Comparison of Star Trek and Star Wars

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Star Trek and Star Wars fans in costume

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 rival products.[1] Media critics and analysts have compared and contrasted the two works in particular because of their great impact and similarities. 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. With the 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 and known only as such that lasted three seasons.

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


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 adopted in the idealistic, utopian prospect of future human society. Star Trek‍ '​s main focus is giving 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 relative distant future (the 22nd through 24th Centuries, with occasional time travel backward and forward) in "our" universe, on an Earth that shares most of real history and throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek: The Original Series as a Space Western.[3]

Star Wars is an epic space opera that was inspired by works such as Beowulf and King Arthur, and the origins of other myth and world religions.[4] Star Wars is a story that depicts 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]

A key difference has been suggested to be that Star Trek is science fiction while Star Wars is science fantasy.[5][6] Contrasting the focus of the two franchises, 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."[7]

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.[8]

The varying treatment of racial issues has also received comment. Star Trek has always featured a multiracial cast and featured one of the first interracial kisses, but the original Star Wars trilogy featured few non-white actors, other than Billy Dee Williams and the voice of James Earl Jones. In the Prequel Trilogy, several characters were played by non-white actors, most notably Samuel L. Jackson, while in The Force Awakens, two of the main leads are played by John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, who are of Nigerian and Guatemalan decent, respectively.


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.[9] The main[citation needed] philosophical messages in Star Wars are the ethics of good against evil and how to distinguish one from the other. The philosophy of Star Wars also preaches against the totalitarian system and preaches in favor of societies that give equality to citizens.[10]


In the book, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Tim Russ, who played Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, argues that while both franchises are spectacular, Star Trek comes out better than Star Wars because it has a (fictional) setting in humanity's future and can connect with the audience better. Russ further goes to acknowledge that his former role as a Star Trek character could be a factor in such judgements.[11] Science fiction writer David Brin in a 1999 piece criticized Star Wars, terming it as "elitist" and "anti-democractic" and accusing George Lucas of having an "agenda". He terms the Federation of Planets in Star Trek as progressive while criticizing both opposing sides in Star Wars, The Rebel Alliance and The Empire, as two sides of "the same genetically superior royal family."[12]

Influences on each other[edit]

The franchises have a "symbiotic relationship", states William Shatner, who credits Star Wars for the beginning of the Star Trek films.[13] 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.


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]

In January 2013, it was announced that J. J. Abrams, director of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), had signed on to direct Star Wars Episode VII for Walt Disney Pictures.[14] There have been a few actors who appeared in films of both franchises.[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] William Shatner was a presenter at George Lucas' AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony in 2007 and did a comical stage performance honoring Lucas.[15] In 2011, Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher and Shatner posted a series of humorous YouTube videos satirizing each other's franchises.


  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. ^ Trek Nation (documentary)
  4. ^ Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. Star Wars Trilogy Box Set DVD documentary. [2005]
  5. ^ Blum, Matt (August 5, 2009). "Great Geek Debates: Star Trek vs. Star Wars". GeekDad. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  6. ^ Geraghty, Lincoln (2007). "Myth: Star Trek and Star Wars". Living with Star Trek: American culture and the Star Trek universe. I. B. Tauris. p. 232. ISBN 1845112652. 
  7. ^ Herz, J.C. (29 October 1998). "GAME THEORY; 'Star Wars' World With a Sense of Humor". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  8. ^ Wenzel, John (11 October 2009). ""Star Wars" vs. "Star Trek": The final frontier of marketing is an expanding universe". Denver Post. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  9. ^ See David Alexander[disambiguation needed], 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
  10. ^ Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader by Sean Redmond Page 303
  11. ^ Star Wars vs. Star Trek by Matt Forbeck
  12. ^
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Lucas Shaw (2013-01-24). "J.J. Abrams Set to Direct Next 'Star Wars' Film (Exclusive)". The Wrap. 
  15. ^

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