Comparison of Star Trek and Star Wars

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A fan of Star Trek dressed in Starfleet uniform (left) and a fan of Star Wars dressed in Imperial Death Star gunner uniform (right) at Comic-Con 2010

Fans and scholars of Star Trek, owned by CBS Television Studios, and Star Wars, owned by the Lucasfilm division of The Walt Disney Company, compare the franchises' merits while merchandisers compete to sell sometimes rival products.[1] Media critics and analysts have compared and contrasted the two works in particular because of their great impact. The franchises are both large bodies of work that make up billions of dollars of intellectual property, providing employment and entertainment for millions of people.[2]


Star Trek was introduced as a live-action television series in 1966. With the later publication of novels, comics, animated series, toys and feature films, it grew into a full scale media franchise. Before that it was simply a television serial and known only as such that lasted three seasons. A few years later in the early 70s, an animated series was broadcast that lasted about a year.

Star Wars was introduced as a feature film in 1977, though an earlier novel based on the original script of the first film, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, was published about a year before the film. It was not until the release of the first film that Star Wars quickly grew into a popular media franchise.


Star Trek has its origin in television and was only known as a television series at its beginning. The franchise was conceived in the style of the television Western Wagon Train and the adventure stories of Horatio Hornblower but adopted in the idealistic, utopian prospect of future human society. Inspired by the tale of Gulliver’s Travels,[3] Star Trek's main focus is attempting a fictional depiction of space exploration and the system of a galactic society consisting of multiple planets and species. Conflict occasionally occurs. Star Trek occurs in the relative distant future, specifically the 22nd through 24th Centuries, with occasional time travel backward and forward set in "our" universe, on an Earth that shares most of real history and throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek: The Original Series as a Space Western.[4]

Star Wars is a space opera that was inspired by works such as Beowulf and King Arthur, and the origins of other mythology and world religions[5] as well as ancient and medieval history.[6] The Star Wars films depict a galactic society in constant conflict. Though there are periods of peace, this is not documented in the feature films but can be found in the comics, novels, games and spin-off films. Star Wars is set "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" although many characters are human, occasionally use Earth metaphors, and exhibit typical human character traits.[citation needed]

Similarities and commonalities

Aside from having the word 'Star' in their respective titles, the two franchises also share many similarities:

Both stories depict societies consisting of multiple planets and species. The main galaxy in Star Trek consists of various planets, both human and non-human, united into a single state known as the United Federation of Planets. Star Wars depicts a galaxy that is mostly part of a single state known as the Old Republic, inhabited by both humans and countless other species, that later became the Galactic Empire and later reformed into a new society called the New Republic after a series of wars.

Both franchises promote philosophical and political messages, though Star Wars not as much as Star Trek.[citation needed] The main philosophies of Star Trek convey the ethics of exploration and interference and how to morally deal with a new situation when faced by it. Creator Gene Roddenberry was inspired by stories like Gulliver's Travels that implied a morality tale.[7] The main philosophical messages in Star Wars are the ethics of good against evil and how to distinguish one from the other.[8] The philosophy of Star Wars also preaches against the totalitarian system and preaches in favor of societies that give equality to citizens.[9]

Despite their different debuts with one starting as a television series and the other as a cinematic feature film, the two franchises now sell all forms of media ranging from novels, television series, comic books, toys for younger audience, magazines, themed merchandise, board games. video games as well as fan works. These include canonical and non-canonical works. Non-canon works include works made both by producers and fans jointly but mostly individually.

In January 2013, it was announced that J. J. Abrams, director of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), had signed on to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Walt Disney Pictures.[10]

The latest films of the two franchises have also filmed major scenes in the United Arab Emirates. The desert scenes on the planet "Jakku" in Star Wars: The Force Awakens were filmed in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.[11] Scenes for cities in the 2016 film Star Trek: Beyond were filmed in the Emirates of Dubai.[12]

There have been a few actors who appeared in films of both franchises.[citation needed]

Estimated financial comparisons

Despite the difference in the numbers of films, the profit made by the Star Wars franchise far exceeds the profit of the Star Trek franchise almost by 5 times. It is difficult to accurately judge the worth of each franchise as television shows, memorabilia and video games must be taken into account.

