A galactic debate goes on while Rogue One ignites a new franchise of storytelling called an anthology flick. While one cult and franchise, Star Trek has earned $ 2.44 billion over 13 films and 40 years, Star Wars has clocked a mammoth $6.58 billion and an estimated $22 billion in merchandise across 8 films, with 3 more to follow.Each either having made millionaires out of single career actors or spawning brand new careers for debutantes. Fans and the cultists are drawn on either side, defences and attack formations ready to claim the title of “True mother of Galactica”
Star Trek was possibly one of the first travel documentaries albeit in outer space and explored lands and cultures at places, where no man had gone before. Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his diligent travel hungry staff seem to be going everywhere (their star ship does) without going anywhere (considering they spend most of the screen time inside the ship).
Star Trek say some, is ambitious in its intention to venture further but gets into lock down mode inside the cockpit that continues to shake and sizzle but not much else.
As far as effects are concerned they have always been a few galaxies behind Star Wars, in-spite of sometimes spending more. Often right content, contextual marketing and better storytelling has helped the latter.
Star Wars is simply the nth regurgitated tale of good vs evil, light vs dark, zen vs xenophobe re-purposed and botoxed for each successive generation of viewers. This is a tale of morality plain and simple with influences of Japanese Samurai philosophy, set to grand imperial tunes by John Williams.
Where good must win, whatever it takes, even if it’s over 9 episodes and across a few Death Stars. Each brand-new trilogy playing out like
a renovated version of the earlier set – bigger, better and meaner. Lucas Films have somehow mastered the art of content marketing, repurposing, franchising, re-narrating a brand and building yet another new generation of followers.
Which is your kind of story? Let’s examine the two brands. On one side, you have Star Trek, an adventure led by a large space ship “USS Enterprise” with consoles, buttons and panels animating themselves in regular intervals like a giant, flying drawing room shaking itself now and then till a few ahoys from the captain make it normal. Critics maintain, there is only so much adventure that you can get with an “in here” drawing room tale and only so much of verbal gymnastics inside a flying enterprise that one can suffer. Sulu and Uhura notwithstanding. The Captain, and in Star Trek Lore, there is only one Captain Kirk, the Milton reading, man in tights, identified by his rigid insistence on occupying the vantage chair in the middle of the ship, barks senior management orders to staff in cubicles around him.
The series got its highs not with the men in tights but Mr. Spock, of the ungainly ears, nerve pinches and not a stickler for the chair. Now that was a departure and good storytelling. From his 4 finger, split – salute to his animated eyebrows, the rest of him being emotionally frigid to the eager exploits of a captain who spent most of his lifetime guarding a shaky chair. Spock was and is an enduring enigmatic legend, of almost Vader proportions. In real life, in true polymath style Leonard Nimoy, the man behind Spock went onto become a noted photographer and has had his works featured at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, apart from authoring two books – I am Spock and I am not Spock. Star Trek however, somehow, remained a brand that could have been more.
And then there was Star Wars. An epic adventure out there battling the dark side and dark lords of the Sith. In a galaxy, long-long ago, far-far away. Not in the cosy confines of a drawing room but out there beating up the dust. And oh by the way wearing clothes a tad bit more comfortable. They almost looked swish. The Vader Pants were tights but covered by the cloak and the VOICE of James Earl Jones (frankly he was better off without the unmasking as he revelled in being a machine monster). What you have are characters with characteristics.
Right from C-3PO’s circumspect diffidence riffing with R2-D2’s pluckiness or Chewbacca, an all- fuzzy 7 feet 2 inches of Peter Mayhew inside which could be the next rag doll or monster depending on which side of the force you stand on. Be it princess Leia with her Bang and Olufsen speaker-set hairdo being technologically far out to transmit holographic messages (which today they say are useful to win elections in the heartlands of India) or be it Captain Han Solo, and his Millennium Falcon. He is crooked but right. Plenty ofvirtues salted by a few vices which we call the almost scrupulous. And the list goes on and on to a Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt and finally ends or begins with the dark lord Vader or the milky white Luke Skywalker. With a breath that doesn’t reek spearmint and a grip that seeks to bring the force out of you, Darth Vader’s aggression is rivalled by the cool zen monks Obi Wan Kenobi and the deceptive Yoda, who punches and kicks way above his weight and height, helping the man-boy, Luke Skywalker wield the light sabre with flourish, almost like a dance form.
