The Sword
     Untitled
The Cabiri Chronicles
     Life of a History
     Under the Hood
     Hunger

     Balancing Act

     I was just acting!
     Lucifer as a Player
     Player Types Defined
     Railroading
     LARP Boredom
     LARP Survival

     Economics in D&D 3.5

     Sept 11, 2002
     Columbia Disaster

     A Letter of Vocation
     Evidence of Evil
     In Defense of a Reflection

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
     Hello
 

          Author's Comments: As my friends likely realize, I do not, nor have I ever disliked Star Wars.  the following essay was written to rebut a similar essay written by a colleague in a writing class I took while at VCU.  His, obviously, was slamming Star Trek and claiming that Star Wars was substantially better.  I took up the gauntlet he'd thrown and, well...


In Defense of a Reflection
or: Confessions of Another Junkie

          "To boldly go where no one has gone before..."
                    -- Star Trek: The Next Generation

          "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
                    -- Star Wars: A New Hope

          In 1960, a former policeman and former World War II fighter pilot conceived a world, far in the future. This is how that man described the show in one of the earliest printed documents concerning it, in 1964:

          The time is "somewhere in the future." It could be 1995 or maybe even 2995. In other words, close enough to our own time for continuing characters to be fully identifiable as people like us, but far enough into the future for galaxy travel to be thoroughly established...
                    -- The Star Trek Compendium

          Thus Gene Roddenberry gave birth to Star Trek. And the world would never be the same.

