1
$\begingroup$

A MacGuffin is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/super-weapon that everyone in the story is chasing.

I have an idea for a story in a space opera setting where multiple empires fight over who controls a planet.

  • There are multiple space-faring empires, each one controlling a couple star systems.
  • Someone discovers a new habitable planet (must be habitable because I want colonists to settle on it).
  • There is something awesome about that planet which makes all the empires want to control it.
  • The empires can't or don't want to share, even with their closest allies.
  • Those who have no chance to control it want to destroy it or at least make it uninhabitable to deny it to their enemies.
  • That something awesome about the planet doesn't provide an advantage which makes it notably easier to defend the planet against the other empires, nor does denying it to the other empires stop them from being a threat. Still everyone wants it.

In other words, the planet is a MacGuffin. Everyone wants it, but the reason why they want it has not much effect on the plot.

What could that something awesome be?

$\endgroup$
7
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The thing about MacGuffins is that the specifics don't matter. You're asking about the specifics for your MacGuffin, which by their very nature can be anything. That makes this question extremely broad. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Jan 9 '18 at 20:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree, this answer is opinion based. There could be any number of possible answers. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 9 '18 at 21:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your questions sort of forms an oxymoron in that you don't want the thing making the planet special be relevant to the plot, yet the plot seems to revolve around that planet and the fighting over it. $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jan 9 '18 at 21:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ If you need to ask the question, then you have already over-thought the MacGuffin. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 9 '18 at 22:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Every answer would be valid because you are looking for the name of a plot-device. You can't compare answers against each other, each one would be exactly equally valid, except that @Philipp might prefer one or the other because he thinks it sounds cooler. You could just go through existing sci-fi universes as some answers already do and name them. Therefore I am voting to close this question as "Primarily Opinion-based". $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jan 10 '18 at 13:39
6
$\begingroup$

I think Avatar solved this problem for you. Just fill the planet with a super-rare mineral that can't be synthesized elsewhere, and have it be indispensable for innumerable unspecified applications. Don't forget to give your near-unobtainable mineral a really creative name, like Hardtogetium!

$\endgroup$
2
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ +1 - though it doesn't need to be impossible to synthetize anywhere else... It just has to be prohibitively costly do do so, while being cheap to mind in that specific planet. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jan 9 '18 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ call it Macguffinum $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jan 10 '18 at 15:54
6
$\begingroup$

This is an almost perfect description of the planet Arrakis, also known as...

Dune.

Frank Herbert invents a 'spice' known as Melange on the planet. It's not so much a spice as a drug that alters consciousness. Because all computers have been wiped out via a Jihad against 'thinking machines' several centuries earlier, humans have evolved specialisations to take the place of what the machines used to do. They rely on the Spice which is found in only one place; Dune.

In effect, this drug can't help you protect the planet but makes everyone want to control it. Provided you have a 'useful' drug that can only be grown on Planet MacGuffin, you're all set.

In terms of being willing to destroy it, unlike Dune you don't want all space transport etc. to be dependent on this substance, but it could (for instance) give a huge benefit to scientific research by accelerating activity in the cerebral cortex or something. Many governments who saw competing governments get an opportunity to accelerate their technological development by (say) 2 orders of magnitude would be extremely concerned about the future capabilities of such a nation and would be willing to take that opportunity out of play if they could.

$\endgroup$
0
4
$\begingroup$

Thinking about some examples from existing literature, so that you may use those as a source of inspiration. You may also mix one or more of these.

  • It has artifacts from some obscure lost civilization or organization, which hold mysterious secrets and tremendous power of some sort (Creeper World, Dancing With Eternity, Deadlock, Master of Orion, Spore, Starcraft, Star Wars: Jedi Academy);

  • It has some unique material that is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to assemble, replicate or build anywhere else. See Tim B's answer and Nuclear Wang's answer for more details (Avatar's Pandora, Dune);

  • There is some database on it which contains data which is not backed up anywhere else, and that data is too important or threatening to one or more important organizations (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars: Rogue One);

  • The most dangerous criminals in the universe are locked up there. Usually the prison is a space station or some kind of dimension, but a planet will do. In the Green Lantern's lore, there is an actual prison planet (DC Comics' Green Lanterns' prison planet, DC comics Negative Zone, the prison station in Guardians of the Galaxy);

  • It is the base for some super mad villain (Magneto's Avalon);

  • The planet or its ecosystem is practically an actual living being with tremendous powers (Mogo the Living Planet is a member of the Green Lantern Corps, the Overmind in Starcraft, the planet-covering Fungus in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri);

  • The planet is the seat of a powerful government or coallition (Star War's Coruscant, the Citadel in Mass Effect);

  • The planet is an important trade node or part of a route (the Citadel in Mass Effect, Star Wars' Taanab).

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

An Alien Device of Unknown Nature and Origin

To stay within the MacGuffin definition, it should not actually affect the plot, so it either cannot be used during the story, or has no tangible benefit.

Enter the ADoUNaO: There's only one in known space, it's huge and can't be moved. It could be a weapon, a gateway to other stars or dimensions, an archive of super-advanced science and technology or even the fountain of youth.

Everybody has their own theory, but it'll takes years if not decades of research to figure it out, and whoever finally does might control the galaxy!

$\endgroup$
1
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps make the device an abandoned alien building/city/whole civilization - this means there's a lot to explore and likely a very long time before anything practical comes out of it, and it also makes the ADoUNaO unquestionably immovable... $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Jan 10 '18 at 11:37
1
$\begingroup$

A habitable planet

Maybe the reason the planet is so desirable is simply that it is habitable and habitable planets are rare in your universe.

That would appear to fit all your criteria, if habitable planets are so rare then all of your empires would be desperate to claim it. You could even say it's a planet that happens to be habitable my members of all the empires if you don't want habitable planets alone to be rare (though that of course requires that each race is relatively similar but has enough differences that they couldn't live on most planets together).

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.