"It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire."
So begins the famous opening crawl to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the 1977 film that kicked off a universe full of furry dog-beasts, deadly weapons of light and pop culture's most-feared villain with emphysema. Over the years Star Wars has spawned oodles of feature films, animated series, novels, toys and fast-food prizes, earning the franchise more than $27,000,000,000. Nine zeroes, people, nine zeroes.
This kind of popularity naturally prompted an international holiday of sorts -- Star Wars Day. Each year on May 4 (May the fourth... like "May the Force be with you." Get it?), fans celebrate George Lucas' cash cow while cosplaying, tweeting or having lightsaber battles in the park. But is Star Wars the only worthy space opera out there?
No. There is another.
The Star Trek franchise also features epic space battles, charming scoundrels and shocking genocide. Casual sci-fi dabblers occasionally mistake one series for the other, but real fans know that beneath the superficial similarities there are huge differences between two -- and those folks will defend their chosen franchise nearly to the death.
On May 3, the Saint Louis Science Center will give fans the opportunity to battle it out during its May First Friday series, but we're already itching for a fight. Below, we pit Star Wars against Star Trek in a few point-by-point comparisons. Will your favorite win? Find out when you beam us up, Scotty, because we're going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.
Memorable phrase: "May the Force be with you" vs. "To boldly go where no man has gone before."
Star Wars: "May the Force be with you" is uttered throughout the galaxy as a good luck wish, a prayer, a ritual and a goodbye. It's so ubiquitous that even our mom knows what it means. Besides, it's the foundation for a nerd holiday, which is the whole reason we're writing this.
Star Trek: As part of a longer sentiment about space being the final frontier, "To boldly go where no man has gone before" inspires intrigue, determination and pride. Captain Kirk introduces nearly every episode of the original series with these words, and they've even been applied to outside works like NASA projects and an episode of DuckTales.
Point: Star Wars, because hello? Nerdgasm day.
Leading man: Luke Skywalker vs. James T. Kirk
Star Wars: A farmboy on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker is a whiny teenager living with his aunt and uncle before fate brings C-3P0, R2D2 and Obi-Wan Kenobi into his life. He learns Jedi 101 from Ol' Ben, destroys the first Death Star and gets some perspective from a dying Yoda. Once a full Jedi, Luke eventually convinces his father Darth Vader to stop being a bad guy and later sets up his own Jedi academy. He eventually marries the fiercest redhead in the galaxy and fathers a son, whom he names Ben.
Star Trek: James T. Kirk is a cocky kid from Iowa who becomes the only Starfleet Academy student to beat a special no-win test. As captain of the USS Enterprise (and Starfleet's youngest captain ever), Kirk leads his crew with cunning and confidence. With his best friend Spock as his first officer, Kirk explores the far reaches of space while conquering villains and playing with tribbles. A wooer of many women, Kirk briefly found love with Carol Marcus; the relationship did not last, but Carol bore Kirk's son David. After defeating Khan, Kirk revived a dead Spock and eventually worked with future Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Point: Star Trek, because Kirk is a bad-ass and Luke is a bitch.
Up next: weapons and brainiacs.
Hand-held weapon: lightsaber vs. phaser
Star Wars: Jedi and Sith alike use lightsabers for offense and defense. These weapons of blazing light primarily resemble swords, but variations such as double-bladed lightsabers, shotos and lightwhips exist, as well. Lightsabers cut through most objects without much resistance, and their light beams can deflect enemy fire. The blades make a distinct hum alone and crackle loudly when knocked against another lightsaber. Their color depends on the focusing crystals used during the construction of the weapon.
Star Trek: Phasers shoot beams of energy and can stun, kill or disintegrate an enemy. They're often mounted on ships, but hand-held phaser guns of all types are most recognizable. Phaser beams can cut through rock and spacecraft, may be widened or focused and emit a marked whistle or hum depending on their settings. Beam color may change when the resonance frequency is adjusted.
Point: Star Wars, because lightsabers can defend as well as kill.
Know-it-all: C-3P0 vs Spock
Star Wars: BFFs with R2-D2, droid C-3P0 is fluent in over six million forms of communicaiton. He's called upon when diplomacy and knowledge about cultural customs are needed, and he often scouts terrain and enemies with R2. Ol' Goldenrod is a math whiz, and he'll happily tell you the odds of a mission's success.
Star Trek: Spock is Kirk's best (and most confounding) friend. The pointy-eared Vulcan is logical almost to a fault and provides the best "outsider's" viewpoint to his captain. He usually solves problems with astounding intelligence, but he's not above using the Vulcan Nerve Pinch or pretending to be "Spocko" to outwit a bunch of gangsters.
Point: Star Trek, because logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.
Up next: spaceships and destruction.
Cool ship: Millennium Falcon vs. USS Enterprise
Star Wars: As the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon outruns and outmaneuvers Emperor Palpatine's stacked warships. Captain Han Solo makes sure the ship really has it where it counts when he blasts Darth Vader away from the first Death Star, ensuring Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker's victory in the Battle of Yavin. While piloting the Falcon, Solo makes the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. Inside, the ship features a sabacc table, smuggling compartments and a very roomy co-pilot chair.
Star Trek: James T. Kirk captains the most widely recognized version of the USS Enterprise, naturally using it both to explore space and woo ladies, though other captains also have put various incarnations of the ship to good use. The bridge design is efficient, and the ship features at least one holodeck where human and object simulation -- and stimulation -- can occur (Quark exploits the technology by renting out holosuites for illicit activities). Instead of disembarking from the ship via traditional means such as a ramp, one can use the transporter to beam directly to a location.
Point: Star Wars, because this baby's got a few surprises left in her.
Planet destruction: Alderaan vs. Vulcan
Star Wars: This Earth-like planet features grasslands, ice caps and large bodies of water, and its people value art, education and diplomacy. Emperor Palpatine and his army see Alderaan as being sympathetic to the Rebels opposing his Empire, so Grand Moff Tarkin tries to extract intelligence from Alderaanian senator and princess Leia Organa. After Leia gives Tarkin false information, he forces her to watch while he destroys Alderaan with the first Death Star's powerful superlaser, destroying the planet and killing billions.
Star Trek: Primarily a dry red planet, Vulcan has deserts, mountains and small seas. Once a highly emotional species, the Vulcans eventually become logic-oriented and scientific. In an alternate reality, vengeful Romulan captain Nero holds Spock responsible for the death of his wife and unborn child. He forces Spock Prime to watch him destroy Vulcan with a black hole that eats the planet from the inside out. On Vulcan's surface, the younger, current Spock (yeah, it's confusing) watches in anguish as his mother perishes before he's transported to safety himself.
Point: Star Trek, because losing his mother brought emotion and passion back to Spock's life.
Overall winner: It's a tie. Star Wars and Star Trek each have rightfully have earned their places among the highest grossing and most-beloved sci-fi franchises. Though their stories similarly are set in galaxies far, far away, each series takes a different approach to plot, characterization, relationships and battle.
There are plenty more comparisons we could make, though: female leads, villains and even music score. Let us know in the comments which series wins your admiration and why.