There has been a fan rivalry between the two biggest sci-fi franchises, Star Trek and Star Wars, since their first incarnations. Each has touched the world in their own unique way. Star Trek’s progressive and optimistic outlook of humankind’s future has inspired generations of scientists and Star Wars’s cutting-edge movie technology innovations have changed the look and feel of cinema forever. The two share a closer history than you might think.
Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, was a pilot during World War II. He saw action and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Later he was an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. He had a handful of careers but Roddenberry’s passion always lied in writing. He sold short stories to aircraft magazines before building up enough credentials to become a fulltime screenwriter in Hollywood. He penned for shows such as Highway Patrol, West Point and The Virginian. After creating and producing one season of The Lieutenant in 1963, he turned his attention to a science fiction television idea that had been sitting in the back of his mind since first being inspired by Forbidden Planet (1956).
The original Star Trek series lasted three seasons from 1966 to 1969. Roddenberry was a futurist who believed humanity’s best traits would out last its worst and this was reflected in the show’s stories. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), with Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy), led the crew of the USS Enterprise on a mission of peaceful exploration into the deepest unknown corners of our galaxy. The ship embraced diversity and cultural acceptance; things such as racism and sexism had become relics of the past. Though this didn’t mean Kirk would back down from a fight. The Enterprise had notorious confrontations with evil aliens, namely Klingons and Romulans.
Star Trek achieved a lot on a small budget. It had the first interracial kiss—between Kirk and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)—on American television. Nichols was planning to quit the series until she met fan and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. He thanked her for being such an important role model for black people all across the world. She would go on to reprise the character in The Animated Series (1973-1974) and six feature films. The show was ultimately cancelled due to low ratings.
George Lucas directed his first film, American Graffiti, in 1973. It performed strong at the box office and reviewed well. His next project was Star Wars. Lucas had been working on the idea for a number of years but was never satisfied. By this time Star Trek had been off the air for a while and was doing well in syndication. It was finally reaching its audience and fans were meeting in small conventions all across America. Among exploring other creative outlets, Lucas attended some Trek conventions hoping to find inspiration for his galaxy far, far away. He said Star Trek made space flight look fun.
Star Wars (later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) was released in May 1977 and broke all kinds of records. It was the most successful sci-fi film since 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film followed the story of a group of rebels, that included our heroes Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), as they fought an evil Empire hell bent on galactic domination. After the success of Star Wars, Hollywood took sci-fi as a serious and profitable genre. Many films were greenlit during the era thanks to Wars.
The movie pioneered many new visual effects (VFX), including some cutting edge model work. Never before had spacecrafts appeared so fast and graceful while engaging in dogfights on screen. It was made possible by a new camera system. The technology was computerised and could reproduce the same angle every time while filming the model, no matter how many takes. This made it easier to blend the many shot layers together to create the final VFXs in post-production.
Many of Star Wars’s visual effects were made possible by the creative team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Lucas formed the company in 1975 as part of Lucasfilm Ltd. ILM has been at the forefront of movie technology advancement ever since. They have worked on films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Back to the Future (1985), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997) and numerous other award-winning movies.
After the first Star Wars, Lucas focussed on producing and has had a long and successful partnership with Steven Spielberg. The two are also very close friends. Lucas didn’t return to the director’s chair until Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in the late 1990s.
In the 1970s, Paramount Pictures played around with many ideas to bring Star Trek back. Phase II was to be the Enterprise’s second five-year mission going where no one had gone before. Actors were hired, sets were built and scripts were written for the TV series. After Star Wars took the world by storm, the studio decided to turn Phase II into a feature film. It would become Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). During pre-production, illustrator Ralph McQuarrie was brought onboard. He was responsible for Star Wars’s overall aesthetic and designed the look of iconic characters such as Darth Vader, C-3PO and the Storm Troopers. McQuarrie left early as he was needed for the production on the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back (1981). He returned for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986. McQuarrie’s protégé, Andrew Probert, was his replacement on The Motion Picture. Probert designed the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), the DeLorean Time Machine in the Back to the Future trilogy and the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).
ILM has worked on most of the Trek films. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) was the first collaboration. The Genesis Device introduction was the first fully computer-generated sequence in a movie.
