I really like the: "Small crew and beat up starship" trope:

  • The Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)
  • The Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)
  • Serenity (Firefly)

Ships that aren't the nicest, but have a hard working team to get the job done.

As far as I can tell, The Millennium Falcon is the earliest occurrence of this trope. Is there an older example? What was the inspiration/history of this?

  • 6
    Probably somewhere back into pirate tales. Not sure where in SFF though.
    – Radhil
    Oct 1, 2016 at 23:53
  • 4
    Early naval fiction, Alexander Kent, Dudley Pope, CS Forester etc. is full of it,
    – Paulie_D
    Oct 1, 2016 at 23:57
  • 2
    And been used in the context of lone prospectors, and contract truck drivers, and the wilderness guide that wilderness guides recommend to people who want to go places ordinary wilderness guides won't go in adventure stories, and ... Oct 2, 2016 at 0:20
  • 3
    At the very least the space trope goes back to Heinlein's Rolling Stones, in 1952. Oct 2, 2016 at 2:54
  • 1
    Heinlein also wrote Rocket Ship Galileo in 1947, in which a scientist & group of teenage boys refurbish an "old" chemical rocket to create an atomic-powered (NERVA-type) moon rocket.
    – dwardio
    Oct 6, 2016 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


There's an obscure story by Henry Kuttner that I always liked: The Big Night (1947)

It deals with the crew of a very beat up tramp starship La Cucaracha struggling to keep their heads above water financially, in the face of a new technology which is revolutionizing star travel - interdimensional gates. One of the crew members is an alien.

It starts

She came lumbering up out of the ecliptic plane of the planets like a wallowing space beast, her jet tubes scarred and stained, a molten streak against her middle where Venus's turgid atmosphere had scarred her, and every ancient weld in her fat body threatened to rip apart the moment she hit stress again.

The skipper was drunk in his cabin, his maudlin voice echoing through the compartments as he bewailed the unsympathetic harshness of the Interplanetary Trade Commission.

There was a mongrel crew from a dozen worlds, half of them shanghaied. Logger Hilton, the mate, was trying to make some sense of the tattered charts, and La Cucaracha, her engines quaking at the suicidal thought, was plunging ahead through space into the Big Night.

  • 3
    +1 for "The Big Night", which of course is available at archive.org. I thought of "The Big Night" when I read the question, but I wasn't sure how big the crew of La Cucaracha was, or exactly what the OP meant by "small crew".
    – user14111
    Oct 8, 2016 at 22:19

I'd have thought the main starting point was the Para Handy stories by Neil Munro, written in 1905-1923 about the crew of the Vital Spark, a small, scruffy Scottish commercial steamboat. CJ Cherryh used the idea in some of her SF novels, although I'm not sure if any of them pre-dates the first Star Wars film or not. The Chanur series, for example, first came out in 1981, so she was writing the first Chanur book round about the time Star Wars came out and we don't know who first had the idea of a furry crew flying a commercial ship so decrepit that bits of it had to be kicked to make them work.

I think some of Andre Norton's stories might qualify, and they definitely do predate Star Wars. Star Rangers, for example, written in 1953, opens with the crew nursing their limping ship to a crash landing, although in that case it's a warship rather than a trader. Her Postmarked the Stars series involves the crew of a small commercial ship which, if not quite falling apart, is certainly operating on a shoestring.

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