Both Star Trek and Star Wars have profoundly changed the way science fiction within the United States and other countries has been perceived, and both have their good parts to them, but they also have their bad parts, as well. I’ll start with a chronological standpoint in terms of production, thus focusing first on the original Star Trek series from the late 1960s. As the origin of an entire franchise and the archetype to what some would call modern-day science fiction, the show was outstanding for its age. It showed not just humans from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds working together—and to include a Russian navigator at that time was quite impressive given the Cold War mentality that was present—but aliens working alongside humans. Roddenberry used the show as a sort of political and social outreach for espousing what he believed to be fundamentally core values that should be present within not just the Unite States’ community, or even Earth’s, but within a connected and working galaxy.
Aside from the subtle-yet-not-too-subtle workings of Roddenberry’s beliefs, the show also brought to life the possibility of what Earth could be like in the future—a future without war (for the most part), without poverty, without hardship. A future in which Earth is not just the center (in terms of government positioning) of the Federation, but one of many worlds and species working together for a better society. There were fancy gadgets and technological marvels that seemed as though they were possible to create given enough time—and indeed, we have made tremendous steps toward updating our technology. And, there was conflict, be it moral, ethical, or military, a way to show that even in the 23rd century, humanity still has a way to go.
But, let’s not forget the bad parts. The budget for the show was on a shoe-string, even for a series in the 1960s, and stage designs and props were obviously low-funded to people if they paid attention. The networks tried to cancel the show each year because it didn’t like the reality of it, and the one thing that really got to me was how aliens would exhibit human virtues and sensibilities much of the time, as though humanity was what everyone should aspire to emulate. Add to the fact that when the show went off the air, another live-action appearance of the crew wouldn’t occur for decade, and it’s obvious (to me at least) that for a while people just pushed Star Trek away.
Then came the first Star Wars film in 1977, and everything changed once again. One of the most intense science fiction films at the time, the plot revolved around a struggling rebellion against an evil galactic superpower. It showed tidy classifications of good and evil in which the Rebel Alliance was plainly in the right despite the fact that Galactic Empire had the authority and control, and even those who were slightly bad (Han Solo) found their way to the good side and helped out in the end. The film was a blockbuster success financially (at the time) and was quite popular with several groups of people, but especially with those who were nominally classified as “dorks, nerds, or geeks.”
Unlike Star Trek, Star Wars focused extensively on the concept of conflict and military engagement, but it also brought spirituality (in the form of the Force) center stage without actually calling it a religion, something that Star Trek touched upon, but never fully explored. Star Trek does have some things that Star Wars doesn’t, such as the insatiable need for exploration that I will admit speaks greatly to me as a geek.
The rise of Star Wars helped to propel a resurgence of Star Trek first in the form of movies and then television shows. And, while there were still some problems with the updated version of Trek, the small budget and obviously fake scenery were not among them. Trek evolved, it grew, it became popular for a new generation, and it had offered several things that the original series didn’t.
Likewise, Star Wars has something that Star Trek in general doesn’t have: fighter craft. Yes, the shuttles and runabouts have been utilized as combat craft from time to time in enemy engagements, but they were never solely intended to be such. In fact, the closest thing to a “fighter” that the Star Trek universe has is the Jem’Hadar attack craft or the Defiant-class starships, which both hold more personnel than what a traditional fighter would carry. But, then again, Star Trek has something that Star Wars doesn’t have either: instantaneous matter transportation devices.
There are two major drawbacks I’ve observed within Star Wars that do tend to paint my enjoyment of it in a bad way. The first is the lack of progression for technology. The history of Star Wars has covered, in some fashion or another, more than 25,000 years, and in that entire time, technology doesn’t seem to have advanced much. Sure, ships are faster in interstellar travel, and weapons are more gruesomely efficient, but is that really all that has changed in 25,000 years? Within Star Trek, society as a whole has evolved and advanced extensively and “future” events shown in time travel episodes have shown that it’s continued to do so without being stagnant. So, why can’t Star Wars do that, as well?
The second drawback to Star Wars is that a lot of the characters are human. Granted, in Star Trek a great majority of Federation and Starfleet characters are human, as well, but it is overwhelmingly predominant within Star Wars. Some of the Expanded Universe literature has explained why this is such, but having that in-continuity explanation doesn’t change my dislike of the situation.
But, going back to the fact that I’m both a Star Trek AND Star Wars fan, I’m also a fan of all of the television shows and movies (including the prequel trilogy). There are bad and good things throughout all of them that both make me enjoy and dislike them, but on the whole I like both universes well. There are several books, comics, and games that have an interconnecting overall plot within the Expanded Universe that connects the many facets of Star Wars together, and there are many books with Star Trek—including one written by one of my wife’s favorite authors—that give sometimes conflicting accounts of characters and events and don’t always interconnect with each other (unless part of a specific series of novels). That way, it’s easy for anyone to jump into the books and read away without having to worry about knowing a lot of background of events like one would have to within the Star Wars’ Expanded Universe.
So, there you have it, fellow geeks, the great schism that has predominated our culture since as early as 1977. Just remember, regardless if you’re a “Trekkie” or a “Warrior” (even though there’s no actual colloquial term for a Star Wars fan), you’re going to have to face the fact that both are completely awesome, and both completely suck. So, as George Takei would say, “Fellow Star folks . . .”