Monday, 7 May 2012

Star Trek vs. Star Wars: The 5 best bits!

Hi all FOC here,

So going back to our previous blog post Star Trek has a 3:2 lead when examining the very worst parts of both franchises. Now we examine the best parts. Will Star Trek maintain it's lead or will Star Wars come roaring back?

Let's see, on to the good bits:

6) Wow factor

Star Trek The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Deep Space Nine vs. Star Wars Episodes 4-6

The point I realised that Deep Space Nine was going to be good was the season 4 opener "Way of the Warrior." This was a turning point, not because it was a magnificent episode (I'd rate it as pretty good but not spectacular) but because it was when Star Trek pulled the gloves off. Up until this point any fleet action had taken place off screen and on screen combats were reserved for 3 ships max. "Way of the Warrior" threw that out the window. "Hell" it said, "Lets have hundreds of ships kick it up." It pioneered that wow factor that many of the better scenes in seasons six and seven had.

Wrath of Khan has similar awesome bits. It doesn't look like much today but the genesis device transformation sequence was groundbreaking in its day. Also the battles between the Reliant and the Enterprise are masterworks of tension and suspense.

But seriously. Let's face it, Star Wars totally owns here.

If there is one thing that Star Wars does well it's the wow factor. from the first shots of the series we know that this is going to be epic. The first shots of the Star Destroyer are then trumped by the Death Star. We get AT AT's, epic lightsaber duels, speederbike chases and all manner of incredible set pieces.

Star Trek does some epic stuff but Star Wars is epic stuff.

Point to Star Wars

7) Aliens and universe building

Klingons and Romulans vs. Mos Eisley Cantina

Science Fiction doesn't necessarily need aliens but I must say I'm a sucker for them. Star Trek is populated by some iconic races, the Klingons, Romulans and Borg to name but three. The problem is that the races in question are always seen as having the same traits. Klingons are angry warriors, Romulans are devious, Cardassians are treacherous, Ferengi are crap that sort of thing. Bizarrely for a series that is all about different spacefaring races they don't get much in the way of development. For example we rarely see a Klingon that's not all about combat and being angry (except Alexander I suppose, but seriously, fuck Alexander he's shit.) It's all a planet of hats and if you are a member of that race you wear that hat.

Star Wars goes out of it's way to produce more nuanced alien races. In the expanded universe we have seen treacherous Wookies, honourable Trandoshans and Mon Calamari commandos. The Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba's Palace were incredible menageries of alien races all with their own backgrounds and objectives. They were glimpses into a galaxy of countless races and not every member of these races acted the same way or had the same traits.

In short the Star Wars Universe is more complex and varied than the cookie cutter aliens of the Star Trek franchise.

Point to Star Wars

8) Beliefs

Federation vs. the Force

I find it highly ironic that America produced a series like Star Trek. Basically it's about a group of communist space hippies living in a space commune wandering around being smug at people. It's not exactly the American Way in space.

OK that's not exactly fair but one of the big ideas (if not the big idea) of Star Trek is its belief that humanity has evolved beyond the need for money and has banished war. Which is of course horseshit. Deep Space Nine does a good job of de-constructing the ridiculousness of this idea without really addressing it. If we all pursue our respective muses and give ourself over to higher thoughts, who cleans the sewers? Every crappy job can't have been removed so who volunteers to do them without incentive?

Worse than this is the horrendous level of smug that oozes off the screen in the first two series of The Next Generation. "We have evolved bitches!" they say. "All lesser species are barbarians for believing in money and war, which we of course don't even though we have incredibly heavily armed warships traversing the galaxy doing science." This is one of the only series I have seen that actively calls it's own audience barbarians.

Star Wars delves into philosophy through the force and frankly a mystical energy force that allows you to telekenetically lift rocks is still better thought out than the Federation. Actually this does Star Wars a disservice. Star Wars never pretends to be social commentary, it's a fable built on the bones of other fables throughout history and that's why it works. It deliberately evokes a fairytale atmosphere and as such the magic that the force represents is not out of place. We are not expected to take Star Wars seriously so the force is fine. Besides the beliefs of the Jedi are interesting to examine and maybe I will do that at a later date.

Both series contain nonsense but only Star Trek expects you to take it seriously.

Point to Star Wars

9) Drama

Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine vs. Star Wars Episodes 4-6

One of the reasons I love science fiction is the fact that it allows you to tell stories that you can't tell in a more mainstream milieu. Sure there's a lot of silliness and nonsense but at it's best Science Fiction truly examines the nature of existence and humanity.

Star Wars never does this. It is unashamedly pulp. Sure there are dramatic scenes, the confrontations between Luke and Darth Vader are well done, the romance between Leia and Han is well written and touching and you really feel for the characters. But there is never a point that makes you sit back and think.

Star Trek at it's most ambitious does this. Star Wars does not have anything that matches the dramatic intensity of episodes like "The Inner Light", "The Visitor", "In Purgatory's Shadow" or "The Measure of a Man". Star Trek is braver in it's choices and whilst sometimes this causes issues and false steps the occasional payoff is worth it.

Point to Star Trek

10) Characters

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Both these series have epic characters. On one side you have Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader on the other you have James T Kirk, Jean Luc Picard and Neelix (heh only kidding). All of these characters (except Neelix, fuck Neelix) are icons, towering colossi in the genre so it's difficult to choose between them.

The fact is however that the strength of Star Wars is also it's weakness here. Star Trek does a far better job of developing it's characters than Star Wars. This is however deliberate. Star Wars does not need character development in the same way that Indiana Jones doesn't need development. Star Wars relies on iconic archetypes- the Wise Old Master, The Naive Farmboy, The Cocky Rogue- to progress its story and that's fine because it does not need any ambitions beyond that.

Star Trek characters change. Kira Nerys is a different character at the end of the Deep Space Nine than at the beginning. So is Picard at the end of The Next Generation (he's no longer a dick for example). Character arcs change and develop as events occur and as a result the series as a whole changes often for the better.

The answer to which approach is better is a tough one but I have to say that I prefer the Star Trek approach. I like to see a character grow and as a result the point goes to Star Trek.

Point to Star Trek 


So we have a 5:5 tie here... Well bugger. I've cocked this one up haven't I?

Actually I think that I have come to a conclusion... The worst bits of Star Wars are worse but the best bits are better. You are also not comparing like with like no matter what the superficial similarities may be. Star Trek wants to say something, to be taken seriously. Star Wars on the other hand wants to be an epic. These divergent approaches achieve both great heights and great troughs. But I must say that I enjoy their different ambitions equally.

That's the message from this. I like the experience of Star Wars equally to the journey taken by Star Trek. Sure there are some bits that suck but the best moments are truly glorious and I'm glad to have experienced both.

Your resident reviewer

Fall of Camelot

1 comment:

  1. In contrast to your comment that TNG is the only series to call its own audience barbarians, I would like to add that Conan The Barbarian is the only movie (or book series or whatever) that tells its audience that they are not cool enough to be barbarians.