If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise – including recent projects such as The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. There are also minor spoilers for the Star Trek franchise too.

Let’s step through the looking-glass, across the divide between universes, into a strange new world. This world is very much like our own, but with one major difference: Star Trek behaved like Star Wars. The Original Series ran from 1966 to 1969, just as it did in our reality, but then… things started to change.

Join me on a weird and wonderful journey through what Star Trek might have been… if it had acted like Star Wars. Don’t worry, I promise we’ll make it home safe and sound.

Are you ready to go through the looking-glass?

We begin our journey in the 1970s. Star Trek is being rebroadcast in syndication, and its fanbase is growing. Some of these fans begin to organise and ask for more Star Trek on their screens, and the company that owns Star Trek in this alternate reality – let’s call them CiacomVBS – thinks long and hard about what to do. They have a popular series on their hands… what should they do with it?

Eventually the people in charge of Star Trek hit upon a brilliant idea: a Star Trek prequel, looking at Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other familiar characters in their Starfleet Academy days and before their five-year mission. The main roles were re-cast, and the first new Star Trek project in almost twenty years was finally greenlit in 1988. Called the “Kelvin films” for the involvement of a starship called the USS Kelvin, this prequel trilogy was popular with some Trekkies, but wildly disliked by others. When the third film finished its theatrical run, CiacomVBS decided to shelve Star Trek and proclaimed that the franchise was complete.

Fans were split on Star Trek by this point. Some proclaimed that The Original Series was the only good part, whereas other (primarily younger) fans were thrilled with the Kelvin films. As time passed, Star Trek appeared to be complete. Its stars moved on to other projects, or faded into obscurity. But the fanbase remained, and with the passage of time those younger fans grew up, leading to a minor resurgence in the popularity of the Kelvin films.

In the 1990s, a massive media empire called the Dalt Wisney Company approached CiacomVBS about a buyout. When the multi-billion dollar deal went through, Wisney announced a plan to bring Star Trek back – this time for a sequel. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered a few years later, and starred a younger cast of characters – alongside the return of The Original Series’ crew. Their first adventure was to find Captain Kirk, who had gone missing.

Kirk eventually agreed to train the new crew of Starfleet officers, along with help from Spock, Dr McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. The returning characters took up a lot of the new show’s screen time, leaving many Trekkies to say that the new crew were undeveloped and underused. To make matters worse, a lack of overall direction by the Dalt Wisney Company meant that each of the three seasons of The Next Generation was helmed by a totally different team of writers. The consequence of this was a jarring change in tone between each of the three seasons.

The Next Generation’s third and final season was its worst by far, with a confused mess of a story that seemed to be trying to overwrite much of what happened in Season 2 – including the backstory of Captain Picard, the major character introduced in Season 1. By far its most egregious fault, though, was bringing back Khan as a villain – Khan had been killed off decades earlier, and his return was called “the worst kind of deus ex machina” by critics.

There were also two “standalone” projects produced during this time. The first saw a team of renegade Starfleet officers go on a secret mission to steal the plans to the Klingon D7 battle cruiser, and ended with them transmitting the plans to Kirk aboard the Enterprise. The second was titled Chekov: A Star Trek Story, and it told the tale of the young Pavel Chekov before he joined Starfleet.

Despite the lacklustre response to The Next Generation and Chekov, Wisney had invested a lot of money into Star Trek, and putting their expensive acquisition on hiatus was not possible. They announced another spin-off: Deep Space Nine. This promised to finally take a look at the Star Trek galaxy away from Captain Kirk and Starfleet for the first time, being set on a space station in a new region that had never been seen before.

Fans seemed to respond well to Deep Space Nine at first, but its short runtime, bland main character, and overreliance on the aesthetic of The Original Series were all points of criticism of the show. By Season 2 it seemed to be doing better and was beginning to stand on its own two feet – but for some inexplicable reason Season 2 of Deep Space Nine brought back the character of Sulu – who had been killed off in The Next Generation. Fans were confused as to how he had survived being eaten by an alien monster, but this was never addressed.

The Season 2 finale was perhaps the most egregious example of Wisney forcing fan-service into Deep Space Nine, though. As Sisko and his crew were cornered, staring down a seemingly-unstoppable villain, the shuttlecraft Galileo was spotted approaching DS9. The shuttle door opened, and there, in all his glory, stood Captain Kirk. Kirk dispatched the villain’s henchmen with ease, and gave Sisko – and the show’s stunned audience – a nod and a wink.

In the aftermath of Deep Space Nine Season 2, the Dalt Wisney Company put together a presentation where they announced what’s coming next for Star Trek – and to no one’s surprise, it was more of the same. Nostalgia, throwbacks, and not much else.

