It’s an old debate – Star Wars versus Star Trek. But I’m going to compare and contrast the two on a level that isn’t typically examined: How badly the franchises financially brutalize their fans. Enjoy this fun examination of two economic empires built on grown mens’ inability to grow up.
Star Wars: If You Can Put a Logo on It…
A lot is said about George Lucas’ rapacious hunger for his fans’ cash. His own fans constantly whine about how he “takes advantage” of them – because of course they don’t have free will to decide how to spend their money, they are spiritually and physically compelled to buy the newest action figure.
Lucas has been a master of merchandising since the beginning. Action figures, soundtracks, Darth Vader soap (I still have a bar of it in the package, and I remember that it turned the bath water grey, which prompted my mother to throw out the one package we were using of the two), dixie cups, belts (they were magnetic clasps and said “May the Force Be with You”), coloring books, bed sheets, we all know the drill. He’s released several versions of the the original film to the home video market, re-released the films between each of the original three, re-edited and re-released the original films decades later, re-edited the first two prequels before releasing them to the home video market (Phantom Menace got a video tape and DVD release)…if there’s a variant to a release, I can tell you what it is. Every version.
So obviously Lucas has made a mint (while smugly stating he “doesn’t make $500,000 a year” even though he’s worth $3.5 billion) by marketing the living hell out of his franchise. Ironic for an avowed child of the 1960s to make so much money isn’t it? Oh yeah, and there are books about what happened between/outside the movies.
Star Trek: Paramount Has No Other Ideas…
Star Trek, meanwhile, showed the way with “Expanded Universe” (EU) publishing. For those unfamiliar with the term, this has to do with stories created by outside writers to sate fans’ need for more stories about their favorite characters without the effort of engaging their own imagination. (To be honest, I’m a little bit of a fan of EU stories for Star Wars and Star Trek because they’re quick reads that don’t need to establish worlds since the readers already know that bit – it’s like a TV show in book format. And every so often you do get the surprisingly gifted writer like Karen Traviss.)
Trek’s EU publishing ranged from the sublime (Spock’s World, Best Destiny) to the patently unreadable (anything. by. Vonda. McIntyre.) and it’s still going strong. Even more mind-boggling, they’ll continue to publish the storylines that treat the “traditional” (pre-2009) timeline as reality while at the same time publishing books that exist within the new timeline only.
While Star Trek action figures aren’t quite the market that Star Wars is, they exist and are gaining traction thanks to the rebirth of the classic line. Costume replicas are pretty big and while Star Wars dominates the silver screen ($4,411,410,761 worldwide gross for all six, while Star Trek’s 11 movies brought in $1,463,683,439 according to www.the-numbers.com), Star Trek dominated the syndicated TV market in the 1990s with three series.
And then there was Enterprise, where (fourth season up to the ending excepted) they didn’t even bother trying anymore. But they still made money because even as fans complained about hating it, they kept watching (guilty as charged).
So Who’s the Worst Offender?
There’s one area in which Star Trek has put Star Wars to shame: Home video releases. They have released and re-released so many different versions of the TV show and movies that it’s sick. It’s legitimately like someone with dementia is in charge of the release schedule; no one at Paramount remembers when or if anything got released at all. Every time a new movie comes out, a new box set comes out. When the Next Generation movies unleashed their horror onto the world (Insurrection is without a doubt one of the absolute worst movies ever, ever, ever released) they would release two box sets. Then they went back to the original series of films for DVD, released them all and then re-released them again as two-disc sets.
They’ve released the original TV series on DVD as mini-sets, collections and collector’s sets. Then they released them on HD-DVD and they’re released on Blu Ray. 79 episodes, released what feels like 79 times. Enough!
So the final verdict is, Star Trek‘s molestation of its fans is worse than Lucas’ molestation of Star Wars fans, simply because he at least makes sure it’s always something new. Star Trek is simply repetitively releasing the same product over and over and over again. The grounds are severity as opposed to volume.
Also, I like Star Wars a lot more on the whole, so this was a rigged result.