Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally come out, and reactions couldn’t have been more divided if this were a face-off between Jedi and Sith. Critics hailed this movie as the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back while many fans rejected things like unnecessary plotlines and discarded mysteries. Meanwhile, Star Trek made a splashy return years earlier via J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the franchise. He gives us a glimpse of a Kirk and crew who are fresh out of Starfleet Academy but are already expected to save the galaxy from wild new threats.
With these two rival properties making their return, it was only a matter of time before fans decided to compare the two. Interestingly, the debate is a lot like the reception to The Last Jedi: highly mixed. There are a number of things that Star Trek does much better than its younger rival, and there are more than few things Trek still drops the ball on, even after all these years. Want to know what each did right and wrong? Fortunately, you don’t need either a holocron or a holodeck to do your research… just keep scrolling to check out why the new reimagined Star Trek is better than the new Star Wars!
15. BETTER: CHARACTER FOCUS
One thing Abram’ Star Trek did that felt unlike most Trek before it was to offer a very central character. Large parts of nearly every movie revolve around Kirk and how he blossoms into a legendary Captain within Starfleet. While this move may have seemed controversial and unconventional, it ultimately shows how Trek is doing a much better character focus than Star Wars.
For instance, the obvious comparison is Rey — she is the last Jedi, and nominally, the story revolves around her. But we’re two movies in and have no real satisfying answers regarding Rey’s background, motivation, or goals. With Abrams’ Kirk, we got a clear beginning, middle, and end of his arc as he becomes a leader and friend to his crew — with Rey, we’ll be lucky to get a beginning by the time this new trilogy is over!
14. WORSE: TOO MUCH OF ONE CHARACTER
The obvious flip side of having a better character focus is that Star Trek spends too much time only focusing on James T. Kirk. We have other main characters that we learn more about (such as Spock and Bones), but no one gets nearly the focus that Kirk does. This ultimately reduces audience interest in those characters, and unless you really enjoy Kirk, it may reduce your interest in the entire show.
Perhaps the most damning thing about Trek‘s focus on Kirk is how many regular characters we know nothing about. Fan favorite characters like Sulu and Chekov are reduced to just a cute scene or two and never have much of a plot function. For better or for worse, Star Wars focuses on supporting characters — just look at the time Last Jedi spends on characters like Vice Admiral Holdo for proof of that!
13. BETTER: MYSTERIES
The Force Awakens left us with a number of mysteries. Fans had years to speculate about who Rey’s parents were, who Snoke was, and so on. And one of the most controversial elements of The Last Jedi is that it refused to answer those questions in a satisfying way: Rey’s parents are nobodies, Snoke is a random new Sith guy, etc. By comparison, Star Trek has offered a much better set of mysteries, and has done a better job of paying them off.
One early mystery included how the timeline gets altered, and we find out it’s a combination of Spock the Elder and the mad Romulan Nero. Other mysteries have included who the antagonist of Into Darkness was (spoilers: KHAAANNNN) how the altered timestream affects other parts of the Federation (spoilers: Section 31 is crazier than ever). At this point, we’ll be lucky if the next Star Wars episode even acknowledges the movies before it!
12. WORSE: VILLAINS
One area where Star Trek stumbles is in providing compelling villains. For instance, Nero has a really compelling story, but he’s reduced to being a generic crazy guy with a big ship. Khan ended up being a poor retread of a better Khan performance, while the villain of Beyond was back to the template of “generic crazy guy” (with a swarm of ships instead of one big one).
Kylo Ren makes for a much more compelling villain than anything that new Trek has managed to offer. He’s got crunchy personal connections to our heroes and seems to have an agenda completely separate from that of the Resistance or the First Order. Love or hate the character, but Adam Driver provides Kylo Ren with such manic intensity that it’s almost impossible to look away from his performance.
11. BETTER: CLIFFHANGERS
Star Wars defined the sci-fi cliffhanger back in Empire Strikes Back. Audiences left theaters debating whether Darth Vader was Luke’s father. Compared to that, The Last Jedi just fizzles. Nothing has really changed for the two sides (the Resistance is beleaguered and running from the First Order at the end of the movie…just like at the beginning) and there’s little reason (other than inertia) to see the next movie.
