Because everything's better in space, even romance.
John Crichton & Aeryn Sun, Farscape
If you asked me to narrow this list down to just one entry, to the single relationship that stands above all the others, I would jettison everything but John and Aeryn without a second’s hesitation. Much of that is down to the white-hot onscreen chemistry between actors Ben Browder and Claudia Black. But the two unlikely lovers also go through more in four seasons than most couples do in 60 years together, and they still come out of it together.
The real test of love is not hanging together in the good times. It’s in clinging to each other when things go as bad as you could possibly imagine, and then somehow find a way to get worse. John and Aeryn go through all manner of horrors together, but the true genius of the show’s writers comes when Crichton is split into two identical versions of himself, and the show’s core group is then split as well. One Crichton stays with Aeryn, and their romance continues to blossom…until that Crichton — her Crichton — dies. When the surviving Crichton reunites with Aeryn’s group, she’s suddenly faced with a man wearing her lover’s face, but who is — as far as she’s concerned — just an empty echo, one that only makes her grief worse. It’s a brilliant, uniquely sci-fi way of solving that old Moonlighting problem of what happens when the will-they-won’t-they couple finally gets together. And in spite of that terrible, seemingly insurmountable obstacle, Crichton and Aeryn eventually find a way back into each other’s arms. Let the universe throw whatever it wants at them, they’re in it for the long haul.
Han Solo & Leia Organa, Star Wars
Many a fangirl grew up dreaming of a scruffy-looking, roguish scoundrel all their own, and pretty much every male of my generation grew up dreaming of Carrie Fisher in that gold metal bikini. Han and Leia set the bar for all other sci-fi romances that were to come. And while many of the other relationships on this list were far more developed, Han and Leia work so well precisely because they follow that simple, iconic premise we as a species have been exploring in fiction for thousands of years: opposites attract.
Han (Harrison Ford) is the classic bad boy, but not so bad as to be unlovable. Oh sure, he’ll sing all day long about how he’s only out for himself, but when the chips are down, he’ll fly out of the sun and save the day. And while Han probably left a string of broken hearts in starports across the galaxy, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is the one thing he doesn’t have a defense against: a strong, competent woman who knows how to put him in his place when she needs to, but who will also always have his back. The joy of Han and Leia’s relationship is in watching all the cutting banter and name-calling, knowing all along that those two are destined for each other…they just don’t know it yet.
Zoë & Hoban “Wash” Washburne, Firefly
Fans of Joss Whedon know the risks when entering into any of his stories. You will fall head over heels for his characters. You will love them, and want good things to happen to them. And then Joss will wait until the most perfect moment, and he will cut off their heads in front of you while whistling a jaunty tune. Buffy and Angel. Willow and Tara. Wesley and Fred, and my heart just broke all over again just having to type that last one.
So we all should have known better when Joss introduced us to Zoë (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk), a happily married couple who could not be better for each other. There was certainly some of that same “opposites attract” thing that made Han and Leia work. Zoë is a capable, hard-ass former soldier. Wash is the best pilot in the universe, who also occasionally plays with dinosaur toys. But he makes her laugh, and neither of them care whether they made sense to anyone else. They simply work, and as with all great couples, the strengths of one shore up the weaknesses of the other. Watching Zoë and Wash, there was no question that they would love each other until the day they died. And then one of them did. Because it was Joss, and we should have known better.
John Sheridan & Delenn, Babylon 5
Babylon 5 is very much the story of how individuals can change things, from their own lives to the world around them. John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Delenn (Mira Furlan) are two of the linchpins of B5’s story, two individuals whose actions quite literally reshape the galaxy. Thankfully, that’s a level of stress that I’m guessing none of us will have to confront. Under the weight of that pressure, John and Delenn find each other. They didn’t expect it, they didn’t try to make it happen, it just did. With the fate of trillions hanging on their decisions, they find in each other someone to help carry that burden.
Unlike most Hollywood romances, theirs isn’t a relationship that flares up upon first sight. After all, Delenn is a Minbari, one of the species who had damn near wiped out humanity a few years back, and John had fought them tooth-and-nail in that war. Sure, your mom might give you grief for bringing home a girl who isn’t Jewish, but this is a whole other level of baggage. Sheridan and Delenn’s relationship begins as a mutual respect, which grows into admiration, which then surprises them both by becoming something more. That love story is far too short and ends in bittersweet fashion, and if you can make it through John and Delenn’s farewell scene in “Sleeping in Light” without choking up, then you, sir, are a cold-hearted monster.
Fry & Leela, Futurama
When searching for love, you don’t usually look towards science fiction cartoons featuring robots, aliens, and whatever the hell Zoidberg is. Futurama’s romance between Philip J. Fry (voiced by Billy West) and Turanga Leela (v. Katey Sagal), however, is a notable exception. Another long-gestating matter, Fry pines for his purple-haired, cycloptic coworker for years. Over the course of that time, he drops hints and makes every effort he can, only to be rebuffed at every turn, and, worst of all, completely ignored.
