Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
Getting a little tired of our current planet? It's difficult to blame you (it's rough out here these days!) But there are a near infinite number of places for you to escape. And who cares if they're fictional?
In this summer travel season, today at Debate Club we look at the five best fictional planets in the sci-fi universe. They all have their flaws, but they all have one wonderful attribute: They aren't here.
Let's get to it.
As Transformers fans know, Cybertron is the robots' former home planet — a one-time Eden that was destroyed thanks to greed and those evil Decepticons. Now battling it out on Earth, the Autobots and their nemeses both long to return to Cybertron but, at least in the '80s animated series, they're too busy fighting to ever get back there for too long.
The Michael Bay movies dealt with Cybertron a little, but we got a real taste of this all-metal planet in 2018's Bumblebee, which is like an origin story for the adorable titular Autobot. What remains cool about Cybertron is that it's a place devoid of people, which means the Transformers can unleash as much havoc as they want on each other without worrying about messy human fatalities. It's like the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots of our dreams.
A planet much like the people who live there, Star Trek's Vulcan is peaceful, efficient and capable of greatness, a good citizen of the universe — so much so that it's always in some sort of peril.
It's a desert planet, but those who live there have evolved to make this a strength: Vulcans can go many days without water if necessary. (Apparently, they can even go a few weeks without sleep if they have to, too.) And they are decent, ethical people who, unlike some folks, protect their planet at all costs: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
In retrospect, Jor-El was totally right. In 1978's Superman, we watch him try to warn his fellow Kryptonians that their planet is destined to explode in about a month. And yet, nobody listens to him, forcing the man to send his son Kal-El away so that he won't perish alongside everyone else. (You can catch the extended backstory, of course, on SYFY's Krypton).
For Superman, Krypton is the epitome of the childhood home you can never reclaim — it's the lingering emotional burden that this superhero will have to carry around with him the rest of his days. No wonder that Kal-El's entire mission on Earth is to do what his father could not: Save the day and keep a planet's population free from harm.
Stanisław Lem's 1961 novel has actually been adapted three times — the first was for Russian television in the late '60s — but the best-remembered version came courtesy of Stalker director Andrei Tarkovsky, who in 1972 told the story of a brilliant scientist (Donatas Banionis) who ventures to an orbiting space station to find out why crew members are dying and/or going insane. When he arrives, though, he encounters a shocking sight: his long-dead wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who's suddenly very much alive. In the tradition of other sci-fi classics like Forbidden Planet, Solaris is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for drama in which our hero gets his prayer answered, only to discover the horrible consequences.
The movie (and the book) derives its name from the silent planet which the space station orbits — a planet that, somehow, is able to manipulate the psyches of all those nearby. This is a chilling, meditative film — and the Steven Soderbergh-George Clooney remake ain't bad, either.
All right, so it's a little bit desolate, and it's plenty hot, and don't forget that some people really hate sand — it just gets everywhere. But, have you seen the sunsets? The home of Luke Skywalker, and the first real place we get a sense of in the entire Star Wars franchise, Tatooine has always established that, in George Lucas' galaxy, planets aren't just remote worlds of mystery: people actually live there. And, most importantly, they show that our greatest heroes can come from anywhere. Travel trip, though: avoid the Tusken Raiders like the plague.