Meanwhile, Trek manages to wrap its movies up in a way that leaves us coming back for more. At the end of the 2009’s Star Trek, we are eager to see the crew officially commence their five-year mission. By the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, we are wondering how the rise and fall of Section 31 will change the future of the Federation. Altogether, these movies dynamically and dramatically change and challenge our characters while leaving audiences wanting more!
10. WORSE: LACK OF HUMOR
Star Trek has never had a great track record for humor. Certain episodes of The Original Series and Next Generation tried to end episodes on sitcom-like laugh lines, but it usually fell flat for them. Abrams-era Trek continues the tradition of of either being humorless (taking itself way too seriously) or the humor wildly missing (turning iconic characters into slapstick punchlines).
Compared to this, The Last Jedi has a fair amount of balanced humor. You get smartass one-liners from Poe Dameron, grumpy old man humor from Luke Skywalker, and even exasperated humor from aspiring Jedi Rey. While it’s true that some fans and critics thought The Last Jedi focused too much on humor, there’s no doubt that it’s likelier to make you laugh than Star Trek is.
9. BETTER: CAMEOS
Star Trek, by its very nature, has fewer cameos in it than Star Wars: The Last Jedi. However, it uses these cameos to really great effect. For instance, Leonard Nimoy as the elder Spock helps to provide a narrative anchor for the first two movies, and even in his absence, he provides an emotional anchor in Beyond. And characters like Carol Marcus and even Khan are used as fun callbacks to the rich history of Star Trek.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has many more cameos, but it squanders most of them. Death Star veteran Nien Nunb just kind of languishes in the background, while meme king Admiral Ackbar is killed without accomplishing anything. Leia spends most of the movie moping or in a coma, while Luke Skywalker is reduced to a handful of one-liners and then a cool moment at the end.
8. WORSE: UNNECESSARY GIMMICKS
Considering that the franchise is over 50 years old, Star Trek is ancient in terms of pop culture. This means that in order to stand out, the show sometimes resorts to weird gimmicks. In Abrams’ Trek, this mostly amounted to bizarre technological advancements: characters were suddenly able to beam from planet to planet in a way that would make starships obsolete, and Khan’s blood was suddenly able to bring people back from the dead in a way that could make everyone live forever.
By comparison, The Last Jedi mostly focuses on Star Wars staples. There are climactic duels between masters and students, reluctant teachers coming out of retirement… for better or for worse, many aspects of The Last Jedi seem to be working from a kind of Star Wars checklist. While this makes it less original, it guarantees that this movie relies on fewer gimmicks than Star Trek.
7. BETTER: EASIER TO RELATE TO
Star Trek has not always been easy to relate to. Its sterile world of plastic-faced aliens and stoic crew members has often seemed less accessible than the world of Star Wars (which turns galactic warfare into a family-friendly romp). However, Abrams-era Trek turns this on its ear.
We have characters like James Kirk who are largely defined by their failures. And we have wide-eyed POV characters like Scotty to remind us how awesome all of this really is. Moreover, we get to see the crew be human, whether it’s hiding possible hookups from your friends or drowning your sorrows in a hole in the wall bar. Compared to this, the characters in The Last Jedi are harder to relate to, especially because they are all reduced to one-sentence descriptions: “hothead pilot,” “aspiring student,” “failed teacher,” and so on.
6. WORSE: ALIEN DESIGNS
Star Wars has always excelled at alien designs. Major characters like Chewbacca are innovative classics, and even minor characters like Greedo and Admiral Ackbar practically leap off of the screen due to their awesome design. And with everything from fish nuns to Porgs, The Last Jedi continues this trend of fun design. Compared to this, Star Trek looks like it’s standing still.