Star Trek Films

Year Title Budget Box Office Net
1979 The Motion Picture $46 million $139 million $93 million
1982 The Wrath of Khan $11.2 million $97 million $85.8 million
1984 The Search for Spock $16 million $87 million $71 million
1986 The Voyage Home $21 million $133 million $112 million
1989 The Final Frontier $33 million $66 million $33 million
1991 The Undiscovered Country $27 million $96.9 million $69.9 million
1994 Generations $35 million $118 million $83 million
1996 First Contact $45 million $146 million $101 million
1998 Insurrection $58 million $113 million $55 million
2002 Nemesis $60 million $67 million $7 million
2009 Star Trek (reboot) $150 million $386 million $236 million
2013 Into Darkness $185 million $467 million $282 million
2016 Beyond - - -
Total $1.23 billion[13]

Star Wars Films

Year Title Budget Box Office Net
1977 Episode IV: A New Hope $11 million $775.4 million $764.4 million
1980 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back $18–33 million $534.1–538.4 million $501.1-520.4 million
1983 Episode VI: Return of the Jedi $32.5–42.7 million $572.1 million $529.4-539.6 million
1999 Episode I: The Phantom Menace $115 million $1.027 billion $912 million
2002 Episode II: Attack of the Clones $115 million $649.4 million $534.4 million
2005 Episode III: Revenge of the Sith $113 million $848.8 million $735.8 million
2015 Episode VII: The Force Awakens $200 million $1.983 billion $1.783 billion
2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars story - - -
2018 Han Solo Anthology film - - -
Total $5.76-5.79 billion[14]

Critique and commentaries

In the book, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Tim Russ, who played Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, argues that while both franchises are spectacular, Star Trek comes out better than Star Wars because it has a (fictional) setting in humanity's future and can connect with the audience better. Russ further goes to acknowledge that his former role as a Star Trek character could be a factor in such judgements.[15]

For similar reasons, Matt Blum, a contributor to Wired, though identifying himself a fan of both, states he prefers Star Trek over Star Wars. In his opinion Star Trek is "more egalitarian".[16]

In the same book Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, expressed that he has been a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series and considers them both great. He also has met some of the cast from Star Trek. He argues that he would prefer Star Wars over Star Trek because of its special effects and music. Like Russ, he acknowledges that his former role as a Star Wars character would make his opinion more biased.[15]

Science fiction writer David Brin in a 1999 piece criticized Star Wars, terming it as "elitist" and "anti-democractic" and accusing George Lucas of "having an agenda". He terms the Federation of Planets in Star Trek as progressive while criticizing both opposing sides in Star Wars (The Rebel Alliance and The Empire), as two sides of "the same genetically superior royal family."[17]

Writer Lincoln Geraghty in a book about Star Trek's cultural influence, he devotes a chapter that compares Star Trek to Star Wars. He notes the significant influences of ancient mythology both franchises inherit in their settings. He also gives his perception that both franchises have the same basic foundations in giving moral guidance to the American public. According to Geraghty, the mythology of Star Trek is a narrative can illustrate and correct historical indiscretions". Star Wars' mythology according to him is more symbolic and grounded in the ancient past, which according to him is why some fantasy fans of Star Wars see it as "science fantasy" rather than science fiction[18] (although fantasy and mythology are two distinct concepts despite their similarities and despite one's frequent use of the latter[19][20]).

Contrasting the focus of the two franchises, contributor J. C. Herzthe of the New York Times argued that: "Trek fandom revolves around technology because the Star Trek universe was founded on ham-fisted dialogue and Gong Show-caliber acting. But the fictional science has always been brilliant. The science in Star Wars is nonsense, and everyone knows it. But no one cares because Star Wars isn't about science. It's epic drama. It's about those incredibly well-developed characters and the moral decisions they face. People don't get into debates about how the second Death Star works. They get into debates about the ethics of blowing it up."[21]

John Wenzel of the Denver Post highlighted two differences in approach, noting the "swashbuckling" and "gunslinger" style of Star Wars compared with Star Trek's "broader themes of utopian living, justice and identity" and seeing that the spiritual aspect of Star Wars contrasts with the balance of emotion and logic seen in Star Trek.[22]

