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.

Star Wars needs to move on

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including casting information for The Mandalorian Season 2,The Rise of Skywalker, and other recent projects.

One of my favourite parts of the Star Wars franchise isn’t a film, it’s the two Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003-04. While I generally found the Expanded Universe – now re-branded as Star Wars Legends and no longer in production – to be unenjoyable, Knights of the Old Republic was an exception. It took a setting and a story that was thousands of years distant from the Original Trilogy, and while it’s certainly true that some elements were derivative, especially in the first game, as a whole it was something different that took Star Wars fans to different places and a different era. It expanded on the overall lore of Star Wars without overwriting anything, and it was a great look at the Star Wars galaxy away from Luke, Anakin, and Palpatine.

When it was announced in 2012 that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm I was excited. Ever since 1999, when Star Wars expanded to be more than just a trilogy of films, the vague prospect of a sequel to Return of the Jedi had been appealing to me. Learning what came next for Luke, Han, Leia, and others was something I was interested in, as I also was interested to learn what came next for the galaxy as a whole following the Emperor’s death. It’s easy to forget, but Return of the Jedi didn’t end with a full-scale victory for the Rebel Alliance. The Death Star was gone and the Emperor was dead, but practically the whole galaxy was still under Imperial control. I was fascinated to see how the Rebels turned victory in a battle into victory in the overall war.

The destruction of the Second Death Star. The sequel trilogy was supposed to tell us what became of the galaxy after this moment.

The Expanded Universe attempted to tell this story, but it was a convoluted, poor-quality tale hampered by having different writers with different ideas – seemingly Lucasfilm’s policy when it came to the Expanded Universe was that anyone could write anything. Many of these stories came across as fan-fiction, pitting a seemingly invincible Luke, Han, and Leia against all manner of obstacles. Over the years, the Expanded Universe grew to such an extent that it was convoluted and incredibly offputting for newcomers – several hundred books, several hundred more comics and graphic novels, over a hundred video and board games, two kids’ television shows, and myriad others, all of which required roadmaps, suggested reading lists, and of course a number of encyclopaedias and reference works to keep up with it all. All of this meant that the Expanded Universe was impossible to get to grips with without making it a full-time commitment. I was pleased when it was announced that Disney would be overwriting it.

By wiping the slate clean, not only would Disney not be constrained by some of the Expanded Universe’s poor storytelling, but the canon of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi could be restarted, hopefully in a more concise way that would be easier to follow. That seemed to succeed at first, but now – a mere six years on from the cancellation of the old Expanded Universe – Star Wars is once again pretty convoluted with books, games, comics, and even a theme park attraction all officially canon. While I don’t want to spend too much time making a comparison with Star Trek, in that case the issue of canon has always been incredibly simple: television episodes and films are canon, everything else is not.

With so many books, comics, games, and other media, the old Expanded Universe was convoluted and offputting.

But we’re drifting off-topic. The Expanded Universe being dumped was a good thing, because I hoped what would replace it would be superior. And for the most part that’s been the case, though The Rise of Skywalker certainly dragged the overall story of the sequels down a long way.

Star Wars has a truly interesting setting: there’s a whole galaxy with countless worlds, trillions of inhabitants, and thousands of different species. But for the most part, the franchise has spent decades focusing on an absolutely minuscule fraction of this vast, potentially interesting setting it’s created.

The Expanded Universe spent a lot of time with Luke, Han, and Leia, as well as later with characters like Anakin, and by far the majority of its stories are set between The Phantom Menace and the couple of decades after Return of the Jedi. Where Knights of the Old Republic succeeded was in taking its audience away from that overtrodden ground and showing us a glimpse of the Star Wars galaxy without those familiar characters.

Knights of the Old Republic II was a great game that told a story far removed from Star Wars’ original trilogy.

The prequels dedicated three films to overexplaining the background of Darth Vader – a story I’d absolutely argue was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to improve or inform the Original Trilogy in any substantial way. That was part of why I found those films so disappointing. While the third entry, Revenge of the Sith, was better than the first two, all three films didn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the table. As I sat down to watch The Force Awakens a decade later, I hoped that we’d start to see something different.

The five films made since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 have been a disappointment in that regard. We’ve had The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, which essentially remade A New Hope and Return of the Jedi only worse, Solo: A Star Wars Story which made the same mistake of unnecessarily overexplaining Han Solo that the prequels did with Darth Vader, and Rogue One, which was a great standalone story but was a prequel feeding straight into the plot of A New Hope. The Last Jedi tried to take things in a different direction, but was still a story primarily about Luke – and is now effectively non-canon after being overwritten by its sequel.

The Last Jedi was the most recent Star Wars film to even try to do something differently – but was still constrained by being a sequel using familiar characters.

I know I said I wouldn’t make too many comparisons with Star Trek, but there’s one that’s too important not to mention. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. And aside from a cameo appearance, that show basically did its own thing and didn’t worry about The Original Series. The Star Trek franchise thus established that it could be so much more than its original incarnation. Star Wars has never done that – in its cinematic canon it hasn’t even tried, despite existing for over forty years. Where Star Trek consists of three time periods, an alternate reality, and nine distinct sets of main characters, Star Wars has been unable to move beyond the story of its original trilogy. The prequels lent backstory to the originals. The sequels and spin-offs expanded that same story. Even The Mandalorian brought in themes, concepts, and characters that weren’t as far-removed from the original films as they should’ve been – a decision compounded by the silly decision to bring in Boba Fett in Season 2.

