Bad Reasons to Prefer Star Trek over Star Wars

Star Trek and Star Wars are in many ways incomparable.  One is a series of movies and the other is a long running set of TV shows that also happen to have movies made from them.  They are also very different kinds of scifi.  Each, while being versions of space opera, is very different in flavor.  Star Trek often flirts with hard scifi, trying to keep their show grounded in extrapolations from current science (or at least as grounded as a show with faster than light travel can be), while being difficult to shoe-horn into one scifi category in virtue of being a long-running TV series.  Star Wars flirts with fantasy tropes, sword-and-sworcery, and Shakespearean and mythological themes.  Both are great.

But then let’s ask Bill Nye which is better:

(First, can I just mention as a side-note that this is probably the first time I’ve ever heard the word shakespearean used as an insult?)

So Star Trek is better because Star Wars has magic and is Shakespearean.  He then goes on to praise Star Trek for (basically) its flirting with hard scifi.  So he likes hard scifi better than science fantasy.  But this is part of what frustrates me about the science popularizer turned new atheism evangelists that are populating the world now and have won the world over.

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They’re fundamentalist atheists.  The fact that the Star Wars universe features a religion is enough to put Bill Nye off of Star Wars.  Really?  That a work of fiction features a religion is a knock on that work?  No interest in understanding what the function of the religion might be in this work of fiction, it features a religion and that makes it stupid.  It’s like a fundamentalist baptist swearing off a movie that has a sex scene in it without taking the time to think about the function of the scene in the narrative of the film.  Bill Nye is going to have a bad time if he dislikes any fiction that has religion, magic, or ghosts.

Now, maybe there is a way Bill Nye could have expressed a similar sentiment about Star Trek without coming off sanctimonious and idiotic. He might talk about how since he has a passion for science he likes hard scifi as well as utopian views of the future and thus likes Star Wars better, but from his response he takes the very presence of any of these elements in a work of fiction is a knock against it.

But there’s a broader point here to discuss than Bill Nye having adopted fundamentalist atheism.  When we’re talking about which set of works is better in some set of works, is liking the setting of one more than the other any reason at all to think that the one is better?  Maybe you can give this as a reason you like one thing rather than another.  But the setting is nothing without the rest of the work.  The setting might contribute to the quality of a work.  And you might prefer things in a particular setting (I really enjoy future dystopia and post-apocalyptic settings).  But the setting alone a work does not make (or break: you can probably pick any possible setting and there has been really bad and really great work that takes place in that setting).

In an upcoming blog I will be discussing some really great aspects of Star Trek as a series and the interesting points it raises.  But today, I’m just ranting about Bill Nye’s discussion of the issue.

Tune in every MWF for new and interesting things that I have to say.

Peace be with you.
-JS

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