Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Science (Fiction’s) Greatest Condundrum

For nearly the past three decades, the science fiction community has been polarized by a divisive debate regarding which property should be deemed the definitive work of the genre. On one side of the debate exist those who contend that Star Wars, the six-film space saga created by Director George Lucas in the late 1970’s should be granted this distinction, while others maintain that it is the Star Trek Franchise, popularized by the Gene Rodenberry television program which began in 1966, which should be regarded as the seminal work of modern science fiction.

The elder of the properties, Star Trek recounts the exploits of a group of cosmonauts on an exploratory mission aboard the star ship Enterprise to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. Under the command of James Tiberius Kirk, a character made famous by William Shatner, the crew of the Enterprise were each week required to “boldly go where no man has gone before”, a directive which over the course of the program’s original three-year broadcast, would introduce viewers to a number of alien worlds, as well as a number of frightening extraterrestrial antagonists, most-notably, the Spartan-like Klingons, the omnivorous Tribbles, and the reptilian Gorn. Fans of the series contend that the program’s high point was reached during the 1982 release of The Wrath of Khan, the second entry in the film franchise based upon the original series. Drawing upon Shakespearean themes of vengeance and self-sacrifice, the film would become etched into the popular culture of the period, as much for bringing about the death of Leonard Nemoy’s Spock, as for Shatner’s “Khan shout”, which today remains immortalized in infamy as a popular internet “meme”.

The more contemporary of the two franchises, Star Wars was first introduced to the American public with the 1977 release of Star Wars, which today often features the subtitle A New Hope. Drawing upon the archetype of the eternal battle between good and evil, the film would introduce movie-goers to the mystical properties of “The Force” and the characteristic breathing patterns of the imposing Darth Vader, as well as feature star-making performances from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. Spawning five sequels, including The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, the film’s reputation has been somewhat tarnished in recent years, as the films of the so-called “prequel trilogy” were universally condemned by professional critics and long-time fans alike. Devoted fans of the science fiction genre also contend that the presence of mystical elements within the franchise, embodied most prominently in “The Force”, places the series more within the realm of the genre of Fantasy than Science Fiction.

With the respective film franchises of both properties currently under the guidance of Director J.J. Abrams, it now appears that fans of the two properties may have finally found a measure of common ground with which this long-standing space feud may be put to rest. Only time will tell however, if the two properties will ever be completely reconciled, or if the debate will prove to be its own kind of “Kobayashi Maru”, enduring, like the digestion cycle of the fearsome Sarlaac, for thousands of years to come.