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Trek Wars

JediCole here with a little blast from the past!  I had written the following article back in the days of VaderCast.  It crossed my mind the other night when talking with Stu from the Midnight Movie Cowboys podcast so I thought I might pull it out of the mothballs and give it over to our readers for their enjoyment.  These are my observations made some years ago which I have not reread before posting.  I felt it would be best to let the thoughts stand on their own merit as I am certain they are as pertinent today as they were years ago.  Enjoy!

Star Wars vs. Star Trek: The Great Debate
 What really defines the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, outside of the obvious? My best friend many years ago, long before Episode I was even written, put it best I think. Star Trek as a vehicle for stories is bountiful while Star Wars is self-limiting. To further extrapolate, Star Trek presents an endless variety of possibilities from exploration to conflict resolution to discovery to name a few. Star Wars is limited solely to conflict, as defined by its very name. Within the context of storytelling, Star Wars can and will always be about conflict and strife while Star Trek has an open playing field.

Does this inescapable fact then make the one superior to the other? Not in the least, to be sure. The greatest fallacy with the age-old debate, at least within the last 30 years is that when comparing the two franchises one is comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Space travel and technology beyond our present capabilities the two share in common, but then the vast differences emerge that set the two apart so drastically so as to negate any real comparison. And yet the debate continues. And it is of little surprise. There will always be two camps surrounding these outer space epics and at their edges they touch, the area reserved for fans of both.

Is Han Solo Cooler Than Captain Kirk?
At the risk of stirring up controversy by paraphrasing a line from Free Enterprise, I will go out on a limb and say, yes, he most certainly is, but only by the narrowest of margins. When Star Wars exploded on the screen in 1977 I was approaching the ripe old age of 12, so I was old enough to appreciate the phenomenon that was budding at the time while also having had previous exposure to the on-again-off-again phenomenon of Star Trek. A good friend of mine back in the 70’s who was as cerebral in his youth as I was eccentric was a tremendous fan of Star Trek and tried repeatedly to engender such a love of Roddenberry’s master work in me. I found the show interesting at times, but often not quite my cup of tea. It would take a few more years development for me to really come to appreciate classic Trek. So needless to say I had more than a passing familiarity with the life and times of Captain Kirk by the fateful summer that brought me into contact with Star Wars. And in Han Solo I saw exactly the kind of man that many of us aspired to be when we grew up!

For all of Kirk’s swagger, Solo had an exotic air about him that was at once appealing and intriguing. While the Enterprise’s captain was known to bend the rules and stand down authority, the Falcon’s pilot bent to breaking all rules and saw no authority worth recognizing, be it the Empire or the Force. He had a freewheeling style about his character that had been lost to popular culture icons over the years. Add to the mix the coolest and personality laden spaceship in the galaxy and a unique and loyal sidekick you have the stuff of legendary cool! And yet I am forced to give Kirk his due as Han Solo wins that race only by a nose.

The good Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise exuded the oily charm of his day. But for his rank and title he would have been painted a Lothario. Yet he took that unappealing characteristic, tempered it with fierce loyalty to his crew and their mission, unmistakable self-confidence, and a healthy dash of charm (aided in no small part by swaths of mood-setting lighting) and emerged a heroic figure in the annals of television lore. He was brash and often at odds with his superiors but he was certain of his abilities and those of his crew, leading them to defeat all threats both physical and mental. And though he had a way with the ladies, he was hardly a scoundrel.

Going a Long Way on Very Little
Star Trek is often overlooked by Star Wars fans for the lack of technical dazzle in its special effects and production values. Naturally the budget constraints on a weekly series in the 60’s, especially one so outside of the norm, played very heavily on what you see on screen in the sets, costumes, and effects. However, a low budget is the one of the greatest similarities between the two series. The budget for Star Wars was so relatively small that many ambitious concepts were written out of the script to save time and money. Forced to cut corners, Lucas in the end created a much tighter and concise story than that of the first draft.* And yet despite those constraints, the production values are incredibly high throughout the film, with backgrounds filled with extras and a myriad of droids that suggest a very real universe.

