To kick things off, let me make something perfectly clear. I don’t hate Star Wars. The original trilogy is a pleasant enough way to while away some geekly time—Han Solo is the BEST; the prequel trilogy is good for a laugh if nothing else—and Ewan McGregor rocks the hessian with Mustafarian lava flow-level hotness; The Force Awakens is amazing; I am very fond of R2-D2; and I don’t even mind a little time spent in the company of animated Ani in The Clone Wars. (If only Hayden Christensen had been that animated!)
With all of that stipulated, however, let me tell you why Star Trek is so very much better than Star Wars that even a malfunctioning emotion chipped-Data wouldn’t find it funny.
Now, I could go on here about Jar Jar Binks and shameless videogame-selling pod race wankery and racial stereotyping and wooden performances and the like, and all you Warsies out there know that all of it would be very well-deserved. But harping on about the disasters that were the prequel movies feels a lot like shooting Mons Calamari in a barrel; few of you are fans, and even despite the dizzingly bad plotting and searingly awful dialogue — by turns tedious, overly-technical and melodramatic — at least those movies have the virtue of kickass special effects and unintentional comedy value. So I will, instead, focus on the original trilogy. The Holy Trinity. The one that has spawned countless pilgrimages and Stormtrooper costume purchases and trading card collections and comic book titles and tie-in novels and theme weddings and conventions and action figures and more than is perhaps necessary episodes of Family Guy and Robot Chicken.
I guess that’s what I don’t really understand. Whence the obsession? Especially when it comes to my biggest issue of the whole Warsian ideal:
When the dismissive Han said, in the original movie, to a Luke all hopped up on Jedi-envy: “Hokey religions are no match for a blaster at your side, kid,” I couldn’t agree more. The whole Force rigmarole is hokey, and simplistic besides. I was born with a gift… I can use this ephemeral power … I am therefore worthy to defend the galaxy! Think about it: how do you get to be a Jedi? An innate talent is trained and exploited. (Or used with no training at all, if you’re Rey.) And how do you get into Starfleet? You study hard. Star Wars champions an elitist aristocracy; there are princesses and lords and inherited prestige. Star Trek is all about the meritocracy; even an illiterate Ferengi* can aspire to a place in Starfleet, if he applies himself.
And, you know, if you’re gonna have power-though-magic (and that’s essentially what The Force is; magic in space) you shouldn’t then disenchant it with a whole sciencey explanation. Midichlorians! How terribly, depressingly dull. Oh, wait, I was gonna give Wars fans a pass on The Phantom Menace, et al, wasn’t I? Oh, well. I won’t bring it up again.
I mean, it’s not like the many incarnations of Star Trek haven’t had more than their share of woes, and ones that I have always struggled to justify. Inconsistent characterization, blatant plot holes and continuity errors, abhorrent objectification of women and often pitiful attempts at comedy are only some of the crosses Trekkies have had to bear over the years. The original Star Trek was hampered by its labored format; Star Trek: The Next Generation, by its aggressive political correctness; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, by its unsubtle religious allegory; and yes, by the end of the frustrating Star Trek: Voyager, I’ll admit I was mostly still watching just to see seven year veteran Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) get a damn promotion. (I’m not going to dignify Enterprise and its insane captain with even more than another passing mention; if Star Wars fans can ignore their prequel nonsense, then we Trekkies can ignore ours.)
But at the same time, Star Trek, in all its incarnations, set the benchmark for intellectual and provocative drama. These are shows that deal in elegant metaphor with some of the biggest issues of our time. Inequality, racism, terrorism, tyranny.
Star Trek — even bad Star Trek — gives us people we care about as they pursue humanity’s quest to explore the unknown. It gives us fallible yet honorable heroes and visionaries, out there in the wide dark seeking only to learn about our universe, looking for the now famous “new life and new civilizations.” And, yes, much of that new life is remarkably like the old life, just with funny hair; but some of it is emphatically not. The Horta are rocks. The Q are beings of pure energy who exist on a higher plane. The Changelings are essentially one big pool of sentient goo. Star Trek led us not only to ponder the big questions like what it means to be human, but also had us wondering exactly what constituted life itself.
It was, it is, a show of big themes. Themes of unanimity, freedom, equality and friendship. They are enduring ones — ideas that lift the spirit, and ignite the soul.
What are the themes of Star Wars? That even whiny kids can grow up to be heroes if they have the right genes? That your sister is totally doable? That if some dude you don’t even like falls out a window you should go off and start slaughtering children? (Sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t bring up the prequels again, but come on! Poor little padawans.)
Also, Trek’s ultimate villains? Just way, way creepier.
Vader. Quite frankly, I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. What’s the big deal? Sure, he’s a bad guy, sure he has a shadowy past, sure he’s deadly and ultimately conflicted and the end result of fear leading to anger and anger leading to the Dark Side. But you know what? I’ll see your Vader and raise you the Borg.
The ultimate in “This Could Happen to You” parables, these cyborgs are on a quest for “perfection”, which they believe will be gained by forcibly assimilating others into their Collective. They are emotionless, senseless drones, working as one to achieve the impossible. They come not to convert but to conquer, and though Voyager managed to demystify them to the point of dullness, they still remain the most chilling of all possibly futures sci-fi has shown us. (And if you think it unfair that I offer up an entire race in rebuttal to one man, then I give you one word: Khan. No, wait, sorry: Khaaaaaaaan!)
I could go on, but I will instead merely ask you to consider this: Star Trek is such a glorious playground that J. J. Abrams and his minions were able to produce their magnificently rebooted 2009 alternate universe version of past events in which everything old is new again. But what happened when George Lucas attempted to go back and alter the past timeline of his universe?
He made Greedo shoot first.
By virtue of that fact alone, Trek wins.