          Many people compare and contrast the two most popular science fiction universes of our time, Star Wars and Star Trek. It is my intention to present a defense against those who seek to promote Star Wars as the better of the two stories. First, however, we must explore the phenomenon that is Star Trek.
          When the first episode hit the air on September 22, 1966, the promises of John F. Kennedy that the US would put a man on the moon were still fresh in the minds of the American public. What they saw was a universe where we had moved beyond the petty squabbles of the violent riots of Los Angeles, beyond the murder of Malcolm X in Harlem, and beyond the conflicts in the Dominican Republic, all of which occurred the previous year. They saw a universe where not only people of differing ethic backgrounds could work efficiently together, but a place where different species could exist in harmony. Most importantly, they saw a universe in which humans had not obliterated themselves in some apocalyptic war over differing political systems, but one in which they had survived and created a better world for themselves.
          The characters of The Original Series (herein identified as TOS) were a perfect conglomeration of personalities. There was the mysterious alien, who based his entire personality on logic and the absolute control of emotion in Mister Spock. There was the irritable doctor, ruled almost completely by his emotions, who reminded one more of the doctor/psychologist/barber/bartender of the old Westerns in Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy. There was the cheerful but intelligent engineer, whose love of his ship was beyond the love of even his captain in Montgomery "Scotty" Scott. There was the graceful and beautiful African in Uhura (which means, incidentally, "freedom" in Swahili). There was the youthful and exuberant Russian, Pavel Chekov, who still clung to the revisionist history of the Twentieth century Soviets. There was the swashbuckling Oriental helm officer, Hikaru Sulu. And, of course, there was the amorous hero, James Tiberius Kirk, ruled by the emotions of McCoy and the cold logic of Mr. Spock. These amazing personalities worked simultaneously as each others' foils, in a harmony that has not been matched in any series or movie since, including the more current incarnations of Star Trek.
          Star Trek, as it has been said in a previous paper, was vastly ahead of it's time. In "Plato's Stepchildren," the American audience was blessed with it's first interracial kiss on a network television. Trek originally confronted racism in "Balance of Terror", wherein a lieutenant must deal with the fact that Mr. Spock's race, the Vulcans, and the enemy he had fought early in his career, the Romulans, were of the same genetic stock. Uhura mentions later in the episode that racial prejudice is something that is an unfortunate and obsolete viewpoint from the past. The enemy of that episode, the Romulans themselves, are not the faceless enemy that the young lieutenant imagines, but individuals, each with his own interpretation of his Empire's commands and ethics. Trek again faced racism, this time more blatantly, in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," where two individuals, each with a different black half and a different white half from each other, seek to destroy each other. Even after discovering that their home world was destroyed in the same conflict they are acting out, they still choose to return to their broken planet and continue to fight. They later dealt with an oppression and prejudice of a different type in "The Cloudminers," where one race of people, the Stratos-dwellers, lived in luxury off of the slave labor of another, the Troglytes. This episode dismissed the age-old defense of slavery that a certain class or race of people were unable to fulfill the duties of the owning class because of their level of intelligence. Contrary to historical example, though, this difference in intelligence is proven to merely be an effect of the ore that the Troglytes were mining, and the episode closes with the leader of the Stratos-dwellers agreeing to give the Troglytes rights.
          Star Trek: TOS also dealt with other contemporary issues, such as the Vietnam War. In "A Private Little War," in which Kirk decides to arm technologically inferior people with technologically advanced weapons, in order to provide a balance of power. One group of people on the planet, the "Hill People," were being armed by those old adversaries, the Klingons, and Kirk provided the other segment of the population with equal weapons. As the crew departs, Kirk and the others are saddened by the realization that they have only prolonged the conflict by this action.
          The series also constantly addressed the need for non-interference in dealing with other cultures, especially those which were of a lower technological understanding. Of course, there were times when Kirk flagrantly disregarded this rule, referred to as the Prime Directive in the series. However, even he recognized, at times, that he was causing ill as well as good when he did. In one episode, aptly entitled "The Apple," Kirk destroys a machine that is controlling a native and naive population, and accidentally introduces love and war to them. His rationale is that he is giving living beings freedom, but he recognizes, in the closing sequence of the show, that he has introduced the apple to Eden. In giving the "savages" their freedom and the capacity for love, he has also given them the capacity for killing and hatred.
          Of course, TOS also had it's share of action, mystery, horror, and humor, but it was all tempered with intelligence and a point.
          TOS also introduced or featured many actors and actresses who later became very big stars. Sally Kellerman appeared in the first aired episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," who later appeared in M*A*S*H. Diana Muldaur appeared in "Is There In Truth No Beauty", who later appeared as Doctor Pulaski in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and played a recurring role in LA Law. Joan Collins appeared as Doctor McCoy's love interest in "The City On the Edge of Forever". Jane Wyatt appeared in "Journey to Babel" as Amanda, Spock's human mother. She is, perhaps, best known for her role in "Father Knows Best" as Margaret Anderson, the mother. Teri Garr played the character of Roberta Lincoln in "Assignment: Earth." Lee Meriwether appeared in "That Which Survives," but is better known for her role as the original Catwoman in the feature-film, Batman. David Soul appeared in "The Apple", and went on to play Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson on "Starsky and Hutch." Kim Darby, who played opposite John Wayne in True Grit, appeared in "Miri." Ricardo Montalban appeared in "Space Seed" as the sinister Khan Noonian Singh, and later went on to play the lead in Fantasy Island.
          TOS was cancelled after three seasons, despite the continued protests of its strong group of fans, one of which was a young African-American woman who found inspiration in the character of Uhura. She grew up to take the stage name of Whoopi Goldberg, perhaps the most recognized African-American actress and comedian of our age. According to some affectioniadoes, the network producers did not like the revolutionary nature of the show.
