Star Trek, originally a TV series, is a space western science fiction that centers around a crew who serves in Starfleet, a space-based peacekeeping and humanitarian armada. Star Wars, originally a trilogy, is a space opera fantasy franchise set in the distant past of a fictional galaxy, revolving around princes, princesses, knighthood, and chivalry. Both these highly popular and successful franchises are now being revived with new movies directed by J.J. Abrams.
Until the recent movies, Star Trek has been more of a cult phenomena than Star Wars, and therefore did not have the same level of mainstream fandom and cultural influence. Star Wars is grander in scope and has a complex web of political agendas, alien species, personal feuds, and galaxy-wide domination. The Star Trek world is modern, sleek, and shiny, while some of Star Wars' settings are dirty and grimy.
Originally a television series, Star Trek has generally used the same basic plot setup: an altruistic crew is placed in situations of moral dilemma, which are often allegorical nods to current social and political issues. Issues covered include imperialism, war and peace, racism, class warfare, feminism, and human rights. The core characters, Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura, and Pavel Chekov, comprise humans and humanoid alien species. Star Trek only gained mainstream fame after the release of its films in 2009 and 2013. The video below briefly touches on the history of Star Trek:
Star Wars uses archetypes of the fantasy genre, such as princesses, knighthood, and chivalry, and action unfolds in a contest between good and evil. The Star Wars universe is laden with political science elements and historical inspiration. The plot climax of the Rebel Alliance fights for freedom from the Galactic Empire was drawn from the fall of the Roman Republic and the formation of an empire. This 10 minute video gives a retrospective look into the original trilogy of Star Wars:
Science and Fantasy
Common belief is that Star Trek is science fiction, while Star Wars is science fantasy. The technology in Star Trek is supposed to be at least loosely grounded in science or potential future science, rather than supernatural forces or magic. The most visible technologies include personal communication and triangulation devices (inspirations for modern day smart phones), warp drive travel for space ships, and teleporting (“Beam me up, Scotty”). The chief technologist for Google Earth has said that the tricorder’s mapping capability was one inspiration for Google Earth.
Star Wars, on the other hand, is not focused on the real-world viability of its science, as it is more science fantasy than science fiction. One of the core elements of its stories is the existence of the “Force”, an omnipresent energy that surrounds all living things and that can be harnessed by those with special abilities. The Force allows for acts of telekinesis, mind control, clairvoyance, and precognition, and can also make a person more physically capable.
After two Star Trek pilots were made, the original series aired for three years in the late sixties. Despite a fervent fan base, ratings were disappointing, and the show was canceled. Except for an animated series in the mid 70s, no new Star Trek productions were released until the first feature film in 1980. This revived the franchise, and 11 more movies followed, along with overlapping television series running until 2005. The Star Trek reboot films in 2009 and 2013 directed by J.J. Abrams brought a new style to the franchise, and functioned as broad-appeal blockbusters, rather than just being events for long-standing fans of the show.
Unlike Star Trek, Star Wars began as a motion picture rather than a television series. Universal Studios first agreed to make George Lucas’s Star Wars in 1971, but it took several years and multiple script revisions for the project to begin. The original film was finally released in 1977 to worldwide fanfare and became a pop culture phenomenon. Two sequels were released at three year intervals. 16 years after the third film, the first film in a new prequel trilogy was released. A third trilogy has recently been announced: Star Wars Episode VII will be released in 2015, and is being directed by J.J. Abrams, the same director who was in charge of the Star Trek reboot.
Political and Social Elements
When Roddenberry conceived the original show, he did so with a highly progressive, liberal agenda in mind, reflecting the counter culture movement sweeping the nation in the 1960s, although he was not totally forthcoming with the television networks about this element of the show. Star Trek was Roddenberry’s vision of what society could become in the future if humanity learned from its past mistakes. It was one of the first shows to have a mixed race cast.
Star Wars is a classic epic of good versus evil. The Jedi use the Force for good, while the Sith use the Force for evil. Star Wars functions less as commentary on specific social issues, but operates on the grander operatic struggle of dark vs light, dictatorships versus democracies, etc. However, many have attempted to draw parallels between Star Wars and the reality of history and politics, as seen in this video:
Pop Culture and Legacy
Star Trek has a devoted cult following of hardcore fans known as “Trekkies”. There are various Trekkie conventions all over the world where fans dress up in costumes and may have a chance to meet cast members, or to discuss the issues of the show. Some Trekkies even learn the show’s constructed language, Klingon. There was a Star Trek-themed attraction in Las Vegas for 10 years. Two museum exhibits of props travel the world. A NASA space shuttle was named after the crew’s ship, the Enterprise.
The Star Wars movies have expanded into a massive web of spinoffs and products, including books, video games, made-for-TV movies, comic books, animated series, theme park attractions. Even several animal species have been named after Star Wars characters. References to Star Wars are common in movies and the media.
- "KHAAANNNN!" -Captain Kirk
- "It can be argued that a human is ultimately the sum of his experiences." --Benjamin Sisko
- "I would be delighted to offer any advice I can on understanding women. When I have some, I'll let you know." -Captain Picard
- "Excuse me… Excuse me. I’d just like to ask a question… What does God need with a starship?" -Captain Kirk
- "What we leave behind is as important as how we’ve lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal." -Picard "Speak for yourself, sir. I plan to live forever. -Riker
- The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination. -Garak
- "May the Force be with you."
- “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” -Yoda
- “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” -Luke Skywalker
- “You don’t need to see his identification … These aren’t the droids you’re looking for … He can go about his business … Move along.” - Obi-Wan Kenobi
- “Use the Force, Luke.” - Obi-Wan Kenobi
- “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” -Darth Vader
- “Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.” -Yoda
- “When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.” -Darth Vader “Only a master of evil, Darth.” -Obi-Wan Kenobi
- “I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.” - Han Solo
- “Wars not make one great.” -Yoda
- “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” -Yoda