Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Single Question Posed is Answered - Star Wars or Star Trek?

Gerry asks:

Not sure if you've ever come out on either side of this, but the public demands an answer: Star Wars or Star Trek?
The short answer is:  Planet of the Apes.

pew pew pew!

The real answer is - I grew up loving both, and never understood why I had to pick one over the other.  To me, that was sort of like picking Dragonslayer over The Secret of NIMH.  I kind of felt they were two different animals (one is fantasy, one is space adventure) and I could enjoy both, but I do get that it's like the need to pick either DC or Marvel and then go online and defend your stance from a religious perspective.  It's the internet.  You want to feel that there's logic to your gut feeling.

In my youth, Star Wars certainly got a lot of extra weight as it was the franchise that was being merchandised like crazy.  I never had any official Star Trek stuff until college, I think, when Jamie's Dad got me a Next Generation badge for Christmas (I was touched).

But let's not take any short cuts.  Let's take a really, really long look at this, shall we?

You know, in 2008, I think the way I was feeling about the Prequels, I would have put together a pretty good argument in favor of Star Trek over Star Wars.  But then in 2009, Paramount relaunched the Star Trek franchise, and by the end of the second movie, I felt no better about Trek than I did about Star Wars.   The relaunch did not jive with what Star Trek was actually like or about in my mind, and they put out two full movies that riffed on ideas from the movies without really appreciating the exploration/ star-faring part - you know, the titular "trek". - in favor of thinking of the Federation as a military operation in a constant state of war.   The latest version of Trek seemed more interested in cool looking sets, an exceedingly good looking cast, how many lasers could fit on a Constitution-class starship, and lens flares.  Much like our culture the past fifteen to twenty years, which is much more about what technology we can make flashy and cram into our pockets to keep us distracted than it has been about pushing exploration, be it pushing the boundaries of known geography or pushing the boundaries of knowledge (something still very much alive, but something that seems to just make people angry these days) - the movies are the Millennial Star Trek.  A Star Trek that spends its time looking at screens, refuses to learn to drive and wants to return home right after Academy.

I do want to say I basically did like the first of the new Star Trek movies, even if it felt kind of dumb and blew up Vulcan for no sensible reason and goes in for physical comedy in a way I don't really get.*  It was really the hackwork of the second movie that broke me.  And, make no mistake, that was a bad movie down to the shameless bone-picking of Wrath of Khan and Cumberbatch enunciating ev-er-y syl-la-ble as if he needed to reach the 70th row.

Bear in mind, prior to the relaunch, Star Trek had spread itself so thin across so many shows, I wasn't really watching them.  I was always a Star Trek (The Original Series) and Star Trek: The Next Generation guy.  I barely watched DS9, only really liked Janeway on Voyager, and didn't get a chance to watch Enterprise before it got canceled.  I have only the vaguest memories of the animated series, so do with that what you will.  I've seen most of the movies, but there's a Next Generation movie or two I never saw.  So I would not say I'm really a Trekkie or Trekker.

When it comes to Star Wars, like a lot of you, it was my first tale of media-heartbreak.  Like y'all, I grew up loving the movies, playing with the toys, wearing the t-shirts, having the bed spreads and wallpaper, etc... and stood in line for Episode I.  I saw it at least 4 times in the theater and wrote lengthy, lengthy emails defending the thing.  And then it came out on VHS, and I had a bit of separation from the release and the hype and... oh my god...  the movie was terrible.

One weird part of going to film school is that - while you're there - you become hyper aware of everything in a movie.  You think about every camera angle, every cut, every musical sting - all of it.  And sometimes you forget about the forest for the trees.  Or, I did, anyway.  Phantom Menace came out about a year after I graduated school, so pair that with my interest in mentally tagging and labeling the entirety of the Star Wars U, and I am not entirely certain I saw the movie.  I saw bits and pieces of a pretty creatively designed movie (I will still fistfight anyone who criticizes the design of the Naboo fighters and Padme's corvette) that was absolutely a Star Wars thing.

Star Wars was never the same for me after that, and it got worse with the next two movies.  Between Episode I and now, we've had multiple Star Wars TV series, Lego movies (which are hilarious), comics, the now defunct novels of the Expanded Universe.  But I didn't really watch any of that, read any of that or care, in particular - except for enjoying Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars mini-series, which Lucasfilm seemed to immediately sweep under the rug, like the Holiday Special.

Basically, both franchises have their ups and downs, and the highlights are the thing that keeps us attached.  I literally do not understand how you can say the Star Wars prequels are "good" movies.  They are well designed.  They have good scores.  As movies, they're poorly written, directed and oddly boring.  Trek has become the Silicon Valley nerd who got beat up through high school and maybe college, but stumbled into money and is now buying better hair product, bought a nice car and sees their Apple gear as a status symbol - when at heart, they're still that same kid who played D&D and used to print out picture of Gillian Anderson on their dot matrix.

