From Joyce to Leia: Happy Mother's Day to sci-fi moms we love

Mother's Day is bound to be a little Stranger in Hawkins, Indiana -- not to mention in space, Westworld and Gilead.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
6 min read

Give Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) credit. It wasn't always totally tubular to be a mom in the 1980s. Especially in a creeptastic town like Hawkins, Indiana.


Happy Mother's Day to the mothers of sci-fi, space and tech. There's a special challenge involved with mothering in these wacky worlds, and it goes beyond the regular parenting perennials of diapers and driver's ed. Here, we salute some of the ultramodern moms and the families they founded.

The Stranger mom: Joyce Byers


Joyce Byers is not going to ax you again: Clean up your room.


Throughout the entire first season of Stranger Things, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) seemed like a hot mess. It's no wonder no one in Hawkins, Indiana, believed her crazy babbling about how her Christmas lights were talking to her, or why she had to chop a hole in her walls, or her insistence that the body that was supposed to be her missing son Will wasn't really him. 

But then Joyce and high school pal Chief Hopper (David Harbour) broke into Hawkins National Laboratory, braved the creepy dimension known as the Upside Down, and brought Will home.

Things seemed much happier for Joyce in season 2, thanks in part to nerdy but nice Radio Shack employee Bob Newby (Sean Astin). But Will continued to have medical episodes due to his Upside Down experience, and Joyce showed she'd go to the end of the universe and back again if it meant relieving her son's pain. 

Not every mom could surround her own son with heaters as he begged and pleaded for them to be turned off, but Joyce knew it was the only way to drive the monster dubbed the Mind Flayer out of Will. Maybe it was good she'd struggled so much in life. The bravest mom is the mom with nothing left to lose.

The mom we can't bear to blame: General Leia Organa


"I should've known there was something wrong when he always wanted to go to Grandpa's."


It's tough to think of the sassy princess turned general and not miss actress Carrie Fisher, who died in December 2016 at just 60. We don't know much about Leia as a mother from The Force Awakens, though we do know a lot about her son with Han Solo: Ben, aka Kylo Ren. 

Leia, we love you, but where did you go wrong? At least Anakin can blame his turn to the Dark Side on losing his mother at an early age, but where were you when Ben was subscribing to Sith Lord magazine and dropping out of Jedi Academy to attend Bad Guy Community College? Where was Han, for that matter? OK, never mind. Stuff happens.

Let's just pretend Leia as a mom was every bit as spunky as Fisher in real life, and that Ben was just one of those kids no one could handle.

The badass mom: Ellen Ripley


Ripley wasn't Newt's real mom, but that didn't matter.

20th Century Fox

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has a tragic mom backstory. When she came out of hypersleep in Aliens, her daughter Amanda had died without ever seeing her again. (Trivia: The photo of an elderly Amanda shown to Ripley is Weaver's own mother.) So it's no wonder that when young Newt (Carrie Henn) is in danger, Ripley's mothering instincts kick in and she goes up against the Mother of all Aliens in her power-loader (which you can now buy as a Christmas ornament, because... it's so jolly?)

Ripley, if we ever needed to go up against the fourth-grade bully on the playground, you're the mom we'd want to come stomping off the park bench to put him in his place.

The calm, cool and collected mom: Beverly Crusher

Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) scored big when he landed Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) as his mom. She was a brainy doctor, she was beautiful, and few people in Star Trek: The Next Generation were as rational as well as cool-headed.


Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) had an awesome mom (Gates McFadden) and an incredible place to grow up: the Enterprise-D.

Paramount/CBS Television

It's not like she had an easy life either -- husband Jack was killed on an away mission when Wesley was only 5. She managed, somehow, to juggle both regular mom duties ("Shouldn't you be getting a haircut, Wesley?") and the make-them-up-as-you-go rules that come with raising a son on a starship.

We didn't see much of her with very young Wesley, but she once told Data a story about how she attempted to explain the meaning of life to her son, ending up by realizing it was the journey, the struggle, that mattered, not the reason. Just so happened their journey took place aboard the Enterprise-D.

