This is the 34th post in a daily series. Read about it here and see the list of previous posts here. A new post about “Star Wars” will be posted every day for 40 days leading up to the franchise’s 40th birthday on May 25th.
There’s a scene in the 2009 reboot of “Star Trek” where the crew of the Enterprise looked out over a wreckage of ships. If you paused at the right moment, you could see R2-D2 floating among the debris.
The moment is quick, and easy to miss. But the inclusion of the beloved droid officially tied together the two most iconic science fiction franchises in film and TV history.
Not that we hadn’t already been connecting a galaxy far, far away to where no one had gone before. Ever since “Star Wars” came out in 1977, it has been compared and contrasted to “Star Trek.”
This seems to make sense on the surface: both are set in space with fast ships and multiple species that speak multiple languages. And hey, they both have “Star” in the title. But it doesn’t take Yoda-like reflection to see that the comparisons end there.
The myriad incarnations of “Star Trek,” be it on TV or in film, have revolved around crews in space. Many of those crews — though not all — were on the Starship Enterprise. The crew has changed multiple times, but the Enterprise has remained a recurring setting. The crews travel throughout space and encounter a variety of different groups and cultures. Some are friends, some are enemies, and some are enemies who become friends.
In contrast to this vision of a melting pot in space is “Star Wars,” which portrays space as the setting for a fairytale-flavored battle between good and evil. There have been a few different players, be it the Republic against the separatists, the Jedi against the Sith, the rebels against the Empire, or the Resistance against the First Order. But in “Star Wars,” the conflict is clear cut: there are the altruistic good guys with good intentions working to thwart the self-interested villains who have no regard for anything but amassing power and harming others. In the pantheon of “Star Wars” the demarcation of what’s good and what’s evil often pits family members against each other.
These are simplified summaries of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” but these descriptions do enough to show that “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are not compatible in theme. Nor are they similar in their formats. “Star Trek” started out as a TV show, which then spawned a movie franchise. “Star Wars” inspired some TV shows, but those haven’t had nearly the same impact as the movies. They are beloved by devoted nerds, but unheard of to the more casual fans.
But in the realm of science fiction franchises that have had huge influences on pop culture, “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are the two defining heavyweights. Or to reference another pair of often-compared entities, “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are The Beatles and The Rolling Stones of science fiction. There are those who would argue “Star Wars” is not science fiction.
But despite the differences between the two franchises, that hasn’t stopped fans from comparing them and debating which one is better. There are several lists that explain why “Star Wars” is better…
- 19 Obvious Reasons Why ‘Star Wars’ Is Better Than ‘Star Trek’
- 23 reasons Star Wars is better than Star Trek
- 50 Reasons why Star Wars is Better than Star Trek
- 22 Reasons why Star Wars is better than Star Trek
- 4 Reasons ‘Star Wars’ Is Better Than ‘Star Trek’
- 10 Reasons why Star Wars is better than Star Trek
And several that list the reasons why “Star Trek” is superior to “Star Wars.”
- 20 reasons Star Trek is better than Star Wars
- Why Star Trek is better than Star Wars
- 7 Reasons Why Star Trek is Better than Star Wars
- 10 Reasons Why Star Trek Is Better Than Star Wars
- 10 reasons ‘Star Trek’ is better than ‘Star Wars’
And then there’s a list that tries to extol the merits of each, though the writer seems to end on conceding that “Star Wars” is better.
The lists that put “Star Wars” above “Star Trek” cite lightsabers, better ships, special effects, better music, and timeless mythology. The pieces that say “Star Trek” is better argue that the science of “Star Trek” is more accurate, the casts are more diverse, the large canon has several entry points, and in a low blow, “Star Trek” doesn’t have Jar Jar.
It’s not just the fans who have gotten in on the debate. George Takei and William Shatner have both said “Star Trek” was superior, with Shatner going as far to say “Star Wars” was “derivative.”
Carrie Fisher, of course, was not having any of Shatner’s shit.
But a College Humor video might be the most on the mark in identifying the flaws in each franchise. The video portrayed a round of smack talk between Captain Picard and Darth Vader.
In other words, it’s pointless to compare the two. If you want to find weak links and errors, you can find plenty in each franchise. It’s just that each franchise has different priorities.
The science of “Star Trek” might be more accurate and more sophisticated in its explanation, but that’s also because “Star Trek” had a different audience. George Lucas has admitted he made his movies for 12-year-olds, which is why he focused more on the story arcs rather than the specific details. Which is not to say that “Star Trek” has been all talk and no plot. It’s just that the battles in “Star Trek” were more psychology-driven than effects-driven. Which is fine for most of the nerds who watch “Star Trek,” because those nerds were anal-retentive enough to be able to tell you all the reasons why the loud explosions in “Star Wars” were unrealistic.
“Star Trek” fans can poke holes in the science of “Star Wars,” but scientific accuracy was never the point. When discussing the inspiration behind “Star Wars,” Lucas spoke at length about Joseph Campbell, Kirosawa, westerns, and “Flash Gordon.” Properly portraying the principles of physics and chemistry seemed unimportant to a story that was first and foremost about the battle between good and evil. Whether or not a laser could actually have a finite length and a dense thickness is the least of the nitpicks for a world where a green creature with big ears can use his mind to lift things. If you’re still hung up on the science of lightsabers and hyperdrives, I’d love to be with you when you watch the cantina scene or the sand barge scene. Tell me how those tentacled freaks are scientifically unlikely to be able to speak a language that could be understandable to humans, you hairsplitting asshole.
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Actually, the release of SoulCalibur IV (PS3/Xbox 360) a year earlier, in 2008, connected Star Wars and Star Trek, as I explain here:
Okay, so it’s a matter of “six degrees of separation”, without regard for the precise continuities for some of the elements in between. But I still think it’s a bit more solid than the R2-D2 appearance, which is meant to be nothing other than an Easter egg.