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Star Wars vs Star Trek: The Klingons strike back

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Star Wars vs Star Trek: The Klingons strike back

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part two of a two-part article; part one posted last week.

In a head-to-head grudge match between the “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” franchises, its interesting to consider which series has had a greater impact on popular culture.

While “Star Wars” might have made a bigger splash in America's malls, schoolyards and cineplexes, “Star Trek” has left its mark on society in more substantive ways.

"During the Cold War, with people hiding in bomb shelters and preparing to be blown up, Gene Roddenberry was there with “Star Trek” telling us, 'Yes, there will be a future, and it will be a good future,'" said Ann Crispin, who has written novels for Bantam's “Star Wars” series as well as Pocket Books' “Star Trek” line. "He was a big risk taker. He could comment on the Vietnam War and the relationship between men and women through his science fiction. He was vastly ahead of his time."

Trek broke new ground for American television by giving highly visible roles to an Asian (George Takei) and an African American (Nichelle Nichols) and promoting the idea that humanity would one day overcome racial prejudice. How potent was this message of multicultural harmony? When Nichols considered leaving the show, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked her out of it.

Scientists, researchers and inventors have also turned to Trek for inspiration. Kirk and company's hand-held communicators predated cellular phones by decades. And Kirk and Spock were talking to their ship's computer long before voice-recognition software was possible. Weapons labs are now working on phaser-like hand-held weapons, and physicians are currently testing radar-based scanners along the lines of Dr. McCoy's medical tricorder.

"NASA engineers don't look to “Star Wars” for the future they'd like to create. They look to “Star Trek”," said Jeff Greenwald, author of “Future Perfect: How “Star Trek” Conquered Planet Earth.” "A lot of people in the science and technology fields have cited “Star Trek” as their influence."

Greenwald points out another edge Trek has over Wars in the cultural impact face-off:

It was first. "[Trek] is the first contemporary myth we've ever had," he said. "It mirrors the growth of the American consciousness from the Camelot days of the '60s to the high-tech, Webbed-out days of the '90s."

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