Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Exclusivism, Inclusivism and Pluralism

Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Exclusivism, Inclusivism and Pluralism December 31, 2011

Bob Cargill pointed out to me an article in CNN about the latest volleys in the Star Trek vs. Star Wars wars, with not only fans but actors getting involved in the controversy (and George Takei’s entertaining attempt to argue for the need for peace so as to face a common foe).

To me, the suggestion that one has to choose between them is like saying you have to choose between the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, or between Christianity and Gnosticism.

What’s that you say? You do have to choose?

But the funny thing is that if I were to say that it is like saying that you have to choose between the Torah and the New Testament, or between the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, then the antithesis might indeed seem like a false one – to Christians, at any rate. Jews might well agree that one needs to choose between the Torah and the New Testament.

And so this really is a matter of perspective – of defining canons and inhabiting symbolic narrative universes. One cannot inhabit the universes of Star Wars and Star Trek simultaneously.

Or can one? Even in the examples of religious texts and traditions I shared earlier, the matter is not at all clear cut. Most Christians might agree that one must choose between the Bible and the Gita, but Hindus will often regard the choice as unnecessary. Orthodox Christians argued strenuously that one has to choose between Christianity and Gnosticism. But many Gnostics were Christians, or at least considered themselves such.

And in the case of the New Testament canon, it is common to forget the controversies that preceded the inclusion of certain works in the collection, and to miss that some works within it really do offer incompatible perspectives (e.g. the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, or the Christologies of Luke and John).

When it comes to science fiction fandom, it is possible to adopt any of the three stances towards other religions delineated in Christian theology. One can be an exclusivist, and say only your favorite series/show/movie is good. One can be an inclusivist, and say that while yours is better, others are not therefore necessarily bad – or at least, not completely bad. And one can be a pluralist, and treat multiple stories/programs/films as equal.

But there are lots of ways of going about this, and it may be that not only is there something to be learned in science fiction fandom from considering these different theological viewpoints, but perhaps there is also something to be learned in the realm of religion by considering this sci-fi question.

If one treats both Star Trek and Star Wars as equal, then are you both a Trekkie and a Jedi, or are you neither, but a generic sci-fi fan? Is being a fan a matter of appreciation, or of exclusive appreciation?

It seems to me that this is a fine example in relation to which to explore the relationship not only between different canons and traditions, but also openness to learning from and appreciating others while also being committed to one’s own tradition.

So what’s in your canon? Is it broad enough to encompass both Star Wars and Star Trek? And whatever your answer to that question, there are also others: Is the expanded universe canon? Original series? Prequels? Is Jar Jar in your canon or relegated to the apocrypha? What’s you “canon within the canon”?

I’d welcome discussion from fans and detractors of all stripes. And as you discuss, may the Force be with you as you live long and prosper.

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  • Jr

    As an avid reader in my youth of Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov I ST and SW to be in fact rather similar. They are basically different variations of space opera. As such they are entertaining, but not great. 


  • Brad Matthies

    First, Jar Jar is blasphemy irregardless of one’s cannon!  Second, Han shot first!

    Now, onto business…

    What if we borrow Bruce Lee’s philosophy of Jeet Kune Do?

    “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

    This gives us a fourth way and allows science fiction authors to borrow from cannon(s) to create new science fiction! 

  • Jar Jar is far, far better than Luke Whinywalker. Star Wars is what I have to watch because my son likes it, but Star Trek is where it’s at. 

  • I’ve always preferred Star Trek over Star Wars, but I’ve had much more fun with the latter.

  • Gary

    Star Trek is the best. I found Star Wars boring, and rather irritating. Probably has something to do with me being in high school when Star Trek was running (CAPT Kirk; adventure, and always getting the girl, with a new girl every week, even alien girls!). Star Wars, one princess per episode, every few years, and Luke Skywalker only getting Darth Vader (what’s with that father-son thing anyway). Every time I see the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” old guy with a young chick playing the romantic lead, I cringe. May also have something to do with me having a 7 foot tall Jar Jar Binks in my garage, through no fault of my own. It’s a long story, not worth repeating.

  • It is my impression from the discussion that Star Trek fans tend to view things more exclusively, but Star Wars fans possibly less so.

    Gary, any story that involves someone ending up with a 7-foot Jar Jar Binks in their garage is absolutely worth telling!  🙂

  • Brad Matthies

    I second the telling of how you ended up with a 7-foot Jar Jar!  I’d kill for a 7′ statue of Vader!

    • Gary

      When the movie came out with Jar Jar, Pepsi was doing a promotion, that included a 7 ft tall Jar Jar in a number of grocery stores, (Albertson’s for us). My wife and grandaughter went to the store, and saw Jar Jar with a bunch of Pepsi piled infront of him. It included a raffle, to win Jar Jar at the end of the promotion. Unfortunately, my wife won. So the last light-of-day Jar Jar saw was when he was hauled to my garage, with his feet sticking out of the back of our son’s small truck. The down side, IRS made my wife sign a statement that he was worth $1000, and I had to pay taxes accordingly. So I have tried to sell him ever since. No one would pay anything for him, including when I advertised during one of the ComicCon conventions here (San Diego). I got one call for him when I advertised in the newspaper….a person called and asked me what a Jar Jar was. He wanted to know if he could put it out on his front lawn. His little leather suit won’t last in the rain. So he says in my garage till I die. I will then “will” it to the relative that I like least.

      • Gary

        BTW….I did have Jar Jar in my living room for the first couple years. Believe me, the novelty of him staring at me every night wore out real fast.

