Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Where Star Wars beats Star Trek

by Rob - July 31st, 2017.
Filed under: Star Trek.

One thing I like about the Star Wars franchise: it is coherent; it doesn’t keep trying to reimagine or reinvent or reinterpret itself. The latest film, Rogue One, goes to great lengths to look like and fit in with the very first film, the original Star Wars, from 40 years ago.

Star Trek made a mistake, starting with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (as much as I love it), in constantly changing things — the uniforms, the ships (we’ve seen seven Enterprises now), the details, and even the characterization. Do Andorians have thick antennae from the back of their heads (TOS) thin ones sprouting from their foreheads (TMP), or mobile finger-like ones that come from in between (ENT)? Do Klingons have smooth foreheads (TOS), spinal cords that move up over their skulls (TMP), or cow-patties on their foreheads (ST III and beyond)? Do Gorns have no tails (TOS) or tails (ENT)? Do the TOS Enterprise‘s impulse engines show as dark rectangles when running or as brightly glowing red ones (TOS original vs. TOS remastered)? Do shields go up by slowly encircling the ship (ST II), or growing outward in waves from the ship (ST V)? And on and on and on.

Alien races come and go in Star Trek (remember all the new aliens from TMP, never seen again?), but in Star Wars we constantly see old races we know well depicted as they’ve always been depicted.

Star Wars knows that its fans remember tiny little details from decades gone by; Star Trek has Kirk make remarks such as, in Star Trek V, “I lost a brother once” — and have it not refer to his late brother Sam, cuz, y’know, who the heck would remember that Sam had been horribly killed? Or they can have the deck numbers run in the wrong direction (and there be way too many of them) in Star Trek V, because no one would know, right?

Don’t get me wrong: I love Star Trek, but the Star Wars people know way more about how to manage a franchise and build fannish loyalty. When you’re entrusted with a classic, it’s your job to continue the tradition, not try to make it your own.

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6 Responses to Where Star Wars beats Star Trek

  1. On the other hand, watching the details of the Trek universe evolve is fascinating. Trek was always first and foremost about telling stories about the present. The technology is also a product of our evolving understanding of what’s possible. All you have to do is treat each series and movie as a standalone reflection of what artists today are thinking. My 10-year-old son and I have had many satisfying discussions about the continuity errors and inconsistencies between the various incarnations, and I think those conversations have proven most educational.

    Say what you want about Gorn tails, at least Trek never conflates the mystical with the natural. Midichlorians anyone?

  2. Very nicely put.

    I would much rather live in the Star Trek universe where there’s at least some kind of formal attempt at egalitarianism & cooperation, rather than a galaxy far, far away, and constantly living in fear of space wizards and weapons of mass mass MASS destruction.

    But Star Wars, even with all its flubs and prequel stupidity, is a more immersive experience. I’ve been really impressed with Disney’s handling of the franchise – which isn’t surprising; they know a thing or ninety about How To Tell A Story™, and who wants to risk a $4B investment? They know what fans want, what they expect, and they deliver, without sacrificing TOO much in the way of originality.

    While my friends are enthusiastic about the trailer for ST: Discovery, I can’t help thinking “I don’t recognize any of this.” I’m all on board with Michelle Yeoh as the new captain, and everything looks undeniably COOL… but it feels like a completely different universe than the one where I met Kirk and Janeway and Zefram Cochran.

    I hope the show does well, but I can’t say I’m hooked from the start.

  3. Absolutely, positively, on the nose, accurate. The failure to exert themselves to create and maintain an interconnected reality has terribly undermined the verisimilitude at the heart of the original Star Trek. Derided as a cheap, plywood “B” production by the unaware, Star Trek was actually an ambitious, expensive, rigoriously conceived and executed production that avoided making the mistakes of over-detailing because, you know, stuff changes. Plus, that Roddenberry rule that got lost somewhere along the way, that a cowboy doesn’t explain how his revolver works so neither should a spaceman explain his phaser. Burdening later Trek with unnecessary detail was an invitation to others to ignore that detail. Instead, later Treks should have further SIMPLIFIED beyond TOS’ simplicity to the buttonless, switchless surfaces of such classic sets as Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Day the Earth Stood Still” saucer interior. TOS minus its few anachronisms would have been wonderful and even more timeless. But it would have left little room for all the Bermans and Bragas and Bennetts and Abramses to leave their own mark.

  4. I wonder if this has something to do with the number of hours each represents.

    Between the 8 Star Wars movies and the Clone Wars/Rebels series, there’s maybe 103 hours of on screen story told over 39 years, largely by one creator.

    Star Trek represents well over 700 hours of on screen story told over 51 years by a huge number of different creators.

    While I do have an appreciation for the Disney/Lucasfilm story department, the universes are two entirely different beasts.

    A better comparison might be Doctor Who and Star Trek. The Doctor has been around for over 50 years and represents about 420 hours of on screen story, and continuity is all over the place. Daleks and Cybermen have not only changed their looks, but their origin stories as well.

  5. That would a decent argument, Ian, except STAR TREK didn’t start morphing with its 700th hour or after 51 years, but rather with its 80th live-action hour and its thirteenth year after first airing (the beginning of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE), and that WAS creator-controlled; the opening credits read “A Gene Roddenberry Production / A Robert Wise Film.”

  6. To be fair, Star Wars only held to consistency across fewer than a dozen discrete episodes (Allowing the other media to go off-canon in places) while ST has had to cross more than 700 individual episodes and movies. That said, I absolutely agree about uniforms and ship designs and the like. It takes most terrestrial forces a decade or more to decide on the details of a uniform change, when they permit a change, which is typically only a handful of times per century.

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