The top 5 famous last words in SF

December 11, 2008

Sometimes an SF character’s best or most memorable piece of dialogue in a book or short story, TV show, or movie is their last piece of dialogue. Their death might come in less than a second or several hours/days later, but if they’re written just right (whether it’s something profound or banal), or maybe if they’re inextricably tied to an unforgettable scene or plot thread, those last words will haunt you for the rest of your life. Because there are so many possibilities dying to get on such a countdown, we’ve created three lists today: one for books and short stories, one for TV, and another for the movies. And so we give you the Top 5 Famous Last Words in SF.


5. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
 – Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope
And he was right. By giving up the ghost, old Ben knew he could accomplish more as, well, a ghost. Creating a diversion that would allow Luke and the others to get away essentially sealed the fate of the Empire. The scene is most memorable though because by this point in the movie, the audience has invested a lot emotionally in Kenobi as the wise old teacher who takes the hero on his first step “into a larger world”.

4. “I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I -”
-Wash, Serenity
This was a powerfully wrenching scene, even for moviegoers who weren’t Firefly fans. There are fans out there who are still upset (and in some cases still downright pissed off) about the pilot’s death. Wash was a good guy and had just saved the day by flying his friends through hell and getting them all down alive, and heroes like that don’t just die a redshirt death, do they? Well, if you’re trying to inject some level of reality into a film featuring a major battle (never mind if you’re trying to ramp-up the tension and create the feeling that anyone could buy it at any time), then, yeah, they do! It’s a war. People die. Even the good guys who you really like. And what made it harder to bear was that he wasn’t even allowed to finish being poetic before he was so brutally killed. Wash’s last words are certainly among the best in SF cinematic history.

3. “Live long and prosper”
-Spock, Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan
For close to 20 years, Spock was one of the most beloved characters in TV science fiction. And then came the movie that killed him. Oh sure, Trek was always full of death, but never for anyone really important. Yeah, Scotty’s nephew had died earlier in the film, but he was just another redshirt with a few more lines ultimately, wasn’t he? Spock was another matter. For the first time, the danger the main characters were so frequently in finally took a significant victim. At least Spock got to say what he wanted to say at the end to his best friend. And he finished it with his signature farewell and salute, bringing geeks the world over to tears (and in some cases a fair amount of anger too). Another milestone in SF at the movies.

2. “It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.”
-HAL 9000, 2001 – A Space Odyssey
No one expected that an AI capable of operating an interplanetary spacecraft, conducting a years-long scientific mission, and murdering its crew would come to its end grinding out an antiquated little ditty more or less like an alzheimers patient focussing on some old, trivial incident after the bulk of their memory has been taken away. In this, it was another example of how, despite his circuits an cold, unblinking red eye, HAL was as human as the other crew members aboard the Discovery.

1. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All these moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”
-Roy Batty, Blade Runner
Despite a rampage of remorseless killings motivated seemingly more by frustration and vengeance than a real desire to find a way to live longer, the leader of the replicants is, at heart, a poet and meets his end not with violence but with touching metaphors. An imminent death for Roy is unavoidable, but these words: “Time to die” give the viewer a sense that death comes now not merely because of inevitability, but more because Roy has decided it will come by finally accepting it. The sentence borders on being an order issued to death. It’s paradoxically as though he’s taking control of something he’s always been afraid of because he never had any control over it.  This is a beautifully crafted scene in one of the best SF movies of all time.


5. “You make your choices and you live with them. In the end, you are those choices.”
-Kendra Shaw, Battlestar Galactica: Razor
Hard words about life from a woman who’s lived through some of the worst of it. These may not be Shaw’s last words in life, but they are the last that we hear from her charcter and they are a powerful close to this BSG movie about the consequences of choosing to be tough rather than human, and they mark an end to a particularly savage and sad chapter in the Colonial exodus. BSG has some of the best writing on television, regardless of genre, and a lot of that skill was brought to bear in making this TV movie.

4. “It’s the end… but the moment has been prepared for.”
-the Fourth Doctor, Doctor Who – season/series 18 – “Logopolis”
harrysaxon suggested this one, noting Tom Baker’s end is one of the most famous among fans of The Doctor and thus in SF. Fitting to put the Fourth Doctor’s demise in the number 4 slot on this list.

3. “”Rose, before I go, I just wanna tell you: you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I!”
-the Ninth Doctor, Doctor Who (new series) – series 1 – “The Parting of Ways”
A great suggestion from harrysaxon who says, “I love [these words] because they’re a meta-commentary on Piper and Eccleston’s performances, and the performance of the revived series after the lofty expectations heaped upon it, and it definitively answered them.”

