Monday, September 19, 2011

Star Trek v.s. Star Wars

What a horrible debate to enter into with a room full of die hard fans. This argument ranks up there with politics and religion, but like both of those this debate is equally as subjective and the argument will never cease. This video popped up on my RSS Reader this morning, and I was intrigued to say the least. I have read, watched, and listened to countless debates on which franchise's mythos truly is superior and I have had the discussion myself whilst downing beer and realizing that resolving this feud is, as the Borg wold say, "futile." Nevertheless, this may be the first time I have watched an actual participant from one of the universes give a truly biased answer and explain it himself.

I want to start by saying I find myself as a moderate in this discussion. What I want to argue is how William Shatner is way off base in this particular case (based on the interview below), and as you will see in the video below, attempts to make the argument that Star Trek is in fact better, based solely on its philosophical importance, the roles of stronger women in Star Trek, and the vulnerability of the characters. My aim is not to crush Star Trek, but to reel back Shatner's comments so that we can put Star Wars and Star Trek on more of an even playing field.

Let us start with the philosophical debate. Star Trek has long been examined for its philosophical content and I would not deny the show its importance in that regard. The ideas behind Star Trek may be some of the most influential on Science Fiction, and I believe it is the one show that elevated Sci-Fi from its drive in theater -- cheesy -- roots. However, to make the claim that Star Wars has no philosophical content is way is off base. SW is less up front about its message (keep in my mind this was a major Hollywood blockbuster) but it does explore old themes of good and evil, which in looking back throughout literature is one of the oldest themes since the Epics. Shatner likes to say that Star Wars was derivative of Star Trek, but let's take a more global look at it.

Star Wars and Star Trek are both derivative of ancient religious texts, epics, Shakespeare, and classic literature. Before I get ahead of myself, let's explain what I am not saying. Star Trek is more philosophically heavy, however I think Shatner's base is on the original series, which does explore these themes, but I believe most of the heavy handed intellect that he feels the show bears has actually been applied in retrospect by fans of the show. During its initial run, Star Trek's foremost goal was to entertain with exciting adventures, much like Flash Gordon (of which Lucas did admit to pulling influence from). Now, Shatner could make his argument stronger if he was using Star Trek: The Next Generation, which by that time realized the impact science fiction could have on exploring philosophical themes. If Shatner was arguing from a stance of Patrick Stewart's character, Jean Luc Picard, he could have defended this statement better.

Second, let's look at the claim that Star Trek presented stronger female characters. I have to say that this is the most laughable comment made by Shatner, and the one point I don't mind ripping to shreds. Let's start by looking at Kirk's relationships with women: he is a misogynist. The original series, especially, had women in the show solely for something for Kirk to hook up with. Uhura was nothing more than legs and a skirt no matter how you slice it. Sure she held a position on the bridge, but so did Troi, and how convenient that she was used as the emotional sensitive telepath. A more balanced approach could have been to swap Troi and Geordi's roles on the show, making her the engineer and Geordi the telepath. Regardless, Star Wars gave women a voice in Sci-Fi that women never had before. Princess Leia starts as the damsel in distress, but what is her first statement to her heroic male rescuer? "Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?" She immediately emasculates him, takes his gun, and improvises an escape plan.
Princess Leia became a role model for young girls all over the world, and her presence is still seen in the science fiction of today.

Finally, I just want to touch on the idea that the characters in Star Trek were more human or vulnerable in anyway. This statement really seems to have no real basis, except that Shatner seems to believe that the existence of the Force somehow makes the characters immune to death or real problems in Star Wars. First let's look at who in the original trilogy actively uses the force in battle: Luke, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Vader, and The Emperor. Four of those characters are dead by the end of the trilogy. It would seem that the Force did not prevent these characters from meeting their demise. While the Force does exist in everything in the galaxy, it does not make any characters in the films any more invincible than the characters in Star Trek.

In short, Shatner is full of himself and applies some very shaky support to this endless argument. I would like to again make it clear that I do not take sides here, but rather I appreciate what both franchises have done for the genre. It is a shame that these films get so unjustly compared all the time, and many times just because of the similarity in their names.

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