Star Was could be so much more than it is. But at every opportunity, decisions have been taken to narrow its focus and dive deeper into unimportant parts of its only actual story; after more than forty years, the Star Wars franchise has still only told one real story. The decision to shoehorn Palpatine into The Rise of Skywalker makes this infinitely worse, as apparently he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from behind the scenes for the entire saga of films. As I wrote once, this transforms the Skywalker Saga into what is really the “Palpatine Saga”, as he’s the only character who seems to act of his own volition. But this isn’t supposed to be (another) critique of that incredibly poor narrative decision!

The deus ex machina of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker… and really the entire sequel trilogy.

The decision to bring Palpatine back is indicative of a franchise that has no new ideas. It was categorically not “always the plan” to bring him back in the sequels, or this would have been established in The Force Awakens. Instead, Palpatine became a deus ex machina because Star Wars as a whole has been unable to move out of the shadow of its first three films. Those films could have laid the groundwork for an expanded franchise – as The Original Series did for Star Trek – but instead they’ve almost become a ball and chain; a weight around the neck of the franchise, keeping it locked in place and unable to move on.

It shouldn’t be because of a lack of ideas. The Star Wars galaxy is a massive sandbox for any writer or director to play in, with almost unlimited potential to tell genuinely new and interesting stories. Instead it’s a lack of vision and a lack of boldness on the part of a large corporation; Disney wants to play the nostalgia card over and over again, and because Star Wars had never previously tried to escape its Original Trilogy, doing so now seems – from a corporate point of view – too big of a risk. How else does one explain the decision to allow The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite The Last Jedi? Corporate-mandated cowardice, retreating to nostalgia and safe, comfortable ground. Trying something even slightly different requires a boldness that simply isn’t present in most boardrooms.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom unwilling to take risks or do things differently.

Two-thirds of the sequel trilogy re-told the original trilogy. The prequels were glorified backstory, and the two spin-off films were also prequels to the originals. Star Wars has only ever made three original films – everything else either overexplained that story or tried to re-tell it. The Star Wars “saga” is thus nothing more than one story. One main character – Palpatine – controls and manipulates it, and only a handful of characters get any significant screen time and development.

I wrote recently that the overall story of Star Wars has been dragged full-circle, with the questions fans had about the state of the galaxy and the Jedi Order after Return of the Jedi simply not being answered in any meaningful way. The galaxy is once again in a position where Palpatine is dead, there’s one remaining young Jedi, an autocratic state controls much of the galaxy but has suffered a major defeat, and the survivors will have to finish the war and try to rebuild. That’s where both Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left things. Far from answering the questions posed by the original films, the sequels just asked the same questions again with a different coat of paint.

By re-telling the same story – albeit in a worse way – the sequel trilogy as a whole has entirely failed to accomplish anything.

The end of the sequel trilogy left the Star Wars galaxy in exactly the same state it was in almost forty years ago.

The announcement of The Mandalorian came with what I thought was an exciting premise: the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic. Wow! Finally, something genuinely different in Star Wars. It didn’t last, of course, as the second episode of the show brought the Force back into things. While in some respects The Mandalorian tried to be different, in too many ways it was samey. The aesthetic, the reuse of elements from the original trilogy like Boba Fett’s armour, the Jawas and their Sandcrawler, and of course the return of the Force made what was already a boring show with episodes that were too short even less interesting. I found the whole experience a disappointment.

The two upcoming Disney+ shows – based around Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor – look set to repeat the same mistakes. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi was definitely one of the prequels’ better elements, but do we need yet another prequel? In-universe, Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine after the rise of the Empire. Anything he does in the show would either be constrained by taking place within a few miles of his desert hut or else feel awfully tacked-on. And the Cassian Andor show is a prequel to a prequel. Rogue One was a great film, but does it need its own prequel show?

Cassian Andor was a great character in his sole appearance. Not sure he needs a prequel series of his own, though.

Can’t the investment being made in these properties be reallocated to something genuinely different? There’s so much potential in the Star Wars galaxy, yet Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on showing us the same tiny sliver over and over and over again. When people talk of franchise fatigue and the feeling that Disney is milking Star Wars dry it’s because of this! When every Star Wars project feels samey and repetitive, it’s much easier to get burnt out on the franchise.

There are some exceptions – I recently played through Jedi: Fallen Order, and despite that game using a familiar time period, it was a mostly-original story with only one returning character from the films playing a role. It was different enough to feel like a half-step away from what had come before.

Jedi: Fallen Order told a decent standalone Star Wars story.

For the franchise to survive long-term and remain viable, it needs to step away from the original trilogy for the first time. New films and shows, whenever they may come, should look at wholly new characters in a setting and even time period that’s distinct from what came before. There also needs to be a plan – the rudderless sequel trilogy can’t be repeated. Any new project needs to have someone at the helm to guide its story. Questions need to be asked at the beginning about where the characters are going and what the endgame of the story is, so that the franchise doesn’t just keep making the same mistakes.

Not every recent Star Trek project has been to everyone’s taste. But since the 2005 cancellation of Enterprise – and in some respects even before then – Star Trek hasn’t been afraid to try completely new things. Action films, a serialised drama show, and now an animated comedy have all joined the lineup. Some of these have brought in new fans, and at the very least, no one in 2020 can accuse Star Trek of being stale. Star Wars, in contrast, has absolutely become stale. The one story it’s been telling for forty years has finally ended, so now is the moment for Star Wars to properly move on.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films and other media mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash, Knights of the Old Republic II screenshot courtesy of the press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.