          After twenty-two episodes of an animate series, the event that Star Trek fans had been anxiously awaiting finally occurred. In December of 1979, a new Trek and a new starship Enterprise found its way to the big screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP). The movie featured long, gratuitous shots of their various special effects, and these scenes can be somewhat boring to the modern viewer, but we must remember that these shots were what the fans wanted, and followed in the illustrious footsteps of the immensely popular 2001. The special effects were not necessarily as revolutionary as Star Wars, but they were just as spectacular (again, for their time). The plot featured an attack on earth by a technological sentience who was searching for it's origins. It was eventually discovered that the sentience was, at it's heart, one of the many Voyager probes, which had been enhanced by a technological race to achieve it's goal of returning to Earth. In all honesty, it was not the worst of the Star Trek movies, but it wasn't of the quality Trek fans were accustomed to. The only truly important issue it addressed was the necessity of understanding that which we do not understand.
          Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK) featured the return of Kirk's greatest enemy, Khan. Ricardo Montalban reprised his role as the dastardly villain bent on destroying and humiliating Kirk, and Kirstie Alley, later of Cheers fame, played the role of Saavik, the Vulcan protegee who was even more emotionless than Spock. The main plot featured the amazing space battles between Khan and Kirk, appearing more like a battle between ships of war than a World War II dogfight. An old flame of Kirk's, Doctor Carol Marcus, invents something called a Genesis Device, which can completely remodel a hostile planet quickly into a livable world, which Khan intends to steal to use as a weapon of destruction. Director Nicholas Meyer relied heavily upon Industrial Lights and Magic, of Star Wars fame, in his more technical special effects scenes, and his reliance paid off. The most important facet of this movie, at least to Star Trek fans, is that it Mr. Spock dies in it's climax, and the movie concludes with a tearful burial in space next to a new planet created by the Genesis device. The movie illustrated the need for society to recognize the danger of developing technology faster than we are socially and psychological capable of handling it. The Genesis device was construed as a weapon, not just as the ultimate device of creation that it was intended to be.
          Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (TSfS) of course, brought back everyone's favorite pointy-eared alien. The plot featured what happens when man invents faster than he can deal with his invention. The Klingons, lead by Christopher Lloyd of Taxi and Back to the Future fame, attempt to steal the Genesis Device to use it as a weapon. Kirk, of course, foils his plan. But in the course of this, he ends up destroying the Enterprise. Kirk ends up killing Commander Kruge, Lloyd's character, amongst the ruins of the failed Genesis planet created in TWOK, and escaping to the Klingon ship, which he takes from it's only survivor, a Klingon named Maltz, played by John Laroquette of Night Court fame. The movie's script and excellent direction more than made up for the fact that it did not truly address any important social issues.
          Star Trek IV: The Journey Home (TVH), returned to the Trek tradition of addressing social issues. It uses the tired old theme of an alien approaching Earth to destroy it as Kirk returns home to face a Court Martial for disobeying orders and destroying his ship. The crew discovers that the alien is attempting to contact not humans, but whales, specifically the Humpbacked variety, which had become extinct centuries before. Kirk and crew go back in time (a plot device used previously in TOS) to the Twentieth century to find a Humpbacked whale and bring it into their future. After stumbling through the Twentieth century, and revealing many of our ineptitudes, they succeed in saving their target whales from a group of whale hunters and return to their time to save Earth. The movie was directed by Leonard Nimoy, who plays the character of Spock, and is considered by many (though not this author) to be the best of the Trek movies. It addressed the issue of the callous destruction of rare species on earth, and how that destruct could have led to our own destruction in the twenty-third century.
          Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (TFF), directed by William Shatner (James Kirk), was unequivocally the worst Star Trek movie. The plot revolved around the search of Spock's half brother, Sybok, for God and Eden. The movie broke and ignored many previously established Trek facts, such as the established fact that Spock had no brother, and the simplicity in which Sybok took control of the Enterprise and it's crew. Kirk ends up saving the day, more or less, with a boring conversation with 'God', which turns out to be an imprisoned energy being of some sort that has no relation whatsoever to any deity worshipped anywhere, in which he proves that he's not who he says he is. It does approach some interesting similarities of the legendary utopias from different races' points of view, but it does not actually go into detail on these issues. At best, Star Trek V has some mildly humorous scenes of comedy, like Spock, McCoy and Kirk singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" around a campfire or McCoy saying "Jim, you don't ask the Almighty for his ID." STV: TFF addressed primarily religious issues, especially how those issues can consume an individual and, through the holiest of intentions, transform him into the antithesis of all he held dear.
          Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, directed by Nicholas Meyer, was, in this author's opinion, the best of the movies. It's main plot was the, in the midst of peace talks with the Klingons, the Klingon ambassador, Gorkon (played by David Warner, who also played St. John Talbot in Star Trek V and a Cardassian interrogator in Star Trek: The Next Generation), is assassinated and Kirk and McCoy are framed for the crime. Eventually, it's discovered that one of the Ambassador's men, General Chang (played by Christopher Plummer of The Sound of Music fame), in coordination with a Star Fleet officer and Vulcan, Valeris (played by Kim Cattrall of Mannequin), assassinated the ambassador. Kirk and crew arrive, of course, in the nick of time to save the peace talks and exonerate their names. The movie combines a great deal of action with an interesting and well designed plot, and features many popular actors, some in mere bit roles (such as Christian Slater, who played a communications officer...he requested the bit role and requested as payment only the uniform he wore). The movie was a swashbuckling adventure, but touched on very serious, contemporary issues, most intently on the peace talks that were going on between the former Soviet Union and the United States at the time, and the effects this peace would have on the warriors who had fought for so long against one another.
