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Star Trek, Star Wars, Both, or Neither?

Which is the better sci-fi/fantasy franchise? Or is it unfair to compare them? Or should we just get over them both? *Updated*

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!


May 5, 2014 - 4:00 pm

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, crossposted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

In one sense the future of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises is bright with Star War Episode VII in production and the third of the new Star Trek rebooted films aiming for 2016.

But those still watching these shows and movies now are not necessarily the same people — or children — who first fell in love with them during their original incarnations.

Are Star Wars and Star Trek both genuinely great franchises? Or are they both overrated, their shortcomings overlooked or rationalized away? Is it time to give up on them both? Do grown ups move on from watching Spock and Boba Fett? Kathy Shaidle would say as much:

Kathy Shaidle: 5 Reasons Star Wars Actually Sucks

What are some reasons that Star Wars is better than Star Trek? What qualities in Gene Roddenberry made Star Trek superior to the thinking (or lack thereof) of George Lucas’s Star Wars? Or is it unreasonable to compare them? Are they just different genres? Which direction is better for aspiring writers to pursue?

What lessons are to be learned from Star Wars and Star Trek for how to build a successful science fiction franchise? Where and when have the franchises gone off the rails? Are their coming new films and TV shows steps in the right direction? Or is J.J. Abrams making a mess of two cornerstones of geek culture?

Walter Hudson: 7 Ways to Reboot Star Trek With a New TV Show

Do you agree with Lewis Beale a CNN today who explains “How ‘Star Wars’ ruined sci-fi” in CNN today:

I say this as someone who has been a devoted sci-fi reader since childhood. I was so blown away by the first “Star Wars” film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here’s the thing: George Lucas’ creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).

“Star Wars” has corrupted people’s notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that’s more than a shame — it’s an obscenity.

Science fiction is in fact one of the most creative literary genres around. The best of sci-fi is filled with meditations on what’s “out there,” what makes us human, how technology is used and how it is changing us. It takes up issues of race, sexuality and quite literally everything else under the sun. It is essentially about ideas, not action, and that’s the problem, as far as Hollywood is concerned.

What pop culture questions do you want to debate and discuss? Leave your suggestions for upcoming Pop Culture debates also.

*Updated, Tuesday May 6, 2014: David Churchill Barrow of Liberty Island writes:

Star Trek is a reasonable and optimistic extrapolation into the future of the developments noted in my series Stops Along the Road to Our Well-Ordered Liberty at my blog at LIBERTY ISLANDStar Wars is a glitzy, gizmo/special effects-ridden extrapolation of a 1940s comic book.

Here are links to the six parts of Churchill Barrow’s series.

