Star Trek and Star Wars. Nerds, sci-fi fans, and even every day viewers have debated the merits of each of these mega-franchises. There have been times in geek culture where it seemed like the rift between Trekkies and Star Wars fans was as deep as the Jets and the Sharks, or between Red Sox fans and Yankees fans.
While the superiority of one to the other is surely subjective, each franchise has certain factors in just their favor. What do Star Trek and Star Wars have going for them that the other doesn’t? What qualities of the franchises and their media draw certain people to one over the other? This list hopes to dig deeper than whether or not Seven of Nine is a greater sci-fi crush than Leia, or if the Enterprise would win a fight against a Star Destroyer. Here we are digging deep into the core of each franchise to see what each does consistently better than the other, and why they are each loved for what they do and don’t do.
Here are 8 Ways Star Trek Is Better Than Star Wars And 8 Ways It’s Worse.
16. TREK IS BETTER: NO ABANDONED LEGENDS CONTINUITY
George Lucas kept a tight leash on some aspects of the Star Wars franchise and a loose leash on others. This resulted in toy companies, publishers, game developers, cartoon channels, and comics publishers capitalizing on the success of Star Wars with a myriad of stories and world building that fans gobbled up and internalized. For hard core Star Wars fans, this was their life blood in between the Original and Prequel Trilogies and the Prequel Trilogy and Episode 7.
And then Disney canned all of it. All the franchise material that fans had come to regard as one continuity with the movies up until 2014 was declared non-cannon. Star Trek doesn’t have that headache. Plenty of Star Trek episodes have created multiple timelines, but there has never been a mass takeover and franchise wide retcon comparable to what Disney did to Star Wars. The new reboot Trek films exist on their own timeline and reruns of The Original Series and Next Generation are still on TV.
15. TREK IS WORSE: THE TREK REBOOTS TRIED TO APE STAR WARS
Star Trek Nemesis didn’t recoup its budget at the box office in 2002, and by 2006, Enterprise had been cancelled. This left the franchise with no new movies or shows for the first time since 1985. Star Trek needed to come back big. And what better way to come back big than borrowing from the other biggest sci-fi franchise around?
The JJverse, or the Kelvin timeline movies, took the focus off the philosophical quandaries, cerebral stories and bold exploration of the shows in favor of a more generic action. Admittedly, a 2009 Star Trek film would want to have spectacular effects but many movie-goers felt like the reboots relied too heavily on spectacle. Consider either of the Death Star battles in the original Star Wars Trilogy in comparison to the battles with Nero’s ship or the U.S.S. Vengeance. Honestly, there is no comparison. The reboot movies wanted Star Wars levels of space adventure but didn’t build up the same emotional engagement.
14. TREK IS BETTER: PLENTY OF INDEPENDENT SHOWS AND CREWS TO CHOOSE FROM
Since the debut of the Original Series, there have been five total main Star Trek TV shows, including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Each show has brought something new and unique to the franchise. The original defined the philosophy of the series and gave us the legendary interplay of Kirk, Spock and Bones. The Next Generation further cemented the world of Star Trek and introduced its own iconic characters. Deep Space 9 gave us a “grounded” geo-political drama. Voyager arguably gave us the most intimate look at any of the Star Trek crews. Enterprise treated us to a fascinating look at the nascent days of Star Fleet.
Star Trek is primarily a show and most of its media is made for TV. Despite each show having a distinct appeal, they are all Star Trek shows. You can pick which ever show you want and get to know Star Trek pretty well through any of them.
13. TREK IS WORSE: STAR WARS LORE IS DEEPER
Star Trek is meant to be a possible vision of our own future. Its continuity is packed into 3 centuries of speculative narrative. With the exception of Deep Space 9, each of the shows focuses more on their own crew rather than filling out the history of the galaxy and the Federation overall.
Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The total time span of the now Legends continuity is tens of thousands of years. Many of the stories set in the Star Wars universe tie directly back to or directly influence the state of the entire galaxy. The Jedi and Sith are two warring yet co-dependent sides of the Force, each destined to fight each other for influence in the galaxy.
12. TREK IS BETTER: IT LENDS ITSELF TO TOPICAL PLOTS AND THEMES
The basic premise of many Star Trek episodes is that the main crew encounters a sentient society with a specific characteristic meant to offer some social commentary. This has been baked into the premise of the show since the Original Series. Star Trek shared an era with the Cold War. In the famous Original Series episode “Balance of Terror”, the Enterprise crew grow suspicious of their own first officer Spock because he shares some visual similarities to the Romulans.
The Prime Directive of Star Fleet itself is a commentary of the historical trend of colonialism and imperialism. Star Fleet makes a conscious effort not to interfere in the development of other less advanced cultures. Many episodes, particularly in Next Generation are built on the question of whether or not the Prime Directive is worth following if a net good can be accomplished by intervening. But how can you know what the long term consequences of that intervention will be?
