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 bot
h, 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 fi
lms. 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 Si
de". 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 s
how. 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.


Edo Bosnar said...

The eternal question - and the stuff of geek flame wars since the late '70s.
For me it's an easy choice: although I was completely enthralled with Star Wars & Empire at the time, the magic wore off pretty quick, while I've never stopped enjoying Star Trek, from the original series to the movies to all of the follow-up series (well, except Enterprise, but that's another story...)
You actually make a good point when you bring up special effects. In my view, much of the magic of Star Wars rests on the awesome special effects. Take away the effects and CGI from those last 3 movies (or are they actually the first 3?), and they become pretty meager. Meanwhile, even with its almost comically bare-bones special effects, the original Star Trek series is still an enjoyable viewing experience.
Anyway, looking forward to the "I Dream of Jeannie" vs. "Bewitched" post...

Karen said...

You know Edo, I'd have to say on the whole I have a wee bit more love for Trek than Wars. It was only in the last 5 years, perhaps as a response to the "prequels", that I rediscovered my love for the original Star Wars trilogy.

I was annoyed with Lucas' obsession with Darth Vader, saying that the entire series of films is focused on Vader, when clearly, the original trilogy is about Luke. For some time I felt like these new films had ruined the whole Star Wars experience for me, until I went back and watched the originals (well, in their 'altered' form) and found how much I enjoyed them. So now I mostly ignore the newer films and allow myself to once again be a fan of the real Star Wars.

MaGnUs said...

I'm a huge fan of both, and I look for and get different things out of each.

High adventure with a dash of pamphletary morality? Star Wars!!!

Deep philosophical questions with a dash of adventure? Star Trek!!!

It's easy, it's like deciding between pizza and hamburguers... both at are awesome, and both are keepers.

MaGnUs said...

I must protest that your poll has no "both" option. :)

Horace said...

Star Trek or Star Wars, you ask?

"Since before your sun burned hot in the sky, and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

OK, seriously....

I'm a child of the late 1970's. I watched Star Trek five days a week in syndication. I saw STAR WARS in 1977. To this day, I enjoy both.

When it comes to Star Trek, my passion is restricted to TOS TV and TOS films. No interest in the spinoffs.

When it comes to Star Wars, it's all about the first three films. No use at all for the prequels.

My only issue is that a lot of younger Star Wars fans think science fiction started in 1977.

david_b said...
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david_b said...

Karen, hadn't seen this post before. Excellent question, as always...

Trek will always rule as what brought mainstream sci-fi from it's beginnings as a source of curiosity and entertainment for a limited audience, to more mature expectations and serious ponderings in mainstream media, as Roddenberry initially used it to slip the social arguments/musings of the day past network censors.

Societal influence: Very few can deny that, thanks to your cell phone concept as one of MANY, Trek has provided a vision to our technological future throughout the decades, as well as provided the entertainment industry a huge influx of creativity in writing sci-fi and fantasy. Star Wars, while single-handedly rejuvenating what once was a dying entertainment genre AND inspiring an entire industry of effects creators, does not represent the same visionary importance. How many companies are building actual light sabres..?

Totally agreed with Edo on the CGI question of the prequels. As with flicks like Transformers and such, I personally cannot bear to watch any of 'em. They just don't have any soul, frankly.

Without the effects, is.. there.. a.. strong.. enough.. story..?

As for the comment on Vader as becoming the focal point, I'd put forth that this was a weak, regretable idea. From the very inception in 'Empire' that Darth was Luke's father, I was totally disappointed. It ruined what I had liked in 'Star Wars', that 'hey, it's a big universe' and we're fighing bad guys from millions of miles away...:

All of a sudden, one character is now the son of another..?? Jeez, how convenient.

After that, I pretty much tried to ignore that aspect in 'Jedi', and never even bothered watching the prequels.

Trek still tended to preach, but when it's wrapped up in dense, exciting storylines with a flair for interesting characters, it's done quite well. Despite padding on the backstory in the Star Wars prequels, it never had that much depth.

It's just entertainment on different levels..: Nothing will ever replace the surreal effect of the watching the first SW back in '77... After 100 minutes of being mesmerized and spell-bounded into their universe, to walk outside and see cars 'with wheels'..?!?

It all just seemed so archaic.

"Munsters vs. Adams Family", anyone?

Horace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Horace said...

Another thing these two franchises have in common is timeless music.

John Williams's scores have always been commercially available. Most of the music from STAR TREK (The Original Series) has just recently become available. In 2012, La-La Land Records released a box set. From the chase music in "The Doomsday Machine" to the fight music in "Amok Time", it contains everything from the Original Series.

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