A couple of weeks ago I finally caught Rogue One on Netflix, and the crazy thing is I liked it so much I find myself drawn back to Star Wars once more…. after God knows how long.
A couple of months ago I did a post that touched upon the ongoing Star Trek vs Star Wars fan debate, although my focus wasn’t about the debate at all. Today, for shits and giggles I just wanted to put together a list of 5 things that each of the franchise does better than the other. Because I personally find it hilariously dumb, you can rest assured that this won’t be one of those silly discussions that try to argue how turbolasers are more powerful than phasers.
5 Things Star Trek does better than Star Wars
- Technology — Star Trek has a long history of using technology (even if it’s technobabble) and ingenuity to solve problems, whereas Star Wars mostly relies on the magical Force and blind luck. Trek respects technology, and has even promoted technological advances in real life, which is no small feat. Ironically, Star Trek has also explored the moral dilemma and dangers of technology, so the franchise has really given technology a full-spectrum view. Star Wars, on the other hand, barely gives technology a nod; Star Wars tech exists for flashy cinematics, and it plays a minimal role in the franchise itself. There is no question that Trek beats Star Wars when it comes to promoting technology.
- Story — Some might dispute this, but I will argue that Star Trek generally has more nuanced, more thought-provoking stories. Starting with the Original Series, Star Trek has tackled many sensitive themes and real world issues, everything from war to war crimes, from culture clashes to a plethora of moral dilemmas including personal freedom, xenophobia, equality and so on. Compared to the wide array of topics dealt with by Trek, Star Wars tend to follow very simplistic “adventure epic” story lines that don’t require a lot of brainpower to understand. Is complexity better than simplicity? Depends on who you ask, but I prefer my stories to have a bit more meat to them.
- Consistency – When I say consistency, I mean the Star Trek universe simply “makes more sense”… the current iteration of movies notwithstanding. The technology is explained, sometimes in great detail. The politics are more real. And not that I want to nitpick one thing, but the entire concept of the Jedi bugs me about Star Wars. I have a very difficult time buying into the idea of a bunch of laser-sword-wielding monks with NO OVERSIGHT who do whatever the hell they want. And they use the Force, the veritable deus ex Machina which is either MAGIC or a bunch of parasites. Deflecting laser blasts with a sword is cool cinematics, but I’m pretty sure a Jedi can’t deflect more than two laser blasts at the same time. Get three troopers to shoot at the same time and the Jedi is a goner.
- Ships — With one very notable exception, Star Wars’ ships exist to be blown up and forgotten. In stark contrast, Star Trek ships are virtually core characters and sometimes considered part of the main cast. Does anyone remember when the original Enterprise burnt up in Star Trek III? Or when Ace Pilot Deanna Troi crashed the Enterprise-D? Millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced… and this is why. This is also why we STO players are obsessed with ships.
- Universe – Star Trek has a more developed, well thought-out, and astro-geopolitically “realistic” universe. You have the clash of political ideology between the Federation and its neighbors, a defeated but recovering state (Cardassia), a nation in the grip of civil war (STO Romulans), distant foreign neighbors like the Dominion-unified Gamma Quadrant, and a lawless frontier like the Delta Quadrant. There are a host of minor powers that adds to the political intrigue, which is great for ongoing stories and development opportunities. Star Wars, on the other hand, has a very oversimplified political scene — the totalitarian regime is EVIL, and democracy is GOOD. It’s great for what the franchise needs: simple and straightforward stories, but as a living universe it’s not particularly satisfying. I think people nowadays have the awareness that politics is never that black-and-white.
5 Things Star Wars does better than Star Trek
- Battles — Playing up the “Wars” part of Star Wars, the franchise really knows how to show battle scenes. Star Wars set-piece battles are epic, intense, and incredibly fun to watch; Star Trek have not been able to match them in any meaningful way. In addition to delivering cinematics, Star Wars has always understood that the set-piece battles can be very effective climaxes for each of the movies, but Star Trek has never grasped it. Star Trek films tend to play the big battles early on and get them out of the way, and the finales generally take place between a small number of individuals. It’s a testament to Star Trek’s focus on individual heroic characters, but this practice will always make Trek movies seem far less epic and less memorable.
- Environment — Star Wars is famous for its “lived-in” quality: vehicles and equipment are dirty, beaten up, and often don’t work. Costumes are gritty, grimey, dusty. Blast marks, dents, drip stains, rust spots are seen on starship hulls. All this add to a realistic feel to the Star Wars universe, giving the illusion that everything seen has been in use for a long time. In contrast Star Trek’s squeaky clean aesthetics look very fake; maybe Starfleet has an extreme clean-freak standing protocol in place, but you might think Klingons and other aliens are less fussy about cleanliness. Certainly the various alien planets the crew beam down to should look less pristine than they always are. The entire aesthetic of Star Wars just looks much more real, and it greatly helps with audience immersion.
- Aliens — Until the Undine showed up in Voyager, Star Wars aliens totally blew Star Trek ones away. The first time Mos Eisley cantina was shown, I was utterly amazed at the myriad of alien critters shown on screen. Even before CGI became widespread in movies, we got gems like Jabba, the freaky Sand People, Cantina aliens like Hammerhead, Admiral Ackbar, and critters like Tauntaun and Rancor. Remember, this was the same period where raisin-headed Klingons were the best Star Trek had to offer. CGI has allowed Star Trek to catch up to some extent, but for the most part Trek is still about humans-with-funny-foreheads.
- Droids — From a design perspective, Star Wars’ ability to create visually interesting droid characters is just an extension of its ability to create aliens. The difference is in the fact that Star Wars smartly chose to introduce artificial intelligence automatons as a widespread phenomenon in its universe. Better yet, you can look at droids and immediately grasp why they haven’t replaced biological lifeforms. Why would you need soldiers when you can mass-produce cheap battle-droids? Because you shut down their main control ship and you shut down the entire army. And individually the battle-droids just aren’t that effective. When you have a droid that’s as well-rounded and sophisticated as Data, you have to wonder why there aren’t more robots in the Star Trek universe. Why risk your people against the Borg? I bet an army of battle droids will do wonders against them.
- Media — Make no mistake about this, but Star Wars is a media giant. It’s arguably one of the biggest media phenomenon in decades; it’s got tie-ins with TV shows, books, video games, toys (oh what glorious toys!), and the sheer amount of Star Wars products that are consumed is staggering. I have read reports that the net worth of Star Wars is about four times that of Star Trek, which is a pretty telling sign of the franchise’s immense popularity. Not surprising, really. Between Kate Upton and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who do you think is going to be more popular, right?
Coming out of this list, I have one more thought… and that’s about the new crop of JJ-rebooted Star Trek films. While going through this list, I noticed that JJ-Star Trek films no longer hit the spots that Star Trek has traditionally done well — gone are the focus on technology, on thought-provoking stories, and building a cohesive universe; if anything, they have been trying to replicate Star Wars’ success by focusing on cinematics, providing more and better eye candy, but nooooot quiiiiiite reproducing Star Wars’ unique charm. They need to be careful of what direction they take the franchise; Star Trek’s brainy side has always been its strength, not its weakness. Tossing it out to become “Star Wars lite” is going to be a huge mistake in the long run.