Though the sets and effects of Star Trek my seem cheap by contemporary standards, the producers managed to create a believable world on a minimal budget, including sets depicting such mundane aspects of starship life as corridors, differing quarters, and dining and recreation areas. Complete with non-character crewmen peopling many such sets. The other net effect of a lower budget is a greater concentration on story and character. It is easy to dazzle with an elaborate set and fantastic effects but if the audience does not care about the story at hand then the money is simply wasted. Like Star Wars, Star Trek succeeded more than suffered as an effect of its budget.

Phasers, Blasters, and Other Innovations
One of the more striking aspects of both Star Wars and Star Trek is that of their approach to the futuristic technologies employed, specifically avoiding the more pedestrian terminology of pop-culture science fiction. Ray guns had been the stuff of space operas long before Star Trek premiered on television, but the concept was given new life with the phaser. Essentially no different than the weapon of choice of Buck Rodgers or Flash Gordon but made more serious by its name. The same can be said of the blasters from Star Wars. I vividly recall being struck by how clever that name was, setting Star Wars apart from anything else before or since. The same was true of the droids, though later analysis would indicate that the name was simply an abbreviation of the word android, the use of the name set the likes of C-3PO apart from the “robots” of the past. Though the term was also used once in A New Hope, perhaps to make a nod to those that came before. Spacecraft design was another innovation common to both Star Trek and Star Wars. The Enterprise was unlike anything that ever traversed the galaxy, not the rocketships of old but something uniquely suited to the five-year-mission at hand. Lucas’s infamous “flying hamburger”, the Millenium Falcon redefined the nature of spacecraft. Though I see little resemblance to the sandwich, the last-minute replacement of the “pirate ship” for Star Wars has become iconic with that striking touch of asymmetry in the cockpit placement.

It All Comes Down to Trekking and Warring
There is a kind of simplicity in the titles of these two phenomenal series. They are replete with similarities while maintaining considerable differences. The greatest difference being pointed out in the introduction to this article, that of the sense of purpose in each. Star Trek was at its core a tale of exploration. Though often touted as a “western in outer space”, the reality was that this designation simply made intelligent and thoughtful storytelling approachable to the television audiences of its day. Paving the way for social commentary on the small screen, Star Trek cleverly dressed biting issues as interstellar conflicts. No other show of that era could have held a stark mirror up to the nation and revealed its ugly side. And it was all part of an ongoing journey of exploration and discovery for the characters and audience alike. The voyages of the starship Enterprise transported viewers to alien worlds and in some cases, face to face with alien yet somewhat familiar concepts.

If Star Trek is defined by the Captain’s Log then Star Wars serves as a battle journal. Audiences are carried into the fray as a small band of freedom fighters strike out at oppression in the form of some of the most vile and megalomaniacal villains to ever grace the silver screen. Each side brings its best to bear in the ongoing struggle. For the Rebellion it is the fastidious nature of those who put their lives on the line in the hope that their efforts will restore peace and freedom that has been denied a generation. For the Empire it is the finest war machine that can be fielded by those who govern by fear and oppression. Luke Skywalker represents the common man, torn by violence from his home and thrust into the ongoing battle, growing from young man into a worthy hero through the influences of obvious and unlikely mentors. And throughout his adventures, Luke’s every action is defined by strife and war. Even when the galaxy of Star Wars is revisited it’s past is as violent and war torn as the time period that is presented at the outset.

Federation or Rebellion, Who’s Force is Stronger?
The debate will still rage on as to which is the superior saga, Star Wars or Star Trek. Each has rightly earned its place as science fiction phenomenon and both have attracted a loyal legion of fans. There are those who can move effortlessly between the two decidedly different worlds and those who staunchly stand by one while disregarding the other. At the end of the day the two stand alone as unique individuals. Both have their requisite high and low points (Spock’s Brain and Jake Lloyd to name two) as well as their high points. And both will certainly stand the test of time to provide enjoyment for countless generations to come. And to kindle the flame that will re-ignite the debate that has raged since 1977 – Star Trek vs. Star Wars!


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