Comparison of Star Trek and Star Wars
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Star Trek and Star Wars are American media franchises which present alternative scenarios of space adventure. The two franchises are dominant in this setting of storytelling and have offered various forms of media productions for decades that manage billions of dollars of intellectual property, providing employment and entertainment for billions of people around the world.
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Star Trek was introduced as a live-action television series in 1966 that lasted three years. Star Trek: The Animated Series commenced in 1973 (based directly on the original series) but lasted only two seasons with a combined total of 22 episodes. With the subsequent publication of novels, comics, animated series, toys and feature films, Star Trek grew into a popular media franchise.
Star Wars was introduced as a feature film, A New Hope (1977). A novelization titled Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, based on the original script of the film, was published about a year earlier. Upon the release of the first film, Star Wars quickly grew into a popular media franchise.
Star Trek debuted in television. The franchise was conceived in the style of the television Western Wagon Train and the adventure stories of Horatio Hornblower, but evolved into an idealistic, utopian prospect of future human society. Inspired by Gulliver's Travels, Star Trek's main focus is of space exploration and a galactic society consisting of multiple planets and species, where conflict occasionally occurs. Star Trek occurs in the relatively distant future, specifically the 22nd through 24th centuries, with occasional time travel and interdimensional travel. The Earth of the Star Trek universe shares most of its history with the real world.
Star Wars debuted in film, despite the novel based on the film's original script having been published a year before the film itself. Star Wars mainly belongs to the space opera subgenre of science fiction that follows The Hero's Journey and was inspired by works such as Beowulf, King Arthur and other mythologies, world religions, as well as ancient and medieval history. It depicts a galactic society in constant conflict. Though there are periods of peace, these are only documented in novels, comics, video games, non-feature films and other spin-off media. 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 human character traits.
Although both Star Trek and Star Wars populate various forms of media, not all types have been produced that are mutual to both franchises. Star Trek has not produced any television films; whereas Star Wars has produced at least three live-action 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.
- ~513 hours (Star Trek television) + ~25 hours (Star Trek films)
- ~84 hours (Star Wars films) + Star Wars canon series + expanded universe films and TV productions.
Similarities and commonalities
Both stories depict societies consisting of multiple planets and species. The main galaxy in Star Trek consists of various planets, each inhabited by different species, united into a single state, 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 humans and countless other species, which later became the Galactic Empire and was again later reformed into a new society called the New Republic after a series of wars.
Both franchises promote philosophical and political messages.
The primary philosophies of Star Trek convey the morals of exploration and interference and how to properly confront and ethically resolve a new situation. Creator Gene Roddenberry was inspired by morality tales such as Gulliver's Travels.
The primary philosophical messages of Star Wars are the ethics of good against evil and how to distinguish them from one another. Star Wars preaches against totalitarian systems and favors societies that offer equality. In an interview on the Star Wars 20th Anniversary UK Programme aired in 1997 referring to the mythology of the original Star Wars trilogy, Patrick Stewart stated "A belief in one's own powers; especially one's own powers to do good because the underlying morality of Star Wars is a very very positive one."
There have been actors from both franchises who have appeared on common television series such as The Outer Limits and Seaquest.
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 series, such as "Who Mourns for Adonais", are directly based on ancient Greek-Roman themes and settings. The series also make references to Ancient Babylon and its mythic folklore. The Klingons and their warrior culture are a representation of the 12th-century Mongols.
Much of Star Wars' story plots and character developments are based on ancient history, including classical Greece and Rome, such as 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.
A 1983 documentary on the making of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was hosted by Leonard Nimoy, who also made mention of Lucas's original plan to do two other trilogies preceding and proceeding the original trilogy.
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 a mixed to positive reception. The two franchises now offer 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.
J. J. Abrams, director and producer of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and producer of Star Trek Beyond (2016), directed and produced Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) & Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019). Star Trek (2009) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) are each the first entries in expected trilogies. These films received favorable critical and commercial response and revived interest for both franchises. In addition to Abrams, actors such as Simon Pegg starred in both series.
Despite J.J. Abrams' Trek and Wars entries being financial and critical success with critics, the original filmmakers behind both franchises didn't felt the same, and criticized J.J. Abrams for doing remakes instead of original plots. Star Trek Into Darkness ended being considered less original than its Abrams-directed predecessor, and more of a loose remake of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. The director of Wrath of Khan, Nicholas Meyer, from which Into Darkness borrowed lines and plot elements, revealed in 2018, to have been disappointed with the film, saying: "In my sort of artistic worldview, if you’re going to do an homage, you have to add something. You have to put another layer on it, and they didn’t. Just by putting the same words in different characters’ mouths didn't add up to anything, and if you have someone dying in one scene and sort of being resurrected immediately after there's no real drama going on. It just becomes a gimmick or gimmicky, and that's what I found it to be ultimately."
Star Wars creator George Lucas shared a similar disappointment towards Abrams's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, finding himself agreeing with the critics who found it too derivative of his own original Star Wars trilogy, particularly his original film. During an interview with talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose that aired on December 24, 2015, Lucas likened his decision to sell Lucasfilm to Disney to a divorce, and outlined the creative differences between him and the producers of The Force Awakens. He described the previous six Star Wars films as his "children" and defended his vision for them, while criticizing The Force Awakens for having a "retro feel", saying: "I worked very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships – you know, to make it new." Lucas also likened Disney to "white slavers", which drew some criticism, he later apologized for. In 2017, Lucas described the sequel The Last Jedi, as "beautifully made", the comment was interpreted as Lucas liking the film more than The Force Awakens, even if Lucas was never quoted as explicitly saying as much.