So, basically, these days it's a bit of a toss up.

But I will say, the disappointment re: Star Wars was probably greater.  Probably an emotional investment thing since - by comparison- by the time Trek: Whatever of Darkness came out, it was the 20th such disappointment of the past 15 years.

It's a weird situation that I've just written a post that's essentially saying, "I dunno, which franchise is less of a disaster, in my opinion, in 2015?".  But that's kind of where we are.

But all is not lost.

I still love the original Star Wars trilogy and pretty much all the Shatner and Patrick Stewart Star Trek stuff.  For good or ill, I'm getting over the fact that the current cultural zeitgeist and the lens that places over ongoing franchises like Superman, Trek, Star Wars, etc... is changing those things (though, Christ, man... Godzilla just felt lazy as hell) to fit the tastes of people who are not me.  I'm at least curious about the new Star Wars - but will pay attention to reviews this time prior to seeing it.  Abrams has left the Trek franchise, so it's at least possible we could be getting back to the source material in a way that has some sense that they've seen the TV show.

So I guess the answer is - it's such a mess these days, I've got no answer for you.  Except...

Look, I believe in the Star Trek future.  Perhaps because I have never been able to levitate my Honda Element or light-saber battled with my Dad (wait...  yes, I have), the technology of Trek has always felt oddly tangible.  Hell, it led to flip phones sitting on everyone's belt ten years ago, and the fact we've got tri-corder technology available for a few hundred bucks.  More than that, and this is something the new movies have stepped away from, I'm a fan of the Star Trek ethos.  Exploration.  The Primary Directive.  Overcoming illogic and seeking peaceable solutions among ourselves.  Let's just say I'm totally okay with my tax dollars putting spaceships into orbit and landing robots on Mars.

Star Wars is a pretty straightforward case of rebels versus evil empire, of clear cut good guys versus bad guys, where you're going to hit each other until someone wins.  The ideals of the Jedi require the cloistered monk lifestyle rather than a cultural shift - something to strive for so we aren't so worried about evil empires or the need to form rebel alliances.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I want to work in places that are leading to that Star Trek future.  The Star Wars future is the one of the practical machinery of warfare and improving conveniences like trash compactors.  I want to focus on holodecks, preserving records for the Enterprise's computers and beaming myself to work.

But Star Trek lacks Chewbaccas and Princess Leia in a snowsuit, so, I dunno.

advantage:  Star Wars

Y'all didn't ask too many questions.  For more of this sort of thing, drop a question here.

*btw - as I was writing this, Jamie tuned in to the first of the new Star Trek movies to watch her handsome, handsome Karl Urban.  And, you know, this movie is kind of stupid.  But it does have Zoe Saldana.


Paul Toohey said...

Not sure if it's a good thing, or bad thing, but they just announced that Simon Pegg is co-writing the 3rd Star Trek film in our current iteration.

Sound Affects said...

I'm pretty much with you. But I do firmly stand with Trek. It's a personal thing for me just because I'm not a fantasy fan, so I outgrew Star Wars probably before the prequels. I watched every trek show and think you need to give DS9 another shot. It's not classic Trek, it's dark, but is well written with some great characters. Enterprise got good in the last season. But I am totally with you on Lens Flare Trek.

Sound Affects said...

Oh and, hell yeah, Planet of the Apes!

The League said...

The big thing for me about the Trek expansion was - I didn't used to watch all that much TV, and I never recorded anything, especially in college. I just wasn't around to actually see much of DS9 or Voyager. I'd tune into DS9 and there'd be Worf suddenly. I never knew what the hell was going on. But I did go to the Star Trek Experience in Vegas and eat and drink at Quark's.

The League said...

@Paul - I'm a little skeptical of Pegg's sensibilities versus getting us back in line with basic Trek, but I know he's a huge fan, so we'll see. He may be the one to set this going in a way I like a lot better.

J.S. said...

Yeah, given the fact that Star Wars and Star Trek are such completely different animals, you gotta think that this is a question that reveals more about the person making the choice as opposed to saying much about the two series. Even though they both involve aliens and spaceships, you can't get a much clearer contrast between fantsy and sci fi than you can by comparing these two series. I like the fantasy stuff because it represents limitless possibility, but I have huge respect for the sci-fi stuff for trying to use and expand upon real world principles (allowing for fictional solutions for real world problems, but at least acknowledging that those problems are worth addressing).

The League said...

Well, I will judge the living hell out of anyone over 35 who loves the prequels, but I will do so silently. They get a pass if it's because their kids like them. But then I'll judge their kids.

But, yeah. The only thing the two have in common is that they get in ships and leave planets. It's a tough comparison. But in a world where you also have to decide if you're an Elvis or a Beatles person, we're always going to be asked to make decisions that make no sense on paper.

J.S. said...

Beatles or Rolling Stones is a better question. And the answer is Stones.

The League said...

Revolver vs. Let It Bleed


mcsteans said...