Sucky aliens are a big reason why most science fiction is so embarrassing. It's no accident that the two most acclaimed science fiction shows of the past decade, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, don't feature aliens. Here are some reasons why most aliens are so stupid.
- The silly talk. Jar-Jar Binks is the poster-monster for this problem, with his weird "meesa" stylings. But there are lots of other offenders, including Yoda. And Doctor Who recently had an alien girl named Chantho, who had to start every single sentence with "chan" and end it with "tho." Most space operas have a universal translator, or telepathic translation, or a universal galactic language. So why do only some creatures come out sounding freaky?
- Conformist races. Sure, the Ferengi are Jews, and Star Wars had those weird Chinese aliens. But the problem is bigger than alien races caricaturing human ethnic groups. Every member of an alien race has to have exactly the same personality as every other. So Klingons are always pissy, because it's their nature. Worst of all is when every single member of an alien race has the same weirdly narrow skillset. Like in one episode of Doctor Who when an alien named Vega Nexos announces that he comes from a "race of mining engineers." Really? A whole race? They must have some really lovely mines on their planet.
- The weird foreheads. Star Trek is the worst offender. (Here's a deconstruction of two different Trek races with near-identical pasta clinging to their brows.) But the trope of sticking a lumpy prosthetic on a human actor to turn him/her into an alien has become pretty widespread on television. Like the older trope of the guy in the rubber suit, it gets old really fast. Of course, it's better than just using weird hair to denote an alien creature, like on Babylon 5. The larger problem, of course, is aliens who look just like humans with a few minor changes. At least the new Flash Gordon series is honest and doesn't waste time gussying up the Mongo people. If you can't make your aliens look cool, then just don't bother.