My experience with these two is different than most. I am 35. I was born in 1974. So, according to the majority of people my age, I should be an unabashed Star Wars fan. The first movie came out when I was three, followed at age five and eight. I should have been right in the mix of those Star Wars fanatics. Most people my age are. I know for a fact that my son would have been in that boat - since he is NOW. But I didn't see the original trilogy until I was 18 and in college. For over ten years, I had been hearing how awesome this series was. "You HAVE to watch it." I wasn't allowed to watch it. When I got to college, I finally saw it.
It was okay. (Ducking the force lightning.) You have to give me a break. I saw these movies in August of 1992. I already knew that "Luke, I'm your father." The good guys won. I already had seen toys and heard stories. As far as the technology goes, remember what had come out by that point. In July of 1991, Terminator 2 had come out. Morphing technology. Liquid metal turning into man. And in the summer of 1993, dinosaurs were about to come to life with Jurassic Park. It was hard to be impressed with a pilot turning a dial and flying into a box of lines. Especially when you had been watching Star Trek.
Star Trek: The Next Generation hit the airwaves in 1989. I started watching it in 1990 or so. So, I had been seeing flying spacecraft and impressive sets. There were special effects. Nothing Star Wars put out there was that impressive, in 1992. So I was not that impressed. I tried hard. I bought the movies, watched them with my friends. I went to the Special Edition releases (and realizing how there were long boring stretches in the original trilogy). And I got really worked up about the 1999 arrival of Episode 1 - organizing a big group of people to go. But, it coincided with my own battle with movies (reflected in this award winning blog entry). So I never saw Episode One until last year. I still have not seen Episodes Two or Three.
Star Trek is a different story. I watched the show every week. I watched Deep Space Nine every chance I could - my personal favorite series. I watched Voyager until they got really stupid. And I watched Enterprise for a while, too. I have seen every Star Trek movie. And I have seen every once since Six in the theaters. The newest one? I saw it twice and would watch it again tomorrow if I had the time and money. So, is it me? Is it just my personal preference? I mean, I like Pepsi, Burger King, and Apple. I guess I root for the second place finisher. Or is it something more? Is Star Trek actually better? Let's try to analyze. Winner of each topic gets 10 points. Loser can get up to nine.
BOX OFFICE TAKE
You would assume that this is a runaway for Star Wars. You would be right. Total domestic take for Star Wars? $2.2 billion. Total for the Treks? $1 billion. (And that is only because a quarter of that came from this summer's reboot.) $1 billion is nothing to sneeze at - it is ninth all time in franchises. But, not even close.
WINNER: Star Wars 10-5
BOX OFFICE QUALITY
This one is closer than you may imagine. The hit and miss nature of Star Trek is well documented. The odd number movies are usually atrocious, while the even ones are good. Well, until 10 was terrible and the reboot (11?) was the best ever. I would say, though, that Star Trek 2, 4, 6, 8, and 11 hold up comparably well against the Star Wars saga. Let's be honest here. Episode Five is an all time classic. Episode Four is also a legend. But, aside from that, what about the others? Six was good, but was it great? There are some really bad moments, not to mention that the ending ruined what was one of history's great villains - and probably could be held accountable for the disaster of the first three episodes. Episode One is good - but nothing so much better than Trek Four. Episode Two is ridiculous - at least the part I have seen. The romantic angle is just juvenile and Hayden Christiansen does what entire galaxies couldn't do - takes the bite out of Darth Vader. I haven't seen Three, but I have heard it was good, but not legendary. Honestly, 1-3 are largely bailed out by side characters (Darth Maul, Mace Windu, the Fetts). And Lucas even mishandles those - there is no way you should kill someone as awesome as Maul in the first act and replace him with Saruman. But, even I would be hard pressed to win an argument in Trek's favor here.
WINNER: Star Wars 10-8
Is this a fair category? Probably not. This is where Star Trek began and where it thrived. With the reboot, it may actually become a movie based brand. But for years it has been television first and foremost. Star Wars has dabbled here. The Clone Wars is not bad. It is better than the Star Trek Animated Series and probably better than Enterprise and Voyager. But it is a far distant fourth to the Original Series, TNG, or DS9. There is a new Star Wars live action series coming out in 2010. That could be interesting. And Clone Wars got better as the season rolled on. But you are up against some heavy competition. TNG was a phenomenal show. There are episodes of it that were just jaw-dropping - even by today's standards. They were one of the first to really utilize the end-0f-season cliffhanger to great success. I still remember when Picard, changed to a Borg, was staring at the Enterprise and Riker just said, "Fire." And season ends. WHAAAAAAT!?!?! To this day, when entertainment groups do rankings of cliffhangers, TNG is on the list with Lost and Dallas. The competition in this one is as bad as the box office one. Oh wait, I forgot the Star Wars Christmas Special....