Star Wars, released in 1977, made a return of a mammoth $1.22 billion dollars in its lifetime on an investment of $11 million dollars. Galactic.
The other interesting point of difference is the sheer genius of Lucas Films in sweating, monetizing and reinventing the tale into merchandise, franchises, games, sub character plots and what not with the might of Industrial Light and Magic’s special fx. This team just manages to be the more “in with the times” storyteller and connects better with its fans. In short, a more compelling brandthan Star Trek. Oh and by the way light sabres with a primordial appeal are sexier than the drill machine inspired phaser guns. And now they come in different colours – personalized I believe.
The two epics – stories & brands of their respective times Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry, a former bomber pilot, airline pilot, policeman, and television writer. And possibly one of the reasons why the entire action is mostly relegated to a large cockpit. The format of the show and its original pilot episode borrowed heavily from the classic 1955 movie Forbidden Planet. The in-charge trio of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Science Officer Mr. Spock of the pointy ears, and Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy work with a multi-ethnic crew. So, you have an African-American woman, a Scotsman, a Japanese American, and most notably, an extra-terrestrial, the half-Vulcan, full on Mr. Spock.
Its stories reflected the times of new exploration, voyages, cross cultural issues, brought in plots around discrimination, slavery etc. Almost like the flying United Nations.
Star Wars reflected a more personal cold war in its steely refrigerated state, with either side refusing to thaw. There is no room for grey except for Capt. Han Solo. Luke Skywalker’s and Leia’s white leotards, pyjama pants and dressy gowns stack against the black leather suit of Lord Vader and the dark cloaked venom of the Emperor. They were just all men in midnight-evil black, save for the light of their sabres and electric flare ups. Ronald Reagan often referred to the Soviet Union as the evil empire.
While the original Star Trek series (1966-69) was occasionally labelled sexist (women had relatively marginal roles and skimpy outfits and no woman was ever shown commanding a star ship), actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg has said that seeing a black woman sitting on the bridge of a star ship, and not working as a maid, made her believe as a young girl that she could persist with her dreams of being an actress with a real role.
Star Wars on the other hand saw Princess Leia whip Jabba’s arse while the newer editions of the franchise see the light sabre and mantle pass onto the lady duly trained and honed by Señor Skywalker. She is going to whip the empire’s ass and she goes by the short and sweet name of Rey.
Both franchises have had an influence on mainstream politics and civil society. Star Trek inspired NASA to name an orbiter after the Enterprise, hire Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) to help recruit afro American women, and provoked Martin Luther King to convince her to continue with the show as it was a symbol of racial equality.
Star Wars coming off a frenzy across the cold war era inspired Ronald Reagan in 1983 to conceive the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) nicknamed Star Wars by the media.
It was to combine ground-based units and orbital deployment platforms to protect the US from attack by Ballistic Nuclear Weapons. Today the US and the UK also have laser weapons, as well as 360-degree laser shields in development, which are expected to be ready for military use as early as 2020.
In conclusion So as stories and episodes continue to tumble from either franchise and brand, as they venture deeper and wider into the galaxy, reflecting the times and often inspiring the times, the debates will continue either side.
This is true of any battle amongst cult brands. Enduring debates and legions of cultists on either side. Coke Vs Pepsi. Mercedes vs BMW. Borg vs McEnroe. Superman vs Batman. It rages on.
The winner that you plump for often is the one with the right story and content for you. And sometimes you just don’t give a damn about who is winning as long as you get to see a whipping bout.