The actor who played Scotty in the Kelvin series was given his own spin-off. Next was Star Trek: Nurse Chapel, which promised a look at the franchise’s second-most famous medical officer. Then there was The Harry Mudd Show, looking at lovable rogue Harry Mudd, and Star Trek: Balok, which promised a deep dive into the backstory of the character fans first met in The Corbomite Maneuver. There was a miniseries looking at Kor, the Klingon captain, and finally there was Star Trek: That Guy Who Flew The Shuttle In That One Episode – which was immediately given a three-season order. Some fans were thrilled with these offerings… but a lone voice spoke out.

On a website called Dennising with Trek, an independent critic wrote that it was time for Star Trek to move on. The Original Series had become a weight around the neck of the franchise, holding it back and stopping it from properly moving on to new adventures. The Star Trek galaxy offered such an interesting and exciting setting, they wrote, that it was positively criminal to only look at such a tiny sliver of it over and over and over again. Star Trek can be better than this.

Apparently this website is incredibly popular in the alternate reality.

So that, my friends, is where we end our journey through this strange mirror universe. We step back across the divide, and find ourselves firmly back in our own reality. I promised I’d get you home safe and sound!

What was the point of our little interdimensional sojurn? As I’ve said many times already, Star Wars is stuck. It has never been able to move beyond its original trilogy, and it’s gotten to a point where those films are now holding it back from making any meaningful progress.

You might look at some of the Star Trek projects that exist in the alternate reality we visited and say that they sound like fun – but they represent an incredibly narrow vision of what Star Trek could be. If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars, with a total and unshakable reliance on The Original Series and its characters, we’d never have got to see some absolutely incredible characters and stories. We’d have missed out on Picard’s transformation into Locutus of Borg in The Best of Both Worlds, or on Sisko’s painful decision in In The Pale Moonlight. We’d never have met Captain Janeway and her crew at all, nor Captain Archer and his.

Avery Brooks put in one of his best performances as Sisko in the Season 6 episode In The Pale Moonlight.

There is a place for prequels, for looking back, and for nostalgia. The very reason franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars were revived is because the companies behind them see nostalgia as a way to attract audiences. But in my opinion – my subjective opinion – Star Wars goes too far and overplays the nostalgia card. The Star Wars galaxy is a sandbox of almost infinite proportions, with not only trillions of inhabitants, countless alien races, and millions of planets to explore, but also tens of thousands of years of history. We could look at events and characters that are entirely disconnected from Luke, Han, and Leia – but Star Wars has never even tried to do that.

The Mandalorian brought back Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker in what was pure fan-service. Fans lapped it up, and I’m happy for the people who enjoyed the way that story went. But for my money I think Star Wars can do better. I think it can be broader and deeper, and can step away from relying on those old characters. Star Wars is a fantastic franchise, and its setting is so vast and interesting that it doesn’t need the crutch of those old characters… but for some reason Disney can’t see it.

Luke Skywalker returned in The Mandalorian.

Star Trek moved away from its original incarnation decades ago, and in the years since we’ve had a heck of a lot of exciting, memorable shows and films that have become iconic parts of the franchise in their own right. And that innovation and willingness to try new things continues today, with Star Trek recently branching out into animated comedy and with a kids’ show on the horizon. Star Wars could do that too.

Star Trek realised a long time ago that the galaxy Gene Roddenberry and others had created was crying out to be explored. New characters and new ships came along and have had some incredible adventures. Star Wars hasn’t been brave enough to try anything genuinely different yet. I hope one day that will change.

Some names, titles, and properties above have been used in a satirical manner for the sake of parody and criticism. The Star Wars franchise and all related properties are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company and LucasFilm. The Star Trek franchise and all related properties are the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A look at Project 4K77

A lot of Star Wars fans haven’t seen the original Star Wars. Oh sure, they’ve seen A New Hope, but not the original film as it appeared in 1977 and the years after. In the late ’90s and early 2000s the original film was edited – heavily, in some places – and given the “Special Edition” monicker. It’s this version of the film that’s been the only one available to watch on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming platforms ever since. So as I said at the beginning – many Star Wars fans haven’t seen the original film.

Even I hadn’t until recently. I’d been lucky enough to see the pre-Special Edition cut on VHS in the early 1990s, but even that version of the film had at least one significant edit – the title. In 1977, Star Wars was just Star Wars. A New Hope was the revised subtitle given to the film after the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, which was also the time it was retroactively declared “Episode IV”. So even I hadn’t seen the original theatrical version!

In one of the most notorious changes made in the Special Edition of A New Hope, Greedo shoots at Han Solo in the Cantina.

The subtitle doesn’t really bother me. I tend to refer to the first film in the series as Star Wars anyway, unless discussing the wider franchise. Then it becomes necessary to differentiate the first film – just like how Star Trek can be called The Original Series. But what does bother me – at least a little – are many of the other edits and changes.

In a way, I can appreciate what George Lucas was trying to do. In 1977, a combination of budget and technical limitations meant that some of his ideas for how scenes could look had to be curtailed, and with the unlimited resources thrown his way in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he evidently felt he could bring the original films more in line with his vision by using CGI.

