23 April 2017

Rant: Star Wars vs Star Trek

It has been two months since I posted. My goodness, that is a long time. I haven't had a break that long since I returned from hiatus in December 2014. I'm really sorry. Life got too busy there for a while. I just didn't have the time, or the energy needed to think of topics.

With that said, let's get back into the swing of things. I'm going to rant today about something that has been bothering me for a while now. I know I've mentioned this a little bit before, but I want to expand on it.

I don't like Star Wars. After I watched Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I lost interest in the franchise. I waited until Episode III was in the dollar cinema before going to see it. Then in 2012, when Disney bought the whole mess, it began a horrifying cycle of new Star Wars films every year. It began with Episode VII in 2015, followed by Rogue One in 2016. Episode VIII will release this year, with a Han Solo film planned for 2018. According to Wikipedia, Episode IX will come out in 2019, and there will be another film in 2020. If I know how Disney works, they won't stop there. They will continue to churn out films every year for as long as they can.

Which means that every year, I will have to endure the repeated indignity of nearly everyone else on the planet losing their collective minds.

I wouldn't mind so much if there were some counterpart for Star Trek fans like myself. After the release of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002, the only Trek was Enterprise, a series I disliked due to the amount of retconning involved, until 2009 when the first reboot film was released. Even now, the controversy over those reboot films (such as Into Darkness, which apparently everyone except me hated, and Beyond, which it seems everyone except for me and one of my spouse's co-workers loved) has made the release of a fourth film seem unlikely, despite the announcements from Paramount studios. There is much talk about the potential new show Discovery, but the release date has been pushed back so many times already, and made more vague with each delay (first it was 'January 2017,' then it was 'May 2017,' then it was 'Late Summer or Early Autumn of 2017,' and now it's simply 'whenever it's ready'). So, you know, I don't have high hopes for it.

But here's the thing: Star Wars is not science fiction. It's not. It's really not. The Force has nothing to do with science; its basically a form of magic. This means that Star Wars should actually be described as Science Fantasy, if 'science' should be included in the genre name at all. Which I dispute.

Star Wars relies on special effects for its appeal. Nobody would watch it without the lightsabers, the Force-based acrobatics and magical powers used by the Jedi and the Sith, the massive space battles, the content-light but adrenaline-heavy action sequences... Star Trek, on the other hand, has always been able to hold its own with less reliance on flashy gimmicks (it doesn't always do this, but it can). The original series was very popular despite the bad special effects (or sometimes, essentially no special effects at all).

Furthermore, Star Wars is based on the trite 'war of good vs evil.' I don't believe in such things. It's why I loved the Watchmen comic so much: it hinges on the fact that villains don't set out to do evil things for the sake of being evil; they are doing what seems good to them, and that perception of good conflicts with other people's conception of 'good.' The same is true of Star Trek. In many episodes, and even several films, we see the protagonists and antagonists are at odds not because one wants to do evil and the other wants to do good, but because both sides are pursuing what they see as good, and those visions are in direct conflict. The Klingons don't oppose the Federation because they are evil; they oppose them because they perceive the conquest of lesser species as good. Even Khan, although he was in the end driven by a desire for vengeance, saw his attempts at conquest to be beneficial (just look at the episode 'Space Seed,' when he says, 'We offerred the world order!' He wasn't killing people because he was evil and killing was the evil thing to do; he was doing it because he felt it was justified, that it was necessary. Just as in real life, only the mentally ill actively pursue what they see as evil. This is part of what makes Star Trek a superior franchise: it more closely models real life in its portrayal of antagonism.

Especially in the way that Star Wars, like most settings, too closely models an antiquated view of what being evil means in the first place. The Jedi Order, which is seen as the pinnacle of 'the good guys,' states outright in the Jedi Code that natural and normal human conditions are to be avoided. Emotions are as integral a part of what it means to be human as it is possible to be, yet the Jedi Code states 'There is no emotion, there is peace.' It is mentioned in at least one of the films that the Jedi are not permitted to have romantic relationships (which, of course, includes sexual activity), despite the clearly essential nature of such relations. Yet the Sith, who include as part of their code the line, 'Through passion, I gain strength,' which indicates that they do not fear the natural and normal state of being, are clearly and constantly portrayed as evil. Their desires are cartoonishly simplified in the cliche 'good/evil' dichotomy that is so exhaustively used as the basis for the vast majority of modern storytelling: 'We will conquer because conquering is the evil thing to do. We will kill because killing is the evil thing to do. We will oppress because oppression is evil and we are evil people.'

I get so tired of that attitude.

Star Trek doesn't fall back on that perspective. Sure, some of the villains are fairly hackneyed; the Klingons and Romulans (especially in early incarnations), the Cardassians and the Dominion, even to a great extent the Borg; these are all conquering races because they come from a culture that values conquest. But at least they have a reason for it beyond 'We are evil, and evil people conquer.' Emperor Palpatine and his cohorts want to rule simply for their own evil nefarious purposes.

Even if we ignore the science fiction/science fantasy genre distinctions and compare The Force to Star Trek's lack of magic (advanced alien abilities and technology that masquerades as magic notwithstanding), we see that Star Trek offers a positive view of our potential. Look at all we've accomplished in a few centuries! We've achieved faster-than-light space travel! We've conquered many medical maladies! We've mastered teleportation technology! We have unified not only our own species, but many other extraterrestrial races as an allied force for peace!

What does Star Wars offer? Magic powers? I'm sorry, but Harry Potter does that too. Give Harry Potter a lightsaber, blaster pistol, and a star fighter, and there's basically no difference between Hogwarts and the Jedi Council.

But Star Trek? With the possible exception of Babylon 5 (which I wasn't able to watch when it originally aired, and I haven't been able to watch since), I'm not aware of any science fiction show that had such a relentlessly optimistic view of the future. Not just in terms of what technology we can develop (even The Jetsons showed a hopeful view of what wonderful gadgets we can someday create), but in terms of how far we've come as a species, in terms of overcoming social and political ills, in terms of who and what we are.

Star Wars will never have that.

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