Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Part 1
I write science fiction so I’m obviously interested in the genre. And I don’t think many people would deny that from a popular standpoint the two most influential franchises in scifi are Star Wars and Star Trek. They’ve spawned multiple movies, books, a great deal of artwork, and even conventions and amusement park rides.
I happen to enjoy both of these universes. I watched re-runs of the original Star Trek growing up and saw all of the Star Wars movies when they came out in the theater. I had toys as a kid from both franchises, though certainly more from Star Wars because the smaller action figures were great to collect and there were so many of them available. Plus, at that time Star Trek was just beginning to regain in popularity while Star Wars was really in its prime.
To boldly go…down the tubes
Over the years my affections for both series have waned somewhat. I still enjoy them, but I don’t get exercised for months on end before one of the movies gets released the way I did for Phantom Menace when it came out, for example. Part of the reason my interest has dwindled is because I was not that enamored with the direction the later works took.
Picard, from the Next Generation, was an interesting change from Kirk and compelling in his own right, but the rest of his crew never really seemed all that interesting. Part of that is probably due to the acting, but part of it was that it seemed like the Next Generation took what I least liked about the first series, i.e. scientific moralizing, and made that a strong emphasis. It tried to explain too much, it tried to be too smart. At least that was my impression. I wish I could give examples of why I felt this way, but it’s been so long since I watched any of the episodes that I’m afraid I can’t offer any.
As for the new Star Trek movies, I haven’t seen any of them, but from the reviews I’ve read I have little interest. While they seem to succeed as movies based on the response they’ve gotten and perhaps from a story telling standpoint are better than the earlier Star Trek movies (which isn’t saying much), I did not like the edginess they brought to this universe. Star Trek was never edgy. It was odd. It was strange. Occasionally it was even a little heartfelt and thoughtful, but it was never about pulse-pounding chases and explosions or deep psychological struggles. And so I’ve taken a pass on the newer fare.
What I really loved about the first series was the quirkiness of not knowing what sort of freaky planet they would discover in that episode and the interplay between the characters. Mostly, though, it was the characters. I mean, Kirk, Spock, and Bones had this wonderful interplay with each other to where there was a constant friction between them and yet at the end of the day you knew they would have each others’ backs and their differences made them an even tighter group than if they hadn’t had their little dust ups throughout the episodes.
As for Star Wars, it was allowed to live in cryo-sleep for twenty years and I think that may be why it held up a little better with me. I could just rehash the great first trilogy over and over in my mind and relive those wonderful moments between Luke, Han Solo, and Darth Vader over and over again.
And then came Phantom Menace. And this for me, while not quite the beginning of the end, was certainly the end of the beginning. And the parts after the beginning just weren’t very good. This movie, while it had some great visuals, was ultimately a disappointment. And again, very similar to what happened with Star Trek, it was the lack of characters that was the chief offender.
We did have a young Obi Wan, but as good an actor as McGregor is (and he was the best of the bunch) he was no substitute for Alec Guiness. And Guiness’ older Obi Wan was probably the least compelling of the major characters from the original series (not that he wasn’t great, it’s just that the other characters were the ones who really carried the story). Lucas was so desperate to inject some life into Menace that he resurrected (or maybe rebooted would be a better term since they are robots) C-3PO and R2-D2. And while they were certainly bright spots in the otherwise lackluster prequels, their presence felt forced and reeked of desperation on the part of Lucas as a scriptwriter.
I think the plot was also really hard to care about and get invested in for the second series. We knew the Emperor was going to take over the universe at some point, but all of the scenes in the senate and the rather cliched career of Amidala as an idealistic politician made for rather dull cinema. It might have worked in a novel, but the actors and the script were not up to the task. Star Wars thrives on movement, action, changes of scenery, but like some bad documentary, the camera just kept swinging back to Coruscant for another round of debate, intrigue, and…just a whole lot of dialogue between uninteresting people.
Of course, you had the devolution of Anakin running parallel to the political stuff, but if anything that was just as uninteresting and took up even more screen time. Neither of the actors who played this important character were very good and the character ended up coming across not so much as a brooding, tragic figure, but more like a spoiled brat most of the time.
In a post not far, far away
I know it probably seems like I’ve focused on the negatives of the series in this post, but I actually do still like both of these series. You see, the original versions were so good that I still have interest in the films and stories even if the recent incarnations have let me down. And yes, I am cautiously optimistic that the new Star Wars movies will bring back some of the old magic from the original trilogy (though I’m less than thrilled at the choice of director as you might imagine from my take on the recent Star Trek films).
I touched on it a little here, but I’d like to dive deeper in the next post into what makes these two franchises work. I’d like to explore the different characteristics of the two series to compare and contrast them. And eventually I’ll wrap things up by telling which one I ultimately prefer and why.
But that’s all for now. Let me know in the comments what you think about these two series. Which one do you prefer and why? Or is there some other series that you think beats them both?
Until next time, live long and prosper, and may the force be with you.