The newer films of the two franchises filmed major scenes in the United Arab Emirates. The desert scenes on the planet Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) were filmed in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, while scenes for cities in the film Star Trek Beyond (2016) were filmed in the Emirate of Dubai.
Estimated financial comparisons
Despite the difference in the numbers of films, the profit made by the Star Wars film series exceed the profit of the Star Trek film series by almost five times, while the entire franchise outgrosses the other by four times. It is difficult to accurately judge the total worth of each franchise as television series, memorabilia and video games must be taken into account.
|1979||The Motion Picture||35||139||104|
|1982||The Wrath of Khan||12||96||84|
|1984||The Search for Spock||18||87||69|
|1986||The Voyage Home||24||133||109|
|1989||The Final Frontier||30||70||40|
|1991||The Undiscovered Country||27||96.9||69.9|
|2009||Star Trek (reboot)||140||386||246|
|1977||A New Hope||11||786.6||775.6|
|1980||The Empire Strikes Back||23||534.1||511.1|
|1983||Return of the Jedi||32.5||572.7||540.2|
|1999||The Phantom Menace||115||1027||912|
|2002||Attack of the Clones||115||656.6||541.6|
|2005||Revenge of the Sith||115||848.9||733.9|
|2008||The Clone Wars||8.5||68.6||60.1|
|2015||The Force Awakens||306||2058||1752|
|2017||The Last Jedi||200||1321||1121|
|Franchise||Year of inception||Total revenue|
|Star Trek||1966||$10 Billion (as of 2016)|
|Star Wars||1977||$42 Billion (as of 2015)|
Critique and commentaries
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 accused of "having an agenda", is that the Star Wars galaxy is too "elitist", with arbitrary rulers on both the evil and good sides, replacing one another without any involvement of the population. He criticizes both sides of the Galactic Civil War as part of the "same genetically superior royal family". 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. Among the many other flaws he sees with Star Wars is that Anakin Skywalker becomes a hero in the ending 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.
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." Shatner believes that Star Wars was only better than Star Trek in terms of special effects, and that once J.J. Abrams became involved, Star Trek was able to "supersede Star Wars on every level".
Tim Russ, who played Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager, claims that it is difficult to find common enough elements to be able to compare the two. Among those common elements are their similar settings of unique characters and technologies. He echoed Shatner that Star Trek reflects common human issues, the morals of exploration and considers ethical questions. Star Wars in his view is a classic medieval tale dressed up as action-adventure, and that embraces the Eastern philosophy of inner-strength. Russ concludes that despite both their success and popularity, Star Trek comes out as the better of the two, as it is set in "our" galaxy and therefore people can relate better to it, whereas Star Wars takes place in another galaxy. He acknowledged that he could be biased.
Jeremy Bulloch is best known for his role as Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy. He is a huge fan of Star Trek: The Original Series. He argued that while both franchises are popular, Star Wars comes out as the superior, for its soundtracks and special effects.
Contrasting the focus of the two franchises, contributor J.C. Herzthe of The New York Times argued, "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."
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 that the spiritual aspect of Star Wars contrasts with the balance of emotion and logic seen in Star Trek.
Billionaire Peter Thiel told Dowd "I'm a capitalist. Star Wars is the capitalist show. Star Trek is the communist one". He further stated "There is no money in Star Trek because you just have the transporter machine that can make anything you need. The whole plot of Star Wars starts with Han Solo having this debt that he owes and so the plot in Star Wars is driven by money."
Archived footage in Trek Nation showed Gene Roddenberry saying, "I like Star Wars. It was young King Arthur growing up, 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."
Influences on each other
The two franchises have a "symbiotic relationship" stated Shatner, who credits Star Wars for launching the Star Trek films. 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 of the first Star Wars film (A New Hope), Paramount, then under new management, was struggling to come up with something that could compete with it. A Star Trek relaunch was the choice. Since then, public interest has returned to Star Trek. "It was Star Wars that thrust Star Trek into the people of Paramount's consciousness" Shatner stated.
The documentary Trek Nation features interviews where both Lucas and Roddenberry praise each other's respective franchises, with the former stating that Star Trek was an influence while writing the original screenplay for Star Wars. He explained that while both franchises were so "far out", Star Trek produced a fanbase that "softened up the entertainment arena" so that Star Wars could "come along and stand on its shoulders." This is also acknowledged by Shatner, who went as far as to call Star Wars a "derivative" of Star Trek.
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 in both Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Some Star Trek films and television episodes used the Star Wars animation shop, Industrial Light & Magic, for their special effects.
When Roddenberry was honored at a Star Trek convention late in life, a congratulatory letter from 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 Lucas at a convention honoring the latter.
Shatner has also posted a number of humorous tweets on his Twitter account mocking Star Wars. Amongst them were commemorating the 35th anniversary of the poorly received Star Wars Holiday Special. It was then that Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew posted a "retaliation" tweet congratulating Shatner for the directing of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, another poorly received film.
Both franchises are set to grow throughout 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 Star Trek Beyond (2016) and a number of sequels are set to follow. A new television series based in the original timeline, subtitled Discovery, serving as a prequel to the original series, debuted on CBS All Access, an online streaming platform, in 2017.
Star Wars picked up from where Return of the Jedi left off, with The Force Awakens the first in the new trilogy, The Last Jedi following in 2017, and The Rise of Skywalker following in 2019. Additionally, more spin-off media is also underway after the debut of Star Wars Rebels, a television series set in between the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy, and an anthology of stand-alone Star Wars films, starting with Rogue One, which was released in December 2016, and Solo following in May 2018.
Aside from official works by the producers of Star Trek and Star Wars, many fan films and webisodes set in the two universes of the franchises are also constantly produced and posted on the Internet by fans, but are not officially considered canon in relation to either franchise.
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