Never work with children or animals and never mention politics or religion. Seems like I broke my own rules, won't be doing that again.
Anyway back on to more pleasant things. Namely Star Trek, Star Wars and how much they suck.
Now before I get a ton of vitriol poured in my direction let me make it clear that I love both of these franchises. They hold a special place in my heart. But as I was recovering from the sheer storm of controversy my last blog post caused, my friend Matt Lang said jokingly that I should do Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Frankly, that's not a bad idea. So how do I examine these two pop culture behemoths? Well by borrowing from some of the best of course.
The Nostalgia Critic has an ongoing series that looks at remakes and examines which one is better: the original or the remake. It's called Old vs. New. How he does it is by looking at different aspects that are the same or similar in both movies, characters, plots and so on. He then chooses the film that does the better job with each aspect as the winner in that category. At the end he tots up the scores and declares one the winner over the other.
In that vein I am going to compare similar elements from both franchises and decide which one is the best in each category. That way we can come up with a clear winner and solve this conundrum once and for all (yeah right). In my next blog post I will cover the best bits of the two franchises, the bits that reach clear heights. Today I will do the fun bit, the bits of these franchises that suck ass.
1) Horrific scriptwriting
"Get that cheese to sickbay" vs. Every piece of romantic dialogue from Episodes 1, 2 and 3
So yeah. There's this episode of Voyager where Neelix (more on him later) almost destroys the entire ship by making cheese. I'm not making this shit up. It contains the immortal line "get that cheese to sickbay" which is one of the biggest moments of fail for the entire series. It's stupid, nonsensical and worst of all involves Neelix.
The Outrageous Okona from Star Trek: The Next Generation is another example of fail. I've already mentioned this episode in a previous blog post but I'll just leave Troi's description of him here:
Troi: "His emotions suggest he's mischievous, irreverent, and somewhat brazen! The word that seems to best describe him is 'rogue'."
So a wanker then? Got it.
That's a pretty tall order for Star Wars to overcome but they really go for it. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you clunky romantic dialogue!
How about this for starters
Padme: Hold me Anakin. Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo when all we had was our love
Or this little exchange:
Anakin: Don't be afraid.
Padmé: I'm not afraid to die. I've been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.
Anakin: What are you talking about?
Padmé: I love you.
Anakin: You love me? I thought we had decided not to fall in love. That we'd be forced to live a lie and that it would destroy our lives.
Padmé: I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway. I truly... deeply... love you and before we die I want you to know.
Or this cringeworthy moment:
Anakin: Are you an angel?
Anakin invokes sand as a chat up line. Clearly the point goes to Star Trek
2) The unbearable precocious kid:
Wesley Crusher vs. Anakin Skywalker (episode 1)
Both of these are totally insufferable. Wesley Crusher was an obvious stand in for Gene Roddenberry (his middle name was Wesley) and everything Annie does is shot through with cringeworthy dialogue and nonsensical characterisation. In short they both suck.
These two characters suffer from something I like to call the "Short Round Principle." Basically it comes down to this. If you have a kid character in a show or movie they had better be useful to the group on terms that make sense. These two characters represent two extremes of the problem. Wesley is useful to the group but his special insight makes zero sense whereas Anakin is just basically dead weight and only achieves things by accident except when he is showing a level of competence that is years ahead of his actual age.
Having a kid around who is dead weight is annoying for both kids and adults. For a kid it is patronising and for adults it seems to be pandering to a younger audience. On the other hand having a kid around who is always saving the day is totally unrealistic and comes across like an annoying know it all. Compare these two characters to Nog and Jake from Deep Space Nine. Nog and Jake are two of the best written kid (and later teenage) characters in any Sci Fi franchise. They have no specific special abilities but when they appear in a story they are bright and intelligent without appearing like special flowers. In short they hit the sweet spot, not too precocious, not too useless. In a rare show of competence Voyager also had a non annoying kid character in Naomi Wildman so kudos for that. Never let it be said I don't give praise when it is deserved.
Which brings us back to Wesley and Annie (god I hated it when someone called him that. Darth Vader is not called Annie.) Which is worse? Honestly they are both bad but I think I have to give it to Annie here. Wesley is awful in the first two series but as he got older there were a couple of decent episodes that focussed on him. Plus TNG's first two series were generally awful so he kind of gets a pass there. Annie on the other hand is the worst thing about Episode One. Nothing he does contributes anything positive from a storytelling standpoint. His mere presence drags down the whole movie. Whilst Wesley is undoubtedly bad he didn't drag the series down by himself, nor did he destroy the aura of cinema's greatest badass. Wesley was more a symptom of general bad writing than anything else.
Plus it must be said that playing Wesley Crusher didn't destroy Wil Wheton's life. Jake Lloyd wasn't so fortunate. So there is that.
Not a good start for Star Wars. Point goes to Star Trek
3) Mangling of science
Technobabble vs. lack of science
Both Star Wars and Star Trek have the distinction of being Science Fiction. Now I have heard many people say that these don't count as Science Fiction because they are not sciencey enough. To those people I have a four part suggestion:
1) Go to your local bookstore
2) Find the Science Fiction section
3) Notice the Star Trek and Star Wars books
4) Shut the hell up
Kay? The truth is that the term Science Fiction covers a whole multitude of different genres and Star Wars and Star Trek are two of these slightly different styles.
Star Wars covers science by not really covering it. The science they do put out is laughable (the Kessell run in less than 12 parsecs? Please.) When they do use science they use it in the one place it's not needed by explaining the Force and thereby stripping it of it's mystique. Good going George. By and large though there is an absence of science because it's not really needed.
Star Trek instead covers itself in a veneer of science. Scientific progress in Star Trek is a by product of the evolution of humanity into happy clappy space communists. The fact that humanity is said to have evolved here sums up the problem.
