Science Fiction: The Confusing Frontier

I really want to keep content coming in . . . to both of my blogs here. Which is why I hit upon this thing of using some old college essays for space filler when necessary. Here’s one from HS on Star Wars vs. Star Trek — and it’s not what you think.

I present a wildly successful (to me, anyway) early essay I did my freshman year of college. The following appeared in this form in a 2006 edition of Knights Write, Urbana University’s campus literary journal. This is an essay I do plan to expand eventually for my book of essays entitled Penguins.

Science Fiction: The Confusing Frontier

My mother uses “Star Wars” to describe anything in the science fiction genre. One afternoon, she called me up on the intercom and said, “Megan, Star Wars is on TV. Do you want to watch it?” I eagerly ran downstairs, anticipating a chance to see my favorite movie on television (in spite of owning it, watching it on TV is somehow a special experience), but instead of the evil Empire, I was confronted by Captain Piccard. “Mom, this is Star Trek,” I said patiently, then added, “The Next Generation.”

“Isn’t it the same thing?” she asked innocently.

This humorous situation exemplifies a difficulty many Star Wars addicts and “Trekkies” must face: because both of these epics have ‘Star’ in the title and are set in space, most people assume they are interchangeable and never understand what the problem is when they treat them as such. They never know why they are getting scolded for calling Darth Vader a Klingon agent or why, when they call Han Solo’s prize vessel the Enterprise, some lightsaber-wielding people get bent out of shape. In this age of communication, confusion rules supreme because Trekkies and Star Wars addicts can’t understand the inability of the uninitiated to tell the difference between these two things which are, to them, vastly dissimilar, while everybody else dismisses their objections because they are only overreacting sci-fi buffs.

Star Trek was an immensely popular, if short-lived, television series created by Gene Roddenberry; its last episode aired in 1969. It was innovative and featured earthlings in our galaxy on a quest for unknown and unexplored territory. Star Wars was the brainchild of director George Lucas and in 1977 hit theaters—and the people of the world—like a 2×4 between the eyes. It was set “long, long ago,” instead of in the future, and “far, far away,” instead of in our cosmic backyard.

The main characters of Star Wars are Luke Skywalker, the blond-haired farm boy who whined his way into our hearts; Han Solo, the gruff space pirate; and Leia, the politically passionate princess whose planet gets blown up. Obi-Wan Kenobi is the wise old mentor who oversees all happenings with subtle tones of The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Darth Vader remains the most evil, and asthmatic, villain audiences have ever seen. Good and evil battle through these beloved characters and bring to life vaguely Joseph Campbell-ish storylines that are simultaneously familiar and new.

On the other hand, Star Trek features an almost dizzying array of characters, goodies and baddies alike. The biggest evil fish in the pond are the Klingons of the Klingon Empire, though they certainly aren’t the only nasties out in space. An almost countless number of wicked aliens exist, new ones appearing in almost every episode: bad aliens with worse physical features. These evildoers try to perform all kinds of heinous acts against the intrepid humans, and it is the noble members of Starfleet who must stop them. These brave explorers are led by Captain Kirk, the playboy lead with a speech impairment that causes him to speak slowly and haltingly; Spock, a pointy-eared alien with no sense of humor; and Scotty of “Beam me up!” fame.

Another element of similarity these two science-fiction sagas share that makes it easy for non-viewers to confuse them is their vast reach in popular culture. Certainly by 1985 “Live long and prosper” had become a national catchphrase, complete with its own little hand gesture. Terms like “hyperspace” and “proton torpedo” were seeping into everyday language along with semi-nonsensical phrases like “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” Their similar media empires, vast enough to make even Julius Caesar green with envy, filled with spin-off novels, magazines, biographical books, and toys are one more confusing point for those who can’t tell a phaser from a blaster.

For those who don’t watch either landmark science-fiction creation, lines become even more blurred when they think of the sheer number of movies that revolve around both. George Lucas’ space saga was originally a single screenplay, but it was so long, he was forced to divide it into three parts. Just to make things more confusing for viewers, Lucas invented a new system of counting, too, and titled the episodes IV-VI; this naturally left everyone wondering where the first three films were and then, when Episodes I-III finally broke on the scene twenty-two years later, left everyone bewildered as to which film really was “the first one.” Star Trek had its own movies that featured extended adventures of the Enterprise’s crew. It also had four TV spin-offs in the 80s and 90s: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.

It is true that these epics have many things in common: their mutual setting in space, their similar gamut of space ships and laser weapons, and their endless array of toys, books, and additional movies or spin-offs. Their final similarity is a following of passionate fans, science-fiction junkies who will usually select either Star Trek or Star Wars as their idol, then despise the other show. To the majority of these rabid fans, these icons are as different as night and day, and it is important to them that one Holy Grail of science-fiction film not be confused with the other. Personally, I enjoy both very much, though my loyalties lie with Star Wars. Other fans are a little more picky, and they become so specific in their obsession that the original-trilogy-only Star Wars fans and the comics-only Star Wars fans will fiercely debate one another over what’s ‘real’ while Trekkies will stand on either side of a line in the sand, arguing over whether the spin-offs are blasphemy or unassailable truth.

Average people, though, are likely to be safe if they can just keep Luke Skywalker in his universe, well away from Captain Kirk. The clueless and the sci-fi adepts would be able to live together much more peaceably if the uninitiated could just remember that Star Wars is a movie set in a galaxy far away and Star Trek is a TV series set off in the future.

Science Fiction: The Confusing Frontier via Hundredaire Socialite.

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