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The most tragic love stories in sci-fi

Contributed by
Jun 9, 2018

In Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han and Qi’ra have a rather difficult relationship. Even if you haven’t seen the film yet, you know that when we meet him in A New Hope, Han isn’t with anyone. He’s destined to be with Leia, of course, but no one ever really forgets their first love.

Tragic couples are all over science fiction, and though they make us sniffle, we love to virtually share their pain. Here are our favorite tragic partners in sci-fi.

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Mal and Inara (Firefly)

Our hearts still break when we think about these two crazy kids. In the Firefly series, Malcolm Reynolds and Inara Serra are clearly in love, despite their constant verbal clashes. Captain Mal can’t quite understand Inara’s companion job, and Inara can’t quite get her head around Mal’s close-mindedness, though she acknowledges his good heart. These two have been through a lot together, and at the end of Serenity it seems like they have an understanding. However, at conventions, the cast has revealed that Inara is terminally ill. Any chance they had for a happily-ever-after is a short one at best. Of course, if we're talking tragic loves in Firefly and Serenity, we can't forget Zoe and Wash, the perfect married couple, but at least they had time together. If you read the comics, you know what else they had. Mal and Inara, though? Not shiny!

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Buffy and Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

For so many of us, watching a vampire slayer fall in love with a vampire was all-consuming. They were clearly perfect for each other. When they finally did the deed, however, Angel reverted to his evil Angelus self and went dark. Those curses can be a bitch. Buffy and Angel could never be together, which eventually left the door open for Spike. Debate which ship is better all you want, but it’s tragic that Buffy and Angel never really had a chance. 

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Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The vampire with a soul wasn’t the only time Buffy the Vampire Slayer messed with our emotions. Buffy’s bestie Willow fell in love with fellow witch Tara Maclay. Their chemistry was evident from their first seconds together on screen and their courtship filled us with hope. They had a beautiful, healthy relationship with boundaries, and fans adored them together—until a bullet hit Tara after the gang fell afoul of Warren’s evil machinations. That moment is still imprinted in our brains. Willow, well... she didn’t take it very well. Neither did fans. 

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Han and Leia (Star Wars)

For decades, Star Wars fans thought of Han and Leia as the ultimate couple. She saved him. He (sort of) helped save her. Their love played out against the battle for good and evil. Then The Force Awakens took that all away from us. Han and Leia are estranged. Their son Ben, aka Kylo Ren, kills Han—and Leia knows the very second it happens. Though we don’t know what’s coming in Episode IX, our Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. It means Leia is gone from this world as well. (Also, we’re not putting Padmé and Anakin on this list. While the relationship was certainly tragic for her, Anakin did this to himself.) 

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Diana and Steve (Wonder Woman)

Though they may be on-again-off-again on the old ‘70s television series, in the Wonder Woman film, Diana and Steve's love story ends in tears (ours included). While Diana is trying to battle Ares in WWI, Steve is trying to keep a plane full of poison from exploding and killing millions. He realizes that he has to sacrifice himself to do it, and while Diana’s hearing is compromised he makes a declaration of love, then flies off into the sunset. Diana is still heartbroken in the present day, as we see in Justice League

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Dumbledore and Grindelwald (Harry Potter)

Well, the Albus part is tragic, anyway. Grindelwald and Dumbledore were best friends from childhood, eventually attending different wizarding schools. They were partners in a plan for wizards to rule over Muggles, which seems out of character for the kind-hearted headmaster we came to know. He realized that Grindelwald was evil, and it broke their friendship. As you likely know, in 2007, J.K. Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay and in love with Gellert Grindelwald, but his heart was broken by the reality of who Grindelwald was. Maybe we’ll learn of a new, healthy relationship for Dumbledore, but for now, at least we have fanfiction.

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The Doctor and River Song (Doctor Who)

The Doctor (in any of his regenerations) and River Song have had wonderful experiences together through the ages, but their timelines are out of sync. They had to keep diaries to keep from revealing any spoilers about the future when they would meet up. When he first meets his love in “Silence in the Library,” she’s about to die. Their last meeting (from The Doctor's perspective) occurs in “The Husbands of River Song.” It was heartbreaking to see these two powerful characters, who know that this is the end for them, try to make the best of their very long last meeting. This is sci-fi, though, so maybe there is still a way for us to see them together in the future.

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Sarah and Kyle (The Terminator)

This love story is painful because you know what’s coming the whole time. It’s obvious from the beginning of the story that Kyle isn’t going to make it. Sarah and Kyle have a powerful connection, one that can only come from a shared fight. It’s not just love — it’s devotion. Kyle saves Sarah over and over, and Sarah is going to give birth to the savior of humanity. Time travel paradoxes are hell on relationships.

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Dr. Horrible and Penny (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog)

Joss Whedon doesn’t want us to be happy. He wants us to cry into our pillows every night, wishing that things could have been different. Dr. Horrible may have been working on a freeze ray, but all he could really think about was the girl he liked from the laundromat. Every time he tries to win her (and it’s looking like it might work), Captain Hammer (whose hammer is his penis), gets in the way. That freeze ray accidentally kills Penny, who dies in his arms. Now the nightmare’s real. Sniff.

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Kathy and Tommy (Never Let Me Go)

First of all, if you haven’t seen this movie based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, go out and buy a lot of tissues and watch, then come back and read this. There are big spoilers here. Kathy, Tommy and their friend Ruth grew up together in a school with nefarious aims. They’re clones that are being raised for their organs, but supposedly if clones are truly in love, they can be spared. Kathy and Tommy do fall in love, but circumstances don’t allow them much time to be together, as their organs are harvested, one by one. It’s horribly creepy, and tragically beautiful. We did warn you about the tissues. 

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Louise and Ian (Arrival)

For a while, you think you’re watching a story about a woman’s encounter with aliens. Then you realize that this linguist and physicist who are working on communicating with the aliens are falling in love. Then you realize that that love is doomed to end tragically and Louise knows exactly how it’s going to happen. She knows the pain that’s coming and chooses to live through it anyway, just to experience their lives together. 

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Lafayette and Jesus (True Blood)

Tara’s cousin Lafayette was killed off early in the book series the show was based on, but he was such a fan favorite that he was kept alive on True Blood. He was so fun to watch, and when he finally found love with his mother’s caretaker Jesus, fans cheered. Ah, but no one’s love story ends well in True Blood, and the spirit of Marnie possesses Lafayette and kills Jesus through him. At least he came back as a ghost to soothe Lafayette. It wasn’t enough to soothe our broken hearts.

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Deckard and Rachael (Blade Runner)

We know Rachael is a replicant, and we can endlessly speculate about Deckard. Either way, we know they were in love. After the sequel was released, we learn that they had a child, changing the world forever. We also know that Rachael died and Deckard is heartbroken, living in seclusion in what was once Las Vegas. The scene where Deckard gets a chance to see Rachael again (though it wasn’t really her) was mind-blowing, both in terms of his heartbreak and the incredible effects that made it possible. At least he gets to meet their daughter.

We know there are dozens more, and we want to hear from you! Who is your favorite tragic couple in sci-fi? Which ones are at the top of your list? Do you have hopes of seeing their love revived in some way? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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