Comparison of Star Trek and Star Wars

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A fan of Star Trek dressed in Starfleet uniform (left) and a fan of Star Wars dressed in Imperial Death Star gunner uniform (right) at Comic-Con 2010

Fans and scholars of Star Trek, owned by CBS Television Studios, and Star Wars, owned by the Lucasfilm division of The Walt Disney Company, compare the franchises' merits while merchandisers compete to sell sometimes rival products.[1] Media critics and analysts have compared and contrasted the two works in particular because of their great impact. The franchises are both large bodies of work that make up billions of dollars of intellectual property, providing employment and entertainment for millions of people.[2]


Star Trek was introduced as a live-action television series in 1966 and lasted only three years until 1969. With the later publication of novels, comics, animated series, toys and feature films, it grew into a full scale media franchise. Before that it was simply a television serial which lasted for three seasons. A few years later in the early 1970s, an animated series was broadcast that lasted about a year.[3]

Star Wars was introduced as a feature film in 1977, though a novelization based on the original script of the first film, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, was published about a year earlier. It was not until the release of the first film that Star Wars quickly grew into a popular media franchise.[3]


Star Trek has its origin in television and was only known as a television series at its beginning. The franchise was conceived in the style of the television Western Wagon Train and the adventure stories of Horatio Hornblower but adapted to an idealistic, utopian prospect of future human society. Inspired by the tale of Gulliver's Travels,[4] Star Trek's main focus is attempting a fictional depiction of space exploration and the system of a galactic society consisting of multiple planets and species. Conflict occasionally occurs. Star Trek occurs in the relatively distant future, specifically the 22nd through 24th Centuries, with occasional time travel backward and forward. The Earth of the Star Trek universe shares most of its history with the real world.

Star Wars mainly belongs to the space opera subgenre of science fiction that was inspired by works such as Beowulf and King Arthur,[5] and the origins of other mythology and world religions as well as ancient and medieval history.[6] The Star Wars films depict a galactic society in constant conflict. Though there are periods of peace, this is not documented in the feature films but can be found in the comics, novels, games and spin-off films. Star Wars is set "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" although many characters are human, occasionally use Earth metaphors, and exhibit typical human character traits.[citation needed]

Although both Star Trek and Star Wars are produced in various forms of media, some forms of media have not been produced by both franchises equally. To date, Star Wars has not produced any live-action television series. Star Trek has produced five live-action television series with a sixth one coming up.

Star Trek likewise has also not produced any television films; whereas Star Wars has produced at least three spin-off television films outside the Star Wars film saga. The Star Wars Holiday Special, Ewoks: Caravan of Courage and Ewoks: Battle for Endor are all live-action television spin-off films set in the Star Wars universe, but not considered part of the official Star Wars canon.

Similarities and commonalities[edit]

Aside from having the word 'Star' in their respective titles, the two franchises also share many similarities:

Both stories depict societies consisting of multiple planets and species. The main galaxy in Star Trek consists of various planets, both human and non-human, united into a single state known as the United Federation of Planets. Star Wars depicts a galaxy that is mostly part of a single state known as the Old Republic, inhabited by both humans and countless other species, that later became the Galactic Empire and later reformed into a new society called the New Republic after a series of wars.

Both franchises promote philosophical and political messages, though Star Wars not as much as Star Trek.[citation needed] The main philosophies of Star Trek convey the ethics of exploration and interference and how to morally deal with a new situation when faced by it. Creator Gene Roddenberry was inspired by stories like Gulliver's Travels that implied a morality tale.[7] The main philosophical messages in Star Wars are the ethics of good against evil, and how to distinguish one from the other.[8] The philosophy of Star Wars also preaches against the totalitarian system and preaches in favor of societies that give equality to citizens.[9]

Despite their different debuts with one starting as a television series and the other as a cinematic feature film, the two franchises now sell almost all forms of media ranging from novels, television series, comic books, toys for younger audience, magazines, themed merchandise, board games and video games, as well as fan works. These include canonical and non-canonical works, including works made both by series producers and fans jointly.

