This question is not meant to be a subjective debate on Star Wars vs Star Trek. I would like to know the underlying philosophical and societal differences between fans of Star Wars vs fans of Star Trek. There are some people that are fans of both but most like myself love one and hate the other.

Some say that Star Wars is more "Science Fantasy" while Star Trek could be considered more plausible in such a way that if you want to, you can believe that could be our future.

At the box office it seems that Fantasy often holds greater sway. Star Wars movies are hits with nine-figure box-office receipts; Trek movies are, at least until now, hits with eight-figure box-office receipts.

Could it be that some are more inclined with the nostalgia and anticipation that Star Wars provides vs the consistency and predictability of Star Trek?

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    And let the holy war begin... Apr 25, 2011 at 20:23
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    One thing worth pointing out is that Trek has substantially more material in its primary format than does Star Wars. You can't simply compare the movies. There are roughly 500 hours of Trek TV programming. And soon to be twice as many movies as Wars. :) And most Trek-fans agree that most of the movies aren't really very good.
    – DampeS8N
    Apr 25, 2011 at 22:59
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    Neither is relevant, when Joss Whedon is my master now.
    – John C
    Apr 26, 2011 at 19:10
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    "...most like myself love one and hate the other" -- I'm not at all sure that this is true. It seems that many sci-fi fans like both, with perhaps a preference for one over the other. Sep 8, 2016 at 7:30

3 Answers 3


Another angle for SW vs ST was very deeply covered by a very interesting 1999 Salon article '"Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists' by a sci-fi author David Brin.

As the title implies, Brin's evaluation is that Star Wars exemplifies the elite/heroic storytelling where select few decide for the unwashed masses what is good and bad for them.

Now, as far the difference between the fans (as per the question), this means that the fans of Star Wars are a lot more OK with the classical Homeric "big elite hero" worldview, as opposed to a more democratic (lower case 'd'[1])/populist worldview of Star Trek fans.

Lest people think it's Brin's vivid imagination, here's the article quoting non other than Lucas himself:

Lucas defends his elitist view, telling the New York Times, "That's sort of why I say a benevolent despot is the ideal ruler. He can actually get things done. The idea that power corrupts is very true and it's a big human who can get past that."

In other words a royal figure or demigod, anointed by fate. (Like a billionaire moviemaker?)

To further quote Brin:

Regarding Star Wars:

Just what bill of goods are we being sold, between the frames?

  • Elites have an inherent right to arbitrary rule; common citizens needn't be consulted. They may only choose which elite to follow.

  • "Good" elites should act on their subjective whims, without evidence, argument or accountability.

  • Any amount of sin can be forgiven if you are important enough (think the "redemption" of Anakin at the end of ROTJ - DVK).

  • True leaders are born. It's genetic. The right to rule is inherited.

  • Justified human emotions can turn a good person evil.

Regarding Star Trek:

In "Star Trek," when authorities are defied, it is in order to overcome their mistakes or expose particular villains, not to portray all institutions as inherently hopeless. Good cops sometimes come when you call for help. Ironically, this image fosters useful criticism of authority, because it suggests that any of us can gain access to our flawed institutions, if we are determined enough -- and perhaps even fix them with fierce tools of citizenship.

By contrast, the oppressed "rebels" in "Star Wars" have no recourse in law or markets or science or democracy. They can only choose sides in a civil war between two wings of the same genetically superior royal family. They may not meddle or criticize. As Homeric spear-carriers, it's not their job.

[1] Please note the emphasis on lower case "d". You would probably find more in common - at least from a certain point of view - between the philosophical outlook by Star Trek fans, Tea Party people and Daily Kos crowd; as opposed to the views held by political elites of both parties that are closer to Star Wars creed (Kennedys and Bushes, anyone?). Attraction to populism exists on both ends of the political spectra, although right-ish libertarians would argue that left wing populism is a contradiction (or to put it more scientifically, and unstable equilibrium).

