There’s a kind of geek competition between Star Wars and Star Trek and which is better or more influential. I think they’re both great series and both highly influential. This year is the 25th anniversary of The Next Generation and the 46th anniversary of the Original Series, and I thought I’d share why I personally love Star Trek.
Sure you can talk about phasers, transporters, starships, etc. and while Star Wars had lasers, lightsabers, and Wookies, what Star Trek had more than anything was hope. Sure Episode IV is subtitled A New Hope, but Star Trek gave us a vision of hope for humanity.
Star Trek debuted on September 8th, 1966. We were still in the Vietnam War. The cold war was raging and while relations at that time between the U.S. and Soviet Union weren’t exactly hostile, we weren’t exactly friendly. This was the start of the Soviets trying to match us in military strength. Meanwhile, in the United States, just 3 years earlier Gov. Wallace tried to block the enrollment of 2 black students to the University of Alabama until he was forced to comply by President Kennedy and the Alabama National Guard.
Then here comes this show with an African-American as Lt. Uhura (it wasn’t till 2009 that women were able to serve aboard submarines, and the first woman in space didn’t happen till 1983). Many talk about that interracial kiss and in fact, miscegenation laws weren’t deemed unconstitutional till 1967. So to have a black woman serving aboard the Starship Enterprise is no small thing.
Then you have Lt. Hikaru Sulu who is played by George Takei who was (in real life) actually in the Japanese internment camps the United States built during World War II. Pavel Chekov (a Russian) sits right alongside him at the controls of the Enterprise. And to top it all off, an alien is the Second in Command. Not just an ALIEN, but a half-human/half-vulcan. Remember those miscegenation laws that were still on the books in many states of this country. Now you have humans mating with non-humans. Sure Captain Kirk is white, but he’s so color-blind that he literally doesn’t care if you’re black, white, or green. It’s an amazing vision of our future.
Most visions of our future are dystopian. Zombie or Robot Apocalypses. Death Races or Road Warriors. Here was a vision in which we’d shed our nationalist prejudices and instead decided to “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations”. We’d meet some aliens who wanted to do us harm (Klingons and Romulans), but then came the Next Generation and there was a Klingon Security Officer. The federation’s greatest enemy now securing her flagship. A brilliant move. A testimony to the belief that given time and hard work, we can make friends with the people we do vicious battle with. That humanity doesn’t have to give into eternal blood feuds.
Sure I love the Borg and space battles as much as the next guy, but it’s that incredible vision of hope that makes Star Trek so great. That idea that we’d eventually get to that point where we actually considered everyone to be created equal and worked for the advancement of our minds and society, not our bank accounts. The idea that no matter how fractious our times we would still come out the other side stronger and united. And if you think we’re politically divided now, you should really check out the history of the Vietnam War and the protests against it. You think calling Bush and Cheney war criminals or Obama a socialist is unprecedented then you’ve never heard the chant: “Hey! Hey! LBJ, How many kids did you kill today!“. The idea that the best of Humanity will prevail is what drove this show and future Treks. The show was as much about swashbuckling and kissing the alien hottie as it was about the “better angels of our nature” winning out in the end.
So that’s why I love Star Trek.