Harris Planerds is fast becoming my favourite store in Singapore for all my geeky needs, and why not? The icing on the cake is that they’ve shown a particular interest in the cult phenomenon of Star Trek that, to this day, continues to largely bemuse rather than inspire my fellow Geeks. So when Planerds’ first members-only contest involved making a case for either Star Wars or Star Trek, I quickly jumped at the opportunity.
I got so caught up in the argument that I didn’t realise I had written close to a thousand words by the end – and since I did, I figured I should post it here, for posterity. Enjoy!
It boggles the mind whenever people raise comparisons between Star Wars and Star Trek.
Firstly, the two have very few similarities – Star Trek is an idealised view of a plausible future of humankind, while Star Wars is essentially a fantastical parallel universe where advanced techonology and strange supernatural mysticism exist simultaneously. By that understanding alone, it would suggest that Star Trek is the superior material, as it champions and upholds the goodness of humanity, proving that by the 23rd and 24th century, mankind would have been able to achieve the longtime dreams of world peace and prosperity. Star Trek also challenges the technology of today to surpass those depicted in the series. As it is, the tablet computer, the mobile phone, USB drives already resemble or have made vast improvements on what was only a dream in the 1960s, when the Original Series first aired.
Compare this to Star Wars, where the elite warriors of the day are utilising laser swords and telekinesis against hordes of soldiers armed with laser rifles and every inch of the galaxy is ruled by a corrupt, dictatorial megalomaniac who utilises fear to ensure obedience – and at this point I’m not sure if I’m talking about the Emperor, Vader or Jabba the Hutt. Star Wars ultimately became the modern version of the epic heroic sagas that humanity has constantly told and retold over the millenia, and the extremely fantastical setting makes it more akin to myth and legend rather than science fiction.
But if comparisons must be made, then it should be about the characters, for these are the common thread between the two cult phenomenons. For fans of Star Wars, presumably everyone wants to be a Jedi, to have Force powers at your disposal and yet not be tempted to use them for personal gain, to wield a lightsabre with deadly prowess when necessary and ultimately to be society’s defenders, both of the body and of the soul. At the same time, the prevalence of the 501st Legion suggests that should the reality set in that not everyone can be a supernaturally powerful mystic, then it is best to join the winning side – an army that strikes fear into their opponents by their appearance alone (since, you know their marksmanship when it comes to shooting anyone important is hardly worth discussing). So when it comes to Star Wars, you have a choice of pretending to be knights of fantasy or soldiers in an evil, oppressive army. Not much choice there.
Star Trek, on the other hand, provides a much more palatable selection. Sure, presumably everyone wants to captain a starship, to have hundreds of officers at your command, to be a diplomatic tour de force across the galaxy, to fight valiantly in battle against the enemies of the Federation – who tend to be almost always Borg these days. And what’s wrong with that? To become a captain of a starship, all you need to do is prove that you’re worthy of command. As as 2009’s Star Trek proved, all you need is to prove that while you do respect authority, you have an instinct to know when to override instructions and do what you know is necessary, and you can get your own command straight out of the Academy – assuming you survive freefalling from outer space, outrunning space monsters on ice planets and destroying a Romulan ship from the future first.
But you don’t have to be Captain of a starship to make your name! Star Trek is a universe where everyone is equally recognised for their contributions – since there is no official currency in the Federation. Regardless of gender, race, language or religion (…or species!), you can become anyone you choose to be – an admiral having to strike a balance between politics and morality, a feted ambassador to a warrior race that once disowned you, an engineer par excellence who is known as a miracle worker both in the 23rd and 24th centuries – the future that Star Trek presents makes it clear that the only barrier to success is one’s own ability to dream big.
Many have cited Star Trek as being a driving influence on their lives, including Whoopi Goldberg, who as a child in an era where the civil rights movement was at its peak in the US, saw a black woman working as equals with white men and women on television, and became an immediate fan and later, a part of the franchise herself when she had a recurring role on The Next Generation. Others include “Last Lecture” author the late Randy Pausch, who mentioned that “Captain Kirk” was one of his childhood idols and the character taught him how to lead other smart people by example, and President Barack Obama, whose forward-looking compassionate ideals were undoubtedly influenced by being a lifelong Trek fan.
The fact of the matter is, with five television shows and eleven movies, Star Trek provides so many role models for people of all backgrounds and personalities – from the famous triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, to the more slightly more obscure Beverly Crusher, who balances her emotional attraction to the Captain with her responsibilities as both chief medical officer and a mother, Kira Nerys, who is strong, passionate and driven while still maintaining her femininity, and B’Elanna Torres, who is challenged to overcome her conflicting cultural heritage that belies her emotional insecurities.
Star Trek taught me how to interact with others with compassion and understanding like the Federation, how to treat each challenge as a battle that needs to be won quickly and decisively like Klingons and how, sometimes, it is better to repress one’s emotional reaction and think logically, like a Vulcan. It is these traits that I, like so many before me, have integrated into my own personality and it has fueled my own dreams for my present and my future.