The mysterious mom: Dana Scully


Children never did well in The X-Files, so it's no surprise motherhood wasn't easy for Dana Scully.


Poor Dana Scully from The X-Files. Motherhood was as mysterious and heart-wrenching for her as one of her supernatural cases with partner Fox Mulder. First, daughter Emily was apparently conceived from Scully's ova while she was abducted, then Emily died tragically as well as early. Later, Scully gave up son William -- whose powers included telekinesis -- for adoption, believing it was the safest thing for him. And it probably was, given the track record of children in The X-Files, but that doesn't mean it was one bit easy for his mom.

The magical mom: Molly Weasley


Molly Weasley didn't have a lot of money, but she had courage and spunk to spare.

Warner Bros.

Poor Harry Potter lost his mother early, and his horrible Aunt Petunia was no substitute. Thankfully, he met Hogwarts classmate Ron Weasley, and Ron's large, red-headed, energetic family that includes mom Molly Weasley (played by Julie Walters in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, above). She didn't have much money to raise her large brood, but she took Harry in like another son without thinking twice.

Molly faced some of the worst situations a mother could in the final chapters of the Harry Potter books, but still she stood up to the evil that threatened them all, taking on the savage Bellatrix Lestrange to save her daughter Ginny. Spoiler: Harry had extra reason to be thankful for that later, when he and Ginny eventually wed, making Molly his mother-in-law.

The Handmaid mom: June Osborne


June wears the red dress as Offred, but her goal is to reunite with daughter Hannah.


Perhaps the most painful part of Hulu's acclaimed The Handmaid's Tale series comes whenever the show flashes back to June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) and her family before the religious war that turned America into Gilead, and forced June and many other women into sexual slavery. Their lives are so normal, filled with school and work, toys and TV, Starbucks runs and friends. The normalcy of their past makes the horrors of Gilead all the more jolting.

June now must go by the name Offred, now-pregnant handmaid to the Commander. So far, she's managed to keep her sanity in part by focusing on her young daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake). She's about to be a mother again, but she knows she won't be allowed to keep and raise this child, so it's Hannah she lives for. Smuggled Polaroids and the occasional glimpse from a car window are just drops of water on the desert of her love for her daughter. Study those determined eyes that are all but hidden under June's red dress and white wings -- she'll either reunite with Hannah some day, or die trying.

The host mom: Maeve Millay


Maeve's memories of another life drove her forward.


In HBO's Westworld, android hosts simply have their personalities rewritten whenever the futuristic theme park desires. But for Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), it wasn't as easy as just applying a mind eraser. Even in her days as Sweetwater's sassy brothel madam, she was distracted by bizarre flashbacks of a time when she seemed to be a simple farmer, trying to protect her young daughter. This may just have been a storyline to the park staff, but it was real as rain to Maeve. Like June in The Handmaid's Tale, she's been thrust into an unwanted role, and not only longs to escape it, but wants her daughter back.

Maeve has already shown she'll walk through hell and back to reunite with her child. She's hopped off an operating table holding her own stomach together, arranged to be strangled by a brothel client, and set herself on fire, all in the hopes of figuring out her place in this weird world.  When or if she'll once again hold her daughter -- or if the girl will even remember her -- remains to be seen, but she'll walk the streets of Westworld, and Shogunworld, or really any world, until she does. What's that you say, Mister Paul Simon? "For the mother and child reunion, is only a motion away."

The webcam mom: April the giraffe


April and her calf Taj were webcam stars before he even arrived.

Animal Adventure Park

OK. she's not a sci-fi mom, but April the giraffe, from Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York, qualifies in the technology and science area of momhood. How would you have liked it, moms of the world, if a camera followed your every last minute of your final months of pregnancy, including the inglorious birth? Viewers even questioned whether April's entire pregnancy was a hoax, just to add insult to injury. 

But happily for April and son Taj, he arrived in 2017 safe and sound and most definitely un-hoaxable. And if you'd like to see how big he's gotten in 2018, the live cam is back up.

First published, May 14, 2017. 
Update, May 11, 2018, at 5 a.m. PT: Adds additional fictional moms. 

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