It happens all the time. Some dude who probably shouldn’t be wearing a skintight jumpsuit and some other dude wearing the slightly more flattering bathrobe/pajama ensemble cross paths — usually at a comic book convention, but it could happen at 7-11, too — and they instantly start berating the others’ choice of fandaemonium. This could lead to Cheetohs-stained fisticuffs, but most likely the kerfuffle will end before anyone gets too hurt. Just a mutually shared rib cramp and shortness of breath, possibly some bruised feelings. Yes, the battle between Star Trek and Star Wars is a long one and waged, usually, only by its hardest of hardcore adherents. But sometimes, very rarely, the people who actually engage in the production of the movies and TV shows go at it. And it’s no less embarassing for them than it is for those of us who watch it transpire.
For some strange reason, 2011 turned out to be one of those times. It started with William Shatner, the second captain of the Enterprise but the first Captain Kirk, pointlessly (and a little sexistly) belittling Star Wars to a confused interviewer. This was followed-up by Carrie Fisher, the one and only Princess Leia, taking up arms and blasting Star Trek and Shatner right back. At this point, The Shat began to take things personally and it started to become much less funny. Thankfully, George Takei, who portrayed the oft-shirtless fencing Sulu in “Star Trek” and the movies that followed, stepped in and tried to broker a peace between the two forces.
Here’s Takei’s solution:
Perfectly reasonable. Even rational. And it seemed as if the two sides had laid down their weapons and decided to co-exist in this great big galaxy of washed-up Hollywood stars. All was quiet until Shatner retaliated against his own former crewman, and now it’s a just a matter of time before some loses an eye. But this whole argument is silly. Star Trek is obviously better than Star Wars, just as Star Wars is clearly better than Star Trek.
Don’t believe me that both statements can be equally true? Take a gander below to prove yourself wrong. And, just to be clear on our terms, I’m only referring to the original productions and the original casts, except where otherwise noted. Only the 1960s “Star Trek” TV series, the six movies starring that cast, and the first Star Wars trilogy matter in this debate.
Star Trek has…
Of all the fantastical sci-fi technology in either Star Trek or Star Wars, having the ability to instaneously travel from one point to another trumps all the rest in terms of We Need This Nowness. Interstellar travel is great and all, but teleportation is the dream of every working person stuck in rush hour traffic. Not even lightsabers (more on them later) are handy when there are miles of automobiles ahead of you. Plus, while there have been a few transporter mishaps throughout the years, it’s still statistically safer than cars. Beam me up, already.
…Real World Concerns!
Starting from the very beginning, Star Trek was about more than epic space battles and laser gun fights with aliens; it also reflected the contemporary reality in which it was made. It made us hopeful for the future while looking directly at where we were as a country and as a race of people, critiquing where necessary. And sometimes, as was the case with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — itself a thinly veiled storyline about the ending of the Cold War — the political commentary was also incredibly entertaining. The only commentary Star Wars could manage was a simplistic, “Empires are bad, m’kay?”
Environmentalist Ideals Whales!
Alongside the “current events” component, Gene Rodenberry always infused his galactic western with a clear environmentalist streak. This is no more obvious than in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where the fate of the Earth is at stake unless Kirk and the Enterprise crew can save the entire species of humpback whales. Silly? Yes. Fun? Of course. But the message was clear: We have to save Earth today to protect it from tomorrow. You won’t get anything remotely that consequential in Star Wars.
Okay, so, there was never any actual onscreen sex in Star Trek or Star Wars, but sexuality and romantic entanglements were very common in the former and almost completely absent from the latter. Whether or not you think of Captain James Tiberius Kirk as a Space-Whore just dripping with Space-STDs, it’s impossible to deny that his affairs of the heart weren’t charming in the televisual sense. But every main character in “The Original Series” had a love/lust subplot at some point, showing just how human we’ll still be in the future. Even when practically everything else is perfect, our relationships will still be messy, and that’s exactly how we wanrt it. I’m fairly certain sex doesn’t even exist in Star Wars and that everyone reproduces through cloning or osmosis.
Star Wars may always be the one breaking new ground in special effects, but Star Trek always seemed to be the one to actually affect the larger culture in some way. Perhaps its greatest achievement was showcasing a group of people from different racial and national backgrounds working together for the common good. Whites, blacks, Russians, Japanese, women, and even aliens from other worlds can join forces for the betterment of everybody, and this was in the midst of the Cold War, in the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement, and when women were still mostly relegated to homemaker status. Just seeing these faces on television, week after week for three years, had to have subconsciously changed how people viewed the world — especially with younger generations. Outside of Lando Calrissian and Princess Leia there are no people of color or the non-male gender who make a lick of difference in Star Wars.
But Star Trek had a hero for everyone. Well, except homosexuals, sadly, unless George Takei counts…
This continued in “The Next Generation”…
“Deep Space Nine”…
And reached its zenith in “Voyager” with a female captain, a Native American first officer, a Korean ensign, a black Vulcan security officer, and a half-Klingon/half-Latina chief of engineering.
