The truth is, I was a Trekkie long before I ever liked Star Wars, and really only fell through the black hole of Star Wars fandom in the past year. I have about 50 times the amount of nostalgia for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine than I do for any other piece of science fiction television.
For me, the problem with these comparisons is that they are kind of apples to oranges, or rather, science fiction to fantasy. Because that’s the debate, right? Star Wars is not science fiction, it’s fantasy in space, and Star Trek is just fiction in space. And the problem with science fiction is that when we argue about what’s better, it always comes down to well, it’s not fantasy. I mean, it has rules, after all. Of course, those rules oftentimes violate all actual rules of physics, but at least it’s not that flighty fantasy crap. And people who care about that sort of thing can justifiably go clutch their pearls in the corner and have the vapors about mystical force energy.
Except here’s the thing: fantasy is actually more fun. You can make things up, create entire rules with their own physics and then mess around with those rules sometimes. And you can see it in the first argument in this debate. The discussion of how great Star Trek is takes up about 5% of the piece. And you want to know why? Because Star Wars is simply more fun. I grew up on Trek, but you know what? When I fell for Star Wars, I fell way harder than I ever fell for Captains Kirk, Picard and their ilk. Trek is like the dependable, sleepy partner who wakes up at 6:00 sharp, makes coffee and goes to work in data entry and comes home at 5:30 every day. If you’ve seen The Original Series and The Next Generation, then Deep Space Nine and Voyager are not a shock, you know what is most likely to happen: interesting moral tales using alien diversity. The costumes are the same, the characters resemble each other after awhile, and it’s a really safe place to come back to.
Star Wars is not dependable, it is completely bonkers. Star Wars has fourteen-year-old Queens of planets who are elected and have term limits. Star Wars has evil politicians plotting for decades for total Galactic control. Star Wars has Space Monks with laser swords upholding peace and justice who rest their entire future with a whiny farmer kid and a princess. You never know who is going to get a limb chopped off, who will go bad (or come back from being bad), or what new familial tie will spring up. At no point in any of the movies did I not feel like I’m on some roller coaster and I don’t know if there’s a loop or a dip coming because who really knows with this saga? Of course the movies are polarizing, but that’s all part of it. Who is really talking about Captain Janeway fifteen years later? Now how about Darth Vader? Greedo Shot First (or at least at the same time) has been A Thing for nearly twenty years and there are clearly people still not over these five seconds of film. Has there ever been anything in Trek that’s stirred up that much emotion about anything?
The thing is, in Star Wars, there’s so much there. Every single movie feels like at least three movies in one, they are just that dense. I can come back every time and see something I missed the other ten times I saw it. I can see them in three different viewing orders and get something new from the experience. Don’t even ask yourself if Star Trek can do that — can any piece of media other than Star Wars really do that? And this is why fantasy always wins. Fantasy is just more interesting than science fiction. That doesn’t mean sci-fi is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s why J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek did okay, and his Star Wars busted every movie record out there. There’s not even a comparison, and it hurts my younger Trekkie self to even compare the two, but there you have it.