Monday, April 19, 2010
Star Trek Versus Star Wars
Karen: The age -old super-geek question has finally arrived at Bronze Age Babies: Star Trek or Star Wars?
Both are long-lived, highly successful, and beloved by millions. They have been extremely profitable for their respective owners as well. But although they share a few similarities, such as both having spaceships and aliens in them, they are very different beasts.
Star Trek -at least the initial TV series - gave us hour-long morality plays. Creator Gene Roddenberry and his colleagues used the framework of science fiction to make statements about modern man. Yes, there was action and thrills, but at it's heart the show was about how human beings deal with problems.
Star Wars on the other hand was the recasting of ancient archetypes -the young knight, the wizard - in a space fantasy guise. Star Wars excelled at presenting a story on an epic scale.
When you come right down to it, there's very few similarities between the two, which is why I've always thought this was an unfair comparison. I also happen to love them both, for very different reasons, so I am loathe to pit the two against each other. But this is Versus, so we must throw them in the ring and make them fight to the death (insert Star Trek fight music theme here).
So let's look at some important aspects of the two and see who fares better. Our pal Doug is sitting this one out, as he hasn't seen much Star Trek -shocking, I know, but he's still a good person (Yeah, but I'm all in when we get to discussing I Dream of Jeannie versus Bewitched... -- Doug).
Characters: Star Trek's characters, particularly the holy trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, seem far better realized than those of Star Wars. While I have a great fondness for Luke Skywalker and the story of his growth from callow lad to stalwart hero, he and the other Star Wars characters are primarily archetypes with little real personality. The crew of the Enterprise are far more human, with admirable qualities and flaws alike. The second Star Trek film, Wrath of Khan, does a wonderful job in showing us how our heroic Capt. Kirk is as human as anyone when dealing with aging. Spock's character development has been phenomenal; he went from a conflicted man who tried to deny and even eliminate the emotional aspect of his self, to a man who eventually would integrate his two parts and be the better for it. So this round goes to Trek.
Special Effects: This one is a no-brainer: Star Wars has always had the better effects. Even the Trek movies can't compare to the Star Wars films. I still get tingles when I watch Star Wars and see the opening scene with Princess Leia's blockade runner, pursued by the gigantic Imperial Star destroyer, passing overhead, seemingly taking forever for its huge bulk to go by. The starships, planets, aliens -they all look better in Star Wars.
Impact: Now here's an interesting one. How much have these two universes infiltrated our real world? Quite a bit. With Trek, you've got the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" becoming ubiquitous some time in the 70s. And there's no denying the influence Trek has had on technology. How many engineers and scientists credit Star Trek with getting them interested in science? But perhaps the best example of Trek's thorough infiltration into our culture is that little item I bet you have on you right now: the cell phone. Without the Star Trek communicator, would we even have cell phones now? Is it any coincidence that so many seem to resemble Capt. Kirk's palm-sized device? With smart phones, we are also seeing something more like the Trek tricorder come into existence too.
Although we don't see folks running around with working light sabers, Star Wars has had its influence on our world too. Interestingly, it seems that its impact is more in the area of providing comments for behavior. The idea of "turning to the Dark Side" when someone is about to do something morally questionable is now a common phrase. Indeed, the title of Jane Meyer's successful book about the Bush administration was "The Dark Side". Former vice-president Dick Cheney referred to himself as the 'Darth Vader' of the administration on at least one occasion. On the other side of the equation, the phrase "he's using the jedi mind trick" is often overheard when someone is attempting to manipulate someone else. And how many times have any of us heard, "May the Force be with you?"
This one's a toss-up. They've both had a huge impact on us culturally.
So where does this leave us? Pretty much where we started, at least as far as I'm concerned. I can't decide between the two, because they are both huge parts of my childhood. There's something about these concepts and characters that continue to resonate with people even today, as the continuation of both of these franchises show. So what do you think? Can you choose one over the other? Light saber or phaser? Enterprise or Millenium Falcon? May the Force be with you, and live long and prosper.