A guy named Kirk from Enterprise Rent-A-Car left a phone message for me a few years back. The message was written on a pre-printed message form, so the first line read, “You received a call from _____ with ______.” The person who took the message filled it in: “You received a call from Kirk with Enterprise.” I called him back quickly and said, “So, you’re Kirk with Enterprise. I guess you’ve heard all the jokes, right?” He responded with a Shatnerian, “I. Don’t. Know. What. You. Mean.” (That’s not true. In real life, he asked, “What jokes?”)
Back in the late 70’s when the word “nerd” was considered derogatory, I was thrilled when Star Wars came out. Nothing like it had ever been on the big screen. But as a thirteen year old, I may have admired Han Solo, but in my games, I was Captain Kirk. If the game was Hide and Seek, I was hiding in my transporter room (under the bed). When I got out of the car, I said to my Mom, still behind the wheel, “You’ve got the com, Sulu.” I had no idea what that meant.
Last week, major news media featured Star Wars stories on May 4th, “Star Wars Day,” the day Star Wars geeks bow to the pun, “May the 4th be with you.” Maybe nerds should be more inclusive, but as a devoted Trekkie, I wonder why Star Wars seems to capture more imaginations than Star Trek, a much more complex, more fully-realized…okay, I’ll say it, a much better franchise. A person can appreciate both, just like a “dog person” can like cats, but comparing Star Trek to Star Wars is like comparing Lennon to McCartney. Sure, I took guilty pleasure listening to “Good Day, Sunshine” on rare occasions, but does it really measure up to “Revolution?”
Here’s why Star Trek is Joe Strummer and Star Wars is Mick Jones:
a. The Writers:
Star Trek (the original series) had some of the great science fiction writers of its time contributing episodes: Harlan Ellison (winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, among others), Jerome Bixby (author of the classic story and Twilight Zone episode “Its a Good Life”), Robert Bloch (author of “Psycho”), Theodore Sturgeon (inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, like Ellison). Star Wars was conceived and written by George Lucas (author of “American Graffiti”).
Score: Star Trek, 1; Star Wars, 0.
b. The Stories;
Consider the ST episode Ellison wrote, “City on the Edge of Forever.” Kirk and Spock go back in time to a US city immediately before the Second World War. Kirk falls for a woman who runs a homeless shelter and who’s destined to die in a car accident. Despite his feelings for her, Kirk has to make sure she dies to ensure the proper course of history, that the US enters the war before her grassroots, pacifist message can allow the Nazis time to develop “the bomb” and win it. Sure, there had been some hiccups in the series–Star Trek practically invented the goateed “evil twin” in an episode called “Mirror, Mirror”–but there was some real imagination as well.
Star Wars, on the other hand, involves a captured princess, an evil empire with an evil man in a black robot-suit and a character called Jar-jar Binks. It also inadvertently flirted with incest when the hero of the film romantically kisses a woman who turns out to be his sister. Eewww.
Star Trek, 20: Star Wars, 0 (ST awarded 18 bonus points because of Jar-jar Binks.)
c. The Special Effects:
Star Trek’s “Devil in the Dark” involved a creature killing miners who unknowingly destroyed the creature’s eggs in their mining operations. The “devil” resembled a blob of regurgitated prime rib rolling on the grounds as if on tiny wheels. Star Trek’s effects at time made Doctor Who’s zippered, aluminum foil creatures look like the height of technology.
There were no zippers to be seen in Star Wars, but recall the bar scene in the first movie. Alien physical features were clearly assigned at random. OK, let’s start with an elephant, add an extra eye, and stick an arm out of his forehead. Next character–take a monkey’s head…
That one was a tie, but ST still wins 20-0.
Star Wars was amazing when it came out. It was 1977, and for 13 year old sci-fi geeks who avoided social discourse and the company of girls “by choice,” it gave us (ahem) a new hope, but even re-made (or remixed), it doesn’t hold up. The difference in quality between the older tv series and the space opera can be summed up in two words: Jar-jar Binks. The prosecution rests.