      • Gary, that is a wonderful story! I am confident that someone out there would pay for the privilege of having a 7 foot Jar Jar if only because they want to use it for target practice or blow it up on YouTube.

        If you really want to get rid of it, I will gladly hold a blog contest of some sort and have that as the prize. Any idea what shipping and handling would be on something like that? The winner would still have to pay it. But presumably if it could get into your garage through a contest, it could conceivably leave by the same means.

      • Dan

        If you ever decide to get rid of it, I can suggest a resting place for it: The Star Toys Museum. (  It is a museum near Baltimore that collects and preserves Star Wars and other paraphernalia.  The best thing is it’s a 501(c)3 charity, so the fair market value of Jar Jar and any costs in shipping him to the museum would be charitable expenses for tax purposes.  Just a thought…

  • AFB

    “No one can salve for two canons, either he will love one and hate the other, or  stay with one and hate the other” — Armaments 13:23

  • Gary

    Shipping would be just like shipping a coffin, only lighter. I think I will pass on it. The pleasure post-death of knowing I irritated one of my least favorite relatives is pleasure enough for me. I’ll keep that in mind, though, the next time my wife bugs me about getting rid of it early.

  • Brad Matthies
  • LCK

    I found out a few months ago that the name for what I am is a “Trekkie/Whedonite.” I view the SciFi canon the way I view theology: While I am only committed to a few narrative universes (Trek/Buffy/Evangelicalism), I am willing to say that there are other narratives which can be valid (Star Wars/Dr. Who/Catholicism, Mainline). However, there are also narratives that are not valid (Twilight/faiths that do not worship Jesus Christ). 

    It is not that I do not have friends who love Twilight or follow other religions, I just think they’re wrong. The difference between them, however, is that I feel the need to be respectful when I disagree with people of other religions. I feel no such compunction when I disagree with Twilighters. I can make fun of them all I want and feel no guilt whatsoever.

  • WillBell

    ST > SW

  • I’m surprised that nobody has brought up Loftus’ Outsider Test… yet. 😎

    As one who lives in neither universe, I’m happy to treat them equally.


  • Gary, if I ever decide I really need a 7 foot Gungan very badly, I will do my best to get in your bad books… 🙂

  • friendly reader

    I’m equally a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, though moreso of a space opera most of you probably have never heard of (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) but with all of them, while I am a fan, I don’t necessarily like *everything* about them. I’m willing to commit to being a fan, but that doesn’t mean that the label of fan defines everything about me, or that all members of the same fandom represent me. Indeed, sometimes I find I have more in common with members of other fandoms than I do with my own, and will openly engage in criticism of my own fandom.

    I think it’s fine to disagree strongly about the merits of another fandom, and to try to get them hooked on shows you like. But I only think we should dish out hate, though, on fandoms that are truly detrimental to their fans and to others. “Twilight” approaches this, since it presents young women with a model of femininity defined entirely on passivity and submission to the man in your life. What’s more, it has infected the surrounding market of both young adult literature and vampire-themed works in general. But at the same time, there are “Twilight” fans who acknowledge its negatives but still wish to remain fans because of benefits they find in it. Like me, they are capable of being critical of their own fandom, and often find other members of it distasteful.

    (And that latter bit’s a true story. I’ve got a friend who really liked the “Twilight” books, or at least the first 3, but he interprets Bell and Edward as a really fascinatingly twisted relationship rather than true romance.)

    And anyway, to translate out the symbolism: I’m a Christian, I’m Lutheran, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything that everyone thinks of when they think of those two labels. There’s a wide range of believers and beliefs within Christianity and Lutheranism, and I find my own beliefs have more in common with, say, Pure Land Buddhism than Third Wave Pentecostalism. While I do disagree with other religions, and don’t oppose conversion, I think the vitriolic hellfire hate should only be reserved for truly horrible religious ideas: the caste system, abuse of women, terrorism, homophobia, etc. But I do know that some people who believe in religions that have some of that in them will, like me, not always embrace the negative elements of their own faith. You can’t make generalizations about people just because of labels. You have to get to know them to find out what kind of “fan” they are.

  • Alex Harman

    I think Star Trek is mediocre science fiction and Star Wars is mediocre swords-and-sorcery fantasy that happens to be set in space.  I have enjoyed both of them, but am far more entertained by Babylon 5, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, in the realm of film and TV SF and fantasy, and still more so by the literary works of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, David Weber, Lois McMaster Bujold, Spider Robinson, Dan Simmons, Peter F. Hamilton, and George R. R. Martin.

  • newenglandsun

    It’s misleading to pit Star Wars against Star Trek and use this as an analogy for religion.

    According to this, sci-fi is when there is involved high-tech equipment that makes everything futuristic whereas fantasy is something that puts everything in an unreal world that is totally in the imagination. While Star Trek definitely has imaginative features in unreal worlds, with the knowledge we have attained from science right now and the setting of it in the future, plus the incorporation of ZERO supernatural events, Star Trek is just sci-fi. Star Wars includes the Force, an totally different galaxy altogether, events that happened in the past, etc. It has sorcerers in it, magicians, etc. There are ghosts in it for crying out loud! Star Wars is dominated by BOTH the supernatural and the high-tech stuff which makes it a mixture of science AND fantasy.

    Thus, most people who like Star Wars but HATE Star Trek, generally have no problem with Lord of the Rings. For instance, myself. This is because we like Star Wars for the fantasy elements and the supernatural that it incorporates into it as opposed to the science in it. I could really carry less about that aspect. Give me more Sith wielding swords!