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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

This post is not about either Star Trek or Star Wars. It's about D&D. But to get to that point, I need to talk about my impressions of trends in science fiction media, and Star Trek and Star Wars serve as good examples.

Star Wars is not really science fiction. And let's say Star Trek isn't, either, for a moment, although it has a better claim to that label. In fact, let's say that science fiction isn't science fiction. Instead, let's focus what kinds of stories these would be if they were stripped of their futuristic and fantastic components.

Star Wars is action/adventure. It's actual closest media relatives are World War II movies; that's why they went with swarms of small fighter craft in dog fights and strafing runs against large battleships. It's also related to the adventure serials, which do include some other space-themed examples (Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon.)

Star Trek is either horror/mystery or what-if/morality play, depending on the episode. Almost all the episodes include a little action, a little romance, maybe a little intrigue, but Star Trek is closer to The Twilight Zone than Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

What's interesting about science fiction movies is that you start with both the adventure serials and the horror/mystery or what-if/morality films, then the serials start to disappear around the same time studios start making a few big budget "serious" SF films (This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, On The Beach. Then Star Wars breaks out as the first big-budget sci-fi adventure, which is now the dominate form of SF.

And the thing is, some people, especially me, aren't really fond of that trend. Yeah, Star Wars is OK, but I was never big on it, in contrast to most other SF fans my age or younger. And ever since they started cranking up the action in action/adventure movies in general, with lots of explosions in loving detail, martial arts porn, swoopy cameras, and weapons fetishes, I've liked action movies (and SF in general) a lot less. It has nothing to do with one type being objectively better or anything like that; it's that "excitement" in a movie turns me off, but turns other people on.

Now, ask yourself the question you've seen debated on just about every RPG blog and forum: what's the real difference between old school and new school D&D?

(Edit: I have my answer to that question queued up for a post tomorrow.)


  1. I think I see what you're driving at, yet I would love to hear you elaborate on the answer to your own question.

    Like you, I vastly prefer "slow," ideas-based sci-fi (like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek) to high-octane action films with sci-fi trappings (like most post-Star Wars "sci-fi" of today). I also vastly prefer "low-powered" D&D where the thrill of melee combat and action are balanced with exploration, dungeoneering, and role-playing. Is this the parallel you intend?

    1. Pretty much. I will probably expand on my own question in a future post, but I had a lot more material in this post that I just cut, because it was too long. Stuff about different Star Trek episodes and whether 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (as conceived by Disney) counts as what-if/morality or action/adventure. And I had barely started talking about old school and new school as parts of those trends...

  2. Nicely resonates with that recent post on Greyhawk Grognard linking to an essay on how action movie tropes undermine our understanding of the medieval. I see Trek as recreating the age of fighting sail and naval exploration (familiar through the Hornblower stories) in its basic structure, while Wars is mining the monomyth and Republic serials.

    1. I downloaded that but haven't read it yet. And yeah, this post actually started with me musing last night, as I was trying to get to sleep, about how Star Trek is Age of Sail through WWI, while Star Wars is WWII, which lead to me comparing Star Wars to The Dirty Dozen and other WWII movies, and then thinking about why I was pretty unenthusiastic when I first saw Star Wars, but was a big Planet of the Apes fan.