How ‘Star Wars’ And ‘Star Trek’ Failed Both Fanbases
Star Wars and Star Trek have always been two very distinctly separate sci-fi entities; Star Wars is filthy, while Star Trek is mostly clean. One is set in the distant past, the other in a utopian future. Star Wars has Wookies, Star Trek has … whatever furry creature has been living on top of William Shatner’s scalp since the mid-'60s.
For a while, the two fandoms seemingly had a Cold War-esque opposition to each other due to some perceived rivalry between the franchises. Thankfully that seems to have ended, as evidenced by the time William Shatner crooned Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” to George Lucas while Stormtroopers did the Can Can behind him – how is this real and not history’s nerdiest coma nightmare?
The idea of this sci-fi binary between Treks and Wars is especially ridiculous considering that George Lucas once claimed that Star Trek allowed Star Wars to “stand on its shoulders.” And the connection goes even deeper than that; Lucas regularly watched reruns of Star Trek while writing the first Star Wars movie because he “liked the idea that you could gallivant around the galaxy.” Lucas even attended Star Trek conventions while he was trying to get Star Wars produced.
But as good as each beloved space franchise may be on its own, both properties have run into creative turbulence when trying to directly emulate the other. For example, despite the fact that Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out just two years after the success of Star Wars, its creative team somehow resisted the urge to ape Lucas' film and instead made a slow, ponderous movie that while possibly far less enjoyable in the end, successfully launched its own long-running film series with a distinctly unique flavor. When J.J. Abrams made his 2009 Star Trek, however, blatantly lifting from Star Wars was pretty much the film’s mission statement. Abrams literally claimed that he took the job in order to make a movie ”that grabbed me the way Star Wars did.”
Which led to an admittedly fun movie that in no way felt like a Star Trek story – which isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but that approach ultimately proved to be less sustainable for the Star Trek series, which soon devolved into stories of magical blood and 9/11 conspiracy theories before crapping out altogether.
And Star Wars, too, had a similar problem. After decades of being the anti-Trek, with the prequels, Lucas substituted frontier adventure with convoluted intergalactic politics. Suddenly Star Wars was full of people who just sat around mediating trade disputes and engaging in political in-fighting – all of which feels more than a little Star Trek-y.
Even The Phantom Menace’s sojourn to Tatooine seems patterned off of one of the Enterprise’s away missions. And Qui-Gon’s refusal to rescue literal child slaves lest he interfere in an alien civilization makes more sense in the context of Starfleet’s “Prime Directive.”
Now the recent Star Wars series The Book of Boba Fett, which is about moving into a villain’s abandoned structure and negotiating with local crime rings, feels not dissimilar from the vibe of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – not in terms of quality, but in terms of the amount of screentime that's spent with freaky-looking aliens yelling at each other across a table. Also, that Twi’lek-run cantina is basically Quark’s bar.
What makes all of this frustrating is that there’s obviously a huge overlap in the audiences of these two franchises – but Star Wars and Star Trek both seem to be taking the wrong lessons from each other. If Star Wars wants to borrow from Star Trek, they should look at how its longevity is owed to its commitment to character; the “boring” parts of Star Trek aren’t boring when you care deeply about the people involved. And if Star Trek wants to lift from Star Wars, they should emulate its passion without copy-and-pasting laser fights and planet-exploding weapons into the story.
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Top Image: Paramount/Lucasfilm