You may have heard about the recent meme battle between Princess Leia (played by the very interesting Carrie Fisher) and Captain Kirk (played by the equally interesting William Shatner). The battle prize: which is “better,” Star Wars or Star Trek?
It began with a photon torpedo fired from the Enterprise. The warhead contained an anti-Wars payload of roughly one-quarter Mega-grin:
Of course, the Princess fired back on behalf of the Rebel Alliance (who are apparently hiding out in a very deep valley):
I feel I’m qualified to comment…
I’ve been a fan of Star Trek as long as it’s been possible to be a fan of Star Trek. I was a science fiction fan before Star Trek came out, so I was an instant fan when it did. I was in high school at the time, and I’ve remained a life-long fan of the franchise. On DVD, I have every episode ever aired, including the cartoons, plus all the movies (except the last… still debating that). I also own the Blish novelizations, the Foster novelizations and an embarrassing number of the original Trek novels. Full disclosure, I also have assorted blueprints and diagrams, some non-fiction books and a small number of physical items (such as a metal replica of Spock’s IDIC medallion).
I will confess that Star Trek: Voyager is not numbered among these, but that’s an article for another day.
I have also been a fan of Star Wars since the beginning. I saw the first movie (Episode IV) the night it opened. I was in college and had been a science fiction fan for decades by then. I’d seen a long trailer nine months earlier, so I felt like an expectant parent. “The rabbit died… We’re having a really cool science fiction movie, honey!” I had a true version of the trilogy on VHS (to me, there’s only one trilogy in this context… more on that later). Now I have the DVD version (Han shot first, dammit).
Point is, I’ve pretty much been a card-carrying, book- and movie-buying, science fiction fan all my life. And both Star Trek and Star Wars hold very special places in my heart. Those places are near each other in many ways, but they’re also quite far apart in others. And that difference is the point of this article.
Let me cut to the chase: Sorry, Princess, the Captain is right, Trek is way better than Wars.
It does depend on exactly what you consider “better” but Trek wins most ways you look at it. Hands-down in some. In fact, it’s literally not a contest. They’re different things with different goals, so it’s not entirely fair to compare them. But when you do… Trek wins. It’s really not a contest.
Now please understand. This doesn’t mean you can’t like Star Wars way, way more than Star Trek. You’re perfectly free to think that Trek is drek, and Wars is S’mores. Taste and opinion are free to all. The question of “better” requires objective criteria, yardsticks, we can apply to Trek and Wars.
And, full disclosure, I’m more a Trek fan than a Wars fan, but I believe that is because Trek is better (deeper, richer, more engaging for an adult), not vice versa. My argument isn’t biased because I’m a fan; my argument explains why I am a fan!
Fisher mentions special effects, and that’s one place Star Wars does win. The trilogy movies came out in 1977, 1980 and 1983 compared to the first three Trek movies in 1979, 1982 and 1984. And that’s what you really have to compare: three movies to three movies. The old TV series effects were pathetic in comparison, but we’re also talking a gap of nearly ten years and TV versus movies. And you have to admit the later TV shows had pretty good effects for TV. But still, Wars had ground-breaking special effects, so it’s a clear winner in this category!
Now how about everyone’s favorite screen eye-candy, Battle! Enterprise versus the Death Star? On the one hand, we have the battle with Khan, which was pretty good, compared to the space fights from Star Wars. Pretty clear winner here, too.
But what about if they fought each other? What then? A shielded vessel with photon torpedoes, phasers and warp driver against a hollow metal moon? I think the Enterprise takes it easy. On the other hand, the Empire did have a larger army and likely a larger battle fleet. In a war between the Federation and the Empire… tough call. It would be a long battle, I think. Both have energy weapons. But the Federation has shields and transporters and photon torpedos, so I’m betting Federation.
[Besides, if they had to fight the entire Empire they'd probably ally with the Klingons and Romulans. (On the other hand, perhaps all the humans should pitch in and do something about the Borg.)]
Trek has had much more interesting villains than Wars. Darth Vadar is pretty good, and the Emperor is fairly scary, but other than maybe Jabba and a few other lowlifes, that’s about it. Over in Trekworld, we have Khan (of course), Klingons and Romulans, Ferengi, various immortal or hugely powerful beings, and, of course, the Q.
And as Shatner points out, over on the lovely lady side, Wars famously has Princess Leia decked out as a slave girl at Jabba’s. No question, well worth the slober of millions of fan boys. But over on the Trek side…. well, have you seen Trek? Green Orion slave girls, Lt. Uhura, Yoman Rand, Dr. Crusher, Cmdr Troi, Kira, Cmdr Dax… the list goes on and doesn’t even get to the guest stars for a bit. Trek, no contest.
Robots, however, seem more evolved on the Wars side. The primary exhibits being 3CP0 and R2D2. Trek does have Commander Data, who is a unique being (more or less). The ship’s computer is pretty good, but no 3CP0.
Technology-wise, I guess light sabres are cool, but I’ve always thought they were pretty stupid in a world with energy weapons. I don’t care how tuned into The Force you are, there’s a reason sword-fighting went away when guns became common. (Yes, I know it still exists and can be useful, but my point is go watch the first Indiana Jones movie.)
Trek has much more canonical coverage than Wars. When you come right down to it, Star Wars comprises six movies–some would say three. Maybe we can throw in an animated series. The Star Trek canon, on the other hand, comprises eleven movies and 28 seasons among five TV series (the animated series is not considered canonical).
And finally, here’s the real crux as far as I’m concerned: Trek was about stuff. Trek always (well, almost always, at least in the beginning) had a moral or a point. Star Wars, for all its fun, is just a fairy tale. “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away” is a direct analog of “Once upon a time.” And you’ve got a princess, magicians, people fighting with swords, and the whole thing pretty much wraps up with, “And they all lived happily every after.”
I think, too, that Trek is more adult than Wars. Just consider the ages of the fans of each. Small kids love Wars, because it’s easily accessible to small kids. Trek really isn’t. Or wasn’t, anyway. Modern Trek may not be quite as adult as “your father’s Trek.”
So there it is. Kirk wins again.
By the way, regarding those other three Star Wars movies… Comedian Brian Posehn put it best when he said that it’s a bit like having your favorite uncle come into your bedroom at night and put his penis on your face. Sums it up exactly, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s another point in Trek‘s favor. As much as I disregard Voyager, it’s not the violation that those other three movies were.
I sometimes wonder if maybe no one had the balls to say to the great George Lucas, “Yo, George! What the hell are you doing? This is crap!!” (I kind of wonder the same thing about the great Frank Miller and his Dark Knight Strikes Again… minimalism, fine, but ugh, yuck, blech.)
But these are all topics for another time!