The Force Awakens opens in less than a week, and yet I can’t help but be just as excited for the Star Trek: Beyond trailer that’s going to precede it.
Part of this is just the kind of nerd I am – I grew up at a particular time in the ‘90s when there was no Star Wars except for the odd broadcast or the Special Editions, but there were two Star Trek series on television and movies in the theatres. Now, there’s tons of quality Star Wars entertainment. Just look at the main page of this website — it’s covered in my kid’s Halloween costume build, which is all Star Wars. But back when I was just a bit older than she was, by the time 1996 rolled around, I was watching Voyager and Deep Space Nine as well as The Next Generation reruns, First Contact was blowing up in theatres, and television channels could and would advertise themselves as “your Federation station” and it was a major selling point. I was saturated with Star Trek, and while I had a handful of Star Wars toys, they were never as well-used as my shuttlecraft Goddard and the bridge crew of the Enterprise.
The bigger part of why I’m as excited for the Star Trek trailer as The Force Awakens is because Star Trek is more important than Star Wars.
Yeah, I said it.
I don’t mean to the general public. Star Wars is more of a cultural force than Trek is, for sure. It’s been that way since 1977. And I don’t mean more important to movies, because there again Star Wars is clearly more influential. But when you hear thought leaders, scientists and politicians, philosophers, and academics talk, you don’t hear Star Wars come up anywhere near as often as Trek does.
I can attest to some of this. I feel like I got a good chunk of my moral education at the knee of Captain Picard. It’s certainly not where my interest in science and technology comes from – I’ll properly credit my parents for that – but I certainly developed an enthusiasm for it and curiosity about its possibilities while watching Star Trek.
Here’s the other reason Star Trek is more important than Star Wars, and why we need it now more than ever: we’re saturated with wartime heroes, and I don’t want my kids’ heroes to be soldiers.
In Star Wars, all of the characters are drenched in the baggage of the titular wars (which are in the stars, you see). It’s a story about characters, but the backdrop is war, and they’ve known conflict all their lives. They are good in the context of good vs. evil, of white hats and black hats, of body counts justifiable in the context of constant warfare, and in a Wild West world where a blaster on your hip is as important as the fortitude in your character.
We’ve got enough of that. The Wild West is long over – it’s time to put the blasters down and to beat our swords into ploughshares. (Most of the Western world already has; this past year has been, I think, a pivotal one in making the argument to the United States that they will have to follow suit soon enough). There’s less conflict now, threat of terrorism aside, than there has been at any other point in history. We live in a blessed age. We don’t need heroes modeling how to be good soldiers. We need heroes modeling how to share our bounty with those who need it. We need heroes who solve problems with science and engineering and words more than they solve them with their fists and weapons. We need heroes who work the problem and share the solution, heroes who kill as a last resort and who have limited body counts, who have a “stun” setting on their weapons for those situations where they absolutely have to fight. We need heroes who are aspirational, in whom we recognize not just who we are but who we could be if we were our best selves, who constantly strive to be better for its own sake in spite of their human failings.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to be a spectacle. I am probably going to love it. My kids are probably going to love it. But it’s candy. We don’t need it. We do need Star Trek, and we need it now. Because from now until Disney can’t get any more cash out of Star Wars, our stars will be full of warfare. It needs to be counterbalanced by a forward journey, by a seeking out of the strange and the new — not just returning to these wars fought so long ago and far away.
There’s a new movie and a new series coming. It’s time. The human adventure, after all, is just beginning, and we need new heroes to show us the way.