11. TREK IS WORSE: MOST STAR TREK CHARACTERS ARE NOT STAR WARS-LEVEL ICONIC.
At least in the Original Trilogy and even in the Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars is stacked with house-hold name characters. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbaca, Obi-wan, Yoda, Lando Calrisian, The Emperor, Boba Fett, Darth Maul, Mace (Samuel L. Jackson) Windu are all names that most people would recognize. These are names of modern archetypes. They are invoked to describe the roles that characters in other movies are meant to emulate.
It’s too early to say whether or not characters from the Sequel Trilogy will be as enduringly popular, but without the iconic status behind Luke, Leia, Han and Vader, we probably wouldn’t even have Rey, Poe, Finn, or Kylo Ren.
While Star Trek has its share of great characters, you could probably count the number of house-hold name characters boasted by that franchise on one hand; Kirk, Spock, Picard, and maybe Data and Seven of Nine.
10. TREK IS BETTER: IT WINS ON THE HARD SCI-FI SCALE, HANDILY.
When George Lucas came up with Star Wars, the scientific explanation for lightsabers, laser guns, droids with distinct personalities, hyperdrive and planet destroying superweapons were not among the first things that he thought of. You could argue that Star Trek came in an age of pretty soft sci-fi, but it has developed more and more believable rationales for the technology in its setting. Admittedly, there are examples of the writers hand-waving technical details, but the science in the science-fiction is much more important to Star Trek than Star Wars.
Star Trek is a bout exploration and growth. Science is also about exploration and growing our understanding of the universe. In that shared respect, coming down on the hard end of the scale of sci-fi hardness greatly enhances the show. The shows get us invested in the technical minutia of the warp drive, the transporter, the holodeck, the shuttles, the phasers and the replicators because keeping all that stuff working is important for exploring and surviving in space.
9. TREK IS WORSE: STAR WARS CODIFIED A LOT OF CONTEMPORARY SCI-FI TROPES
The influence that Star Wars has had over modern sci-fi, fantasy, and action movies cannot be understated. Star Wars is a fascinating case in which various elements from previous examples of the genres coalesced and then steered the genre going forward. There’s elements from Kurosawa’s filmography, Asimov’s, Herbert’s and E. E. Smith’s novels, Eastern philosophy and WWII aircraft aesthetics.
If you’ve seen Firefly, The Fifth Element, The Last Starfighter, Krull, either Battlestar Galactica series, The Black Hole, Alien, Independence Day, Guardians of the Galaxy, Mad Max or Blade Runner you can thank Star Wars for that. And that’s just in terms of its own genre. The Star Wars production revolutionized block busters and special effects. How many blockbuster trilogies can you think of before 1977? Since Star Wars we’ve had Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, The Dark Knight, The Matrix and that’s just a handful. Have you seen any Pixar movie ever? Better thank Industrial Light and Magic.
8. TREK IS BETTER: IT REPRESENTS AN IDEAL SOCIAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL GOAL
Star Trek is supposed to be set in our own galaxy as a possible future for our own species. The United Federation of Planets is headquartered out of San Francisco. After the Eugenics Wars and World War III, humanity made first contact with the Vulcans and entered into a new era of prosperity, unity and exploration.
Star Trek may have premiered during the Space Race in the Sixties, but since then it has influenced a lot of the technological world that we know today. Personal computers, cell phones, automatic doors, theories of space travel and contemporary societal attitudes about uniting to achieve something great were all influenced by Star Trek. Plenty of science nerds today talk about Star Fleet as a bench mark that they want to see humanity reach.
7. TREK IS WORSE: JOHN WILLIAMS’ SYMPHONIC STAR WARS SCORE WAS AMAZING
Trying to describe the emotional genius of John William’s score for the Star Wars movies in words feels a bit superfluous. How could any words capture the finely tuned, emotional resonance that each track produces better than just listening to the music itself? Not only is John William’s Star Wars soundtrack some of the best and most famous music ever written for a film, it’s the emotional through-line that holds all the Star Wars films together.
Have you ever watched the opening crawl of the Star Wars movies without the main theme? It’s difficult to even imagine right? Without it you’d be staring at just some angled yellow text with no music to engage you and get you in the mood for a space opera. There are so many scenes throughout the movies that would fall totally flat without the music Lucas and Williams arranged for them, including “No, I am your father,”. Also, if you go back and watch the Force Awakens trailers, you’ll find most of the goosebump moments when the music kicks in.
6. TREK IS BETTER: STAR TREK LORE IS MORE INTERNALLY CONSISTENT
There’s no shortage of inconsistencies to pick through in the Star Wars movies. In Return of the Jedi, Obi-wan’s Force ghost finally tells Luke about his relationship with young Anakin Skywalker, saying that he took it upon himself to train him as a Jedi. That would be true, if you overlook the fact that Obiwan thought Anakin was a troublesome little pet project of Qui-Gon Jinn whom he only agreed to train to fulfill his master’s dying wish. Not to mention plenty of other lies by omission or heavily skewed recounts from Obi-wan.
