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Star Wars and Star Trek: Why Neither One is Better Than the Other

Star Wars and Star Trek, space battles

Exploring and Comparing What Makes Star Wars and Star Trek Great

With Star Wars about to reach its 40th anniversary, nobody can deny that its popularity has stood the test of time. Of course, it didn’t take long before its predecessor, Star Trek became a rival in the minds of so many diehard fans, all debating the same question: which one’s better? From an objective standpoint, the right answer should be “neither.”

You could argue that it’s simply a matter of personal taste, but there’s much more to it than that. Personal taste is akin to deciding you like Hershey’s chocolate over Nestle. But the truth is that Star Wars and Star Trek share so little in common, that it’s impossible to say which one pulls off a better act. They take place in completely independent universes. So rather than try and compare apples to cheeseburgers, we should see what makes both of them great, and how they pull it off.

Star Wars and Star Trek – Politics

I’m sure we’ve all had enough of this junk lately, but politics is an integral part of Star Wars and Star Trek but in two completely opposite ways.

Star Wars the Return of the Jedi, Star Destroyer and Death Star

Image courtesy of Disney / Lucasfilm

The political climate in Star Wars is pretty straightforward. We have two factions who support completely opposite ideologies to the point of war. It’s also clear by the Rebel and Imperial policies as to who the bad side is (not to mention the Force stuff). This makes it feel like, despite taking place in a huge galaxy, the conflict is something you’d find on a small scale. Civil war isn’t something that takes place in every country on Earth simultaneously.

Star Trek, on the other hand, is incredibly complex in its politics. You have several different factions, each with their own territory, government, and customs. Alliances rise and fall while a lot of the warfare takes place in the form of political intrigue and manipulation. Yes, war also breaks out, but all of these things are what we’d realistically expect in a society of such a large scale.

When you boil it down, the basic fact is that Star Wars favors complete fantasy, while Star Trek wants to give us a taste of life in the 23rd-24th century.

Star Wars and Star Trek – Story

Star Trek, picture of the Starship Enterprise from the original series

Image: courtesy of CBS

Obviously, Star Wars and Star Trek have totally different stories. While the former is limited to a small series of continuing story lines, the latter is episodic, with most stories being self-contained – although there are exceptions, such as the gradual degeneration of Klingon-Federation relations from The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine

These two styles have a profound effect on the universes as a whole. Mainly, the constantly interconnected stories of Star Wars cause significant changes to the narrative in a very short amount of time. With Star Trek, alterations are slow and rare, despite being punctuated by hundreds of different episodes.

Star Wars and Star Trek – Credibility

Some people see an appeal in having realism in science fiction, no matter how far-fetched it may be. When dealing with the Star Wars vs. Star Trek comparison, the difference is crystal clear.

One look at Star Wars will show you that it’s not very plausible. We all know that the Force isn’t real, so the idea of Jedi knights is relegated to works of fantasy. Lightsabers are also arguably impossible since lasers can’t be contained into shapes like swords – they go on indefinitely.

The idea of a Republic or an Empire with a highly centralized government is unlikely when you’re dealing with billions of stars, even if only a fraction of them contain complex life. The amount of military resources necessary for the federal government to unify or force cohesion in the case of the Republic and Empire respectively would be staggering.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a bad thing. Everyone loves some good fiction, and sometimes the crazier it is, the more fun it can be.

On the other hand, take a look at Star Trek. If you want to truly imagine yourself as part of a futuristic society, then this is the series for you. The logistics are smaller, with specific sectors, rather than a galaxy, being controlled by different factions.

Then, of course, we have technology. There’s no argument here that the advancements we see in the Star Trek sagas are realistic. Why? Because some of them already exist today in more advanced forms. Tablets, cell phones, laptops, touch screens and voice commands are all things we have access to today. Even those crazy replicators are seeing a renaissance in the form of 3D printers.

In short, Star Wars expects us to suspend our disbelief, while Star Trek is almost like a documentary with a mix of prophecy and speculation.

But much to humanity’s surprise and delight, not only is much of the Star Trek: The Next Generation technology available today, but many available examples are even more advanced than those used on the show. Others, of course, are still pretty rudimentary by comparison, but there was absolutely no indication that these were even possible in the late ’80s and early ’90s. There are still some things on the show that elude [Click to read more…]

Star Wars and Star Trek – Morality

There’s no argument that the line between good and evil is crystal clear in Star Wars. We’re dealing with a small band of Rebels fighting to free the galaxy from the hands of a genocidal dictatorship. You can’t get more obvious than that.

Star Trek, however, is riddled with moral gray areas. Wars are fought more in political intrigue and clever deception rather than straight up combat, although we do see that creep up now and again.

A classic example would be Picard’s pesky habit of violating the Prime Directive, which states that the Federation has no business interfering with the affairs of other alien races. From a moral perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, nobody wants their neighbor jumping in to add their two cents in a domestic quarrel or childcare approaches. Picard and his crew, however, seem to think that the Prime Directive needs to be thrown out when they’re dealing with situations that the Federation would see as morally offensive.

Is breaking such a rule justified in certain circumstances? That’s the question that makes Star Trek so different from Star Wars.

Star Wars and Star Trek – Tone

A quick look at Star Wars clearly shows the central theme of the series. Conflict has been and always will be central to the story. Its goal is to add pulse-pounding excitement in the darkest of times. It’s the place to go if you want to enjoy some thrills while simultaneously becoming attached to the characters, be they heroes or villains. Look at how obsessed we all are with Darth Vader, despite him being one of fiction’s most morally bankrupt figures.

Star Trek is totally different. Again, there are episodes of conflict that are absolutely fantastic. They’re like the icing on the cake that punctuates the monotony of daily life. But that’s exactly what makes the show so easy to identify with.

Imagine being on board the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine. As an officer or even a low-ranking recruit, you’ll be constantly faced with little challenges. Technical difficulties, risky – but manageable – situations and other general day-to-day problems would be your most common concern. In fact, you’d dread the idea of a battle breaking out because it threatens the lives of thousands of military personnel and civilians. Odds are, you’d be faced with concerns like a transporter malfunction turning you into nothing or a leak in the reactor putting your ship in a standstill.

Star Wars and Star Trek – Final Thoughts

Trekkies and Star Wars fans alike often debate which series is better, but frankly, this is a non-argument. One franchise might appeal more than the other, but preference is subjective. The bottom line is that Star Wars and Star Trek pull off completely different things. But one thing for sure is that they pull them off well.

Featured Image: courtesy of Paramount / Lucasfilms

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