Star Trek Only Survived By Becoming More Like Star Wars

By Zack Zagranis | Published

Star Trek vs Star Wars. It’s the endless schoolyard debate: which space franchise is better? Here at Giant Freakin Robot, we hate to pick a side—they’re both so iconic—but the truth is only one franchise aped the other to gain more mainstream popularity. An argument can be made that if Star Trek had never made the decision to be more like Star Wars, the fandom would have died out years ago.

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Look, we’re not saying that Star Wars is an objectively better series than Star Trek, just that it appeals more to the general public. It’s like the old joke: What do you call a Star Trek fan? A Trekkie. What do you call a Star Wars fan? Steve.

Star Trek Had To Fight For Its Survivial

Star Trek, since its inception, has appealed to a niche audience. Sci-fi fans who enjoy speculative fiction with one foot rooted in actual scientific concepts. As a result, Star Trek: The Original Series was constantly on the brink of being canceled. Eventually, after three seasons, it was canceled, leading to a lengthy live-action hiatus for the franchise.

Star Trek: The Movie Failed To Ignite The Box Office

star trek william shatner

Meanwhile, another space-faring IP—this one more rooted in magic and fantasy than actual science fiction—came along and captured the whole world’s imagination. When Star Trek did finally get resurrected as a movie, it was at least partially because Paramount was hoping for its own Star Wars. What they got instead was Star Trek the Motion Picture, the most purely Star Trek of all of the Enterprise’s big screen adventures.

Slow-paced and cerebral, Star Trek the Motion Picture was also, unfortunately, boring—at least when compared to Star Wars. Moviegoers thought so, too. The film grossed only a fraction of what A New Hope did on a budget that was four times higher.

Paramount Wanted More Exciting Sci-Fi

Wrath of Khan

When the time came for Paramount to bankroll a Star Trek sequel, they wanted it cheaper, faster-paced, and more exciting. In other words, more like Star Wars. The result was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, largely considered the best of Star Trek’s big-screen outings.

The Wrath Of Khan Is Star Trek At Its Best

star trek wrath of khan

Anyone who’s seen Wrath of Khan will tell you it’s still recognizably a Star Trek movie, first and foremost. Still, it’s undeniable that by mirroring Star Wars’ quicker pace, adding more action, and getting James Horner to write a more John Williams-esque score, Star Trek was able to find a broader appeal than it ever had previously. The director, Nicholas Meyer, even turned to Lucasfilm’s own effects department, Industrial Light and Magic, to do the effects for the film, lending it a more Star Warsy look as well.

The Next Generation Crew Followed The Same Pattern

wolf 359

Jump ahead to the second series of Star Trek movies starring the Next Generation cast, and once again, Generations, the crew’s inaugural big-screen adventure feels more like an extra-long episode of the TV show than it does a spectacle worthy of blockbuster status. Paramount again changes course and gives fans a more action-packed, special effects-heavy roller-coaster ride for a sequel. Star Trek: First Contact brought in a significantly larger box office haul again, making Star Trek a little more like Star Wars.

J.J. Abrams Changed Everything


Of course, the biggest example of the “Star Warsification” of Star Trek is the J. J. Abrams reboot series that started with 2009’s Star Trek. Prior to the reboot, Star Trek was in a lull. Enterprise—up to that point, the last Star Trek television series—had been off the air for four years and, when it was airing, was considered by many to be a low point in the franchise. Enter J. J. Abrams an avowed Star Wars fan who didn’t really care for Star Trek.

Abrams Purposely Made A Star Wars Style Movie

star trek 4

Abrams, believing at the time he would never get a chance to make a Star Wars movie, instead put out a version of Star Trek that was way closer to his preferred franchise than its own source material. Abrams was at least smart enough to explain away his drastically different approach to Star Trek by making it an alternate version of the already-established Star Trek universe.

Star Trek Found New Life

If it wasn’t already apparent by watching Star Trek, that Abrams set out to make a movie that was more Star Wars and less Starfleet, interviews with the director from around the film’s release help to drive home the point.

The Franchise Is Flourishing

star trek into darkness

We all know what happened next. The slick, action-packed movie with its Han Solo version of James Kirk made a ton of money and revitalized the Star Trek franchise. If it wasn’t for J.J.’s reboot, Trekkies wouldn’t have Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, etc. And if it wasn’t for Star Wars, they wouldn’t have the reboot.

We guess you could say that Star Trek wouldn’t be living long and prospering like it is if it didn’t have the force to guide it.