Also In Return of the Jedi, Luke claims to have no memory of his mother and Leia says she died when Leia was very young. And again in the prequels, what we see in Revenge of the Sith causes some major headscratchers. Luke is born first between the two of them, and Padme dies immediately after giving birth. How would Leia remember anything about her unless you wanted to hand wave it with The Force?
5. TREK IS WORSE: STAR WARS IS EASIER TO DIGEST
Star Wars was designed to be a modern myth. It’s a pretty straight version of the hero’s journey as popularly conceptualized by Joseph Cambell. Injected with some great characters and an inspired blend of space-fantasy trappings, Star Wars was able to strongly and immediately engage millions of fans throughout the world.
Star Trek also has main characters but it doesn’t often set up conflicts for more than an episode or two at a time. Star Wars has a built in dual conflict between the Light side and the Dark side of the Force, the Jedi and the Sith, the Rebellion and the Empire. It may not be a nuanced morality, but like plenty of myths, Star Wars distills its own versions of the essence of good and evil. It puts it’s hero on a path to discern the difference between the two and triumph for himself and the good of the galaxy.
4. TREK IS BETTER: THERE WAS NEVER ANY EXISTENTIAL DISAPPOINTMENT OVER THE PREQUELS
Because Star Trek was a TV show, its multiple incarnations were able to adapt and grow over the many years each series ran. It’s popularity and relevancy was more balanced and easily sustained over the years because each show was spread out over a longer period of time.
Now consider the Star Wars movies. The original Star Wars movies transformed popular culture nearly overnight. For 20 years, Star Wars was a pretty much universally revered and loved trilogy. And then the Prequels arrived. Hindsight has let us grow a little more lenient on the Prequels, but the fact that The Phantom Menace was firstly, a narratively lackluster action movie and secondly, never going to live up to the Original Trilogy, crushed a lot of Star Wars Fans. George Lucas became something like a pariah to many of the fans of his own works. The disappointment continued with Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith when they added their own cringe worthy moments.
3. TREK IS WORSE: STAR WARS OFFERS MUCH MORE WISH-FULFILLMENT FANTASY.
How many kids have you seen pretending to be Jedi or a Sith or a bounty hunter or pretending to fly an X-wing or drive a speeder bike or a pod racer or anything from Star Wars? How many kinds have you seen pretend to be a Star Fleet officer?
There is a reason why Star Trek can offer something like the endless fantasy of the Holodeck and still lose out to Star Wars over franchise games and toys and popular imagination. The reason is a pervasive sense of heroic fun. Star Wars is just more fun than Star Trek. The iconic battles from the movies have a clear hero and clear villain and fans have paid through the nose to emulate the feelings they get from those moments for decades. Just look at Star Wars video games. From the very first Atari vector graphic Star Wars arcade game all the way to EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, fans and gamers have relished these virtual Star Wars experiences.
2. TREK IS BETTER: STAR TREK DEFINED MODERN FANDOM
You could argue that either franchise could have accomplished this feat with the dedicated following that they each have. But the fact is that the culture into which Star Trek was poised to win over audiences arrived first. In such a tumultuous time as the Sixties, Star Trek offered a glimpse into a bright future for humanity.
Star Trek was the first television show that people wrote fanfiction for. In fact Star Trek fanfiction gave us the term Mary Sue. It was the name of a protagonist in a fic called A Trekkie’s Tale by Paula Smith. The story itself was supposed to be a parody of the typical self-insert fanfiction with a perfect protagonist who woos Kirk and or Spock and who wins at everything.
Trekkies were the first group of fans to hold conventions for their favorite franchise as we know today. Now every franchise as a con of its own, or at the very least, you can find fans of just about anything at some big convention or another.
1. TREK IS WORSE: STAR WARS MOVIES ARE STILL MAJOR CINEMATIC EVENTS
The original Star Wars Trilogy was a landmark in science-fiction, movies, and popular culture. There were 14 intervening years between Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace. While not as widely praised, the release of the Prequel Trilogy was deeply and widely anticipated. Each new Star Wars movie was a sought after opportunity to fill in the gaps in the story and add more imaginative characters and set pieces to the galaxy far, far away.
It wasn’t that long ago when Disney formally announced the Sequel Trilogy and we were all trembling in our boots for months, hoping that the new hands on the reigns could give us an undeniably good continuation of Star Wars.
And now we’re getting the chance to see big name Star Wars movies that are not part of the main trilogies. Every time we have gone into the movie theater and seen a new Star Wars opening crawl for the first time has been a moment of magical excitement. Star Trek just doesn’t have anything as similarly special to offer.
Are there any other reasons you have for why you think Star Trek is better or worse than Star Wars? Let us know in the comments.