Friday, February 15, 2013

Trek Wars

A long time ago, I boldly went there and did that in a great big table! But first I told an epic story of self-discovery:

Several months ago, I pondered: which do I like better, Star Wars or Star Trek? I thought about factors from each universe I preferred, made a big long list, and wondered how I would ever be able to tell which factors were more important. I love them both! But I supposed I prefer the Trek universe to the Wars universe. This been my base assumption for 20 years, back when I was Grand Mof of Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars Club and the official ambassador of the Star Trek Club in high school. I set the project aside.

Then the announcement came of a seventh Star Wars movie. I was ecstatic. It was all I could talk about around the dinner table for a few nights, much to my wife's dismay. I hadn't been this happy since ... Cello Wars, I guess.
Then the announcement came of a second Star Trek Reboot movie. I ... said okay. Good. I'll see it when I see it. Oh, Gary Mitchell, hunh? Good ol' Gary. Yeah. K.

That doesn't sound like a boy who prefers Trek to Wars. It might be a boy who prefers old-Trek to Wars to  reboot-Trek and that's a question for another day. But now the question was really bothering me. Trek or Wars?

Finally a friend of my brother's on Facebook asked me to rank order the Star Wars movies, and I had a hard time deciding whether Phantom Menace or Clones belonged on the bottom. I realized that I now have the skills to do this ... This calls for a table!

And an easier question came. Which do I prefer: Star Trek movies or Star Wars movies? Strip out the books and the television series and my sundry toys and action figures and Christmas tree ornaments and the Data pez dispenser I got for Christmas in my stocking. Then add Space Balls and Galaxy Quest for fun. What about the movies?

That I can now answer. The best:

Movie poster for Star Trek: First Contact, showing head shots of Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard, Brent Spiner as Data, and Alice Krige as the Borg Queen, from bottom to top; the bottom shows an image of the starship Enterprise E speeding to the background over an army of Borg drones.

T/W Epic Comedy Action Pathos Ch Dev Fem Rewatch Villain Wut Music DW sum
T8 Contact 10 5 10 10 6 5 7 10 10 10 83
W5 Empire 10 0 7.3 10 10 4 10 10 10 10 81.3
W4 Hope 10 4 7.3 7 7 3 10 7 10 10 75.3
W6 Jedi 10 2 7.3 7 8 3 10 10 8 9 74.3
W3 Sith 9 0 8.7 10 10 2 3 10 8 6 66.7
T2 Khan 10 2 2 10 4 2 7 9 6 5 57
T7 Generations 4 7 3.3 3 8 2 6 4 10 8 55.3
Galaxy Quest 4 10 5.3 1 8 2 4 4 4 7 49.3
T4 Voyage 8 9 0 4 5 4 10 0 0 9 49
T6 Undiscovered 6 3 6 7 8 3 3 6 0 5 47
T3 Spock 7 8 6.7 5 2 3 4 4 0 7 46.7
W2 Attack 7 1 9.3 -2 7 4 4 7 -5 8 4 44.3
T11 Reboot 8 4 7.3 6 4 2 2 0 -3 6 2 38.3
W1 Phantom 4 3 7.7 3 0 2 5 3 -5 8 6 36.7
T9 Insurrection 4 8 4 4 0 4 3 2 0 5 34
Space Balls 0 10 0 0 2 1 4 5 0 7 29
T1 Motion Picture 4 4 0.7 3 3 2 3 0 8 1 28.7
T10 Nemesis 6 3 5.3 4 2 1 1 3 -5 0 4 24.3
T5 Frontier 4 5 2 2 6 0 3 1 -5 0 2 20

My favorite may be First Contact, but it's pretty clear that Star Wars has the advantage in the movie department overall. And even though I think the new prequel could have been done much better (here's my favorite version - totally constructive, but terrible language), even at its worst, Star Wars beats out about half of the Trek movies. And to answer the FB question: Phantom Menace is 8 points worse than Attack of the Clones.

Description of categories after the break:
The movies are listed by a short part of the name. If that doesn't give it to you, I also said which movie in the Trek (T) or Wars (W) series it is.

There are a lot of things I look for in my favorite sci-fi franchises and I agonized more about which columns belong here than I did over the elements for Disney romances. No movie manages to be and have everything, though some come close.

1. I recognize that Epic is an overused word right now, but it feels right in this sense. I want an epic hero quest a la Joseph Campbell. I want big villains out to destroy or master the known universe. This is also where I'm sticking the points for plot - bad plots are not epic. The advantage is clearly in Star Wars' favor because Trek can get away with charging us to watch a two-part episode (The Motion Picture, Insurrection).

2. In an attempt to be objective over the Comedy score, I went through's list of memorable movie quotes for every movie and counted the number of lines I laughed at, then added points for remembered physical comedy. Trek clearly has the advantage here. While some movies are very serious, the Trek writers are clearly much better at light, witty banter. Even the darkest of them so far - First Contact - has more laugh lines than the entire prequel trilogy combined. [For Joy's benefit, that's Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.]