For instance, Into Darkness gives us a brief glimpse of Klingons, and this is arguably worse than they have ever looked (well, until Discovery came along). Other designs seem like the creators gave up halfway through (like whatever is going on with our different Beyond villains). Ultimately, we just haven’t seen that many alien creatures in Trek yet, as the ship is busy boldly going to war with the same bad guys movie after movie.
5. BETTER: USE OF MYTHOLOGY
A major reason that The Last Jedi is such a divisive movie is that it lives by Master Yoda’s words: “unlearn what you have learned.” Therefore, many diehard fans were upset to see how characters like Luke Skywalker completely throw away years of Jedi tradition. Similarly, Kylo Ren is willing to completely forsake traditional Sith ideology. It arguably makes for a bold new story direction, but it also means that Star Wars is making poor use of its own mythology.
By contrast, Star Trek has made fun use of Trek mythology. For instance, we get cheeky references to Captain Archer’s pet dog and fun inversions of famous scenes like the death of Spock. We even get more fun references to the Enterprise when Kirk and crew are forced to use another NX-class vessel to escape a hostile alien planet. Trek shows you can tell new stories without destroying the past.
4. WORSE: BORING ACTION
Star Trek has always had a rocky history of action scenes. Old episodes of Kirk fighting aliens are memorable for all the wrong reasons, with laughable choreography and bizarre music. And battles between starships always seemed rather “meh.” Unfortunately, new Trek continues this trend: Starfleet’s fights seem very sterile, and space action scenes seem disjointed.
For all of its faults, The Last Jedi manages to knock its action scenes out of the park. Poe’s early X-Wing exploits keep you on the edge of your seat while Rey’s showdown with Snoke and Kylo Ren is downright captivating. Even guest stars like Laura Dern get in on the action with unforgettably cool moments of battle. At the end of the day, all of Trek‘s action scenes could use a healthy dose of The Force.
3. BETTER: USE OF ENSEMBLE
The Last Jedi showed clear problems in finding something for everybody to do. Rey had a clear quest lined up from the previous movie: she was going to learn the ways of the Force from Luke Skywalker. Chewbacca went with her… and then proceeded to spend the movie just playing with his Porg. Poe gets a cool X-Wing scene early on, but then he’s reduced to yelling about his boss for nearly the whole movie. And most controversially, Finn and new character Rose are sent on an insane quest to get a code that ultimately proves useless, making that whole plot pointless.
Star Trek makes better use of its ensemble cast. Things are Kirk-centric, but every main crew member has a role to play in the action. None are relegated to the background or given a pointless plot to keep them busy. In this way, Trek‘s ensemble outshines The Last Jedi.
2. WORSE: COSTUME DESIGN
Star Trek has a long history of colorful costumes (both literally and figuratively). From the bright colors of The Original Series to the bold uniforms of Enterprise, every show has stood out in its own way. New Star Trek provides great compromise costumes (less “jumpsuit-y” than Enterprise, but more muted than Original Series), but let’s face it: Star Wars has much better costume design.
The Last Jedi pretty much had the Midas Touch when it came to costumes. The redesigned X-Wing pilot outfits are vibrant and detailed, while Finn and Rose look whip smart in their stolen First Order officer clothes. And, of course, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma are immediate design classics, perfectly melding old and new design ideas together. To put it another way: there’s a reason you see more Star Wars cosplay than Star Trek, and the superior costumes are it!
1. BETTER: ORIGINALITY
While some critics took exception to deviations from Star Wars lore, the truth is that much of The Last Jedi rehashes elements from earlier movies: Rey’s training with Luke is meant to be reminiscent of Luke’s training with Yoda, Rey’s confrontation with Snoke is meant to be reminiscent of Luke’s confrontation with Palpatine, and so on. At the end of the day, Star Wars is never going to be considered overly original as long as creators feel the need to recycle these familiar beats.
Star Trek, though, often feels wild and new. Young and wild-eyed Kirk seems different in many ways from the seasoned captain we know, while emo Spock is a revelation when we’re all expecting an emotionless alien. Ultimately, Star Trek is “boldly going” into new and original territory while Star Wars reinvents “a long time ago” all over again.
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