Can you imagine Luke Skywalker singing? Probably not. But just recently, Star Trek let Spock, Kirk, and even some Klingons sing and dance. And it didn’t happen in a weird dream or some obscure book for super nerds, but in an episode of the franchise’s current flagship series. Again, can you imagine Lucasfilm letting Mando sing in an episode of Mandalorian? I can’t. What a shame.
The age-old debate will never die. What’s better? Star Wars or Star Trek. Fans have been arguing about this for as long as the franchises have been around. Personally, I’m more of a Star Wars fan, but Star Trek has always had a place in my heart. Star Wars has always been big, bombastic, action-packed, and obsessed with feeling retro and grimy. On the flip, Star Trek is a franchise about moving forward, exploring the galaxy, and discovery. War happens, sure, but more often some of the most tense moments in Trek are conversations between characters with political or ethical disagreements.
To simplify it: Star Wars is a series in which people rebel, and Star Trek is a franchise in which people explore.
But, regardless of how you feel, Star Wars is still the far bigger franchise, with more games, movies, toys, comics, you name it. Especially when it comes to games, Star Wars has been winning the sci-fi franchise war for years now. We rarely get Star Trek games and even the most recent one, Resurgence, while better than most Trek games, isn’t close to the level of something like Battlefront or Dark Forces. Yet, Star Trek has recently begun to flourish and experiment in other ways that make me—a lifelong Star Wars nerd—very jealous.
Star Trek is out here taking chances and having fun
Let’s talk about one of my favorite shows on TV right now, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The series follows Captain Christopher Pike, Spock, and their crew of mostly new faces aboard a pre-Kirk Enterprise. It’s a fantastic mix of “Planet of the Week” episodes and more serialized storytelling. It’s also a show that loves to take big swings and shake things up, including a recent crossover with the animated Star Trek series, Lower Decks. (A show that itself does wild episodes involving robots having sex with bird people.)
But its biggest and best swing happened about a week ago during episode nine of the show’s second season. That’s when Strange New Worlds became a full-on musical, complete with silly little numbers, heartbreaking solos, and big group finales. People danced. Aliens sang. Spock was sad. Klingons did K-pop. It’s a wild hour of television that isn’t just fun, but actually has some important and memorable character moments that connect back to the larger themes of the season. (And surprisingly, it all feels very Star Trek-y, including how they ultimately escape the musical situation they find themselves in.)
And it’s something that Star Wars, at least in the current era we find ourselves in, will never, ever, ever do. The more I think about it, the more it makes me sad.
What Star Trek has done for a long time, and what newer installments like the animated Lower Decks continue to do, is reinvent and freshen up the franchise. Trek isn’t afraid to completely redesign aliens and ships or just outright ignore canon events in order to do something different. It’s not always better—the Klingons in Discovery’s first season look awful—but it’s far more interesting than how safe Star Wars has been playing it for years.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about the new Ahsoka show, as it’s continuing a narrative that goes back over a decade. I’m pumped to see what happens next to Ahsoka and characters from Rebels, like Sabine. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that so much of Star Wars is focused entirely on maintaining canon, sticking to the past, and not changing things too much.
Star Wars is unable to look forward or take risks
Some annoying fans have complained that Disney has “ruined” Star Wars, but adding more women, making Luke a hermit, or changing up how some Force powers work isn’t ruining the franchise. What is hurting it, however, is that Disney and Lucasfilm seem unable to move the universe forward. They seem unwilling to take silly swings and try something new. And it doesn’t help that Lucasfilm seems utterly uninterested in moving the series forward.
Star Trek Picard wasn’t a perfect show, but it—and later seasons of Discovery—showed fans the future of the franchise. They moved the universe forward, into new territory. And sure Star Trek, like Star Wars, is guilty of being too referential at times. (Strange New Worlds is a prequel to the original series, after all…) But Star Wars in recent years is only looking backward. With the exception of the recently announced Rey film, all announced Star Wars media is backward-looking, worried about carefully filling in gaps in a timeline that is growing denser and more complicated with each passing year.
Meanwhile, Star Trek has balanced its fan service and callbacks in the last decade with new stories and ideas that change the lore or outright ignore it. It’s also more willing to take a chance on something different, to “break” Star Trek and see what happens. And that’s so much more exciting than having us return to Tatooine again to meet the guy who walked past Luke Skywalker in scene 32 of A New Hope and reveal his rich backstory.
So yeah, the musical episode features Kirk (before he’s a captain) singing alongside Spock and Uhura, all legacy characters. But Trek uses those familiar faces to do something completely new and fun.
Can you imagine Lucasfilm letting Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan sing? I can’t even imagine them recasting Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan for a new movie, since they’ve started using CGI to recreate the old actors, let alone letting them dance alongside some Tusken Raiders. And that’s a missed opportunity for fans.