This post contains spoilers about Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, please do not read it if you haven’t already watched these shows.
Summer vacation is wrapping up in Egypt, and I thought I would do a binge of my favorite space operas before going back to more productive work.
I binged all Star Wars movies, all Star Trek movies and a good potion of the various series of the franchise as well. I also watched the entire Battlestar Galactica series. Each of these shows has a different feel, and I decided to write down my impressions about them here.
Let’s begin with my childhood favorite, Star Wars was my first introduction to the space opera genre — I can still remember seeing a lightsaber for the first time and going “Wow, that is really cool, I want one”.
I was a kid at the time, but the fascination with lightsabers and Jedi knights still remains with me today. George Lucas did a very good job of creating a captivating story with, for the time, amazing visual effects.
I immediately connected with the character of Luke, a young person with extraordinarily power. I fantasized about being able to use the Force to solve all my problems.
However, as I grew older, I began to realize some flaws in the movies. First, the setting of the story, A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away, immediately made the characters less approachable — they were removed from the experiences of humans as I knew them.
Don’t get me wrong, I still identified very strongly with the character of Luke and wished to be like him, but I realized that it was not likely to ever happen — no advance in technology would ever create The Force if it didn’t already exist.
And then that first thought made me think more deeply about the system — was the entire story a bit elitist? Both the protagonists and antagonist where a hereditary elite, those blessed with the Midi-chlorians to control the force, and the common people where merely props.
While the rebels appear at least nominally democratic, it is the will of the midi-chlorian elite that influenced the story the most. So the thing that made the story difficult to aspire to, The Force, was also a contributing factor to the creation of a genetic elite that sort of lorded it over everybody else — whether benevolently or malevolently.
Not only that, but the Manichaean nature of the story was sometimes too simplistic. Pure good vs pure evil seemed to contradict the realities of life — which are often grey. It was troubling, to my developing awareness of the world, to see a group of people classified as purely evil while another is classified as purely good.
In addition, the border between those two groups, according to the mythology of the movies, was very strange to me. Anakin Skywalker turned evil because he loved his wife and was afraid for her life — mind you, the mythology left no doubt that it was his emotions that made him evil, not something else. But emotions are natural, and the impressions that they would invariably lead someone down a dark path just didn’t ring true to me.
All that being said, I loved the movies and still do. When Disney brought back the franchise I was very happy, and I greedily consume each installment in the series — but I learned to discern its flaws. Bing watching all the movies in the canon brought back all those memories to me, with the greater clarity that only age can bring.
I first got to know about Star Trek after I watched the first two Star Wars movies. It was actually Star Wars that introduced me to the genre and that lead to my search for similar fare — which brought me to Star Trek.
The original series was fascinating, to borrow that word from one of my favorite Vulcans, to my young self. Here was more media about spaceships and intrigue in space.
It took me a while to realize the differences between these two franchises in terms of philosophy. Because while Star Wars reveled in the Manichaean contest between light and dark, Star Trek was more ambivalent.
Sure, there were bad characters, but more often than not, the story showed a more nuanced philosophical stand that did not exist in Star Wars. Some beings did evil things out of ignorance or self defense, there was no cosmic struggle between good and evil, but rather an interaction between different cultures and civilizations which sometimes led to unfortunate situations.
The characters in Star Trek were also more relatable since they shared the same history that we do — the series is set in our own universe, but in the future. So one could aspire to being a member of star fleet sometime in the future when technology had advanced sufficiently enough to make that possible — not so in the case of the Jedi Knights.
Rather than a struggle between good and evil, Star Trek was about exploration and the ethics of exploration. How advanced societies should behave when coming into contact with less advanced societies etc. It’s ethics were more egalitarian than that of Star Wars.
On the other hand, the characters of Star Trek seemed too sterile, at least in later series — the fact that greed, theft, the accumulation of capital, work, oppression, etc, did not exist in the United federation of planets was laudable, but too far removed from our reality to be credible.
Captain Picard was the epitome of Star Fleet — noble, honest, without greed or malice. But could a human being really be like that all the time? Wasn’t this portrayal too simplistic? We all have our dark side, and on occasion do make mistakes. We all get jealous or have moments of greed. I know this from personal experience.
For the most part I succeed in quashing these negative feelings, but they are still there. I sometimes act on some of these impulses and deeply regret it afterwards — don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we do evil things all the time, but I am merely saying that we all make mistakes that derive from our basic instincts and to deny this would be to make the characters of Star Trek rather one-dimensional (which is why I identify more with Iron man than Captian America, but that is a topic for another post).
Again, I must repeat that I love Star Trek and consume all its media on a regular basis, but when I think deeply about its underlying philosophy, I find that it is not exactly a correct reflection of our current reality from a moral perspective. Which leads me to the last space opera series I’ll talk about in this post.
I did not watched the original series of Battlestar Galactica (BSG), so I can’t pass judgement on that, but I immediately loved the reimagined series when I first watched it.
This was many years after I’d been watching Star Trek and Star Wars. I happily thought that I would be getting more of the same — but I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I watched BSG.
Because while the story may be set in space and the technology is like nothing we have, the people in the BSG are extremely relatable. They cheat, lust, lie, and kill. They get angry, commit adultery, and drink to excess. They make mistakes in politics and face the same dilemmas we do — amplified, of course, by the fact that they are the last remnants of the human race being chased by killer robots — who, in the end, turn out to be just like us.
This is humanity as we know it, in all its goodness and ugliness. The ethics of genocide as a self-defense mechanism is broached, as is the validity of using terrorist attacks against an occupying force, not to mention election rigging.
The beautifully developed characters of BSG are relatable and get you emotionally invested in them. No Manichaean struggle between good and evil, even the Cylons — the killer robots — turn out to be just like us, searching for meaning. No one dimensional goodness of characters, they all lie, cheat, betray or act out of jealousy at one time or the other — in short, they’re human.
If I had to choose a favorite series out of these three it would definitely be BSG. This is one series that I can watch over and over again, I’ll even forgive its Starbuck-gate ending, because all the rest of the series is awesome beyond words.
I hope this post provides you with some insights into these shows and makes you re-watch them. I, personally, will do just that after making this post.