Normally in the early stages of production a designer will create artwork based on the ideas and suggestions of the director. The drawings will be presented, feedback offered and the designer will go back and either refine or create new concepts. Once the director has given their final okay, a studio replica model is created. For Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), ILM changed things up. Davis Carson, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Steve Gawley and Bill George drew up rough sketches of ships and created small 3D models of the USS Excelsior. It was a way for director Leonard Nimoy to inspect each design from every angle. The film needed the Excelsior to be the newest and most advanced Starship in the fleet, and it had to outshine the Enterprise. Towards the end of the model work, George created one more design that was inspired by Japanese architecture. This was the one Nimoy picked. Next to the Enterprises, the Excelsior studio model has appeared in more Trek movies and TV shows than any other ship.
Roddenberry passed away from a heart attack on October 24th, 1991. He liked and respected Star Wars. His son, Rod, was a big fan growing up.
Numerous actors have appeared in both Trek and Wars. Clive Revill voiced Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back and was a guest actor in an episode of The Next Generation. Best remembered as Boba Fett, Jason Wingreen also played a guest doctor in the original Star Trek series. Simon Pegg, Scotty in the new Trek films, was also Unkar Plutt in The Force Awakens. Deep Roy has not only played parts in Wars and Trek but has also been in Doctor Who and The X-Files.
Both franchises have inspired real life science. Mobile phones are reminiscent of Star Trek’s communicators and modern-day medical equipment, such as MRI machines, share many functions with Tricorders. Characters in ‘90s Trek used Personal Access Display Devices similar to today’s iPads and Tablets. After Luke Skywalker lost his hand in The Empire Strikes Back, it was replaced by a robotic one. Similar technology is now being used for people who have lost appendages.
There have been subtle nods to the other in each franchise. The Millennium Falcon shows up in the background during a space battle in Star Trek: First Contact (1996). R2-D2 made a split-second cameo in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). A Cardassian ship can be seen on a console in an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-).
In 2012, Disney bought the rights to Star Wars. They started making plans for a new trilogy and standalone movies. JJ Abrams became the first person to direct Trek and Wars films. He’s helmed Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness as well as Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and, the currently untitled, Episode IX (2019).
Neither franchise would be what it is without its fandom. There is something special that draws us to each, or both. Trekkies/Trekkers banded together to save the original Star Trek series from an earlier cancellation. Nearly ten years later, with a strong letter writing campaign, they managed to get NASA’s prototype space shuttle’s name changed to Enterprise. It was going to be called the Constitution, which is the vessel class of the first Enterprise. In 2013, Star Wars fans petitioned the US government to make a full scale Death Star. The spin was it would help the economy and create jobs. It was estimated to have a $850 quadrillion (15 zeroes) price tag. Barrack Obama’s administration responded after 35,000 signatures had been collected. They felt the endeavour was unfeasible and that they did not support the destruction of planets. Star Trek and Star Wars have new movies and TV series in production. It’s definitely a good time to be a fan.
Designing the USS Excelsior – The Official Star Trek Starships Collection (Eaglemoss Magazine)
Gene Roddenberry – Stat Trek.com (http://www.startrek.com/database_article/roddenberry)
George Lucas – Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Lucas)
How ‘Star Wars’ Changed the World (https://www.space.com/8917-star-wars-changed-world.html)
Industrial Light & Magic (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Industrial_Light_%26_Magic)
No ‘Death Star’ for US Military, White House Says (https://www.space.com/19246-death-star-white-house-petition-response.html)
Ralph McQuarrie – Memory Alpha (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Ralph_McQuarrie)
Ralph McQuarrie – Wookieepedia (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ralph_McQuarrie)
Space Shuttle Enterprise (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Enterprise_(OV-101))
Star Trek: History & Effect on Space Technology (https://www.space.com/31802-star-trek-space-tech.html)
Star Trek vs. Star Wars – Diffen (https://www.diffen.com/difference/Star_Trek_vs_Star_Wars)
Star Trek Vs. Star Wars – The Perspective (https://www.theperspective.com/debates/entertainment/star-trek-or-star-wars/)
Star Trek vs Star Wars: the space battle that will never end (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/07/18/star-trek-vs-star-wars-the-space-battle-that-will-never-end/)
Star Wars at 40 | 5 Ways Star Wars: A New Hope Changed Everything (https://www.starwars.com/news/5-ways-star-wars-a-new-hope-changed-everything)
Star Wars – Memory Alpha (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars)