More and more these days, it seems as though we’re asked to take sides on everything, even things that aren’t necessarily opposite in nature. Marvel versus DC. Comics versus comic-book movies. Superman versus Batman. Star Wars versus Star Trek.
It’s that last one that gets to me. Everyone assumes that since I’m such a massive Star Wars fan and constantly wearing it on my sleeve, I must not have much love for Star Trek. I understand the need to categorize things, and I see why the two greatest space sagas of all time would be lumped together. But why would they be mutually exclusive?
This rivalry has been going since 1977, as long as both franchises have been competing for like-minded fans. Something tells me the reasons for it are the same as those that force us to approach politics as “us versus them.” Or, like so much in this world, it’s the fault of professional sports: We all have to have a team to root for. Perhaps that’s why we draw lines on the floor and force everyone to one side of the room or the other.
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, I was asked to participate in a debate evaluating Star Wars versus Star Trek on a psychological level (you can watch or listen to the whole thing at BigShinyRobot.com), and my initial thought was, “Why do they have to be ‘versus’ each other?”
But during the panel, I came to a realization: They weren’t “opposing,” but they were, in some ways, opposites. The Star Wars and Star Trek franchises are two sides to the same coin, and are very complementary.
At its best, science fiction and fantasy stories work to teach us something about ourselves and our world. Star Wars and Star Trek both teach us something different and vital. Taken together, they offer an optimistic lesson that we can all use in our everyday lives to better ourselves, those around us and the world.
For its part, Star Trek exists in a largely utopian future. It shows us what we as a society can accomplish if we set aside petty pursuits of greed and power and work together to explore the universe. This is something NASA exemplified in its years of proper funding, giving us technological advances that we use daily. In Star Trek, the Federation provides for all, and everyone is able to meet the maximum of their potential in the sciences. Everyone on these shows is learned—virtually a scientist in his or own right. In short, Star Trek is about what we can achieve if we strive toward that better society.
Star Wars is at once much more cynical, and more personally uplifting. The saga, taken as a whole, shows us what happens if we allow greed and lust for power to infiltrate the upper echelons of government, how those influences slowly decay the power structure of a society, and how the public can be manipulated into thinking that takeover is a good thing. Then, we’re given a very personal hero’s journey: Luke Skywalker heeds the call to adventure, and travels to defeat the evil within himself and within the galaxy. It’s a parable of what human potential is capable of if we believe. Luke takes that cynicism and confronts it head-on, becoming a better individual and leaving a better galaxy in his place.
As a kid, I consumed all the Star Wars and Star Trek I could get my hands on, and they helped shape my worldview in a way that, I think, is ultimately positive. We shouldn’t be putting them in separate boxes; they’re part of a whole. There’s no need for one to be hailed as better than the other; they work together to make the society we live in a better place.
Having said that, Star Wars is way better than Star Trek and would totally win in a fight. I mean, come on: Han Solo could totally take Kirk any day of the week. The Death Star would blow the Enterprise out of the sky in one shot.
Or maybe I’m just missing the point.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.Twitter: @Swankmotron