A man dressed as Chewbacca from Star Wars standing with fans outside of the 2015 Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, in a July 9, 2015 file photo.
By Frank Simons/Reuters/Los Angeles
Lightsabers versus phasers, warp drive versus hyperdrive, “May the Force be with you” versus “Live Long and Prosper”. The fan debate over which story, technology, space ships and characters are superior started a long time ago.
To casual moviegoers, there is not much difference between Star Trek, the sci-fi franchise that launched on television in 1966, and Star Wars, which debuted on movie screens in 1977. Yet to hard-core fans the differences are as significant as those between tribbles and droids.
Star Trek fans think Trek is better because it portrays a complex, science-based technological future where diverse species unite for the betterment of all. Star Wars, many believe, is a simple adventure with ray-guns and walking carpets, the good guy wears white, the bad guy wears black, and there’s a magic “Force”.
Star Wars fans think Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, are The Godfather Part I and II of science fiction films - a perfect original followed by an equally great sequel. They can tell you exactly where they were when they first heard “No, I am your father”, as a seminal life event. Trek, for many, is boring techno-babble, everything gets talked to death over tea, Earl Grey, hot, whereas a Jedi with a lightsaber and a rascal with a ship that can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs will always save the day.
YouTube videos debating and lampooning the rivalry abound. Fan polls from the last few years indicate a fairly even split, and for many Hollywood stars the choice is far from unanimous. Josh Hutcherson of The Hunger Games picks Star Wars, as does Captain America star Chris Evans. Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds pick Star Trek, according to a 2012 IGN Entertainment video.
Even if the fan base cannot agree, the fathers of the respective franchises admired each other’s creations.
In the 2013 DVD release of documentary Trek Nation, George Lucas said that Star Trek had “softened up the entertainment arena so that Star Wars could come along and stand on its shoulders”. In the same documentary, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry said: “I like Star Wars. It was young King Arthur growing up, slaying the evil emperor finally. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of entertainment. Everything doesn’t have to create a philosophy for you, for your whole life. You can also have fun.”
At the box office, Wars is to Trek what the Death Star was to the planet Alderaan.
Star Wars has six live action and one animated film cumulatively grossing over $4bn worldwide. That’s more than double the take of all Trek movies combined, despite Trek having nearly twice as many feature films.
But if you’re using amplitude and frequency modulation (the colloquial term is television), then Star Trek dominates. With five live-action, one animated TV series, and a new streaming series coming in 2017, there will have been at least one Trek series in each of the last six decades.
Is there anyone who can settle this debate? Someone who has attained Kolinahr, with the wisdom of a Jedi Master, who can unemotionally, yet boldly, make this decision?
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is perhaps the closest geeks have to a rock star-type hero. Here’s his verdict from an October 2015 Rolling Stone interview: “I’m Star Wars fluent, but I’m a bigger Trek fan. There’s a promise of actual science going on in Star Trek but not so much in Star Wars.”
When all the fizbin cards are down, for most fans resistance is futile. There’s usually something about the other franchise they actually like.
And just like “The Force”, it appears this debate will be with us, always.
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