Everyone who’s ever been involved in pop culture and media has heard the question: “Star Trek or Star Wars?” Why is this question so prevalent in the media? And more importantly, why do you automatically think about geeks when you do?
The two franchises are more different than the average person realizes. While the geek stereotype was created from their collective influence and the media generalizes them to be nearly the same thing, they can only be minimally compared.
Star Trek was first introduced on NBC in the mid-1960s with its first series, which did phenomenally well and introduced notably famous characters like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The Star Trek universe is science fiction and tells the story of a ship crew who works under the mantle of “Starfleet.” They travel around the galaxy in a utopian future to discover new civilizations and introduce them to their peaceful humanitarian agenda. Star Wars, on the other hand, falls within the fantasy genre as a space western, and starts off with its original trilogy in the late 1970s. It centers around a darker plot about the Skywalker family and the war between the Rebellion against the Empire, which happens to take place a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Both Star Trek and Star Wars peaked in the late 1960s to 1980s. According to Entertainment Weekly, all three films in the Star Wars original trilogy raised over an average of 700 million dollars domestically (with modern inflation). According to the Press-Courier (1968), when Star Trek was on the brink of cancellation by NBC, more than 200 Caltech students marched to NBC’s Burbank, California studio to support Star Trek in January 1968, carrying signs such as “Draft Spock” and “Vulcan Power.” Berkeley and MIT students organized similar protests in San Francisco and New York City. Both franchises coincided in the spotlight when the Star Wars Original Trilogy came out between 1977 and 1983, and Star Trek was coming out with its own movies, with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” coming out in 1979. This overlap of content would be the start of when people would get both franchises mixed up or paired together as something extremely geeky.
Geek culture has clearly made a love of Star Trek and Star Wars as a quality of the stereotypical geek personality. This stereotype has become what it is due to media representation over the last few decades. Parodies originated from SNL to the MAD comics to Futurama to Black Mirror, sometimes with actors and actresses from either franchise having a hand in some light mocking of geeks who adore the franchises. This geek stereotype also put off people who appreciated the franchises, as they did not want to be deemed socially unacceptable.
In recent times, however, the renewed spark of these franchises has been subverting this stereotype. With notable new Star Trek movies and series like Chris Pine’s Star Trek (2009) and Sonequa Martin-Green’s “Star Trek: Discovery” (2017), as well as the recent Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, starting with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015), a resurgence of love for these franchises opened discussion for both old and new fans. The old portrayal of geek culture became reclaimed by the newer generations, becoming incredibly popular for being inclusive of traditionally marginalized groups, with new headcanons and praise for the diverse, queer-like and disabled representation in both Star Trek and Star Wars spaces.
In general, fandoms have become more open as newer generations adopted what their predecessors left behind, and added more content than ever before. New geeks are more vocal in the diverse representation, because most old franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars only had cisgender, heterosexual white outlooks on life, even though both take place in the future and consist of prevalent alien contact.
The franchises took into account what they represent, and adapted themselves to modern outlooks, such as “Star Trek: Into Darkness” (2013) confirming main crewmember Lt. Hikaru Sulu canonically gay and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) introducing Finn as their first Black main character. Liking Star Trek and Star Wars doesn’t make anyone a geek anymore, with the geek stereotype being something of the old past now. So don’t be afraid to like what you like and be as “geeky” as you want!