The diversity was seen outside of the main casts, as well, with each ship or space station populated by every color of the rainbow — almost literally. Meanwhile, even factoring in the prequels, Star Wars is whiter than a GOP fundraising dinner in the middle of a winter snow storm. No, Wookies and Twi’leks do not count.
Okay, okay, okay. That’s all fine and dandy like sarlacc candy, but Star Wars has…
Both Star Trek and Star Wars have laser guns (phasers and blasters) and faster-than-light travel (warp and hyper drives), and while Trek has teleporters, only Wars has the coolest weaponry since the advent of the trebuchet. Photon torpedoes will never be as exciting to watch as even the most staid lightsaber duel. While Obi-Wan may have been full of shit when he called the lightsaber a weapon for a “more civilized age,” he was absolutely right in feeling like just owning one made him a badass. Even when Jedi run rampant, they’re the only ones who get to wield the suckers, and when he and Yoda are the only two left, that automatically makes them better than the rest of us. Well, better than everybody but the next entry.
Oh, sure, both series have their memorable villains, but when people think of Star Trek and Star Wars, all other pretenders get pushed to the side and we’re left with either Khan Noonian Singh or Darth Vader as the biggest dicks in the universe. Khan is great, both scheming and physically threatening, and he nearly brings the Enterprise to utter ruin in a matter of hours. But he doesn’t have the power, the pathos, or the panache of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Vader is more menacing standing there breathing than most villains are when giving their big, culminating speeches detailing how evil they’re supposed to be. Vader never did that. If wielding a lightsaber is cool, consider him Miles Davis. Plus, nobody has a better theme song. In short: He’s the best bad guy of all time.
…The Millennium Falcon!
And Han Solo’s smuggling vessel is the best space ship of all time. Personally, I never cottoned to the idea that people in Star Wars thought the Millennium Falcon was a piece of junk suitable only for a scruffy-looking nerf herder. After all, it’s the fastest ship in the galaxy (made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, which being a measure of distance, also means it contains magical properties) and has enough room to store your cargo, contraband, or crew as needed. The Falcon, you might have heard, also destroyed, or helped destroy, two Death Stars. Now, if I had to put money down, I’d still take any version of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 in a fracas amongst the stars, but you don’t get to keep that baby when the battle is over. You merely serve on it with a thousand other crew members. But the Millennium Falcon is yours, and she’s got it where it counts.
And we’re not talking about that “midichlorian” bullshit, either. The Force need only be, as Obi-Wan states in A New Hope: “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” And as Yoda clarified in The Empire Strikes Back: “A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.” Basically, that means in Star Wars, Marty McFly’s catchphrase of “if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything” is absolute fact and not simply representative of misplaced 1980s optimism. That it works both ways — light and dark, good and evil — makes application of the Force one of the few Big Questions that Star Wars lets it’s audience ask that Star Trek almost never does. Which way would you go? Would you follow the path of the Jedi, or submit to the easier charms of the Sith? Would you be the Emperor or Luke Skywalker? It’s a moral dillemma that the first trilogy actually handles in a fairly mature way, even if the right answer is fairly obvious. But it’s so very easy to be tempted, and to understand why people like Vader fall.
…The Rule 63 Cosplay!
Because the original trilogy only has one female character of any import, and she appeared as a slave in metal underwear (appealing to at least two of the male Star Wars nerd’s deviant fantasies), many ladies dress up as Princess Leia at conventions. Many, many, many ladies. So many that, no matter how attractive a young lady may be while wearing the barely-there costume, they no longer register to the convention weary fan. It’s enough that the classic white cloak with cinammon buns look is practically inspired. The same is also true for gals who dress up as Federation officers from the original Trek — one can only see so many red mini-skirts so often before one wonders why they even bothered if they really wanted the attention that all cosplayers painfully seem to need.
But occasionally women find ways to make characters in Star Wars much more interesting (re: sexier) than they were likely ever intended. Like Lady Storm Troopers…
Lady Boba Fett…
…and, naturally, Lady Darth Vader.
This just isn’t as fun in Star Trek, where women are, and always have been, aplenty. So, for once, George Lucas’ inability to write women has achieved some measure of good. Of course, it really just means that people besides Lucas himself have once again improved on his concepts.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter which you like most. Star Trek vs. Star Wars? Eh, I’m with Sulu. Let’s call the whole thing off and hate on Twilight as one. It’s too easy not to! Someone else already had the bright idea of bringing the two timeless spacefaring universes together, and I don’t see any reason to argue with this particular union.
How about you?
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, and his ware can be purchased here (if you’re into that sort of thing). He’s pretty sure that since that calendar was shot by a woman it isn’t sexist, but he’d believe it if someone said otherwise.