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios

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All Comments   (13)
All Comments   (13)
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I agree with Oz. Star Wars captures the imagination. Star Trek is to clinical. In Star Wars people have to make livings, pay dept, find advantages for a small rebellion to fight a large well funded empire. In Star Trek Money is never an object to the heroes as they have the Federation to flip the bill and for the most part the Federation has as better or at least as good as tech as the other powers. Star Wars is about War specifically a struggle of a group of heroes to defeat a large heartless empire. Star Trek is a large heartless Federation seeking other peoples problems to solve. Star Wars is a story that for the most part has a start middle and end. (barring books, spinoff series, games, more movies, etc.) and Star Trek is a series that at the end of most episodes start back at a status quo.
As for Star Trek as Socialist in that its Federation that has no other point then to enforce its rules though out any new space and society its ships find. Its a Military lifestyle on a military style ship which is very regimented. Characters don't have goals just jobs (Captain, Doctor, Engineer, etc) each have Rank but its just a job and they for the most part they have to follow orders so the only one to make choices are Lead officers.
Star Wars is more Libertarian as the heroes are part of a Rebellion but really don't fall into it neatly they do what they see as right and the Rebellion is helped but they each have individual goals. Luke has a semi-religious quest. Leia has her duty to the rebellion. Han has his friends and his dept. etc. They have some 'Rank' but its such an odd mix as it only really comes from being friends with royalty. But each have choice and do what they choose to do according there own goals.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a child I grew up with the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Those were three Star Wars stories that I grew up with. The other Star Wars stories were acted out with family and friends, racing around the yard and house, battling Darth Vader and the stormtroopers. My father enjoyed both Star Wars and Star Trek, so I was exposed to both as a child. Despite the similarities of the facial deformities, the man in the Cantina scene that pushes Luke was less troubling to me than Christopher Pike in the pilot episode "The Cage." The deformities of an actual person, as opposed to a clear alien entity, bothered me.
Perhaps that is the clearest illustration that a young mind can grasp between the two franchises. Star Trek aims for realism among its characters, and Star Wars does not mind drawing broad strokes from pulp stories.
When weighing the cultural impact of the two different universes, you come up with some very strong opinions. I will only speak for myself, as others have shared their opinions on this for multiple decades. Star Trek did not excite my young imagination because it was too rigid in its format. They were on a spaceship and went exploring and then they went back to the spaceship. Next episode. Star Wars was about swordfights and shootouts and larger than life bad guys. When I went into the backyard to play, I did not imagine the starship Enterprise, I took my 3-1/2 inch Star Wars action figures with me. Tangible reminders of a galaxy far, far away were more important to my young mind than explorations in the Alpha Quadrant.
I grew older and so did both franchises. Star Trek became The Next Generation, which was all right, until the Borg, and then it became very clearly defined good guys (human, etc) and bad guys (machines). By this time I was able to appreciate more of the storylines in ST:TNG. I was still growing, so I did not realize the social commentary and extrapolation involved. But guess what? Star Wars introduced novels and the stories kept going. Boba Fett lived after he fell into the Sarlacc. Stories about the main characters abounded. I found The Encyclopedia of the Star Wars Galaxy and read it cover to cover.
Certainly non-canonical expansions existed for both universes, but for me, the adventure in a galaxy far, far away provided escapist fantasy. If larger than life adventure involved constantly referencing the rule book, I moved on. Battling an evil empire? Easy to understand. The Federation of Planets and continual negotiations? Realistic, but not interested.
Now that I am beyond the age for action figures (financial requirements precluded precious articulated plastic many years ago), I can look at both franchises with different eyes. I always have a soft spot for Star Wars. Some stories are better than others. Star Trek doesn't excite me. I make efforts to watch the Star Wars films and keep up to date on what is happening in that universe. Star Trek comes on-screen when I see headlines on the blogs.
As a discriminating chooser of how I spend my time, I enjoy stories that spark my imagination. Star Trek, for all of its extrapolations in science and government, fails in one very large regard - religion. No matter your stance on faith, it seems very implausible that a race (humans) that has had religion at the center of multiple cultures throughout its several thousand years of recorded history, would simply abandon religion to move into space and join the Federation. Humans are hardwired for faith. Many choose to express that faith through science and pushing humanity to the stars to discover our greater destiny and purpose. Star Wars does not struggle with religion. The suspension of disbelief allows us to leave this world behind as we adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
To compare the two franchises on equal footing is not fair. Who won the hearts of the scientists? Star Trek. Who won the hearts of the children? Star Wars. I stand on the side of the children. Remember, when any conversation of moral value is entered into, the final argument will always be about the children.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think JJ Abrams brings a commercial sensibility to both projects, "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", but, alas, his commercial understanding of cinema and storytelling makes both franchises less important as cultural phenomena. He knows drama, he's great at it, and suspense, and action, but he doesn't know theme. Everything seems smaller at the end of a JJ Abrams film, and it should seem bigger.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a major Trekker in youth, I found both JJ movies to be superbly cast, with a glorious look, and stories that I found very difficult to care much about. The second was better than the first. I hated bringing Nimoy into the first, a dumb idea, and done for time-travel episode number 8,479. And I thought destroying Vulcan was an appalling idea.

I thought re-doing some classic episodes with the new cast would have been really cool, but that is basically out now. (Can you imagine 'Arena"... with the Gorn... done up as a modern-effects 'Predator' type movie?)
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Timing is so crucial, else this would be about Babylon 5.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Star Wars is my choice (Ep. 4 and 5 - but not the prequels, which I've erased from memory).

I like the Star Wars universe better. The Star Wars universe is smaller (just one galaxy) but for some reason it feels bigger. Star Wars is more individualistic - one man taking a giant leap to a mystery planet by himself to eventually run into a little green guy who is the planet's only resident - opposed to Star Trek where you travel with 5,000 other people to cautiously and safely land on a heavily populated planet.

In Star Trek you're never alone, never left to you own devices and always comforted by the company of others. Its a little wimpy and needy in that respect.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not really comparable, and neither is particularly great science fiction. SF works better in print than on screen.

Great characters though.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed that science fiction works better on the page. I read Asimov and Bradbury growing up. They filled one corner of my imagination with very clear ideas about science and its relationship with humanity. Star Wars filled another part of my imagination through visual storytelling, which allowed me to place myself in the adventures and to do what heroes do. Both written and visual entertainment play an important part in culture.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Which characters do you like?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Star Trek is Socialist, Star Wars is Libertarian.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why do you regard Star Wars as Libertarian?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Star Wars is Space Opera; Star Trek is tepid, mainstream SF. Not even the same two genres.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
David Brin (the award winning SF novelist) was very anti-Star Wars. His debate is in "Star Wars On Trial."

Here is an essay from Brin on Star Trek:

Bottom line - he likes the Star Trek world, not the TV characters.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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