So much so, that by Star Trek III: The Search For Spock the franchises began to bear the same filmic language, the obvious windfall of hiring George Lucas’ Academy Award-winning effects powerhouse, Industrial Light and Magic, to handle all of the cinematic sleight of hand. The universes were now sharing the tricks of the trade! But by the mid-’80s, Lucas abruptly abandoned his universe for new creative pastures. He even seemed to doom his own Saga into obscurity by casting doubt over any further films. “I look upon the three Star Wars films as chapters in one book,” he told Time magazine. “Now the book is finished, and I have put it on the shelf.”
Star Trek was quick to cement its place atop the nerd food chain. A multi-platform explosion was afoot, culminating with the acclaimed Star Trek: The Next Generation series, which became the gold standard for ’90s genre television, and ultimately, the catalyst for countless forays to the big screen with an all-new crew, including the era-crossing and aptly named Generations, which fused classic Trek with its 2.0 model.
But while Trek was now freely basking in the science-fiction limelight, (and eventually wearing out its welcome with one too many series), George Lucas was secretly prepping Star Wars for its long overdue renaissance. The saga had developed cult status during its big-screen hibernation, quietly solidifying its fan base with novels, comics, and a re-launched toy line. A new type of fan community emerged, one so incestuously modeled after Star Trek’s, embracing of both cosplay and conventions, that the two fan bases were now almost indistinguishable. By the time Trek was fading back to earth (for the second time in its history), the Star Wars: Special Editions had set the stage for the saga’s rebirth in what was billed as the greatest show on earth – The Prequel Trilogy.
What can be said about the Prequels that has not been said? Well, a lot actually. The release was indeed a colossal event like no other, spanning every media and retail outlet on the planet. However, much of the opinion formed on the films hasn’t evolved since media’s knee-jerk reaction to The Phantom Menace in 1999 despite subsequent chapters challenging the way fans envisioned the entire saga. Cinema’s greatest villain was now a hero and we witnessed his long-promised fall from grace. Unlike Rodenberry, who never had the opportunity, Lucas boldly reset the stage, challenging fans to reframe their interpretation of the entire classic trilogy — to “unlearn what we had learned.”
The Prequels were a massive entrepreneurial success and ushered in a whole new generation of fans (something Trek has struggled to do through its various reinventions). But critically, the films were left for dead, mainly a byproduct of over-hype. Even in hindsight, that criticism often overlooks how Lucas had shattered every technical boundary in the process of their creation. Quite possibly, their greatest legacy was the undeniable proof that Star Wars could not only stand the test of time, but could thrive between generations.
George Lucas signed off from Star Wars on a high note, again claiming the franchise had reached its conclusion (although there are decades of Starlog magazine interviews to the contrary, boasting a nine- or 12-film series). “The movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and when Luke saves the galaxy and redeems his father, that’s where that story ends.” Despite the successful, and often brilliant, Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, which launched in 2008, the “Galaxy far, far away” has never gained much small screen traction… And so it became Trek’s turn to shine once again.
With phenom director J.J. Abrams at the helm, Star Trek throttled back into relevance with an exciting new chapter that actually rebooted the franchise’s timeline and gave it a star-studded face lift. Its one commonly critical “fault” is that it bore too much resemblance to a certain other Star-franchise. Shocking, considering the key creatives behind the current incarnation are self-professed Star Wars fans. Perhaps, this was inescapable considering that the talents entrusted to bring these new adventures to life are children of BOTH universes, acolytes of Lucas’ and Rodenberry’s visionary storytelling.
Which brings us back to today. Excitement surrounding Star Wars has been at a fever pitch since word broke in October that Disney has acquired Lucasfilm and plans to continue the Skywalker saga. Just as Star Trek arose like a phoenix from its own ashes, it is now Star Wars‘ turn once again. With J.J. Abrams seizing the reigns of the galaxy’s greatest saga, Episode VII could not be in better hands! The Star Wars and Star Trek universes are about to cross their fates forever. But again, that’s nothing new.