Picard has that voice, but Han Solo has hair. Redshirts always die, but Stormtroopers can’t hit the broadside of a bantha. Tribbles took out a Klingon ship, but Ewoks helped destroy the Death Star. James T. Kirk shook things up with TV’s first interracial kiss. And, well, Luke Skywalker kinda made out with his sister.
Both Star Trek and Star Wars are spectacular and space-shattering franchises, and both have spawned a new frontier of fanfiction writing, cosplaying, line-up-for-the-midnight-premiering enthusiasts. The problem is: they hate each other like Anakin hates sand. Each side insists its franchise is superior. Countless debates rage online and show no signs of abating.
We need to stop this fighting; it’s just beating a dead horse. (He’s dead, Jim.) Here are some of the main issues of contention:
Since the Star Trek franchise is television-based, it can make use of both episodic and serial plot lines. While Plato’s Stepchildren were vanquished in one hour, the Borg Saga’s plot arc took up the better part of a whole TNG season. But Star Wars is mostly defined by feature-length movies. Each tends to have a single, hero’s journey plot line that offers enough resolution to hold viewers over — without inciting rebellion — until the next December release. Each episode is mostly self-contained. If Luke hadn’t blown up the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, fans would have turned dark side. In other words: Let the Wookie win. Each kind of storytelling has its advantages. To claim that one is better than the other is only true from a certain point of view.
Both sagas involve political realms. In Star Trek the Federation tends to resolve all conflicts with negotiation, like when Wesley Crusher is sentenced to death for walking on Rubicun III’s grass, and Captain Picard has to bargain with the planet’s protector. The political world of Star Wars involves the Galactic Senate and its bureaucracy. In Episode One, for example, aid to Naboo is snagged in red tape like an AT-AT Walker tripped up by a snowspeeder. Fans will claim that Star Trek involves too much politics or that Star Wars does it badly. Both are right. Each franchise delves into the political, and neither benefits much.
Both series have some enduring and colorful characters, and some we’d rather forget. (Yousa point is well seen!) But much of the characters’ success and failure has to do with casting. The original Star Trek is famous for its campy “acting,” but future iterations brought out more dignified performances. And a few of the cast members went on to other things (notably Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier from X-Men). The original Star Wars was cast mostly with unknowns — Harrison who? — but many parlayed the movie’s popularity into legendary careers. These days, major stars clamour for even the smallest role in the Rebel Alliance. (Daniel Craig spat out only four lines in The Force Awakens.)
Too Much Research
This is one of the pettier arguments I’ve heard for Star Trek’s supremacy. Star Trek generally offers viewers all the backstory they need for each episode. Star Wars, on the other hand, puts entertainment in the forefront, leaving the world-building to happen offscreen. Newbie viewers might have to hit up Wookieepedia to find out what a protocol droid is or who really shot first. Star Trek’s instant gratification can be attractive, but Star Wars rewards the more diligent fan.
Action vs. Talking
By classic action standards — battles, weapons and number of explosions — Star Wars wins by a parsec. Star Trek, on the other hand, is prone to lengthy philosophical debates about colonialism, the right of life and death, and the calculus of war — but there is action. It’s a matter of taste, but to say one lacks completely what the other excels at isn’t true at all. Star Wars gives you an adrenaline rush as it sparks your imagination. Star Trek offers more subtle action. When TNG brings the Borg, no thermal detonator explodes, but our minds are definitely blown.
I’ve never understood the animosity between these two fandoms. I grew up a huge fan of both. But whether you prefer photon torpedoes or proton torpedoes, let’s try to get along in our parallel universes. May the Force be with us all as we live long and prosper.