Yesterday one of the interesting media features I came across came from College Times. A piece by Janice Vega asked a question with its title “Which is better: Star Trek or Star Wars? Two mega-fans battle it out”. In the piece various facets of the two science fiction franchises are examined in competition and scored accordingly. It is perhaps no surprise that the conclusion results in a tie. After posting a link to this piece on the TheoFantastique Facebook page with a comment that for me, although a fan of both franchises, the edge goes to Star Trek. One fan came across the link and my preferences and weighed in with his own thoughts on the matter. In his view the larger box office, greater merchandise sales, better acting and special effects, musical score, and greater popularity today indicates, at least to this individual, that Star Wars is the clear winner and therefore “better.”
As I’ve thought about this over the last 24 hours for me the broader question is about our criteria for good science fiction. Of course we will all have our personal and subjective preferences for aspects of science fiction in popular culture, but how might we assess the value of this genre?
In my view the criteria set forth in the comments to my Facebook link post miss the mark. Science fiction films and television must be entertaining, and make money in the process, but hopefully ticket sales, advertising revenue, merchandise sales, and impressive special effects aren’t the main criteria by which we evaluate science fiction. This is where I part company with many fans today perhaps. I like science fiction that is not only good entertainment, and which includes good special effects, but I also want it to be intellectually engaging. I like to to raise cultural, social, ethical, and even religious or irreligious questions that makes us probe beneath the surface of the entertainment. Here Star Trek clearly meets this criteria, at least in the original series. Another example is the original Planet of the Apes film, now well known for incorporating social commentary on race. More recent examples of thought provoking science fiction come in the form of District 9, Splice, and Moon.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m a fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars. But when push comes to shove the edge goes to Star Trek in my preferences because I want more than a mythic space opera in my sci-fi. Does this mean I’m swimming against the flow in science fiction in popular culture?