Comparison of Star Trek and Star Wars

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Fans of Star Trek and Star Wars in costume 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. 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. A few years later in the early 70s, an animated series was broadcast that lasted about a year.

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. Inspired by the tale of Gulliver’s Travels,[3] 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 relative distant future, specifically the 22nd through 24th Centuries, with occasional time travel backward and forward set 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.[4]

Star Wars is an epic space opera that was inspired by works such as Beowulf and King Arthur, and the origins of other mythology and world religions[5] 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]

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]

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.[10]

There have been a few actors who appeared in films of both franchises.[citation needed]

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

Notable commentaries comparing the two[edit]

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]

For similar reasons, Matt Blum, a contributor to Wired, though identifying himself a fan of both, states he prefers Star Trek over Star Wars. In his opinion Star Trek is "more egalitarian".[12]

In the same book Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, expressed that he has been a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series and considers them both great. He also has met many of some of the cast form Star Trek, he argues that he would prefer Star Wars over Star Trek because of its special effects and music. Like Russ, he acknowledges that his role as a Star Wars character would make his opinion more biased.[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."[13]

Writer Lincoln Geraghty in a book about Star Trek's cultural influence, he devotes a chapter that compares Star Trek to Star Wars. He notes the significant influences of ancient mythology both franchises inherit in their settings. He also gives his perception that both franchises have the same basic foundations in giving moral guidance to the American public. According to Geraghty, the mythology of Star Trek is a narrative can illustrate and correct historical indiscretions". Star Wars' mythology according to him is more symbolic and grounded in the ancient past, which according to him is why some Star Wars fans see it as "science fantasy" rather than science fiction[14] (although fantasy and mythology are two distinct concepts despite their similarities and despite one's frequent use of the latter[15][16]).

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."[17]

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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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]

Financial comparisons[edit]

Star Wars Films

Year Title Budget Box Office Net
1977 Episode IV: A New Hope $11 million $775.4 million $764.4 million
1980 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back $18–33 million $534.1–538.4 million $501.1-520.4 million
1983 Episode VI: Return of the Jedi $32.5–42.7 million $572.1 million $529.4-539.6 million
1999 Episode I: The Phantom Menace $115 million $1.027 billion $912 million
2002 Episode II: Attack of the Clones $115 million $649.4 million $534.4 million
2005 Episode III: Revenge of the Sith $113 million $848.8 million $735.8 million
2015 Episode VII: The Force Awakens $200 million $1.983 billion $1.783 billion
2017 Episode VIII - - -
2019 Episode IX - - -
Total $5.76-5.79 billion[21]

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[22]

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 5 times. It is difficult to accurately judge the worth of each franchise as television shows, memorabilia and video games must be take into account.

Criticisms of both franchises[edit]

Star Wars has been repeatedly criticized by various people for what they see as its violent nature and its mythical portrayal as "a contradiction of religious values".[23][24] In a two-page essay Steve Johnson, a contributor for the Chicago Tribune, gave his perception that "Star Wars is overrated".[25] A guest critic on Decent Films Guide raised many issues he feels that Star Wars poses, especially around its growing commerce as well as other issues regarding morality and violence.[24]

Star Trek has been criticized by academics, journalists, critics and fans for its promotion of pseudoscience.[26][27][28][29][30] David Kushner is a journalist and author who has written for various publications, including The New York Times. He has been critical of the use of pseudoscience in Hollywood and criticized Star Trek for this reason.[31] Author Mark Juddary in his book Overrated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History includes Star Trek amongst the list.[32]

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.[33]

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


Both franchises are set to grow in the next few years.

Star Trek was rebooted with a series of feature films started with the 2009 Star Trek film which was followed by a Star Trek: Into Darkness in 2013 and a number of sequels set to follow.

Star Wars is set to continue by story line 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 has been accepted. Additionally, more spin-off media is also underway with the debut of Star Wars: Rebels, a TV series set in between the Star Wars prequel and original trilogy. A set of stand-alone Star Wars films are also set to come underway.


  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. ^
  4. ^ Trek Nation (2010 documentary)
  5. ^ Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. Star Wars Trilogy Box Set DVD documentary. [2005]
  6. ^ Star Wars and History by Janice Liedl and Nancy R. Reagin
  7. ^ 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
  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. ^ Lucas Shaw (2013-01-24). "J.J. Abrams Set to Direct Next 'Star Wars' Film (Exclusive)". The Wrap. 
  11. ^ a b Star Wars vs. Star Trek by Matt Forbeck- forward
  12. ^
  13. ^ ""Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists". David Brin. 
  14. ^ Living with Star Trek: American Culture and the Star Trek Universe by Lincoln Geraghty- chapter three
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Trek Nation (2010 Documentary)
  21. ^ "Star Wars Franchise Box Office History - The Numbers". Retrieved 2016-01-31. 
  22. ^ "Star Trek Franchise Box Office History - The Numbers". Retrieved 2016-01-31. 
  23. ^ "SPECIAL COMPARATIVE STUDY - STAR WARS: ChildCare Action Project (CAP) Media Analysis Report MAR07599". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  24. ^ a b "Star Wars: Moral and Spiritual Issues". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  25. ^ "Star Wars overrated: May the Force be dissipated". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  26. ^ Justin B Rye. "Star Trek: Mark Two (JBR Mega‐rant – 1)". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  27. ^ On Learning Science and Pseudoscience from Prime-Time Television Programming by Christopher Henry Whittle
  28. ^ Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience: From Alien Abductions to Zone Therapy edited by William F. Williams
  29. ^ "5 Revolutionary Discoveries In Star Trek: The Next Generation That Were Completely Overlooked". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  30. ^ Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker by Jonathan C. Smith
  31. ^ "The Science of Pseudoscience". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  32. ^ Overrated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History
  33. ^ "American Film". 

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