Trek & Wars: Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off

Original image by Brian Nielsen

OK Folks, we need to talk. I’m sure you’re aware that there’s this whole Star Trek vs. Star Wars and which one is better and why thing. Horsefeathers, I say! It needs to stop. You can not compare the two, it’s like apples and oranges.

Yes, that’s right. Two different things. Star Trek is Science Fiction. And yes, I’ll say it. Star Wars is not.

I will pause while you recover.

Don’t start thinking that this is some sort of secret ploy to draw you in while I bash Star Wars and tell you how much better Star Trek is, it’s not. I simply hold the opinion that Star Wars, while set in space, is not Science Fiction. Yes, it is set in a universe that is more technologically advanced than us, but that doesn’t make it Science Fiction. No, instead I believe that Star Wars is in fact a fantasy tale.

Have you heard this story before? A young man, orphaned, is living a very modest life. One day something happens and he learns the true identity of his parents. He leaves home and goes on an adventure meeting new friends, and eventually leads the fight against a supreme evil. Sound like Star Wars? Yeah, well I also just described Wheel of Time, A Sword of Truth, and Harry Potter. Among others, I’m sure. Along with that plot line Star Wars also has a princess, a pirate, several wizards, and bumbling comic relief. Still sound like Science Fiction?

Star Wars being Fantasy and not Science Fiction isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a genre change. A paradigm shift. Nothing more.

Star Trek, on the other hand, is Science Fiction. It’s set in a possible Earth future where we, as humans, have overcome problems and united for the betterment of all. Eh, for the most part. There’s no Force or other magical system, it’s entirely science based. Except for Q, but we can file that under “Science we haven’t figured out yet.” Star Trek, in fact, like most good science fiction, is a parable. Except for most holodeck episodes. It’s a story to helps us learn right from wrong, though usually at the expense of some other hapless and less enlightened race.

Thus, other than personal preference, there’s no reason to argue over which is better. If you liked apples better would you argue with an orange enthusiast? No, because it would be stupid to argue over the virtues of two different kinds of fruit when the only reason you like one over the other better is taste and texture. Neither of you is right and neither of you is wrong. The same is true for Star Trek and Star Wars. You can like both of them equally for what they are separately, or you can choose to like one over the other based solely on preference. But really, fighting over it is just silly.

Why Science Fiction Is Important

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Recently two separate people said to me that people they knew didn’t want to see the movie The Hunger Games because they didn’t like the idea of a movie about kids killing kids. I disagree. I think we need to see and read movies and books about kids killing kids.

Before you peg me for a violence-crazed kid hater, hear me out.

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. At first it was because we had one television and in my house, we watched what my parents wanted to watch. So you either played outside, went off and read, or found something else to do with your time. Well what kid wants to read or play outside? Pfft. Nope, TV it was and in this case, Star Trek. Eventually I grew to like it and watched it even when my parents forgot that it was Wednesday night and time to watch.

Star Trek gives humanity a hope for the future. A hope that we can and will overcome our problems and differences and create a utopic world for us all to live in peace where disease, poverty, and hunger are things of the past. What Star Trek also does is give us key life lessons that we all can learn from.

For example in the Next Gen episode The Outcast, the crew of the Enterprise encounter a race that has no genders. One member of this race, Soren, starts working with Riker during the crisis-of-the-week and, Riker being Riker, feelings start to develop. Soren is injured and asks Dr. Crusher about being female, and seems to be identifying with the female gender. She tells Riker about a classmate of hers that seemed to be identifying as male and how he was taken away one day, returning to declare himself as cured. Eventually the powers that be on Soren’s world find out about her transgressions and take her away for reprogramming as well. So what does this episode teach us? Treat people with respect even if their sexual orientation is different from whatever you consider to be normal.

Not that all Star Trek episodes were the Sci Fi equivalent of A-Very-Special-Episode-of-Seventh-Heaven. I’m fairly certain that those holodeck episodes didn’t teach us anything beyond how annoying holodeck episodes could be. Many episodes, however, did have a hidden lesson.

Star Trek does not have the market cornered on greater lessons. James Cameron’s The Terminator taught us to watch the fuck out for computers. Giving them too much power is not a good idea. A lesson humanity doesn’t seem to have learned. Logan’s Run gave us appreciation for our elders. Glorifying youth is great when you’re young, and then you get old. Jurassic Park cautions against playing God, messing with genetics, and underestimating dire circumstances.

The Hunger Games is a dystopian future set in the former United States with an authoritarian government that doesn’t allow people to speak up against it and deals with potential rebellions by requiring twenty four teenagers to fight to the death every year. A story like this is important because if we are not cognizant of the fact that it could occur, we may unwittingly allow it to occur through inaction. Stories like The Hunger Games are a warning of what the future could hold if we are not careful.

Next time someone gives you a hard time about liking Science Fiction, point out to them the cultural and moral value of the genre, and then set your phaser to stun.