There’s a planet in our galaxy that is inhabited by two tribes that have been at war for the past 40 years over the atavistic issue of whose belief system is superior to the other.
The planet I’m talking about is Earth, and the two tribes are, of course, the rival fans of Star Trek and Star Wars. Both sides, actually, have a valid point of view.
Star Wars is far and away the more successful business of the two: it is the No. 1 movie franchise of all time, with a brand value calculated at nearly $ 2 billion, while Star Trek comes in at only No. 12, with a brand value that’s only half of Star Wars. For many people, that should settle the argument once and for all. But, hold on a minute, it’s not as simple as that.
1. As purists point out, Star Trek has a philosophical agenda at its heart, and asks important societal questions relevant to our times (and, indeed, to all time). Star Wars, on the other hand, is an extended mythological fairytale, inspired by an assorted mish-mash of old mythologies and amateur mysticism.
2. Star Trek is cerebral and thought-provoking; Star Wars is all action and mystical mumbo-jumbo and very little cogent thought. Mainly a lot of dishoom-dishoom in deep space.
3. Star Trek is science fiction (and a classic of the genre); Star Wars is merely science fantasy.
4. The technology in Star Trek is very real, and many of its concepts have actually becomea reality over the years, including arguably, the cell-phone, the iPad, GPS positioning, flat-screen wall-mounted TVs, the Bluetooth headset, voice-activated electronic devices, Google, Google Earth and Siri. Star Wars, on the other hand, is actually anti-technology: the best it can offer is the light sabre, which is just a medieval Japanese samurai sword crossed with a neon tube-light.
5. Star Trek is essentially TV, while Star Wars is cinema. The advantage of TV is that over the course of several episodes it can not merely explore a narrative, but create an entire multi-layered world that draws you into itself. Which is, of course, exactly what Star Trek does to us.
6. The narrative of Star Trek is filled with subtle shades of grey; Star Wars, being mythology, is all black or white (choose one or the other, but not both).
7. The villains in Star Trek are more intelligent, complex and interesting. Khan Singh, the villain of Star Trek, for example, is a marvel of nuanced genetically engineered menace, while Darth Vader, despite his famous inner struggle, is ultimately just a heavy-breathing caricature in a black Nazi helmet.
8. Star Trek has much cooler aliens. They are real characters and we understand them, both at the civilisational and the individual levels. But what do we know about the Ewoks? Or the Wookiees? Or the Hutt? Comic book species, all of them.
9. The women characters in Star Trek are much stronger and feistier than the ones in Star Wars. They’re also much sexier. Just compare Commander Uhura with the pretzel-haired, bubble-headed Princess Leia.
10. The humour in Star Trek is subtle and intelligent; the humour of Star Wars is best represented by Jar JarBinks.
11. Star Trek has much cooler catch-phrases. Like “Beam me up, Scotty”, “To boldly go where no one has gone before”, “Yes, it’s life, but not as we know it,” and that wonderful Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper.. All that Star Wars has is “May the Force be with you”. Typical mystical mumbo-jumbo.
12. Star Trek has constructed a complete economic system for its universe. The Federation lives in a post-scarcity economy, where public goods are free, and what people compete for is not merely wealth and power, but honors and societal admiration. The economics of Star Wars (if any) are completely muddle-headed: just imagine a system where robots and slaves both work side by side. Has anybody made the effort to think this through?
13. Star Trek has even created an entire language of its own, called Klingon, which is complete with its own dictionary, grammar, typeface, language institute, and die-hard fans who can actually speak it. There’s even a production of Hamlet in Klingon. Star Wars? You must be kidding.
14. Even Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, called Star Wars “a silly space cartoon”.
15. George Lucas, creator of Star Wars was himself a one-time Star Trek fan, and one can see the influence of Star Trek in the creation of the Star Wars series.
16. Star Wars might attract more eyeballs, but Star Trek has a community of serious loyalists who follow it with an almost religious zeal. And those loyalists include people like Stephen Hawking and various NASA top brass.
17. To be fair, Star Wars fans have some valid arguments. Like the special effects of Star Wars are superior to Star Trek. And the movie budgets are much bigger, making for a greater “wow factor”.
18. The music of Star Wars is also, admittedly, better.
19. Star Wars once starred Harrison Ford (though not any longer).
Thus when we discuss the case rationally – in a proper Mr Spock-ian way – three things become clear:
First, Star Trek is for grown-ups, while Star Wars is for kiddies (OK, let’s say it’s for kiddies of all ages, from five to 85).
Second, Star Trek is about the future and the excitement of its possibilities; Star Wars is about the medieval past (as the first movie itself said, “Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away”).
And third, despite its juvenility and retrograde orientation, Star Wars still makes a lot more money than Star Trek, year after year.
All of which, when put together, doesn’t speak very highly of the viewing public of today’s human race, does it?