Michael Wong, an engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo[23][better source needed] and a science fiction fan, has repeatedly compared Star Trek to Star Wars on his website He makes several arguments using the technical commentaries from the two franchises that the United Federation's Starfleet of Star Trek would loose to the Galactic Empire of Star Wars in a conflict. Aside from making these in-universe crossover comparisons of the two franchises, he also makes intellectual comparisons of the two.[24]

Wong is a strong critic of Star Trek, its producers and its fans ("Trekkies"). According to Wong, Star Trek fans have a tendency to label Star Wars as "unrealistic science fantasy" because it includes mystical concepts such as ghosts, paranormal powers and abilities, but have an equal tendency to ignore such elements when they appear in Star Trek. Responding to guest contributor on his site Scott Whitemore, he makes further mention of The Q, Trelane and the appearance of the mythical Roman god Apollo in the Star Trek episode Who Mourns for Adonais, all of which he argues are directly in contrast with the fundamentals of scientific law as well as contradict the principles of science fiction. He argues such phenomena are more common to Star Trek than Star Wars.[25]

Wong also criticizes Trekkies for allegedly claiming that while Star Wars played no influence on actual science, Star Trek inspired several futuristic technologies such as the cell phone; calling them "scientifically ignorant". He points to several early conceptual prototypes of such technologies that already existed when Star Trek: The Original Series first aired.[26]

Wong argues the technology in Star Trek has no real scientific basis;[26] further arguing the fact that Star Trek uses scientific sounding terminology makes it pseudoscience,[27] a claim repeated by guest site contributor Scott Whitemore.[25]

In Wong's opinion, the use of pseudoscience in popular media franchises such as Star Trek should be a cause of concern since it has a negative influence on children and the general public most of whom are not educated properly enough in science to distinguish actual science from falsified 'science'.[27] Wong's concerns regarding Star Trek have been separately expressed by academicians, journalists, critics and fans.[28][29][30][31]

In another comparison, Wong criticizes both Star Trek and Star Wars for what he describes as "promoting racial stereotypes".[32]

Astronomer Phil Plait who frequently comments on the scientific consistencies and inconsistencies in the Star Trek and Star Wars films argues the Death Star explosions in the Star Wars films are more scientifically accurate than the planetary explosion seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.[33]

Influences on one another

The two franchises nonetheless have a "symbiotic relationship", states William Shatner, who credits Star Wars for the beginning of the Star Trek films.[34] The documentary Trek Nation features interviews where both George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry praise one another's respective franchises, with the former stating that Star Trek was an influence while writing the original screenplay for Star Wars.[35]

A few references to Star Wars have been inserted into Star Trek films; for fleeting moments one can see ships and droids from Star Wars. Most Star Trek films and some TV episodes used Industrial Light and Magic, founded to provide effects for Star Wars, for their special effects.[citation needed]

When Gene Roddenberry was honored at a Star Trek convention late in his life, a congratulatory letter from George Lucas was presented by an actor dressed as Darth Vader. A few years earlier, Roddenberry had contributed an entry in honor of Star Wars and George Lucas at a convention honoring the latter.[citation needed]

Comic relief

William Shatner was a presenter at George Lucas' AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony in 2007 and did a comical stage performance honoring Lucas.[36]

In 2011, Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher and Shatner posted a series of humorous YouTube videos satirizing each other's franchises.


Both franchises are set to grow through the next decade.

Star Trek was rebooted with a series of feature films starting with the 2009 Star Trek film which was followed by Star Trek: Into Darkness in 2013 and a number of sequels set to follow. A new TV series supposedly based on the most recent films are claimed to debut in 2017.[37]

Star Wars is set to continue by story line from where Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi left off and is being aimed to be at least a sequel trilogy of films before the decision to make more trilogies has been accepted. Additionally, more spin-off media is also underway with the debut of Star Wars Rebels, a TV series set in between the Star Wars prequel and the original trilogy. A set of stand alone Star Wars films are also set to come underway, starting with Rogue One.

Aside from official works by the producers of Star Trek and Star Wars, many fan films set in the two universes of the franchises are also constantly produced and posted on the Internet by fans, but not officially considered canon in relation to either franchise.


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  29. Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience: From Alien Abductions to Zone Therapy edited by William F. Williams
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External links