Both franchises also derive significantly from history and ancient mythology, including Greco-Roman mythology. Many planets and alien species in Star Trek, for instance, are named after ancient Roman deities. Several episodes from various Star Trek television serials such as Who Mourns for Adonais are directly based on ancient Greek-Roman themes and settings.[10] They also make references to Ancient Babylon and its mythic folklore.[11] The Klingons in Star Trek and their warrior culture are a representation of the 12th century Mongols.[12]

Much of Star Wars' story plots and character developments are based on ancient history, including classical Greece and Rome. One example is the fall of the Old Republic in Star Wars followed by the rise of the galactic empire, which parallels the fall of the ancient Roman Republic followed by the rise of the Roman Empire.[6]

J. J. Abrams, director and producer of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), has directed and produced Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) for Walt Disney Pictures. Star Trek (2009) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are each the first of their three-film trilogies. More significantly, both of these films that Abrams supervised are regarded as reboots of their respective franchises, with Star Trek (2009) being set in an alternate reality due to time travel while Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a separate continuity from the Star Wars expanded universe. These films have received critical and commercial acclaim and are credited with reviving interest for both franchises. Prior to Abrams' involvement, the next iteration in the series of Star Trek and Star Wars films had been in development hell, as Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) was poorly received, and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) had capped off the prequel trilogy which overall had received a mixed to positive reception.

The latest films of the two franchises have also filmed major scenes in the United Arab Emirates. The desert scenes on the planet Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens were filmed in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.[13] Scenes for cities in the film Star Trek Beyond (2016) were filmed in the Emirate of Dubai.[14]

Estimated financial comparisons[edit]

Despite the difference in the numbers of films, the profit made by the Star Wars franchise far exceeds the profit of the Star Trek franchise almost by five times. It is difficult to accurately judge the worth of each franchise as television series, memorabilia and video games must be taken into account.

Star Trek films

Year Title Budget Box Office Net
1979 The Motion Picture $46 million $139 million $93 million
1982 The Wrath of Khan $11.2 million $97 million $85.8 million
1984 The Search for Spock $16 million $87 million $71 million
1986 The Voyage Home $21 million $133 million $112 million
1989 The Final Frontier $33 million $66 million $33 million
1991 The Undiscovered Country $27 million $96.9 million $69.9 million
1994 Generations $35 million $118 million $83 million
1996 First Contact $45 million $146 million $101 million
1998 Insurrection $58 million $113 million $55 million
2002 Nemesis $60 million $67 million $7 million
2009 Star Trek (reboot) $150 million $386 million $236 million
2013 Into Darkness $185 million $467 million $282 million
2016 Beyond - - -
Total $1.23 billion[15]

Star Wars films

Year Title Budget Box Office Net
1977 A New Hope $11 million $775.4 million $764.4 million
1980 The Empire Strikes Back $18–33 million $534.1–538.4 million $501.1-520.4 million
1983 Return of the Jedi $32.5–42.7 million $572.1 million $529.4-539.6 million
1999 The Phantom Menace $115 million $1.027 billion $912 million
2002 Attack of the Clones $115 million $649.4 million $534.4 million
2005 Revenge of the Sith $113 million $848.8 million $735.8 million
2008 The Clone Wars $8.5 million $68.3 million $59.8 million
2015 The Force Awakens $200 million $1.983 billion $1.783 billion
2016 Rogue One - - -
Total $5.8198-5,8498 billion[16]

Critique and commentaries[edit]

Science fiction writer David Brin criticized Star Wars at the time of the release of The Phantom Menace, arguing that while the Star Wars movies provide special effects and action/adventure, audiences are not encouraged to engage with their overriding themes. Among his issues with Star Wars and George Lucas, whom he accuses of "having an agenda", is that the Star Wars galaxy is too "elitist", with both the evil and good sides being arbitrary rulers, replacing one another without there ever being a choice given. He criticises both sides of the Galactic Civil War as being part of the "same genetically superior royal family."[17]

He finds the Star Wars universe flawed with additional forms of absolutism such as justified emotions leading a good person to evil - for example citing the idea that Luke Skywalker killing Palpatine would somehow turn him to the dark side, despite the act potentially saving millions of lives.[17]

Amongst the many other flaws he sees with Star Wars is Anakin Skywalker becoming a hero at the end of Return of the Jedi simply because he saved his son's life, while the atrocities he committed during his time in power go largely ignored. In contrast he argues that despite its flaws, Star Trek is "democratic" and follows genuine issues and strong questioning. His questions also are persuasive towards the United Federation of Star Trek and against the Galactic Empire of Star Wars.[17]

William Shatner argues that Star Trek is superior to Star Wars. According to him “Star Trek had relationships and conflict among the relationships and stories that involved humanity and philosophical questions. Star Wars did have one thing “Star Trek” was lacking, though — special effects. But even in that respect, “Star Trek” now has “Star Wars” beaten. Shatner explained that, once J.J. Abrams piled on the effects and placed “Star Trek” within a blockbuster framework, there was a resurgence that allowed “Star Trek” to “supersede ‘Star Wars’ on every level.[18]

Tim Russ who played Tuvok in Star Trek Voyager argues that it is difficult to find common elements to be able to compare the two. Amongst these common elements is that both franchises is their similar settings of unique characters, technologies and alien characters. He also presents the same arguments as Shatner that Star Trek reflects common human issues and moral of exploration and resolving ethical questions. Star Wars he argues is a classic medieval tale dressed up as action-adventure and embraces Eastern Philosophy of inner-strength, the mind and body as "one". Russ concludes that despite both their success and popularity, Star Trek comes out as the better one as it is set in "our" galaxy and therefor people can relate better to it; whereas Star Wars takes place in another galaxy. He further goes on to acknowledge he could be biased in his favoring of Star Trek.[3]

Jeremy Bulloch, best known for his role as Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy, a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series, and acquaintance of various Star Trek cast members, argues that while both franchises are popular, Star Wars comes out as the superior, in his opinion having better soundtracks and special effects. He ends his arguments by concluding that both franchises are great and in the end are fiction.[3]

Contrasting the focus of the two franchises, contributor J. C. Herzthe of the New York Times argued that: "Trek fandom revolves around technology because the Star Trek universe was founded on ham-fisted dialogue and Gong Show-caliber acting. But the fictional science has always been brilliant. The science in Star Wars is nonsense, and everyone knows it. But no one cares because Star Wars isn't about science. It's epic drama. It's about those incredibly well-developed characters and the moral decisions they face. People don't get into debates about how the second Death Star works. They get into debates about the ethics of blowing it up."[19]

John Wenzel of the Denver Post highlighted two differences in approach, noting the "swashbuckling" and "gunslinger" style of Star Wars compared with Star Trek's "broader themes of utopian living, justice and identity" and seeing that the spiritual aspect of Star Wars contrasts with the balance of emotion and logic seen in Star Trek.[20]

Archived footage in Trek Nation showed Gene Roddenberry saying “I like Star Wars. It was young King Arthur growing up, slay-slaying the evil emperor finally. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of entertainment - Everything doesn’t have to create a philosophy for you - for your whole life. You can also have fun."[21]

Influences on one another[edit]

The two franchises nonetheless have a "symbiotic relationship", states William Shatner, who credits Star Wars for the beginning of the Star Trek films.[22] He repeated this sentiment at a 2016 Star Trek fan convention in Las Vegas by stating "Star Wars created Star Trek". He clarified this statement by explaining that at the time of the release the first Star Wars film (A New Hope), Paramount, then under a new management, was struggling to come up with something that could compete with Star Wars. It was then that Star Trek came to mind and as a result, the Star Trek franchise was relaunched, but this time as a series of feature films rather than a television series. Since then public interest has returned to Star Trek.[23]

The documentary Trek Nation features interviews where both George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry praise one another's respective franchises, with the former stating that Star Trek was an influence while writing the original screenplay for Star Wars.[21] He explained that while both franchises were so "far out", Star Trek produced a fan base that "softened up the entertainment arena" so that Star Wars to "come along and stand on its shoulders."[24] This is also acknowledged by Shatner, who went as far as to call Star Wars a "derivative" of Star Trek.[18]

A few references to Star Wars have been inserted into Star Trek films; for fleeting moments one can see ships and droids from Star Wars. Most Star Trek films and some TV episodes used Industrial Light and Magic, founded to provide effects for Star Wars, for their special effects.[citation needed]

When Gene Roddenberry was honored at a Star Trek convention late in his life, a congratulatory letter from George Lucas was presented by an actor dressed as Darth Vader. A few years earlier, Roddenberry had contributed an entry in honor of Star Wars and George Lucas at a convention honoring the latter.[citation needed]

Comic relief[edit]

William Shatner was a presenter at George Lucas' AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony in 2007 and did a comical stage performance honoring Lucas.[25]

At a live concert, Shatner was seen dressed up as an imperial stormtrooper singing 'Girl Crush' alongside Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley.[26]

In 2011, Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher and Shatner posted a series of humorous YouTube videos satirizing each other's franchises.