Winner: Star Trek 10-5
This is a tough category. Most Star Wars fans think that sci-fi didn't exist before Lucas and 1977. (Of course, most Trek fans feel the same way.) Trek was first by a long shot. It premiered in 1966. It tackled some huge issues. The first televised inter-racial kiss was on Trek. It was well known that Gene Roddenberry was preaching through his show - making each race a veiled representative of those on earth. As the shows progressed, it continued to tackle issues. Euthanasia, genocide, assisted suicide, ethics, what defines life. It was never just about space exploration - it was about mankind exploration. Star Wars was groundbreaking in the level of technology and how it related to the people. It was pure entertainment and it tried to reach people where they were. It was at Comic-Con when it was just two guys in a treehouse trading comics. And culturally, it would hit a nerve unlike anything before or after. The only way to decide this is with the question, would Star Wars been put out without Star Trek? I really don't know. Lucas pitched SW in 1971. There has to be a winner.
WINNER: Star Trek 10-9
Even I am not so brazen as to imply Star Trek has had as large of an impact as Star Wars in our culture. Star Wars has done so much - especially if you throw in the impact of things like Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, Pixar, Darth Vader, The Force, the books, the games, the conventions. Trek has its own contributions: Spock, Kirk, William Shatner, the Vulcan mind meld, Vulcan greeting, live long and prosper, Tribbles, Klingons around Uranus, warp speed. And Star Wars has Jar Jar Binks, so I must give Star Trek an extra point.
WINNER: Star Wars 10-7
Right now the score is 44 to 40 Star Wars. So I have to come up with something to explain why I think Star Trek is better - something to generate them some points. If you go with scope of franchise, Star Wars would win. If you go with quality of actors, Star Wars would win. If you go with coolness factor, Star Wars would win. So this is where you pull out the personal card. Star Wars is a huge battle that basically swirls around one family: The Skywalkers. It is a gigantic family drama. We see Luke alone at first. Slowly you add Leia and Han. They we find out about Anakin/Vader. Then we go back and learn all about Anakin. Later, we jump ahead to Luke's kids in what would be Episodes 7-9. But it swirls around Skywalkers. And it is a huge space war basically brought on by greed and power struggles. Most people are just pawns. You may see someone break through with an identity of their own - like Boba Fett. And that gets exploited as fast as possible. But there is very little for you, the viewer, to connect with. It is like watching Indiana Jones or Superman. You are never going to be that person. You don't have midichlorians or a whip or Kryptonian legacy. You are just some guy working in a cubicle eating Cheetos and spending too much time worrying about things like "Who is Hotter? Padme or Leia?" That guy in Star Wars wears a gray hat and gets killed when the Emperor's ego trip is blown to Kingdom Come. The Everyman factor is not there. It is pure escapist fun.
Star Trek is not. It is a bunch of individuals working together. Someone is going to be a person you can relate to. It may be the maintenance guy who works his way up to station engineer like Miles O'Brien. It may be the son trying to fill the shoes of a famous officer like Wesley Crusher or Jake Sisko. It may be the thieving sneaky bartender who is completely untrustworthy, yet somehow never ends up in jail, like Quark. It may be the hot green skinned Orion slave girl. Whatever. You relate to Star Trek. They are trying to make their ways and learn and make a difference. That was the beauty of the show. It was a bunch of people going to work and us watching their jobs unfold. Sometimes it would be something amazing like a space baby sucking energy out of the Enterprise. Sometimes it would be really mundane, like the episode Data's Day. It was like a sci-fi version of The Office. And the volume of shows and such really brought this home. It wasn't about the six epic showdowns. Sure, there were those. But it was about the day in, day out stuff too. Teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers. Following their leaders and trying to survive and learn. This was brought to light time and again in eleven movies and 725 episodes.
WINNER: Star Trek: 10 to 5
I think that is the tipping point in the argument to me. Books, comics, games. Frankly those are a draw. Movies: 6 vs 11. But when you have to come up with 725 stories? That says something. Once Star Wars dives into the television market, it may be different. They will have to get smaller - more intimate, more relatable. But that is not in their nature. It is always about the big picture. I can't imagine them doing what Star Trek did with Voyager - flinging a ship to the other end of space and then watching them get back. Or DS9 - basically setting a series on the Trek equivalent of the Cantina. And while I enjoy the big escapist epics. I am always going to be more drawn in the long term to the property I can invest in. That is why Lost is better than Heroes - you are invested in the castaways. This is even why I feel good about the new Trek direction - I left that movie being very interested in those people. Someone once said the biggest thing going for Star Trek was the characters. The people. I guess that's what tips the scales to me.
TOTAL WINNER: Star Trek: 50 to 49
Now, feel free to tear me a new one.