In the absence of real conflict, leave it up to fans to create it. After all, Trekkers and Lucasites are some of the most discriminating fans around, and they need something to sate their belligerent instincts. Consequently, a natural rivalry has grown, and Star Wars vs. Star Trek has become the hottest debate since Coke vs. Pepsi. The Star Wars and Star Trek franchises have never openly been in conflict, and yet the legions of diehard supporters on each side have taken it upon themselves to draw battle lines and fight for the supremacy of their respective favorites.
It is undeniable that each has made an extraordinary impact on the genre of science-fiction media. They are the preeminent legends in this rapidly expanding field, and they command the popularity, loyalty and respect of masses.
Gene Roddenberry's groundbreaking Star Trek phenomenon first graced television screens in the 60s, with Star Trek: The Original Series. Since then, its following has increased exponentially (and globally), spawning the creation of a successful movie franchise and several more television series. In contrast, George Lucas' Star Wars phenomenon debuted not on the small screen, but on the silver screen in 1977, with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. With Episode I on the way, many expect box office records to be shattered again.
More than just an exploration of space, Star Trek serves as a vessel for the exploration of the human condition, as well as social conditions relevant to the world today. Indeed, it has come to embody optimism and the hope that one day, Roddenberry's dream of a peaceful, explorative society can perhaps be realized.
The scrolling words of the famous opening to Episode IV marked the beginning of the famous Star Wars Trilogy. Against the backdrop of a rebellion against an evil galactic Empire, the conflict between the Light and Dark sides of the Force is epitomized by the characters that have become a part of our cultural identity: Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, etc. Star Wars reflects and explores several fundamental themes of human nature, including loyalty, honor, adherence to right and perseverance against wrong. After The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Star Wars phenomenon continued to grow, and it is about to receive a fresh jolt of life with the release of the first chapter of the Prequel Trilogy, The Phantom Menace.
Science fiction is enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years. Following in the footsteps of Star Wars and Star Trek are series and films such as Babylon 5, a remake of Lost in Space, Wing Commander, and numerous others. All have sought to profit from the lucrative sci-fi craze, but in the end, only the two original combatants deserve our attention.
Let's compare. First, the obvious similarities. They both take place in outer space. They both feature futuristic technology and fascinating aliens. Both are known for their famous protagonists and infamous villians. And both command the loyalties of hordes of rabid fans.
After that, the similarities fall away. Indeed, Star Wars and Star Trek are most easily distinguished by their considerable differences. Star Wars romanticizes the eternal struggle between good and evil. Star Trek is an idealistic commentary on the future of human society.
The swashbuckling heroism of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is favored by Lucasites. Trekkers prefer the intellectual and strategic cunning of a Captain Picard or a Spock.
If you're in need of a good laugh, listen in on some of the arguments between Trekkers and Lucasites. I've heard everything from "the Enterprise can kick the crap out of those dinky Star Destroyers" to "Worf isn't half the man Chewbacca is." Pretty silly stuff, but again, fans have to fight for the honor of their faves.
The success of a franchise relies in large part on the strength of its stories and writing. Star Trek is known for its excellent scripts, thought-provoking plots and complex story arcs, while Star Wars is revered for telling a comparably simple and yet epic tale.
Ultimately, when the dust from this intergalactic name-calling slugfest settles, the fact remains: both Star Wars and Star Trek are awesome. Both are excellent and well-made, both carry good themes and good messages, both boast strong characters and strong storylines. Both are wildly-successful, and both deserve all the respect in the world.