Sunday, September 25, 2011

Once you get past all the "Ship of Thesus" philosophical questions, you'll realize this could only end one way... (My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad!)

Recently, William Shatner went on the record as calling Star Wars a "derivative" of Star Trek -- a slap in the face not just to Star Wars fans but to Western Civilization, as well, because, as this whole feature is intended to point out, Star Wars is at this point the basis for every single thi people say, do, or believe.

Shatner -- who's cool enough to make the top 3 of my list of people who I would want to have lunch with, earning an automatic spot on that list -- is simply wrong about his Star Trek vs. Star Wars assertion, and when it comes to people being simply wrong, what are you to do?

There's this feeling in America that you can believe any old thing you want, say any old thing you want, tell people any old thing you want, and we for some reason are supposed to respect that any old thing you say/think/feel.

That belief, like Shatner's, is simply wrong. I know where it comes from, but it's still wrong.

We have freedom of speech here in America -- freedom of speech and religion and protest and privacy and as a result of that, we have freedom of thought, meaning: You are free to think any damn fool idea you'd like.

That's a given, and a good thing.

But the fact that you can think it does not mean that the thought is worthy of respect, and that's where people go wrong.

All people are created equal -- but not all thoughts. Some thoughts are created... well, stupid.

So the fact that you can think something doesn't mean I have to respect it, or that it's worthy of me even paying attention to you.

That's where those teach the controversy people go wrong: Just because you have an idea, even an idea that you really like, doesn't mean your idea is the equal of all other ideas. Because your idea might be just plain wrong.

If I, for example, want to believe that when I hold my coffee cup up in the air and let it go, it will not drop and will not spill but will levitate there nicely, I'm free to think that. But it won't, no matter how often I insist it will, and arguing that I should have my opinions respected because nobody really knows how gravity works is pointless. My opinion is wrong, it cannot be proven empirically, it runs contrary to everything people know and observe in the world.

This isn't about evolution, but it could be. And it should be, except I'm writing not about what has been relegated to the second-most important idea in human history (the Theory of Evolution) but the most important idea in our lives: The Grand Unified Theory Of Star Wars, which posits that every single thing in the the world can be traced back, now, to The Little Movie That Could back in 1978.

William Shatner has, by saying that Star Wars was derivative of (and not as good as) Star Trek, challenged that theory. And though I should not dignify his opinion anymore than Sweetie dignifies my opinion vis a vis Coffee Cup Levitation*

*she just hands me a mop.

I will, because I need something to post about today. And so I will dignify his opinion, by determining, via the patented My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad! method, which really is better. Sit back and get ready for:

Star Trek v. Star Wars.

Since Shatner picked this fight, we'll do it on his home court, as it were -- fighting out the areas which he said proved that Star Trek is better than Star Wars. (As if!). Those areas are, according to the summary of his remarks I read because I'm too busy to watch the actual interview and also I don't really care for celebrity interviews, "Relationships and conflicts among the relationships," "stories that involved humanity," "philosophical questions," and "Girls who were prettier than Princess Leia."

Relationships and Conflicts Among The Relationships: I will confess that I am either hamstrung a little here, or have slanted the conflict, because I have watched only approximately 1 1/2 episodes of the original Star Trek series, plus about 2 1/2 of the movies. I've seen The Wrath Of Khan, of course, and because that was very good I was then duped into watching The Search For Spock, but after that I wised up and never watched another one again until I watched part of That Original Star Trek Movie About Voyager on cable one day.

I also, though, to be fair, owned several dolls -- the GI-Joe sized guy dolls that were cool to play with when you were 8 -- and a cardboard playset of the bridge of the Enterprise with a real teleporter, so I've got that going for me.

I did not have a Klingon bad guy doll, though: I had as my Star Trek bad guy "The Lizard," who was technically a Spider-Man bad guy, but I got this whole thing as a present from an uncle one Christmas, and when I said:

"How come you gave me The Lizard instead of a Klingon?"

He responded: "Wouldn't you rather have a Lizard than a Klingon?"

I couldn't refute that argument.

Star Wars, on the other hand, not only had all those toys but also I've seen all of the movies, many times. To balance things out, I also own the original comic-book miniseries serialization of Return Of The Jedi. It's in near-mint condition.

Which I figure qualifies me to comment on relationships and conflicts among the relationships, because I know the two main relationships in each series.

In Star Trek, the only relationship anyone cared about was Kirk vs. Spock. Kirk embodied the impulsive, emotional, hotheaded side of people, always charging off to beat up aliens with a rock and then make out with a blue woman, while Spock stood in for the calmer, more rational side of people, the higher-functioning intellectual core that separates us from the beasts and lets us try to achieve something better than mere existence; Spock and Kirk were the two sides of humanity, the hunter-gatherer and the intellectual, and the entire span of the Star Trek universe, from tv shows to movies, can be seen as our attempts to grapple, via metaphor, with the way our baser instincts seem to always be in charge while we strive to get something better.

And that, my readers, is how you turn "Watching TV" into "A Master's Thesis."

Oh, and remember which side of us wins?

Didn't look like Kirk fought very hard to get in there, did he? Oh, well -- that just means we can go on making out with blue chicks without all those higher thoughts holding us back.

Meanwhile, the only relationship anyone cared about in Star Wars was Han and Chewbacca.

What, you thought I was going to say something else? Why would I? Despite half-hearted stabs at developing relationships in the first three movies, there never really was a love story to speak of, and what seemed like it might be became super-gross when Lucas decided on the spur of the moment and most decidedly not as a part of an overall story arc to make Leia be Luke's sister, because if you did plan that in advance, then isn't their kiss the grossest thing you could have had them do?

