Star Wars vs Star Trek. For over 40 years, it’s been a raging debate in sci-fi circles. To some, Trek offers a wonderful look at the best of humanity with themes of exploration and bonding. To others, Wars is pure fun with its own good themes of family and overcoming darkness. It’s been the source of everything from major jokes to serious debates as to which property is better. Given how each has expanded with scores of spin-off media and major stars, the arguments continue to rage as to which property is better than the other. And it’s a feud that may never die as long as each franchise is around and producing more excitement and material for fans to utilize.
It’s notable to see just how much the franchises have in common in terms of their themes. It’s also notable just how much has been taken from one property by the other. George Lucas has long acknowledged that there would have been no Star Wars without Trek as that paved the way for sci-fi entertainment. At the same time, the producers of the later Trek movies and TV shows give credit to how Wars helped make sci-fi even more popular for them to utilize its success. Some touches are rather blatant while others are more subtle. In a few cases, one property may have gotten there first but the other did it better for something to emulate. From characters to overall themes, here are 10 times Star Trek ripped off Star Wars and 10 times the opposite was true to fuel the everlasting debate between the properties’ fans.
Star Trek was one of the first truly huge passionate fanbases in television history. When NBC announced they were canceling the show after its second season, a massive letter campaign convinced them to renew it. It was that fan base that kept Trek alive for years before the movies revived the property. Before that happened, that fanbase was tapped into by Star Wars as slews of sci-fi fans were eager for some sort of major epic. It boosted it up and ever since, while there is division, there’s also a lot of crossover between Trek and Wars fans. It’s noted that some kids get into Wars first but then move onto Trek while some Trekkers might enjoy the pure action of Wars. Even many Trek guys state Wars got them latched onto sci-fi first before moving into Trek. Yet Wars were the ones to use the passionate base that Trek created to be a huge hit.
Star Wars fans can debate the prequels a lot. However, the idea of showing the creation of the Empire and Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side was something the fans did want to see. Clone Wars has showcased the epic conflict that set the stage for the Empire while Rebels shows the early days of the conflict with the Empire. Rogue One has added to it with showing how the Empire operated.
Star Trek seems to have followed the idea of going back in time. Enterprise was flawed but still attempted to show the early years of Starfleet and how Earth had a long road to gaining respect from other galactic powers. Discovery is set a decade before the original series to show how some events are set up. While fans argue Trek should be looking to the future, they seemed to follow War’s idea of using the past for inspiration.
For a time, Star Trek was only about Kirk and the main Enterprise crew. That all changed with The Next Generation creating its own great spin-off empire. That was followed by DS9 and Voyager which would inspire spin-off media of their own. That’s included the scores of tie-in book series to expand on this universe. Star Wars has been doing it themselves with a variety of book series that focus on various aspects of the mythos. In video games, there’s the acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic, X-Wing/TIE Fighter and other properties with their own fans. That’s not to mention Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons and even Rogue One and Solo. The upcoming TV shows will just expand it to show how Wars is following the lead of Trek in spin-off success.
Star Trek had a bit of merchandising in the 1960s with some posters and books but it had pretty much faded out by the ‘70s. Star Wars caused merchandising of movies to explode thanks to its slews of action figures, toys, costumes and every other kind of merchandising imaginable. Trek has been following suit with tons of merchandising for each of their big-screen movies. That’s continued with the TV shows with TNG offering serious playsets and action figures which was followed by each of the other series. That’s continued with numerous merchandise offerings for each of the shows and movies as well as statues, video games and far more. They really followed the format of Wars to showcase a great merchandise empire to give Wars a run for the consumer money.
Religion rarely played that big a part in Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry made no secret he was an atheist and that played into storylines that openly talked of religion being a bad thing. That was relaxed in TNG and then DS9 openly discussed matters of faith. While the wormhole beings appeared to be aliens, the Bajorans worshipped them as gods and that faith was important to their culture. The Klingons also had their own faiths and other episodes would bring in cultural beliefs. The prequels expanded more into the idea of the Force as a religious theme, complete with Anakin being an “immaculate birth” of sorts. The later movies have played on the Force and its aspects more to show Wars borrowed a bit more of sci-fi faith from Trek.
When Star Trek was created, the idea was to have ships of all types by nice and sleek, TNG continued that trend with Starfleet vessels always top-notch in appearance. Star Wars went a different direction by showing ships that could often look pretty bad. The Falcon, after all, is openly described as “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.” The prequels were criticized for things looking too new but other media showed ships that were hardly that good looking.
This seemed to influence Trek more in their ship designs. The Defiant may look good but it’s clearly pretty rough around the edges and other ships were talked of as not being up to Federation standards. The Dominion craft could be downright ugly while other ships had fun designs as well. Wars thus influenced Trek to realize some ships didn’t need to look perfect to stand out well.
