Why Did the Star Trek and Star Wars Universes Turn Out So Differently?

(Photo: JD Hancock)

Tyler Cowen is an economist at George Mason University. Recently, he mused about why the settings of Star Trek and Star Wars are so different. There are advanced technologies in both--far beyond our own reality--but enormous differences in the politics, economies, and cultures between them.

Why? Cowen offers 6 propositions:

1. The armed forces in Star Trek seem broadly representative of society.  Compare Uhura, Chekhov, and Sulu to the Imperial Storm troopers.

2. Captains Kirk and Picard may be overly narcissistic, but they do not descend into true power madness, unlike various Sith leaders and corrupted Jedi Knights.

3. In Star Trek, any starship can lay waste to a planet, whereas in Star Wars there is a single, centralized Death Star and no way to oppose it, short of having the rebels try to blow it up.  That seems to imply stronger checks and balances in the world of Star Trek.  No single corrupt captain can easily take over the Federation, and so there are always opposing forces.

I think that the core difference is that Star Trek (at least in The Next Generation era) is highly utopian. The Federation at the center of the Star Trek story is prosperous, peaceful, and incorruptible. Factionalism, let alone tribalism, is rare. Hundreds of species with radically different cultures and even biological systems live together without serious disagreement. Material wants and injustice are almost unknown.

I love Star Trek and prefer it to Star Wars, but it's quite unrealistic. The reason why Star Wars is so savage and tragic compared to Star Trek is because real life is savage and tragic.

Wow. I tell you it's fiction, and that is me being RUDE????

Holy crap. Are we a little bit CONTROLLING here? Mother of god.

Have a nice life, asking questions about fiction as if it is real life.
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I would say the difference is that Star Wars is more reflective at its roots. It was a throwback to the old Saturday serials, with a world that borrowed from foreign historical movies. For all of its innovations, it is at its heart nostalgic.

Star Trek had the explicit mission of being speculative. The government on Earth was explicitly never mentioned, the details were supposed to be vague. Instead, it was to concentrate more on what life could be like, combined with some Gulliver's Travels reflections on the world the series was made in.
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