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‘Star Wars’ vs. ‘Star Trek’: A Perplexing Debate

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Star Wars vs. Star Trek: it’s one debate I’ve never quite understood. Next Generation vs. Enterprise vs. Star Trek Classic–now that’s an argument worth having, and it’s understandable. Just like the one between those who love the original films (read episodes IV, V, VI) of the Star Wars Franchise vs. those (of dubious taste, sorry) who prefer the newer three.Star Trek

I suppose I’ve just shown my stripes, at least to the Star Wars crowd. I’m definitely a Star Wars original sort of girl. I also favor Star Trek Classic, but I’ve really enjoyed what J.J. Abrams has done to reboot the classic television series into a terrific movie franchise. I believe that reboot movies have captured what was great about the series and its characters.

For the record, I love both franchises, and to me, they are completely mutually exclusive. To compare them is to compare cantaloupe and scrambled eggs (and no, it’s not a metaphor!).

Star Trek was one of my earliest television addictions. I was but a wee young girl, but every week, I’d be right there along with Spock, Uhura, James T. Kirk, Bones, and the rest. I was fascinated by Mr. Spock, and he was probably the cause of my Star Trek addiction. But famously logical Spock represented a generation that questioned everything, challenged everything. From his hyper-objective point of view, he was able to point out the ills of Earthly society.han and chewie

The show was performed the classic science fiction task of providing social commentary in a way that no ’60s network television series really could. Like the anthology sci-fi series The Twilight Zone, Star Trek could tackle the difficult social and political subjects of the time: race, war, oppression, prejudice of all sorts without rankling the advertisers.

Star Wars is a classic tale of another sort. Painted in broad strokes of good vs. evil, Star Wars is the quintessential Campbellian quest story. The story’s simple outlines trace the hero’s journey: his allies, guides, the trigger that compels an otherwise normal, happy individual out of his comfort zone to take a stand and do great things. Though nominally, the story is Luke Skywalker’s heroic journey, the early trilogy gives us another journey, equally (or perhaps more) compelling, and infinitely more interesting. Han Solo’s journey from sly brigand to romantic hero is catnip.

starwarsStar Wars is space opera–an old fashioned romp. Fun, scary, great entertainment. (I refer only to the original three, not the prequel sequel.)  You can make the argument that Star Trek, too, is space opera. Gene Rodenberry, the creator of the series often noted that he’d pitched Star Trek as a Western in outer space. And it is, with Captain Kirk as Wyatt Erp at the helm, keeping peace in among the Federation and occasionally providing the muscle against the bad guys, whether they’re Klingon or Romulan.

But great writing (noted sci-fi writers Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon are among the credited writers in the series’ three-year run) made Star Trek into something more. (Although, it should be stated, that many of the numerous Western-genre ’60s television series also tackled modern problems in a way that standard TV fare could not.)

I enjoy Star Trek and Star Wars for different reasons. Star Wars has the big effects, the Romantic (with a capital “R”) quest and a practically Shakespearean family conflict. It has the heroic Han Solo, a furry crossbow-bearing sidekick (okay, wouldn’t it be cool to see Chewie and The Walking Dead‘s Daryl Dixon in a crossover crossbow tournament?), smart and badass robots, and a happy ending.

Star-Trek movieStar Trek tells a story of a future world in which we all seem to work together here on Earth and among allied planets–as fantastical a concept in the ’60s during the height of the cold war as it would be here in the 21st Century. A setting in which aliens, however foreign they may look to us Earthlings, are intelligent (maybe more intelligent than we are–cue shock and horror), and a place in which all of our swords have been turned into plowshares (except for those phaser weapons) to pool our world’s resources to explore the cosmos.

The franchises could not be more different; besides the sci-fi, outer space thing, they are from different sci-fi genre planets. There is room for both, and I am looking forward to Star Wars Chapter VII (with its reunification of the original band!) as much as I am looking forward to Star Trek (reboot) #3.

I know some people worry that with J.J. Abrams now at the helm of both movie franchises, the two film series will converge and merge, becoming indistinguishable. I don’t think that’s a worry. Each has its distinctive feel–and template. I really like what Abrams did with Trek, and I think he has every chance to reinvigorate Star Wars to make it once again memorable, carrying forth from Return of the Jedi. Or am I just an eternal optimist?

What do you think? Are you Star Trek, Star Wars…or are you like me and love ’em both?

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Jerome Wetzel

    I think some of the debate stems from the fact that they both hit movie theaters around the same time. Star Wars went to the big screen first, and many of their fans discovered science fiction through them. Star Trek existed first, and Trekkies got jealous of the attention. Though we do owe a bit of gratitude to Star Wars because without it we would have gotten another television show, Star Trek Phase II, instead of the classic crew’s films, which may not have spawned everything else that came after it.

    In the end, though, I think Star Trek is smarter. It raises real issues and makes us think. It’s allegory and science and an optimistic view of mankind. Star Wars is fun, but it’s also nothing original, a formulaic retelling of what may be the oldest narrative, and it’s just an enjoyable adventure.