You’ve seen versions of this debate before. It’s doubtful that I offer anything new to the conversation. It’s also doubtful that this fact will keep me from offering anything, though.
I am a fan of both franchises. We exist. We are out here. I know that it is not fashionable to be open-minded about competing fandoms. I guess I am not the fashionable male.
But, the two intellectual properties, worth billions of dollars in multimedia entertainment, are different, and can be compared. I like each for different reasons.
Star Trek premiered on television in 1966. I, like many others of my generation, became a Trekkie through syndication. I was still an infant when the show premiered. I became a fan when it was broadcast in the afternoons when I arrived home from school in the ’70s. I was eight years old when the animated series debuted. I was also an avid consumer of this show. If you had asked me who the Holy Trinity were in those days, I would have said Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
That tripartite relationship defined the show for me, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to explain this. To me, this series was about the relationship of these three very different characters. The stories which highlighted this were the best of the run. In Freudian terms (also not part of my vocabulary at the time), Kirk was the Id, Spock was the Ego, and McCoy was the Super Ego.
The Star Trek universe was the utopian vision of Gene Roddenberry, a universe where man had made his way to the stars. The series showcased an ideal society where all races worked together towards a common goal. Sure, the white male stereotype was still firmly in place, but the crew was more diverse than anything else we were seeing on television at the time, and this was a vision of hope. During the same time that this show was originally airing, civil rights were a topic of much heated interest, both in the courts and on the streets. Roddenberry’s vision of our future was a bright one, where race wasn’t a true divisive issue. Our mandate was one of humanity’s role in the universe of the future, not of any particular race.
Yes, this wasn’t perfectly demonstrated in the original series. White guys still ruled. The women were in miniskirts. And, while the bridge was a representative melting pot, the rest of the cast of the original series never really achieved this appearance.
It’s okay, though. Ideas are powerful, and this show communicated that idea effectively to the young fan who was me. Also, Star Trek piqued my interest in science, in outer space and potential space exploration. It also fed my love of good science-fiction and directed me to all of the science-fiction classic by Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and countless others.
The pervasive popularity of Trek helped Star Wars become a box-office hit in 1977, in my opinion. I paid to see Star Wars because I was a science-fiction fan. I was a science-fiction fan because of Star Trek.
And I loved Star Wars as well. This movie was all spectacle and adventure. The entire franchise, to me, has always been about spectacle and adventure. Science-fantasy more than science-fiction. Star Wars has never been about what is possible through science. It is always about the patently impossible—such as the Force—but it’s overriding mission has always been about entertainment. Star Wars (known as A New Hope since 1981) was a look at what video games would one day become. It was about thrills, chills and narrow escapes. We became attached to the characters in this saga, but my contention is that they were always secondary to setting and event. Star Wars doesn’t invite—or hold up well to—too much deep thought. Relax. It’s just a show.
This is not a negative criticism. I love this about the Star Wars movies. In fact, Lucas made his first big mistake—after the muppet show that was the Ewoks (my opinion)—when he tried to inject too much science into the story. Midichlorians are bullshit. I like the fantasy elements of Star Wars to be unsullied by too much explanation.
This is not to assert that Star Trek is hard science fiction. All of the shows that spun-off from the original series use a lot of technobabble to quickly explain away plot points. The Trek universe contains many elements of science-fantasy as well. The Q-Continuum. Any of the god-like beings that Roddenberry liked to have on the show. Even the concept of warp technology is more fantasy than science. No, Trek is never truly about pure science. It’s about the characters, and it’s about ideas. The action in most of the different series is extremely limited. Some would write this same sentence as a negative comment on the franchise, but I believe that it remains one of its strengths. Star Trek remains less about spectacle than Star Wars, and because of this it is able to resonate on a deeper, more personal level at times.
I find that there is something comforting in the idea of Starfleet. I like the idea of belonging to something bigger than myself, a team of individuals working together towards a common goal. Trek hits these notes with much more force (excuse the pun) than Star Wars ever does. Even with the concept of the Rebel Alliance, the SW universe is all about individual contributions, not team results. Not really.
I have to point out, too, that Star Wars breathed new life into the Trek franchise. Without Star Wars we would never have gotten the Star Trek movie, which in turn begat sequels and television shows. Which, symbiotically, also kept the torch burning for future Star Wars movies. I would argue that they are each indebted to the other.
I am proof that it is possible to be a fan of both properties. I love both Star Trek and Star Wars for what they each bring to the table. Can’t we all just get along?