          In September of 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, featuring a very different crew than had appeared in the movies. It's captain, Jean-Luc Picard was a capable, peaceful but brave man played by a famed Shakespearian actor, Patrick Stewart (who had played Gurney Halleck in the epic Dune and a bit role in the film Excalibur). It continued the dream of a world in which humanity had come to terms with itself, but was not a faceless automation which was incapable of making mistakes. Star Trek: TNG addressed such important social issues as mankind's arrogance about itself, homosexuality, and offered a constant examination of humanity itself through the character of Data, played by Brent Spiner, an android who desperately wanted to be human, a sort of Pinocchio character. TNG was followed by the darker and dirtier series Deep Space Nine, which was captained by the more practical Benjamin Sisko (played by Avery Brooks, of Spenser For Hire fame). This series diverged greatly from the premise of it's two predecessors, in that it was based on a space station, not a ship called Enterprise, and it was heavily involved with the darker side of the Star Trek universe, including an oppressed people who could only fight back through terrorism, in the Bajorans, and a not-too-sinister former oppressors of those people, the Cardassians. Recently, Star Trek: Generations made it to the screen as the seventh Star Trek movie, and was a mediocre passing of the guard from TOS to TNG. Most recently, the fourth spinoff series of TOS, Star Trek: Voyager, featured a small combat vessel being flung halfway across the galaxy and it's attempts to get home with it's combined crew of Starfleet officers and Bajoran terrorists. It's captain, finally a female, was Catherine Janeway, an able and stern captain who does not lose her femininity to her role as leader. Unfortunately, the producers of Star Trek waited too long to include a strong female character in a central role. Their first was Major Kira Niris, played by Nana Visitor, in Deep Space Nine, but the inclusion of the characters were by no means revolutionary.
          So what makes Trek better than Star Wars, the Gentle Reader may ask. Well, Star Wars is, basically, a modern fairy tale. Many of it's plot devices and characters are a bit too obviously pulled from children's fairy tales and real world legend, especially Arthurian legend. We have a young warrior with questionable parentage (the Luke/Arthur character) who is brought up under the tutiledge of the aged wizard (Ben Kenobi/Merlin) to fight a war against evil (the Empire/the Saxons). We have the evil relative of our hero (Darth Vader/Mordred) who is a constant foil, we have the fair maiden seeking refuge in our hero (Princess Leia/Gwenevyre) and we even have our hero toting around a special sword (a Lightsabre/Excalibur). Combine that with the legend of the lovable rogue (Han Solo/Robin Hood) and the redemption of an evil man (which, if you examine the pictures as a whole, is the basis of all three) and you have Star Wars. That's not to say that something of this sort has no merit, it obviously does, but Star Wars was written as a children's fantasy, and the extensive work on the combat and action scenes are evidence of this, not to mention the complete disregard for any sort of realism (wars in space battled with small starfighters and space stations that can blow up worlds? come on!).
          One reason Star Trek is so important is the wealth of important actors who were a part of the phenomenon. In and of itself, it shows merely that the casting directors or producers of Star Trek have done an excellent job at choosing actors, but, if taken in a broader perspective, it shows either that Star Trek is important enough to many great actors to make them want to be a part of it (as did Christian Slater for his bit role in STVI: TUC...the only payment he requested was the uniform they made for him), or that Star Trek is important enough to be a jumping off point for up and coming stars. Yes, it is true that Star Wars spawned Harrison Ford, established George Lucas, and was the reason for the creation of his unequaled special effects company, Industrial Lights and Magic, but this is not enough to even begin to compare to the impact Star Trek had on the motion picture industry.
          Star Trek influenced a generation, it was a reflection of society, and an examination of it. It did not do so by pandering to the action-lovers gratuitously, though it did have it's share of action, but by addressing the intellect and moral fiber of an individual. Star Trek has had a great deal of influence on our society as a whole. A majority of our astronauts are Trekkies (or Trekkers, it's fairly irrelevant to me), and became interested in space and it's exploration by watching Captain Kirk fly through the galaxy at warp speeds. Our first space shuttle was named Enterprise as a result of an overwhelming letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans. One thing all Star Trek fans are not are a bunch of nerds who run around conventions thinking they can impress women by wearing plastic ears and pastel uniforms. These sorts of fans do exist, of course, but they are, by no means, the norm. I would guess that if Star Wars had become a television series, there would be people running around with mops on their heads impersonating wookies and pretending fluorescent lights were energy swords. Trek addressed the concerns and intellectual needs of an entire society, something Star Wars never seems to have attempted to do. We do not see why the Empire is so evil, other than a single line mentioning how it stamped out Democracy. We do not see the inner turmoil of our heroes or villains, excepting one of the latter category, and that's only when he's moments away from death. We do not see contemporary issues addressed in any form. Star Wars is somewhat shallow in this regard.
          Hopefully, I have convinced you, through this exploration of a phenomenon, that it is, at the very least, as important as Star Wars to our culture. When one judges a piece of literature, especially literature of ages past, we look at it's cultural relevance, not it's inherent entertainment value. We do not consider Shakespeare as merely a comedian who was able to show an audience a good time, but as a reflection and sometimes critic of his society. We do not look upon Poe as merely an author of suspense fiction, but as the pioneer of the Gothic Horror genre, who influenced thousands of authors in France and England. We do not read Plato or Ovid for personal enlightenment, but so that we can understand the society from which they came. Star Wars is enjoyable only to those individuals living in the last quarter of the Twentieth century. It is doubtful that Poe or Plato or Shakespeare, given a translation appropriate to their time, would understand it as great literature, and it is likely that, once the modern fad of flashy special effects fades, Star Wars will fade from our memory. It is unlikely, however, that Star Trek will be forgotten. As a reflection of our society, and a criticism of it, it is much more likely to be utilized for centuries to study the late Twentieth century, as one of the greatest works of entertainment that we have produced.
          Yes, Star Wars is a fun fantasy. There's no doubt to that. But it is not, and never will be, the reflection that is Star Trek.