Every time they get close, every time she almost loves him back, something goes horribly awry. Fry dies, changes his entire slacker personality (including turning to brain parasites), and even makes a deal with the Robot Devil, all to no avail. It’s heartbreaking to watch. You get a glimpse of what could have been in “The Farnsworth Paradox,” the episode with a collection of boxes, each containing a different possible universe. In one of the alternate realities, Fry and Leela are together, and happy, which opens up a new possibility for the perpetually discordant couple.
Desmond Hume & Penelope Widmore, Lost
Say what you will about Lost’s many convoluted mysteries and the mystical hoo-hah of the finale, the one thing the show did very, very well was craft characters. And while the triad of Jack, Sawyer, and Kate may have gotten more attention over the years, you’d be hard pressed to find a love story in the show that is more purely, hopelessly romantic than that of Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) and Penelope “Penny” Widmore (Sonya Walger). They were star-crossed from the get-go. They came from different worlds. Her dad didn’t approve of Desmond. He winds up stranded on a magical island that really doesn’t want to be found. The usual couple problems.
After all, she’s his constant. Is there a more romantic concept than that? The idea that one person can be the single element that anchors Desmond across divergent realities and all the wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey insanity the Lost writers could come up with. She never stopped looking for him after he disappeared, and by god, she eventually found him. The only downside: when you’ve surmounted barriers of time and space to save the love of your life, that bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day isn’t going to pack quite the same romantic punch.
Kyle Reese & Sarah Connor, Terminator
Even in the direst of circumstances, love finds a way. Few science fiction love stories exemplify this quite like the whirlwind affair between Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and soldier-from-the-future Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). After all, it’s hard for love to bloom when being chased by a vicious robotic killer who wants to plant a few slugs in your brainpan to prevent you from birthing the last hope of humanity. But like the lady said, in that one night they loved a lifetime’s worth.
Sarah and Reese have a rocky start. She thinks he is trying to kill her, then she thinks he’s insane because he keeps going on about how he’s from the future. And he is a little stalkery, having fallen in love with a faded old photograph of her. That’s a lot for anyone to overcome, but it just goes to show that if you save a woman from a rampaging Arnold Schwarzenegger enough times, she’s bound to fall in love with you. But be careful, if your one-night stand in a cheap motel ends in a pregnancy, odds are it won’t birth the savior destined to lead the human race against the machines.
WALL-E & EVE, WALL-E
Few science fiction romances are anywhere near as adorable as that between the Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth (WALL-E) and his ladylove, the Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE). They may be robots, and sure they’re from different worlds—he’s a trash-compacting garbage man with a hopeless romantic streak, and she’s career driven and all business—but that’s not going to stop WALL-E from following his dream girl across the solar system.
Their meeting and courtship plays out like a futuristic bit from a Charlie Chaplin film, innocent, slapstick, and cuter than hell. EVE is cold and hostile at first, but WALL-E is deeply smitten, and in the end his charm and determination win out, with an assist from Louis Armstrong and “Hello, Dolly!”
Joel Barish & Clementine Kruczynski, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Conceived by the deliciously warped mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and birthed by visionary director Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most inventive, visually stunning takes on love and destiny you’ll ever come across.
But for all the cinematic trickery and narrative pyrotechnics, the heart of the movie lies in the relationship between Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet). The nonlinear story jumps around in time and you watch two former lovers as they attempt to erase any trace of the other from their minds. Watching Joel chase his memories backwards through his own head, desperate to cling to any last shred of Clementine, may be the romantic part of any movie ever. They’re the poster children for awkward, mismatched, unlikely love, but as strange and strained as their relationship may be, neither can deny that they’re supposed to be together. Endearing, quirky, and quixotic, Eternal Sunshine is part real world, part dream realm, and the last time you enjoyed watching Jim Carrey do anything.
Max Guevera & Logan Cale, Dark Angel
Every great mixed-gender television duo has a serious will-they-won’t-they vibe that permeates their relationship. There’s Mulder and Scully from X-Files, David and Maddie from Moonlighting, and of course, Max (Jessica Alba) and Logan (Michael Weatherly) from the gone-too-soon sci-fi drama Dark Angel. The James Cameron-produced series was as much about the doomed romance between the two absurdly good looking twenty-somethings as it was about the post-EMP-ravaged Seattle and the pseudo-Orwellian government that created genetically enhanced super soldiers. Young love generally has to face great odds and endure many hardships, but in the case of Max and Logan, that was cranked up exponentially.
For starters, Max escaped from a military lab and is being hunted by the government. Laying low as a petty thief and bike messenger, she tries to rip off the wrong guy, Logan, and winds up running errands for him and his pirated political talk show “Eyes Only.” She gets him shot in the spine and paralyzed, but makes it up to him later by sharing some of her blood with him, which leads to his body regenerating and the ability to walk again. For a while anyway. There are so many ups and downs, and just when you think they’ve overcome their obstacles, just when you know they’re about to get together, Max comes down with a designer virus, one that specifically targets Logan. As a result they can’t touch without it ending with his corpse. Talk about a roadblock. Before the star-crossed lovers can wiggle around their predicament, Dark Angel was cancelled abruptly, leaving us to wonder forever about what could have been.