2. “You do not understand. But you will.”
-Ambassador Kosh, Babylon 5 – season 3 – “Interludes and Examinations”
The last words the Vorlon speaks to Sheridan before leaving to order his people to finally join the fight and attack the Shadow forces that have been rampaging through the Alliance are also the last words he speaks in person before being killed in a fight with a couple of Shadows that break into his quarters. They are the epitome of Kosh – always speaking with the simplicity of Zen koans that hold layers and layers of meaning in their murky depths, that meaning frequently missed by members of the younger races. And there’s regret in his voice – but it’s not whining because he knows he’ll die for his decision, it’s sadness for the fact that the human captain just doesn’t get that he’ll be losing out as much as Kosh will, if a little farther down the road. Now, some may argue that these are, in fact, not Kosh’s last words, that his final spiel came during Sheridan’s dream while Kosh was being killed. But here we’re getting mired in the complexity of Vorlon telepathic communication and that species’ biology, because we have to remember that the can break pieces of themselves off to hide in the back of another creature’s mind. Bearing that in mind (pun intended), it would make more sense to argue that his last words were “Jump! Jump now!” prior to Sheridan’s fall at Zha’ha’dum. But really, I think the last words Kosh gave in person are sufficient. They certainly best sum up the Vorlon as we knew him, and with their cryptic meaning are unforgettable.

1. “Gazpacho soup.
-3rd Technician Arnold J. Rimmer, Red Dwarf – series 1 – “Me2”
Both harrysaxon and I agreed this one had to be on the list, and since it’s unanimous, and because it’s so great, it ranks number one. What makes this line so great? It’s the height of the ridiculousness of Rimmer’s character, and by extension the show. Rimmer is such a neurotic loser that he quite literally meets his doom obsessing over an incident where he looked like an idiot (as usual) when dining at the Captain’s table and insisting that the gazpacho soup was cold and needed heating, not realizing that’s the way it’s supposed to be served. Worse yet, he can’t even escape embarassment in death – revived as a hologram, his secret gets out and his shipmates (Lister, the lone survivor of the ship’s disaster; and Cat, a humanoid descended from Lister’s pet cat) are merciless in giving him the gears. These famous last words are wickedly funny and a brilliant illustration of the smallness of some people.


5. “Look,”
-Chuck, “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke
Not much in the way of last words, I’ll grant you, but that single word is part of an unforgettable scene at the close of this unforgettable short story. What else would a human being really be able to do if the universe began to shut down in front of his eyes? 

-AC, “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov
Long after the heat death of the universe, nothing is left except an entity known as AC (a descendant of AI’s invented by mankind) who is hanging on to conciousness for one reason: to figure out a way to prevent the end of the universe. This last statement, quoting the Bible, then proceed to give existence a reboot. An interesting double circle where an entity created by science invokes one of myth, and uses as his last words at the end of everything the fabled first words to restart the process (and thus, having fulfilled his mission, probably giving up his own conciousness at last).

3. “I can’t die yet. I haven’t seen The Jolson Story.”
-Robert “Jetboy” Tomlin, “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway” by Howard Waldrop – Wildcards – volume 1 – edited by George R.R. Martin
This is a line that’s always stuck out in my memory. Not the most profound pair of sentences in English language literature, but fitting ones. It’s a story about a forgotten hero who rises from obscurity (and days filled with watching movies) to attempt to save the world once again – and fails. It is a world that will suddenly be afflicted by the madness of an alien virus that kills most of the people it infects, horrendously disfigures the bulk of the survivors, and gives a precious few super powers. But before that, when the Wildcard virus was locked in a bomb in the hands of some bad guys in a blimp high over New York, there was Jetboy, a normal man (despite his larger than life adventures in years gone by) with real limitations who rose to the challenge and tried to save the day. While grappling with an enemy, most heroes would have been satisfied with grunts, or fired off an insult, or might have tried to say something noble and cool. Not Jetboy. Amidst the struggle, he throws down a shocking piece of normality – there’s a new flick in town and death would interfere with his movie plans. How wonderfully banal! This is an utter lack of pretension that just isn’t seen in bigtime heroes. In an unreal situation, Jetboy is made more real by the choice of words that ultimately prove to be his last.

2. “But if that’s Olham, then I must be…”
-“Olham”, “Imposter” by Philip K. Dick
 A nice nomination from harrysaxon. One of his favourites and an explosive way to end a story.

1. “Fly, you fools!”
-Gandalf the Grey, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
This one got the nod from both of us, not surprisingly, and so garnered the number one spot. The wizard’s last words before he falls from the wreckage of the bridge of Khazad’dum with the balrog cap one of the most intense chases in English literature. They are extremely telling of Gandalf’s personality: facing his own end, the wizard’s concern is for the safety of his friends and the success of the mission to destroy the ring. And there’s no mucking about with grand speeches either, with Gandalf it’s down to business: basically, don’t stand around like idiots, get your asses outta here or you’ll die! And while Gandalf comes back later in the story, it is as Gandalf the White, who is somewhat different than his previous incarnation. He may get sent back by Illuvatar to finish the job, but something of Gandalf does die when he collapses after finally beating the balrog. Even if LOTR had not been made into a movie that made this scene frighteningly real, Gandalf’s last words would still be unforgettable because of his impact as a character in one of the greatest stories in English literature.


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