3. Action and special effects. I initially scored action out of 10 and special effects out of 5, but decided that so much of the special effects revolves around the action that I combined the scores into one - hence the decimals. I am using the first revision of Star Wars 4-6. Advantage Star Wars since Motion Picture and Voyage Home simply are not about action and effects. (Yes, I know the first movie was pretty impressive for its time. It's not anymore.)

4. Pathos - This column started as romance until I remembered that - however well Kirk is known for romance in the series - he doesn't do much in the movies. So for fairness I expanded to include the sorrow for death of a main character, inspiration, and the general passion of the film. Clones gets a negative score because the romance is repulsive to me: he's an obsessive stalker for one thing and their big scene where she tells him no is so full of contradictions it throws out my suspension of disbelief. (For the record, I much prefer of their relationship in SW3, well, most of it.) Despite this, Star Wars holds the advantage. They kill off more of their people, for one thing.

5 - Character development. Luke and Han develop significantly, Anakin turns to the dark side (oops, forgot to say spoiler alert), Vader finds redemption... Star Wars does a pretty good job on the developmental side. Spock changes a fair amount - dying, being reborn, and trying to be an aged adult rather quickly counts as development. Kirk and Picard learn some valuable lessons on occasion, mostly about dealing with growing older. The new Kirk and Spock have a great deal to learn. Trek's problem, though, is that the characters have had years to develop and they don't get to change radically in the movies. As far the movies are concerned, advantage Star Wars.

6 - Women's roles. Months ago when considering which series I liked better, I considered a column for female characters. When I put on my male chauvinist pig hat, Trek won because there are more women. When I put on my feminist hat, Trek won because ... there were more women! who did more interesting and complex things. Star Wars has, if I'm counting right, a grand total of 5 named women with speaking roles in 6 movies and everyone else is a slave or a dancing girl. Even when I have on my MCP hat, I am more than slightly repulsed by how many men worship the Slave Leia outfit - I can't get over the bondage issues. I'm only giving the column 5 points because I'm neither MCP nor feminist enough to think a summer sci-fi movie is great primarily based on the great roles for women. After much tossing and turning, though, I think it deserves to be included anyway. I'll give Padme and Leia a lot of credit, but stacked against Uhura (I and II), Troi, Crusher, Marcus, Saavik, Guinan, Sloane, Valeris, Taylor, Anij, Ilia, and The Borg Queen (!) ... Advantage: Trek.

7 - How many times have I rewatched them? If the special effects give extra points to the more recent films, this gives a clear advantage to the older films. Nostalgia has to count somewhere, right? One of things this tells me is that I need to rewatch the Undiscovered Country and Galaxy Quest next - been a long time but they rank quite well.

8 - Let's give the villain some love. I think Darth Vader improves in the last two movies - he becomes the real villain instead of being "on Tarkin's leash," so he gets fewer points in A New Hope. Palpatine comes into his own in the last movies of each trilogy, and Dooku is pretty cool. Other than the Borg Queen and Khan, though, none of the other Trek villains do particularly well. Which Klingon are we angry at today? V'ger and the unknown probes weren't even villainous. The conspiracy in Undiscovered Country does an impressive job of showing we can work together interracially, even if it's to destroy racial harmony. The villain in Reboot blunders horribly, doesn't even know what Spock looks like, and wouldn't be impressive if he didn't have some special effects at his beck and call.

9 - Hunh? What? I'm sorry. I just can't swallow that. Picard's doppelganger looks nothing like him and wouldn't speak anything like him and those really ought to be switched. Since that's the whole premise of Nemsis, it really dies for me. I'm also very upset they killed Data and didn't give him the proper send off he deserved. There's been enough virtual ink spilt on the Menace and the Clones that I don't need to rehash here. There are enough outlandish differences I was ready to give the Reboot -5 also ... but I was convinced enough by the end of the movie that they did a decent job I cut it down. On the other hand, there's still just too much that's ALL WRONG. That's the real reason I'm not excited enough about Into Darkness. I haven't really bought into watching a second episode of this crew.

10 - Music: advantage John Williams. He manages to have at least one song in each soundtrack that is amazing, that I continue to listen to weekly and never tire of. First Contact is gorgeous and transcendent (when it isn't the background for a first-person shooter). Generations and the Motion Picture get credit for their franchises' respective theme songs. A few of the others have lesser successes ... but when I ask Amazon for Trek music, there is almost nothing from the movies. The episodes get love, but not the movies. I wasn't that impressed with the Reboot, but my research turned up Enterprising Young Men, which I bought today.

11 - A few more points based on my preferences that don't change the order much. I would watch Sith a lot more if it weren't so dark. I really have to be prepared and in the right sort of mood to go through that thing.

Add it all up, and there's my ranking.