The opening crawl from the original theatrical version of Star Wars. Note the lack of a subtitle – the film was not called A New Hope in 1977.

The problem is, of course, that CGI in the late ’90s was pretty crap. Heck, CGI can be janky even today – just look at the catastrophic Cats film from last year for an example of that. The result of Lucas’ edits to Star Wars is that the film is, at best, a visually weird mix of poor-quality CGI and the original practical effects. At worst, the crappy CGI can be totally immersion-breaking.

There have been numerous other edits to Star Wars, including when it recently arrived on Disney+. Some fans noted that the currently-available version on both Blu-ray and streaming looks darker and washed-out, as if a filter has been applied.

CGI Stormtroopers, creatures, and ships in the Special Edition.

So what is Project 4K77? It’s a fan-made remaster of the original theatrical release of Star Wars – the 1977 version, digitally transcribed and available to watch in 4k resolution. None of the Special Edition features are included, and there are two versions – with and without digital noise reduction, which can help clean up the old film grain, but at the expense of not being as “pure”. The title is simply a reference to the fact that the finished version is in 4K resolution, and that the original Star Wars was released in 1977. Hence, Project 4K77.

It’s worth noting that the project is completely unofficial and unsupported by Lucasfilm or parent company Disney. The completed film exists in a legal grey area – it’s a copyrighted work, wholly owned by Disney and Lucasfilm, but the team behind Project 4K77 argue that the original version of the film has been abandoned by its parent company and thus is fair game. Big companies like Disney often jump on fan projects as they become aware of them; Project 4K77 has been out in the open since at least 2018, when the finished remaster of Star Wars was released, and in the two years since nothing bad seems to have happened and the website is still online. Perhaps Disney and Lucasfilm simply don’t care – I can’t imagine they’re unaware of the project after two years. But if you’re desperately worried about things like copyright, you should be aware of its status. The people behind the project also say that they expect everyone who downloads it to already own at least one copy of the film through official means.

The original version (top) and Special Edition revision (bottom). Note the difference in colour temperature and lighting for Obi-Wan and the two lightsabers in particular.

I have great admiration for anyone who takes on a big project and sees it to completion, but these fans have gone above and beyond. They’ve worked on this project basically for free in their spare time, and the result has been a complete restoration of the original film. Return of the Jedi has been remastered too, under the title Project 4K83, and The Empire Strikes Back is supposedly still being worked on. The expression “labour of love” can be thrown around very casually sometimes, but it absolutely fits here. There’s no other way to describe what these fans have accomplished.

Star Wars is in an unusual place as a piece of film history. It’s a classic film that spawned an entire franchise, but unlike many other classic works of cinema, the original film that accomplished so much has, in effect, been out of print for decades. When considering other comparable works, even within the sci-fi and fantasy genres, that hasn’t happened before. Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and even films like Flash Gordon can still be found and watched in their original forms. Star Wars can’t – or it couldn’t until recently.

This scene – featuring a crap-looking CGI Jabba the Hutt – wasn’t even included in the pre-Special Edition cuts of the film.

I don’t think it’s possible to understate the importance of what Project 4K77 has done. When future historians come to look back at late-20th Century cinema, there was a real risk that one of the most important works in the sci-fi/fantasy genres would only be available in a reworked, heavily-edited form. Thanks to this project, that’s no longer the case. The original film has been preserved in its original form, and the importance of that is profound.

While we may look at Project 4K77’s remastered Star Wars as an interesting curiosity, it’s so much more than that. And not only for Star Wars fans like myself who hasn’t seen the film in this form – but for countless current and future fans of sci-fi/fantasy and cinema in general. It’s a piece of history, and I’m all for the preservation of important historical documents and artefacts – by whatever means necessary!

Luke’s X-Wing in its original form – a physical model, not a CGI creation.

If you’re going to go looking for a copy, I daresay you’ll be able to find it through the usual methods for acquiring such content. But bear in mind the file size is particularly large – it hasn’t been compressed in any way. I watched it on my television – a 4K display, but just an LCD one, nothing special. On an OLED display it would look stunning, I’m sure – and even better if you have a proper home cinema setup with a 4K projector and screen!

The more copies of Project 4K77 that exist out there in the wild, the greater the chance it will survive long-term, which is important for the reasons discussed. But it’s something I feel every Star Wars fan needs to see at least once; this is where the franchise truly began. Everything that’s happened since in a galaxy far, far away is built on the shoulders of this film – and in particular, this version of the film. It’s a piece of cinematic history that George Lucas tried to bury. Fans decided not to let him, and Project 4K77 is the result.

The Star Wars franchise – including Star Wars and the rest of the original trilogy – remains the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. Project 4K77 is unofficial, and it’s your responsibility to stay on the right side of copyright law. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.