The first Star Wars trilogy focused mostly on the action and drama. Star Trek was more in-depth to things like the politics of the Federation and working with both allies and enemies. Many a time, a Starfleet captain had to make a choice that may not have been right but needed in the bigger picture. The prequels get a lot of flak but one theme fans appreciate more today is the political tones of it. It showcases how Palpatine used the Republic’s own laws to slowly warp them into the Empire, a move that has a historical basis.
Rogue One touched on how there was division within the Rebellion on how strident they should be taking on the Empire. Even Solo played on how the criminal element plays a part in this galaxy while the new movies showed Leia forced to create a Resistance when the Republic can’t handle the First Order. Trek’s political influence clearly has been shown in Wars showing how politics can be its own form of combat.
Yes, Star Trek did pave an early wave of interest in science fiction. However, Star Wars was a full-fledged phenomomen that made sci-fi much bigger in the late 1970s. Paramount had to recognize that as it was the success of Star Wars that pushed the first Trek Motion Picture. While that was good, it was Wrath of Khan that truly made the property a hit in movies by emulating the same amazing action and drama of Wars. It would continue for a few more films before leading to TNG/DS9/Voyager. Even today, Trek is being pushed by Wars in terms of the tone of the new movies and TV shows. While Wars may not exist without Trek, the latter success of Trek is due to how Wars’ huge success made sci-fi epics a must for Hollywood studios.
Among the more underrated touches of Star Trek was the creation of deflector shields for their craft. A constant on Enterprise was the ship under attack and Kirk ordering Scotty to “keep those shields up!” It pushed how without the shields, a ship was dead meat. Star Wars used this a lot for their own ships. Fighters didn’t really have them (witness how easily TIEs could be taken out) but it was mentioned a lot for the bigger ships. The Falcon had to use them in various ways and the Star Destroyers were massive deals. It’s openly stated that it’s only after losing their shields that the Super Star Destroyer is taken out by a crashing fighter in Return of the Jedi. Plus, the entire point of that movie is shutting down a shield protecting the Death Star. While not constantly mentioned like Trek, Wars used the idea of a force field pretty well.
One of the biggest touches of Star Wars was the army of Stormtroopers. The armored troopers were the foot soldiers for the Empire but easily fit in as cannon fodder for battle scenes. Thanks to how they all looked alike, the movies could use them well by sacrificing numerous troopers in battle scenes. The prequels shifted it to droids, which were even more expendable (and it was openly acknowledged they were used as such).
Star Trek would utilize this with the Jem’Hadar. The genetically engineered soldiers for the Dominion, these forces were great warriors used in battle. They were also an easy enemy for Starfleet to take out in droves and thus enhance the battle scenes. Even the Borg could use the “cannon fodder” mentality well. While Trek did have the “red shirts,” they clearly used Wars to boost up using nameless troops.
While Gene Roddenberry wanted a utopian vision for Star Trek, it’s clear he was also going for a “Space Western” vibe. Kirk had a cowboy mentality as he would bend the Prime Directive as he got into adventures. Trek got literal with an episode involving an Old West setting and another of Kirk on a planet with a race based on Native Americans. Star Wars utilized that majorly with Han Solo obviously as much a cowboy as a smuggler with his fun attitude. It’s built up with a few characters based on Western motifs. Boba Fett is reminiscent of the “Man With No Name” Clint Eastwood played. And Cad Bane is obvious about his Western roots with his outfit and attitude. Even Solo had a bit of the Western vibe to it in its action to show Wars copying one of Trek’s best characteristics.
The entire crux of Star Wars was always the Rebellion against the evil Empire. Pushing the good guys as a rag-tag outfit against a monstrous force was great storytelling and pushed the saga to major success. Star Trek avoided this for a time as it presented a far more utopian version of the future. However, Deep Space 9 would introduce elements of rebellion into the mythos. Kira, after all, had spent her life as a resistance fighter on Bajor against the occupying Cardassian forces and was downright proud of having been a violent extremist.
Bigger was when a treaty ceding Federation worlds to the Cardassians caused numerous Starfleet officers to form the Maquis. They began a rebellion against both the Cardassians and the Federation which led to Voyager being stuck in another galaxy. A key moment in DS9 was Damar turning on the Dominion to lead a Cardassian rebellion. Thus, Trek ended up emulating Wars in how sometimes a rebellion was what was needed to fight evil.
In 2009, the Star Trek property had been stagnant for a while with no new major projects outside of novels. Enter JJ Abrams to reboot the property with a new big-screen movie. Abrams was brilliant using the idea of an alternate timeline so the old Trek stuff existed but could get a fresh start with a new cast. He clearly brought some Star Wars feeling with the action, characters and effects to spark the property up. It was a hit and thus, Abrams was a must-get guy for any property.
