, Bespin set itself apart from all the other locations in the series. When Anakin and Obi-Wan found themselves at the mercy of gravity during Revenge of the Sith, at least they had the benefit of dry land on Coruscant.
An action film set on a gas giant would be a director’s dream: it’s a location where no one is truly safe, where every base or city could be blown out from underneath, and no one could just swim away from an explosion, or parachute to safety. The film wouldn’t necessarily have to be set on a gas giant to accomplish that, given how similarly dangerous lava planets are, but then it would deprive us of something as terrifying as the characters getting caught up in a storm on the scale of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
Now if you excuse me, I’m going to indulge my fear of heights by constantly rewatching the helicarrier sequences in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, including that nailbiting moment Falcon, shorn of his wings, has to jump into a swerving helicopter.