Monday, October 13, 2008

Star Trek and Star Wars are Ideologically Different



In response to Holly's post, I have a few things to add. First off let me say that I too love Star Wars. It is a fantastic film franchise that has stumbled quite a bit in the last decade, but nevertheless deserves praise for it's full cross cultural appeal into the mainstream, something that Star Trek has hinted at for a time, but never became as huge of a hit as Star Wars. There are reasons for this however, that go to the heart of the discussion of the differences and faults of both series.
I am what could be described as a third generation Trekkie (screw trekker, learn to own a word folks!) someone who grew up (I am 22) with both Star Trek and The Next Generation, already in syndication. So it is of no surprise that my favorite Star Trek is also the one I matured with, Deep Space Nine. I am a Niner, I admit, but I love whole heatedly every single series, even if Voyager meandered, and Enterprise didn't start telling the stories we wanted until the last season. The things that I love about Star Trek, the things that exist throughout all of the series, is the need to speak to an ideal. There is a need to explore ideas of the time, whether those be racism, sexism, militarism, occupation, or living in fear of an other who can't be seen. These are things that I think really differentiate Star Trek and Star Wars. Star Wars is a space opera with a much grander scope and much broader ideas. These are discussions about good vs. evil rather than about more subtle ideas like the nature of identity. This in no way means that the grand message is flawed, on the contrary, it is a very well plotted series with lot's of great, archetypal characters, which is exactly what George Lucas was looking to do when he made his series, craft a new mythology. Star Trek is not a Space Opera. Star Trek is Science Fiction, and/or Speculative Fiction. Star Trek is a vehicle to tell stories about today. This is how it shines, and this is how it is structured. The technobabble was used to make you believe that this ship full of military-trained explorers, actually existed. To give it a believability and a context for the viewers of the time. There was never a lot of money for huge, grand space battles, so they had to focus on the quality of their scripts, and you can see this in the breadth of talent that wrote for the show. D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison, (even if he does hate Trek to death now) Theodore Sturgeon. This was a calculated attempt to tell good science fiction stories from week to week, and still afford to make it believable.
So the question is, should the creative team behind the new Star Trek feature film (of which the first set photos were revealed today, and personally, I'm blown away.) try to inject certain elements of Star Wars into Star Trek? Well, maybe. It depends on what you're "injecting" it with. Now, to make the space battles more epic? Sure. Fire away, but, and this is very important, you must respect canon. I know, I know! CANONAZI! Hush! I am not one screaming that the warp nacelles have to "spin orange" but, in regards to how the ships have been seen in every series and move up to this point, which is capital ships that take a long time to turn, much like naval warfare, this cannot be changed. It would fundamentally change the nature of the show. There have been federation fighters in the past, yes, but they have only ever been seen in large scale warfare. And this comes to my second point. Star Trek is not, and has never been about warfare. Yes, there are space battles, and yes they are (usually) slow paced. But the space battles were always the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. The point of Star Trek is exploration. "These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five year mission... to boldly go where no man has gone before." Need I say more? Now. The characters. This is probably where most Trekkies, Trekkers, and Niners start to go for the nerve pinch. I personally subscribe to the "flawed is better" category of character building. And this has to do with the fact that even certain characters in the Original Series had major flaws! Kirk was arrogant, and condescending at times. Dave Bailey, who famously freaks out in "The Corobomite Maneuver", obviously is incapable of handling the stresses of command, despite his division selection. So I would say that there is a precedence for having flawed characters on the show, and I personally like the concepts of in fighting amongst the crew, if only because it makes the concept of a ship full of explorers that much more plausible.
So keep the Wars out of the Trek? Not entirely. There are elements that it seems J.J. Abrams especially, seems to understand about this universe. Keep the canon. Keep the characters. Keep the exploration. Can you spice it up with bigger booms and more lost like drama? Definitely. Just layoff the laser swords will ya?

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