The final chapter in the Skywalker saga is currently playing in theatres and geeks all over the planet are queuing up to watch it (probably dressed in brown robes while wielding plastic light sabres.) I’ll admit the Star Wars movies are entertaining, but they haven’t influenced society in the same way as that other great sci-fi franchise of the last 50 years.
In my humble opinion, Star Trek is vastly superior and inspires hope in a way that Star Wars fails. Here’s why I think Star Trek kicks Star Wars‘ butt.
Hope vs inevitable disaster
The opening of Star Trek is a message of hope. When Star Wars opened in 1977, it was a story of war.
The Star Trek opening:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!
Compare that to the opening scroll from Star Wars: A New Hope:
Episode IV, A NEW HOPE It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….
Star Trek has always been about inspiring humanity to move forward. Star Wars, on the other hand, has been a story of turmoil and conflict, interspersed with short periods of calm.
One inspires hope, the other tells us that no matter how hard good tries, the bad guys always come back.
Star Trek’s bridge crew in the 1960s was amazing. People of colour and different ethnicities working together for a common goal. And the inclusivity didn’t stop with humans. Spock wasn’t human and yet was seen as just another crew member.
It’s true that Star Wars has included lots of alien species. But most have been window dressing or bit parts – like the band at the Cantina or members of the crew on various ships. Tellingly, the first Star Wars movie was an all-white cast, discounting the disembodied voice of Darth Vader. It has been suggested that Billy Dee Williams was cast as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back in an attempt to diffuse these criticisms.)
In more recent years, Star Wars has evolved with characters like Rose and Finn taking strong roles but it’s taken a long time for Lucasfilm to catch up. The exception here is obviously Princess Leia. Despite the infamous bikini scene in Jabba’s palace, Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Leia is one of the few shining lights in the first few films.
In contrast, Star Trek has had female commanders and senior officers since the start. In the unaired Star Trek pilot, The Cage, the first officer is a woman (with the role reprised in the more recent Star Trek: Discovery series which has a female lead character). We have many Star Fleet captains and admirals (Voyager’s leader, Captain Janeway, is widely regarded as one of the best captains across all the Star Trek media).
More recently, openly gay characters have been portrayed. In the recent Christopher Pine led reboots, the character of Sulu was ret-conned to be gay although the original actor, George Takei, wasn’t happy about it. The new Star Trek: Discovery TV series has openly gay characters.
In contrast, Star Wars has almost completely avoided representing LGBQTI+ characters.
TV’s first interracial kiss, in the Star Trek original series’ third season episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” the show broke taboos and new ground.
In the late 1990’s during season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, security chief Tasha Yar and the android Data established that he was “fully functional” and “programmed in multiple techniques”.
Looking back through the nine good Star Wars movies and Solo, I’m hard pressed to think of a single time those movies did something really unexpected and designed to challenge us.
Dealing with big issues
Star Trek rarely shirked big issues.
Even in the original series, there was a look at how Christianity was evolving on an alien planet in the episode “Bread and Circuses” Aside from the inter-racial kiss, we’ve seen different series deal with the question of what humanity really is. For example, “The Measure of a Man” from season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation remains a benchmark in thought-provoking television.
Right through Star Trek: Deep Space 9, there was an ongoing tension between religion, spirituality and science as the three were intertwined. And while the conclusion of that series was quite unsatisfying in resolving the tension, it never shirked the issues.
Through many of the Star Trek missions with the original cast, there were sojourns exploring Vulcan mysticism. In contrast, Star Wars simplifies the universe into those who believe in The Force, those who embrace the Dark Side (the Sith and its followers) and agnostics personified in Han Solo.
That’s hardly a nuanced view of the world.
Inspiring the future
Star Trek has inspired generations of scientists and engineers.
When the first flip-phones were created (I still have some affection for the Ericsson handset I used in the early 2000s) they were modelled on the communicators used by Kirk and his crew.
The idea of transporters has inspired scientists to find ways to transport molecules. That’s happening over very small distances but it’s happening.
Perhaps the great hope from Star Trek comes from how seeking to understand and communicate can be a path to peace. Can you remember a moment when the good guys and bad guys in Star Wars try to negotiate?
Star Trek points us to future where conflict may be inevitable but doesn’t have to lead to war. There’s even an agreed demilitarised region of space, the Neutral Zone, where the feuding Federation and Klingon Empire agree to a buffer in order to avoid conflict.
Star Wars seems to always lead to one side or the other losing with massive number of casualties.