Star Trek vs. Star Wars: We have a winner…

As most people who read a blog like this knows, the new Star Wars film opened to a colossal amount of tickets sold  – $250 million in the US, and $500 million dollars worldwide, and that was just during the first weekend. To put that number in perspective, the last Star Trek film, Into Darkness, made $229 million in its entire box office run. To paraphrase a certain Vulcan, Star Wars made that much in days instead of months.

The press sometimes does articles about the whole “Star Trek vs. Star Wars” thing, as if fans of one franchise cannot POSSIBLY enjoy the other. That being said, there are “loyalists” on both sides, and so there are occasional “nerd fights” online around what series is better, what property deserves praise or derision. Well, there is no reason for any further discussion.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Nothing personal, strictly business… but Star Wars is clearly the superior franchise when it comes to ticket sales, merchandising, and that ambiguous metric known as “hearts and minds.” I was at Disneyland on vacation just before Christmas and I lost count of the total number of Star Wars shirts I saw being worn by park visitors. Even taking the new movie out of consideration, Star Wars has captured the imagination of the public in ways I was worried about in this article for TrekMovie.

Let’s look at additional data points…

The fans

Disney loves the fans. At least, they haven’t sued them (yet). However, CBS/Paramount… Well, CBS/Paramount has sued the makers of a Star Trek fan film, Star Trek: Axanar, because (apparently) the studio is fine with fan films as long as they aren’t TOO successful or TOO well-funded. This suit,  issued just before year’s end, has infuriated many of the exact fans that Trek needs in 2016,  the 50th Anniversary of the franchise.

It’s well within CBS/Paramount’s rights to defend the Trek Intellectual Property, but… to again paraphrase a quote from pop culture, just because they CAN do something doesn’t mean they SHOULD. Star Trek fans have long memories, and I’ve lost count of how many fans on social media has said this move makes them so angry they will not be buying any more Trek merchandise and/or see the upcoming film.

We’ll see – fans are notoriously fickle – but I expect many to keep this promise.

The merchandising

Disney is a merchandising giant. When they bought Marvel a decade ago, they took full advantage of the Marvel characters library – immediately getting products out there for people to buy, even selling obscure characters like Squirrel Girl. This was nothing, though, compared to when they bought Lucasfilm… While there were lots of Star Wars merchandise released before then, under Disney the flood gates opened.

Compare that to the products that have been released for Trek : You can get t-shirts, models, props, and action figures… and that’s (mostly) it. While Star Wars products are in stores around the world, most Trek merchandise is found only online. Sad to say, supply and demand demonstrates that Trek is not a property companies are excited to license.

The marketing

Again, Disney has the advantage: They are very very good at spending money wisely and well and getting people excited about their new movies. With the new Star Wars film, they played us like a fiddle from Hell… with teasers showing the slightest of glimpses to full-on trailer that made grown men weep (even me).

The newest Trek movie has a teaser trailer that made the film’s costar and cowriter – well, cringe. Just watch this video:

The creative choices

The Disney folk are not just embracing the history of the franchise, they are also reaching out to the casual or new fan. For the casual fan, they have introduced new characters that get people of all races, colors and creeds into the universe. For the old fan, they are embracing the look and feel of the original trilogy and eschewing the green screen/digital effects that made the prequels so “fake-looking.”

In comparison, for the last Star Trek movie they recast the Arabic character Khan as (SPOILERS!) a white guy and made it a semi-psuedo-remake of Wrath of Khan.  And it looks like in the new movie they are blowing up the Enterprise. Again.

So much of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination”

Embracing the history

Finally, the new Star Wars movie is a literal sequel to Return of The Jedi, and I figurative remake of the first trilogy in several ways – so many that some critics have named it “slavish” fan fiction.

The script for the new Star Trek film… well, I’ll like writer and actor Simon Pegg describe the studio reaction to the initial draft:

“They had a script for ‘Star Trek’ that wasn’t really working for them. I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little bit too ‘Star Trek’-y.”

“Too Star Trek-y”? REALLY? That’s terrible!

I rest my case.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

Back to Top