The fact is that Star Trek consistently gets science laughably wrong. Now I am no scientist but even a layman like me can see that Star Trek is spectacularly wrong on so many counts. It says that humanity has evolved from it's warlike roots but that's not how evolution works. It's just as accurate to say that humanity has photosynthesised from it's warlike roots. They often speak of the inertial dampers going offline despite the fact that if this happened no-one would be alive to say this unless the crew happened to have a race on board that could speak after being atomised. My personal favourite is the hole in the event horizon in one Voyager episode. This is so stupid that I actually cracked up with laughter when I first saw it.
This is the problem. Star Trek wraps itself in science lingo to effectively create magic. This would be fine if they didn't keep using scientific terms to justify themselves. Star Wars doesn't need mangled science to justify it and therefore wins the point.
Point to Star Wars
4) The godawful comic relief:
Neelix vs. Jar Jar Binks
I was a kid in the 80's and I watched a lot of cartoons. For some reason every show had the annoying comedy sidekick. It was like cartoon law or something. He Man had Orco, Thundercats had Snarf, Dungeons and Dragons had that godawful Unicorn thing, Scooby Doo had Scrappy Doo, the list goes on. As a kid I hated these characters and as an adult I still hate each one of these little shits. I also hate the Saw series of films but I would pay good money if the people getting bits cut off were these annoying bastards. As I go to bed at night I sleep soundly with the knowledge that somewhere in the world is a graphically violent Thundercats/Hellraiser crossover fic where the only characters appearing are Snarf and the Cenobites. I'm fairly certain that must exist on the internet somewhere.
Neelix and Jar Jar Binks are so much worse than this.
If I was asked to point to two characters in any medium anywhere that totally failed on every conceivable level imaginable then these would be the two. I'll have to examine each one separately because thinking about both together is frankly not good for my psyche.
First Jar Jar Binks. I can see what George Lucas was trying to do, a loveable comic relief character that the kids can laugh at and can crack a wry smile with the parents. The problem was that what we got was a horrible prat falling tosser who pranced around like a demented Jerry Lewis caricature. Because when I think Star Wars I think Jerry Lewis.
Incidentally, if there are any scriptwriters or creative people out there who are thinking of adding a loveable comic relief character to something they are working on please contact me. I will send you by return of post a Russian Spetsnaz Commado with instructions to punch you in the face if you appear to be adding anything approaching this sort of character. No need to thank me, it's a public service I provide.
Anyway the worst thing about Jar Jar is not that he is annoying, it's that he takes away from what could have been great scenes. The land battle between the droid army and the Gungans could have been awesome. There were some fantastic ideas there. Instead we got Binks jumping around like the giant dildo that he was. He even infected scenes that he wasn't in. Be honest, whilst the Jedi/Sith battle at the end of the Phantom Menace was occurring did you want them to cut back to any of the other scenes? Hell no, that was the cool bit. Instead we cut away to Jar Jar's moronic antics and that made me hate him even more.
Neelix is just as bad. Again I can see what they were trying to do, a roguish but charming interstellar trader that would act as guide and insight into the shady side of the Delta Quadrant. Because that roguish charm angle worked really well in the Outrageous Okona didn't it? Instead what they got was a bipedal orange hedgehog in a carpet. Every time this guy opened his mouth I just wanted to punch him. No scratch that, I wanted to punch every Talaxian in the galaxy for being the race that conceived this heinous hairball of misery. He's not funny, he's not charming, he is in fact a tosser. He is everything that is wrong with Voyager. I'm embarrassed every time he appears.
It's so hard to choose between these two but Neelix lasted longer. Like a fart from an elderly dachshund floating round the room making everyone's life that little bit more miserable. George Lucas at least got rid of his floppy eared waste of carbon after the first film.
Point goes to Star Wars.
5) Lack of characterisation:
Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Enterprise vs. Star Wars Episodes 1-3
Any TV show or movie relies on great characters. It is the meat and potatoes of a franchise. Would Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been quite the success it was without Willow, Giles and Xander? Of course not. Therein lies the problem with Voyager, Enterprise and Episodes 1-3. Here's a test for you, play the first and last episodes of Buffy one after the other. Name the characters from the end of the first episode who are radically different at the end of the last. I would say that they all are.
Now do the same for Voyager.
7 seasons, an epic journey across the galaxy and what do we have. Harry Kim: no change. Belanna Torres: the same. Chakotay: no change at all. In fact in 7 seasons only the Doctor and Seven of Nine have any form of character development. 170 episodes and no change. Enterprise does basically the same thing. Mayweather and Phlox don't change or develop at all. It's as if the writers picked lots to see which characters would be cardboard cut outs for the whole run.
But what Star Wars does is worse. Name an interesting character with more than two lines from the prequel trilogy? Anyone? Mace Windu doesn't count because he's just Samuel L Jackson in a Jedi robe. No-one changes, no-one develops and no-one has a character to begin with. So all we have is explosions and lightsabers. It's like a Michael Bay film, only not racist. Apart from Jar Jar Binks... and Watto of course... Actually scratch that, it's exactly like a Michael Bay film.
I think Star Trek wins here because really they do character development better. Even in the good films Star Wars has little character development outside Luke. Instead they rely on decent archetypes, good writing and snappy dialogue. On the other hand all of the Star Trek series had at least one character that had developed extensively during the series. Hell Deep Space Nine even developed the bad guys. I'm not saying that the Star Wars characters are bad it's just that Star Trek does character development better.
Point to Star Trek
So currently it's 3:2 in favour of Star Trek but that might all change in my next blog post where we explore the good bits of each series.
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Fall of Camelot