Going to see the latest installment in the ‘Star Trek’ series has become a weird ritual for me, that I look forward to more with each passing movie. It’s a fictional universe I have no deep relationship with, having never watched the many television versions or any of the movies made before J.J. Abrams rekindled the franchise. Truth be told, my favorite ‘Star Trek’ movie is probably ‘Galaxy Quest’. And yet, I am actually giddy each time a new movie comes out, because this new ‘Star Trek’ series is wonderful and is only getting better. It is a compelling and fun exploration of what our relationship to space could be in the future, along with excellent characters and exciting action set-pieces. However, my happiness is dashed when I realise that very few will ever experience ‘Star Trek’ in this sense — because of a little juggernaut called ‘Star Wars’.
Usually, two similar franchises can co-exist on equal terms – the ‘Harry Potter’ series began around the same time as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies, and DC and Marvel still make an obscene amount of money despite telling very similar stories. But, ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ are different. After the amazing success of ‘The Force Awakens’ – both critically and monetary – I know in my heart that ‘Star Trek’ will always be the less shiny space franchise. It seems futile to even compare the two, and yet, no matter how much I love ‘Star Wars’, I can’t help but think that the message behind ‘Star Trek’ is much more important.
Watching ‘Star Trek’ gives me, and hopefully those who watch, a sense that one day this could be our future. When I see the S.S. Enterprise leave for a mission, I wonder if I would be brave enough to join the Federation or be happy to work on a local base? Would I be living on an entirely different planet? Would I be one of the many women Captain Kirk hooks up with? Let’s be honest, that guy gets around. I never have these feelings while watching ‘Star Wars’. That’s because it’s an insular world where it seems you only matter if your name ends in Skywalker or Solo. Even now fans are creating different backstories for Rey – is she a Solo? Skywalker? Palpatine? We are unhappy with the notion that she truly may just be a nobody. I expect even Finn will have some tenuous connection to the Force or some previous character. In the deep mythology of ‘Star Wars’, if you aren’t connected to a mystical family with a high Midichlorian, count you may as well be a red-shirt.
Even from a production side, ‘Star Trek’ seems to be taking more risks – letting a director best known for the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise take a crack at literally having a motorcycle chase in space. It’s a joyous scene, which at this point seems almost too frivolous to be considered for a ‘Star Wars’ movie. Now that ‘Star Wars’ has that Disney sheen, I fear they will take even fewer risks and suffer as a result.
Both franchises have endless possibilities for sequels in front of them. ‘Star Wars’ is choosing to focus on popular characters like Han Solo and Boba Fett, who are both getting their own movies. ‘Star Trek’ also has movies slated for the future, as well as a resurrection of the television show, which is being run by Bryan Fuller. And while there may be familiar characters – like Klingons and Tribbles – I know that the main idea will be exploration and adventure, something sorely missing in a lot of movies.
I just hope audiences catch on that exploring the final frontier can be fun, and maybe spend their money on the next ‘Star Trek’ movie instead of watching ‘Rogue One’ three times in the theater.