There is no winning a Star Trek v Star Wars argument. For me, I will always argue for Star Trek, in its many iterations: classic, TNG, the movies, and the 2009 reboot. It is one of the first television shows I remember watching. (The other was My Three Sons. I cannot explain any correlation between the two.)
When I was in Jr. High, Star Trek reruns were shown nightly at 10:30, following the local evening news. Our parents, and those of the neighbor children, didn’t need to worry that we would not be home by our curfews after long, summer nights running throughout our safe, suburban neighborhood, as we all went home to see Star Trek. The summer between 6th & 7th grade, my sister and I would watch the show and then go to our bedroom, where we would open the window and discuss it with the kids who lived next door, who would climb out on their roof so that they could whisper across the driveway. This was only a few years after Neil Armstrong had walked on the moon and we were excited about space travel and bold new frontiers. We were too naive to realize that Star Trek wasn’t really about far away planets; we knew it was science fiction, but we didn’t realize that was only the setting for bigger cultural issues of the recent 60’s, issues that we were still unaware of and untainted by.
The next school year, I made friends with a girl who was reading a 900-page book on Star Trek. We would pour over it before the first bells of the day and while waiting for the busses in the afternoon. I loved equally Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura. (I digress: I never would have thought of it, but it makes perfect sense to me in the ’09 reboot that Uhura and Spock are lovers. Kirk was never her type!) And we’d argue whether Chekov or Kirk was cuter. Chekov always won. We began keeping lists of the shows and it took us until the end of the school year to be able to say that we had seen all 79 episodes.
When I was a senior in high school, Star Wars came out. While visiting my older brother who had just moved out to California, we went to see it. We walked into the theatre just as the movie was starting, as the end of the opening crawl was moving towards the vanishing point. We weren’t prepared for the fast fun ride that followed. As the house lights came up at the end of the credits and as we were walking out the exit, my brother mischievously looked at my sister & me. “Shall we do it again?” See what we missed at the start?. We laughed, walked as quickly as we could to the front of the house, and bought tickets to the next show.
I liked Star Wars. It was new, different, and fun, with the hero Han who seemed sort of like an anti-hero until you compared him to the evil Darth, and the hero Luke who was just a kid trying to figure things out, and the heroine Princess Leia who was smart, and pretty, and brave. Even so, I didn’t think that it could compare with the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and crew.
Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek as ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’, a show about adventurers, but also with a moral lesson. When my son began to watch Star Wars movies when he was about 8 or 9, I tried to get him to watch Star Trek.
“They only talk on those shows,” he said. “Star Wars is about fighting the bad guys, and then they win and then they have a party and dance.” I had never noticed the celebration motif at the end of each film, but he was right.
Today, on his blog, Roger Ebert posted links to a You Tube debate between William Shatner and Carrie Fisher about which is the better work. As I indicated at the beginning, it is not something that I’m open to debate. It’s comparing apples and oranges or whatever kinds of fruit might exists in galaxies far, far away. I do think that Shatner is wrong when he says that Star Wars is derivative. It is, but not of Star Trek. Star Trek is an adventure, a western, an exploration of human civilization and morals. Star Wars is about people seeking freedom, and about Luke (and his father before him) growing up, and, as such, owes more as a bildungsroman, a coming of age story with more in common with The Hobbit or Huck Finn.
That said, I can laugh at attempts to discredit and spoof both of them. And so, I’ll leave you with the following, a nice homage to both.