Saturday, November 12, 2016

Star Trek vs. Star Wars (2016)

One of the biggest geek debates of the last forty years has been which one is better, Star Trek or Star Wars.  Star Trek came into existence a full decade before Star Wars, but they remain inextricably linked, thanks to the fact that they corner the same market: large-scale sci-fi storytelling.  Now, a few years ago J.J. Abrams seemed to blur the lines between the two when he not only directed the first two reboot Star Trek movies, but the seventh Star Wars entry, too.  Fans cried foul that he made Star Trek too much like Star Wars in his efforts, too action-oriented.

But I never bought it, because there is an essential difference between them that can't be ignored no matter how the story is told: Star Trek inherently believes in the establishment, and Star Wars doubts it.  There you have it, plain and simple.

So let me explain.  Star Trek is embodied by the hopeful vision of a United Federation of Planets, Star Wars by a rebellion against tyranny, which usually takes the shape of a galactic organization much like the Federation.  The Federation is usually represented by Starfleet, another mass-cooperation entity, while the rebellion is usually a loose collection of loners, sometimes represented by either the Jedi as a whole or a single practitioner.  Starfleet's ships are typically headed by strong leaders, but they always come with the full support of their crews.  The Jedi and their allies often clash on basic ideologies. 

Now, these are generalizations, but you get the point.  This year will have seen two movies released that drive home these points.  Star Trek Beyond is all about Kirk's fight against a founding officer of Starfleet who ends up being driven mad by the ideals he's forced to live with.  If this were Star Wars, Krall would be the good guy.  That's just a fact.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story presents the origin of the crack team that helped bring about the destruction of the original Death Star, and everything you need to know about the team is in that title and in fact the first word, rogue. 

The struggle between Star Trek and Star Wars has also been exemplified by the 2016 presidential election, and what it once again helps illustrate: the persistent existence of two distinct segments of the population, one that believes in the system, and the other that constantly opposes it.  Actually, which is which tends to fluctuate, so don't bother trying to identify them, because it really doesn't matter.  Maybe it's a testament to what I've always said about myself as a voter, that I'm an independent, because I like Star Trek and Star Wars.  I sometimes wonder why this great divide exists, but I know that it does, and that's really enough. 

I think that's what makes them both popular, too, that they both exemplify the basic characters of the United States so well.  I mean, everyone knows Star Trek's origins were deeply immersed in the social turmoil of the '60s, but few stop to consider how ingrained Star Wars is in the culture, too, not just the concept but the idea of it, of the need to rebel, that has always existed in American life.  I tried for years to pin down what the analogy behind it was, what George Lucas was reflecting on, but maybe there really isn't any one historic struggle he was thinking of, but all of them.

It's certainly something to keep in mind.  Because there are always at least two ways to view things, and geek culture has been embracing them all along...


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