Kenny Madison is a guest writer on the Axanar blog.
The age old debate rages on even stronger now. With the new Star Wars movie coming out in December, Star Trek could not be further from the public conscience (well, except for a certain little announcement the other day – ed). Since 1977, Star Wars has dominated the public consciousness while its predecessor, Trek, has always come along like a less successful older brother.
Sure, Trek has dominated the small screen. Trek has dominated the fields of science and influenced real world results. However, you can show the shape of Darth Vader’s helmet against the Star Trek delta and I bet you the Vader helmet would be the more recognizable of the two.
So what gives? Why is Star Wars the more iconic of the two? Trek movies have never been in the same echelon financially as Star Wars movies, despite the fact that the average quality far exceeds that of Star Wars (even taking the original series six films, TWOK, TSOS, TVH, and TUC still outrank the number of good Star Wars movies so far).
Does Star Wars have a more accessible narrative? Well, the Original Trilogy certainly does. It’s the story of a farmboy who dreams big and fights bad guys. It doesn’t require as much investment emotionally as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which posits sentient satellites that passed through robot planets before wanting to simply talk with its creator.
This isn’t to say Star Wars is dumber. In fact, the emotional complexities of Empire and Jedi turn the simple conceit of a straight forward hero’s journey on its head. Instead of having the hero succeed, the hero struggles hard during his trials and loses in major, unshakeable ways. It started accessible and got complex.
Star Trek on the silver screen went the opposite way. It started complex, then got simplified. The rich emotional themes of the original series films gave way to the whoosh-bang-pow adventuring of the TNG films. Those films begat the WHOOSH-BANG-POW of the Abrams films (it’s in caps because it was much faster, brighter, and louder).
While the later Trek films struggle for complexity, they fall gloriously flat on most occasions. However, the straightforwardness of the later films allows for common folk to jump right in. Also, the “more complex” original films still have normal fans: i.e. my coworkers going, “I saw the one with the whales.”
Trek isn’t less successful because it’s not as accessible. It has its normal-people fans.
Star Wars is successful because of its event status. Each Star Wars film is an event. It was a watercooler conversation. Everyone got in on the marketing and the toys after the first one came out. It was a big deal and, if you missed it, you were out of the loop.
These movies only happened three times back in the late 70s, and early 80s (give or take the brief television appearance). After that, it was gone until 1999 with Phantom Menace. While books, comics, and toys feed the fire, it doesn’t make up for trying to recapture the conversation in 1977. You’re reliving glory years by going back to the theater and rejoicing with your friends, family, and your kids, who will appreciate this and take their kids.
Star Trek… well, it hasn’t had that kind of event status. It was never event television in the 60s, it just got shifted around. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was not the most successful movie, despite me owning several copies, so it never became the watercooler conversation. While it was gone for a significant portion between 1969 and 1979 (give or take the brief television appearance), Star Trek never felt like an event.
That’s why the 50th Anniversary could really do something great. This is an event. How many items of pop culture actively celebrate their 50th birthday in the public eye? This is the opportunity to create a watercooler moment with Trek. With the release of Star Trek 3/13, it could really turn the conversation to something rich about the staying power and the relevance of Trek.
It’s never been a battle between Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Wars is just more popular, but I like Star Trek more. What I want so much, so badly, is to share that joy of exploring new life and new civilizations in a way that people understand. For me, new Trek is an event. If Trek should survive in the public, it should be invested in and treated with pomp and circumstance.
It’s one of the reasons I like Axanar. It’s an event unlike anything I’ve been part of. When people say it’s a movement, it feels like it. It blows me away every time I see it. The creators/marketing folks at Axanar also treat it like an event.
If Paramount can allocate the funds towards reminding people why we like Trek, they could have an event on their hands, too.