'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace'

With Memorial Day weekend awaiting, my thoughts turn toward the military and the brave men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. On a less serious note, whenever I think of the military and how it's portrayed in science fiction movies, I think of the weapons that are used In combat.

In scenarios that are set in the present day, the weapons that draw attention are the ones employed by aliens. That's a sad thought, since it conveys the belief that advanced civilizations will still spend a dismaying amount of time fighting one another. In future scenarios, the weapons could be anything -- but they tend to be ones that look familiar, even if they sound more like something out of Flash Gordon.

1. Lightsaber from Star Wars
From the first moment a lightsaber hummed to life, it was bound for the unofficial hall of fame of sci-fi weapons. Described by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) as "an elegant weapon for a more civilized age," it springs from a modest-sized handle to its full length near-instantaneously, the distinctive hum only hinting at its dangerous potential. The "traditional" model introduced in the original trilogy saw an upgrade in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, as depicted above. Not only were the lightsabers themselves created digitally for the first time, but Darth Maul sported a wicked-looking dual-blade model of his own devising.

2. Phaser from Star Trek
Gene Roddenberry famously pitched the TV show as "Wagon Train to the stars" and nothing epitomized the idea of a Western in outer space like the trusty hand phaser. The weapon became a kind of catch-all for the original series and the subsequent movies and TV shows, ranging in size from one that rests easily in the palm to ship-mounted versions that are far more deadly. Emerging from the turbulent 60s, perhaps the most positive thing about the phaser is the idea that it can be "set to stun."

'Mars Attacks!

3. Ray Gun Pistol from Mars Attacks!
Based on a series of trading cards (?!), Tim Burton's movie version is an oddball collection of scenes and dialogue; some of it is intentionally stilted,while a multitude of scenes lie flat and inert. Still, it produces a steady stream of giggles and laughs, and the ray gun pistol employed by the Martians is definitely effective, vaporizing human flesh and leaving behind nothing but a skeleton.

4. Martian War Machine from The War of the Worlds
Widely inspirational, the 1953 George Pal production featured flying saucers with craned necks and evil eyes that shot rays of death, disintegrating whatever they touched. Steven Spielberg's remake brought H.G. Wells into the terrorist age, but the original film was just as frightening for its time.

Will Smith in 'Men in Black'5. Noisy Cricket from Men in Black
Ah, yes, that great moment when a bewildering array of weapons is revealed to newly-christened agent Jay (Will Smith). His eyes alight upon what he thinks is the appropriate weapon of mass destruction, but then Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) plops a tiny piece of metal into his hand. Jay is terribly disappointed ... until he sees what the "noisy cricket" can do.

6. Alien Assault Rifle from District 9
The splattery effects of the weapon are sometimes disgusting, as body parts go flying, but the really distinctive thing about the alien arms in District 9 are their reliance on DNA to enable operation. That's what makes the hapless Wikus (Sharlto Copley) so attractive to his human overlords after his arm begins to mutate into a claw.

7. The Monster from Forbidden Planet
Now this monster might not freak you out like it did me when I first saw the movie as a kid, but the combination of an unearthly howl and all the information that's withheld is what made it so scary, from the invisible footprints to its ill-defined outline to its true nature as a weapon.

'Independence Day'8. Alien Spacecraft from Independence Day
Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin took the basic premise of The War of the Worlds and blew it up to monster size. The alien spacecraft, positioned over the major cities of the world, deliver a devastating first punch in the battle for the future of mankind. Billions die, but at least Will Smith's dog survives.

9. Cylon Centurion from Battlestar Galactica
The weapons were very much downplayed throughout the series, even though combat is an ever-present theme. What stood out were the Centurions, updated tin cans from the days of Dirk Benedict and ready for action with fingers that cut like Freddy Krueger and go one step beyond, folding back to reveal projectile weapons.

10. Shotgun from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Obviously we're getting very old school here. Faced with the most advanced killing machine in the world, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), made out of "liquid metal," Ah-nuld resorts to a shotgun, which is surprisingly effective. Obviously, there's a lesson to be learned: No matter where you're going this holiday weekend, don't leave home without your shotgun.

Even more memorable sci-fi weapons are on display at SciFiMovieZone.com, where writer BobLava compiled a great list of hand weapons. What are your picks?