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    I think you hit the nail on the head with the comparison between Star Trek fans and the Tea Party.
    – Chris_O
    Apr 26, 2011 at 0:45
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    How would this account for someone who likes both? And I suspect the perceived split is largely fiction. I know very few people that like one but not the other.
    – DampeS8N
    Apr 26, 2011 at 1:09
  • @DampeS - There may be people who like both, but there are very few people who like both philosophies (since they are somewhat incompatible). The litmus test is how one feels about "redemption" of Anakin Skywalker. Apr 26, 2011 at 2:48
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    @Chris - i expect that statement to be controversial, since a lot of Star Trek has a leftish social bend (nothing out of mainstream, but at times unbearably preachy), whereas a lot - though by no means all - people associated with Tea Party as socially on the rightish side of the spectrum social-view-wise. Then again, anybody who doesn't understand that the unifying concept behind Tea Party movement has nothing to do with social conservatism is not even remotely qualified to argue the topic. Apr 26, 2011 at 2:56
  • I'm pretty sure that David Brin is firmly in the Trek camp, so I'd take his writing with a grain of salt.
    – Martha
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:52

The quality of the science is not really the question here. It comes down to something more simple: Star Wars fans are Art lovers, and Star Trek fans are Science lovers.

Fans of both, like me, love both.

Star Wars is a classic retelling of the Hero's Journey, spellbinding the audience with flashy, well-composed visuals. It is iconic, vivid, and oozing with style. The music is brilliant and, at least in episodes 4 5 and 6, it has a magically told story. And even the prequels offer most of the same. (I suspect we lit nerds are the ones who didn't dig the prequels)

Star Trek, on the other hand, is decidedly not about visual prowess. It is cerebral and intricate. There are layers on layers of detail, but none of that detail is in the name of style. (Maybe the Borg, but tons of fans hate the Borg for just this reason.) It is a love affair with science and rigor. Nearly every major character is in some way a scientist. Which is not to say that they don't take liberties with physics to almost the same extent as Star Wars. Trek just hides it behind techno-babble.

It is funny, because the roots of both series are firmly tied to the same inspirations. Flash Gordon serials, other space opera, westerns; there really isn't anything else that separates these two series.

Art v Science

  • very nicely done. a beautiful middle ground answer; +1 .. that said, the latest Trek movie in '09 was probably the most artsy rendition of Star Trek, but then it blazed multiple new grounds for the franchise.
    – Xantec
    Apr 25, 2011 at 22:50
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    @Xantec: And was wildly popular and is tolerated by most trek-fans only because it is fun and their girlfriends/wives liked it.
    – DampeS8N
    Apr 25, 2011 at 22:51
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    Very good answer. I'll even admit to liking the last Trek movie but don't tell anyone...
    – Chris_O
    Apr 26, 2011 at 0:41
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    @Jeff: Oh, totally. But it has to be like that. It isn't about Hard Science, it is about a vision of where pure science can take us. It is like science porn. "Yeah, I know I'll never have it, but I like to look."
    – DampeS8N
    Apr 26, 2011 at 13:15
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    @DampeS8N: SCIENCE! This shirt sums up ST Science! wholly: topatoco.com/…
    – Jeff
    Apr 26, 2011 at 13:18

Star Wars has its own magnificent historical timeline in addition to being a masterfully executed space-based science fantasy. For this reason, it holds appeal for both the scientifically inclined individual and the connoisseur of art. Star Trek, on the other hand, puts far less emphasis on the linear sequence of its history and is mostly about the future and use of sophisticated equipment to explore the galaxy. Star Trek is almost completely about the future and technology and not at all about anything else. Star Wars is as much about technology as about drama and fantasy. In summary, Star Wars is better than Star Trek.

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    Would it be safe to say then, that Star Wars is more of an epic story, revolving around few characters, whereas Star Trek is more of a fictional recounting of the history of the human race as a whole?
    – Ryan
    Jun 3, 2011 at 4:03

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