It’s no wonder Disney then lured him over to restart the saga with Episode VII. Abrams again brought a new touch to the saga with gripping tales, new characters and spins on old ones with intriguing twists. It revived Star Wars majorly and showed how working on one sci-fi franchise just prepped Abrams to take on a bigger one.
Pretty much every sci-fi movie and show in the last 40 years has admitted the Mos Eisley cantina sequence was a huge influence. The scene of this bar of strange aliens mixing together was a highlight of Star Wars and has sparked slews of imitators. TNG played on it a bit first with Ten Forward, the bar for off-duty Enterprise personnel. Much bigger was DS9 as Quark’s bar/casino was a major spot on the station. The DS9 producers acknowledged they wanted to emulate the Cantina with so many alien species mingling together and some seedy dealings going down. The bar was one of the most popular places on the show and more than lived up to its tribute to Mos Eisley. Trek hasn’t done as much with a setting like this since yet it’s obvious how Wars inspired a major DS9 spot.
Everyone knows of the Death Star, the massive superweapon that would threaten the entire galaxy. Star Wars had a lot of other such planet-destroying super-weapons in the Expanded Universe novels, many of which made the Death Star look weak. The latest movies had Starkiller Base just enhancing it. However, Trek were the first to do this with various super-powered threats. “The Doomsday Machine” has the Enterprise encountering a massive planet-killing ship that’s basically a cannon the size of a world. It is wiping out worlds and the Enterprise is barely able to stop it. This had to be an influence on Lucas as the idea of a ship able to annihilate an entire world is a major threat. Trek has played on a super-weapon a few times with some feeling they’re copying Wars when, in fact, Trek had the concept first.
The action in the original Trek was pretty much your standard brawls with very little in the way of finesse. Star Wars could have a bit of brawling but also some far better person-to-person action with the lightsaber duels. It’s pretty evident that would inspire Trek when TNG started. The big example were the battles of the Klingons who would engage in a lot of honor duels with special weapons. DS9 could push it more with bar brawls and full-scale battles inside the station. Indeed, the final action scene of the series is Sisko and Dukat going at it to the death.
Enterprise likewise had a lot of personal action and the Abrams movies are noted for moments like Kirk and Spock brawling on the main bridge. And Beyond had some major action sequences like no Trek adventure before it. It wasn’t just in space but in person that Trek took action from Wars.
Star Trek had a lot of great stuff in their regular series. But one groundbreaking move they had was a set of original novels of brand-new adventures. Even before TNG, the Trek universe provided fans with great tales by some top-notch authors. Thanks to TNG and DS9, the Trek novels provided its own universe of fun. It’s obvious how that would inspire Star Wars when Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire began the massive expanded universe. For over two decades, fans adored the stories and the slews of characters they created. That continued on with Rebels and other media. Even though much of it is now non-canon with the new films, the EU is considered a major part of Wars’ success. Trek has its own EU today of the post-series novels yet they were the ones who inspired Wars authors to expand that galaxy majorly.
When Star Trek began, the heavies were the Klingon and Romulan empires. Both alien races with differing cultures and some sinister plots. Star Wars just went all out with the Empire being a full-on evil galactic force. It was the backbone of the original films and the newer ones have shown the First Order taking its place. The Empire clearly ended up influencing Trek as the Romulans became a much darker force working against the Federation.
The Cardassians then took their place as a full militant order oppressing people. It reached its height with the Dominion, a truly dark empire trying to conquer the galaxy. Even Voyager had them running into a few evil empires and Enterprise had a few too. Trek may have gotten to the idea first but certainly borrowed the evil empire motif a lot more from the groundwork Wars laid out.
Early space shows had the idea going through space wasn’t that long a trip. By the ‘60s, scientists had learned how the vast differences of space meant you had to change a “simple trip” up. Thus, the concept of the warp drive came to excuse how the Enterprise and other ships could travel light-years in just a few hours. It’s been the standard for the entire Trek universe ever since.
George Lucas used that to create the hyperspace of the Star Wars universe which likewise explains how you can travel so far so fast. It’s also led to turns like how some ships are much faster than others and the twists like the Falcon making the Kessel Run. Solo had the intriguing idea of hyperspace corridors that contained their own dangers and Last Jedi boasted the awesome idea of hyperspace used as a weapon. It’s another case of Wars putting a spin on something Trek had first.
Due to the low budget of the time, the original Trek couldn’t really do space battles. You’d hear the Enterprise firing at ships and the bridge shaking but not much else. Star Wars lived up to its name by unleashing epic space combat scenes that many shows have emulated. Thus, the new Trek series utilized modern effects to provide actually major space battle scenes.
While TNG had a few, DS9 really went all-out. That was especially true for the Dominion War as the series featured some truly great battle scenes, particularly in the final episodes. The JJ Abrams movies have just increased that with huge battle sequences. The FX workers on the series openly acknowledge how Wars inspired so many combat scenes and Trek managed to challenge Wars a few times in space battle.