There's a lot to be said about this cover, not the least being that I tend to forget that Bob Charrette, much like Paul Jaquays, frequently did illustrations as well as writing and design. There's also the fact that this cover likely represents the first and only time anyone has ever ripped off Battle Beyond the Stars in SF RPG art, as you can see if you compare the alien next to "Chewbacca" with the ones in this image from that Roger Corman film:
Despite that -- or maybe because of it -- I have a great fondness for this cover. It's an unashamedly gleeful cover that amply demonstrates Space Opera's "kitchen sink" approach to sci-fi gaming. It's the polar opposite of the way Traveller portrayed itself and the way many of its most vocal proponents (including myself) presented it to others.
Anyway, looking more carefully at the cover, I noticed something that had somehow eluded me all these years. Charrette's signature on the illustration reads "©82 Charrette after Gene Day." Now, Space Opera was first published in 1980 and lots of the interior artwork of its two rulebooks, not to mention those of its early supplements is by Gene Day (and Jeff Dee). But the only cover I'd ever seen was Bob Charrette's.
Or was it? As it turns out, I probably had seen Gene Day's original 1980 cover before, but hadn't been paying close enough attention to notice. Here's what it looks like:
As is obvious -- except to me, apparently -- the two covers are not identical and quite obviously so. The space girl in Day's original is much less conservatively dressed than Charrette's and her hair color is different (as is her pose). Day's bug alien is replaced with a T-Rex with a blaster and his robot companion and the Boris Karloff lookalike in the bottom left is replaced with a Kzinti wearing more or less the same getup. There are lots of other differences too, if you look carefully, which, as I said, I didn't.
I did some quick digging to find out just why the cover image was changed and I found a link to an interview with Charrette, where he explains the change:
It was a technical issue as I recall. There needed to be a new printing and the original artwork was unavailable, so a new painting needed to be made. Scott liked Gene's piece and I wanted to follow it closely as an homage.Though Charrette doesn't say so, it's possible that the unavailability of Day's original had to do with the artist's unexpected death in 1982 from a heart attack.