In a 2016 interview Shatner commented that Captain Kirk and Princess Leia eloping and running off into the sunset would be the "perfect union" between Star Trek and Star Wars.[18]


Both franchises are set to grow through the next decade.

Star Trek was rebooted with a series of feature films starting with the Star Trek reboot (2009) which was followed by Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and a number of sequels set to follow. A new television series supposedly based on the most recent films are claimed to debut in 2017.[27]

Star Wars is set to continue by storyline from where Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi left off and is being aimed to be at least a sequel trilogy of films before the decision to make more trilogies will have been accepted. Additionally, more spin-off media is also underway with the debut of Star Wars Rebels, a television series set in between the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy. A set of stand-alone Star Wars films are also set to come underway, starting with Rogue One.

Aside from official works by the producers of Star Trek and Star Wars, many fan films set in the two universes of the franchises are also constantly produced and posted on the Internet by fans, but not officially considered canon in relation to either franchise.


  1. ^ David M. Ewalt (2005-05-18). "Star Wars Vs. Star Trek". Forbes. Retrieved 2007-09-13. 
  2. ^ Richard Ho (May 14, 1999), "Trekkers VS Lucasites", The Harvard Crimson 
  3. ^ a b c d Matt Forbeck Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Could the Empire kick the Federation's ass? And other galaxy-shaking enigmas foreword Adams Media, 2011 ISBN 1440525773, 9781440525773
  4. ^ ScreenPrism. "What was "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry's vision for the series - ScreenPrism". 
  5. ^ Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. Star Wars Trilogy Box Set DVD documentary. [2005]
  6. ^ a b Star Wars and History by Janice Liedl and Nancy R. Reagin ISBN 1118285255, 9781118285251
  7. ^ See David Alexander, Star Trek Creator. The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry and interview with Roddenberry in Something about the Author by Gale Research Company and chapter 11 of Trash Culture: Popular Culture and the Great Tradition by Richard Keller Simon
  8. ^ Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful than You Can Possibly Imagine by Kevin S. Decker, Jason T. Eberl
  9. ^ Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader by Sean Redmond Page 303
  10. ^ Matthew Wilhelm Kapell Star Trek as Myth: Essays on Symbol and Archetype at the Final Frontier McFarland, 2010 page 82 ISBN 0786455942, 9780786455942
  11. ^ "Star Trek as Myth Through an Analysis of the Similarities and Differences Between the Gilgamesh/Enkidu and Kirk/Spock Relationships". The Kirk/Spock fanfiction archive. 
  12. ^ "Star Trek And the New Myth of the Machine as Seen in the Talosians, Trelane, and the Organians". Ken Sanes. Transperancy. 
  13. ^ Ali Jaafar. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens Helps Abu Dhabi Build Road To Somewhere - Deadline". Deadline. 
  14. ^ "'Star Trek Beyond' descends on Dubai: JLT, DIFC 'raided'". Emirates 24-7. 
  15. ^ "Star Trek Franchise Box Office History - The Numbers". Retrieved 2016-01-31. 
  16. ^ "Star Wars Franchise Box Office History - The Numbers". Retrieved 2016-01-31. 
  17. ^ a b c Brin, David. ""Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists". 
  18. ^ a b c Editor, Gazelle Emami Deputy Features; Post, The Huffington (15 September 2011). "William Shatner: 'Star Wars Is Derivative Of Star Trek'". 
  19. ^ "'Star Wars' World With a Sense of Humor". The New York Times. 29 October 1998. 
  20. ^ John Wenzel (11 October 2009). ""Star Wars" vs. "Star Trek": The final frontier of marketing is an expanding universe". The Denver Post. 
  21. ^ a b Trek Nation (2010 documentary)
  22. ^ Dominguez, Robert (1999-05-17). "William Shatner's Trek Never Ends The Actor-author Keeps Seeking New Challenges While Feeding Fans' Hunger For All Things Kirk". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 2012-01-12. Retrieved October 14, 2011. 
  23. ^ "William Shatner Says Star Wars Created Star Trek". 
  24. ^ "George Lucas on how Star Trek helped Star Wars". 
  25. ^ "Shatner Honors Lucas". American Film Institute. 
  26. ^ "William Shatner Dresses as 'Star Wars' Stormtrooper, Sings 'Girl Crush' at CMAs". 
  27. ^ "Star Trek New Star Trek Series Premieres January 2017". 

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