Whether you’re boldly going where no man has gone before or you’re already in a galaxy far, far away, you’ve probably heard the age-old debate about which of science fiction’s two biggest franchises is better. Geeks, freaks, scientists and even casual fans have long been arguing in every corner of the galaxy about Star Wars and Star Trek. Which is better and why? They both have spawned multiple spin-offs, (including for TV), prequels, video games, cartoons, merchandise lines (Baby Yoda, anyone?), catchphrases (like “May the 4th be with you”!) and informal holidays (May 4th!), and even religions!
Following are three arguments why Star Wars is better and three arguments why Star Trek is better. (With all due respect to the Star Wars prequels and sequels, including the Mandalorian, as well as all the different Star Trek series from The Next Generation onward, this debate is all about the original installments of each franchise.)
Why Star Wars is Better
It’s the most successful franchise in the world
Star Wars’ massive span of galaxies, aliens, spaceships, tactical maneuvers and plot points assure there is something to satisfy many types of fans. The franchise’s first installment became one of the biggest blockbusters ever, not just because so many people went to see the movie, but also because so many fans went to see it over and over again. It was also the first movie that created merchandise mania, a craze to follow many summer movies in the years to come. Sources say that even George Lucas didn’t believe his movie would be such a success. On the evening of the movie’s premiere, he didn’t even bother to attend. Instead, he was in Hawaii with his best friend Steven Spielberg, brainstorming an idea for another movie. That movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You’ve got to hand it to George Lucas, who was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, for creating a fable-like battle between darkness and light. The story is a very effective embodiment of good vs. evil. Darth Vader is the ultimate unstoppable force, and Luke Skywalker, with his naïve looks and belief in the goodness of mankind, triumphs against his father’s attempts to lure him to the Dark Side. Moreover, despite it being set in the future and in a galaxy “far, far away,” the use of medieval symbols, such as knighthood, swords, princesses and wise magicians, gives the Star Wars franchise the sense of a legend.
It made sci-fi inspiring
From lightsabers to dogfights in space, from exotic planets to the cynical yet lovable characters, the franchise is visually striking and stimulating to the imagination. Star Wars made science fiction cool and approachable, and inspired countless movies to follow. Could you imagine the dynamics among The Avengers gang or the Guardians of the Galaxy without being inspired by that of Han, Luke and Leia? Could you picture what The Matrix would look like without taking costume ideas from Darth Vader? Furthermore, the spectacular special effects used in Star Wars spawned ILM (industrial lights and magic), created by George Lucas, which has forever changed movie special effects – both practical and computer-generated.
Why Star Trek is Better:
It’s grounded in reality
When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, he wanted to be as grounded as possible in reality, or “future reality.” This is evident in that Star Trek deals with dilemmas that could very well become reality in the coming centuries, when humanity will exhaust Earth’s resources and make its curious and necessary journey to outer space. Star Trek debuted in 1966, just five years after Yuri Gagarin was the first man to journey into outer space and two years before the moon landing. At that time in history, the race to space was as real as it gets. The quest to explore strange new worlds, gapping the difference between mankind and other species, was the key theme in all of the show’s incarnations.
It’s not afraid to deal with burning issues
When it came out in the 1960’s, Star Trek tried to tackle issues of gender, race, socioeconomic differences and war. As it first aired during the Vietnam War, the peak of the Civil Rights movement, and the Cold War, the show tried – and often succeeded – in addressing these issues and educating its viewers for the better. Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura in the series, was the first woman to have an interracial onscreen kiss on television. While protest quickly ensued, Nichols recalls being stopped one day on the street by a fan of the show who complimented the controversial kiss and encouraged her to keep taking chances. That fan was Martin Luther King.
It allows for complexity
Star Trek tries to educate its viewers about diplomacy and understanding the other side in a conflict instead of resorting to war. This is why every villain has a reason for his furious grudge and mischievous actions. The show weaves this reasoning through the conflict and outcome, even if the villain sometimes dies. The Enterprise crew will always prefer reasoning – even at the cost of losing – for the sake of goodwill and of spreading the kindness of the human species across the galaxy.
The Bottom Line: Star Wars is a massive outward adventure while Star Trek aspires to use science fiction as a metaphor for our reality. Whose characters would you like to explore the universe with?