The world of sci-fi is one dominated by two storied franchises: Star Wars and Star Trek. The latter of the two first appeared as a TV series in 1966, while the former debuted over a decade later in theaters. Since then, they’ve been measured up against each other constantly, with devoted fandoms on either side of the debate arguing that their franchise is superior. The real question here: Which side is right in this belief? Is there really a way to determine something this subjective, or is it merely a matter of preference?
We’re going to attempt to answer the age-old question and see what comes out the other end. One side has hundreds of episodes across five different TV series and 12 movies to its name, while the other exists in a complex web of television and literary canon anchored by seven films. In some ways, it’s very much an “apples and oranges” type comparison, but for the two most iconic sci-fi franchises ever made, why not try anyway?
The case for Star Trek
Anyone arguing for the case of Star Trek will immediately point to its more grounded reality, putting the “science” in “science fiction.” Additionally, you could make a strong argument that Star Wars falls more into the category of “science fantasy,” thanks in large part to the literal presence of magic (and no, hastily trying to explain the Force with midichlorians doesn’t make it any more logical).
Trek is set in our own reality, hundreds of years in the future when mankind has developed long-range space travel. Wars on the other hand takes place in a mythical galaxy “far far away,” making it a harder sell in terms of realism.
The second point that Trekkies will score for their franchise concerns the intellectual aspects of the series. Both the original series and The Next Generation deal in philosophical ideals, the responsibilities of advanced civilizations intervening in less developed worlds, and a host of other complex and nuanced narratives. Over much of its run, it’s billed itself as the thinking man’s sci-fi series, and for the most part, it’s delivered on that promise.
Star Wars is far less advanced in its storytelling, marketing more to a family-friendly audience. Trek manages to sell itself as a more adult-leaning and mature franchise, something many see as a point in its favor.
The case for Star Wars
While Trekkies see the wider appeal of Star Wars as a detriment, fans of the George Lucas-created franchise see things a little differently. The fanbase for Wars spans the entirety of the globe, evidenced by the record $6 million in IMAX sales The Force Awakens hauled in for presales (six times the previous record). Star Wars transcends borders, generations, and interests, as something loved by geeks and jocks alike. People who saw A New Hope in 1977 remember that moment when the Star Destroyer first crossed over the screen and have been passing that sense of wonder down to their children ever since.
Star Trek may inspire its fans to think, but Star Wars challenges its audience to dream. It revels in fantastical elements that deal in the classic hero’s narrative, showing us the classic good vs. evil struggle that exists within each of us. It certainly won’t try to pretend any of its technology is anything close to realistic, but what it does do is make us wish it was anyway. Find a kid who doesn’t want their own lightsaber after seeing the movies for the first time, and we’d be more than a little shocked.
As it is with all things, this is truly a matter of preference. If you’re a diehard sci-fi fan committed to a more intellectual approach to the genre, then Star Trek is the vastly superior choice here. If you’re less concerned with realism and more with a straightforward adventure narrative, then Star Wars is the way to go. It’s a debate that will likely never be entirely settled, but with J.J. Abrams in charge of both movie franchises, it’s interesting to see more crossover elements than ever.
The last two Abrams Star Trek films have definitely indulged more in the action and adventure aspects that Star Wars specializes in, while The Force Awakens dove a little bit more into the intellectual and science-y side of things. Having the same creative mind in charge of both for the first time in either franchise’s history muddies the waters, but what it may end up doing is a net positive: marrying the best elements of the two to improve them both.
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