Han and Chewie have their conflicts, too -- just as Kirk and Spock did, but Han and Chewie's conflicts were more grounded in reality and more humorous ("Just fly casual") -- and they shared a greater bond than Kirk and Spock ever did: The Millennium Falcon.

True, Kirk and Spock had the Enterprise, but that was not really their ship; it belonged to the Federation, and required a crew of 760 to run it. Calling the Enterprise Kirk's or Spock's ship is like calling The Love Boat Captain Stubing's ship. Han, meanwhile, owned the Millennium Falcon, and Chewie half-ran it.

On the subject of spaceships, I must point out something that Shatner apparently overlooked, or deliberatly didn't bring up: Which series had better spaceships? Obviously Star Trek, not just because of X-Wings, which were awesome and could travel at light speed even though they were a single-seater ship, but also because of that aforementioned Millennium Falcon, which was so great that Star Trek copied it.

Yep, it's true: from Wikipedia, this being the only kind of thing that site is good for:

The Falcon and the Falcon's distinct shape appear in Star Trek: First Contact,[14] Blade Runner,[15] Spaceballs, and Starship Troopers.[16] The manga series Berserk includes a "Millennium Falcon" arc.[17] In another manga and anime series, Hellsing, the Millennium Falcon is referenced briefly for comedic effect.

I don't recall ever seeing the Borg cube in Star Wars.

Back to relationships: Han and Chewie were far closer than Kirk and Spock, who simply became friends because they went to Starfleet Academy together, or whatever the backstory explained in "Kirk and Spock's Big Adventure," the Chris Pine version of Star Trek.

Han and Chewie, though, had no such prosaic meeting. According to the Wookiepedia, which, why would that exist, since that's what Wikipedia is in the first place, but anyway, according to it, Han quit being a pirate and smuggler after the woman he loved went to a Rebel, and then

Han Solo then entered the Imperial Academy at Carida, serving with distinction. He was kicked out, however, when he stopped an Imperial officer from beating a Wookiee named Chewbacca with a neuronic whip. In gratitude, the Wookiee swore a life debt to Solo.
Um. I really need to research these things before I write them. But that makes no sense. He loves this woman and she goes to be a rebel, so he goes to be in the Empire? And then, when he does hook up with the rebels entirely by accident (having, apparently, come to the realization that the Empire isn't the nice, gentle, organization he thought it was) he never looks up that other woman?

Made up on the spot: A LucasFilm tradition going back to 1978.

But Han and Chewie had one thing that proves their friendship was stronger, despite all conflicts, than Spock-and-Kirk: Han could arrange to have Chewie make out with whoever he chose.

Those Wookies take their life-debts seriously.

Advantage: Star Wars.

Stories That Involved Humanity: I'm not entirely sure what Shatner means by this category, unless he's simply talking about human beings being in the storyline, in which case, sure, Star Trek wins, because, as Rogue Mutt pointed out long ago, Darth Vader isn't technically a human. Which means that it's only coincidence that the "people" of Star Wars look anything like us...

... the type of coincidence that happened a remarkable amount of times on Star Trek :

And it's technically called convergent evolution, something I know because I didn't b.s. my entire way through school; I paid attention the 1% of time required to actually pass a class in an American school. (America: F**K YEAH!)

Star Wars never explained how come humans look like us even though they evolved the infamous long time ago, (see aforementioned LucasFilm tradition) but one person once on the Internet noted that while

There's no real mention of Earth in Star Wars, as it takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - but in one comic story that is not considered canon, Han Solo and Chewbacca crash land on Earth - in North America, and Solo's remains are found by Indiana Jones, while the longer-lived Wookiee forms the basis for the Bigfoot legends.

That's from the UK version of Yahoo! Answers, so it's best if you read it with a British accent. Plus, you sound smarter that way. Everything sounds smarter in a British accent. Had Shatner said something like "Tally Ho! Chaps! Look like 'ere's a Star Trek that's a tuppence better'n' anyfing that ol' Artful Dodger ever biscuited" he'd have won this without a fight.

But, be that as it may, I'm not willing to buy that there were humans in Star Wars, so:

Advantage: Star Trek.

Philosophical Questions: It almost seems like I should concede this one to the Trekkies, doesn't it? That's kind of the thing about Star Trek is that it's supposedly very high-minded about its vision, that it's always been about philosophy and aiming to do what the best science-fiction is supposed to do, make a point about our society by telling us a story about our future.

And, of course, George Washington University is supposed to have once (and maybe now) offered a course in The Philosophy Of Star Trek, even though I couldn't find any evidence of that ever having existed when I did a quick search for it. ("Evidence of existing" in this case being "getting mentioned on the first page of Google results," because I, like every other modern person, have no desire to click next page to get to substandard Google results, except for the time I googled myself and went out to page 14 where I was reminded that I once filed a lawsuit over our cat getting sick. I'm awesome.)

I was going to get around to searching for something about the philosophy of Star Wars, because I saw a link to something that suggested that people actually thought about that, but I came across first a link to a philosophical question called the "Ship Of Theseus," which asks whether, if you replace every single component part in a thing with an identical replacement, that thing is the same thing it originally was.

That is: Say you take the Millennium Falcon when Han won it from Lando in a game of Sabacc. Then say over time, you replaced every single part that was in the ship at the time it was won in that game, but with an identical replacement. Is the ship still the Millennium Falcon?

Now, say you did that with yourself: replacing every part of yourself with an identical part into which you planted your memories. Are you still yourself?

Now, think of something harder: Suppose you take yourself, and each day you replace a cell in your body with a cell from, say, William Shatner's body. At what point would you stop being you and start being William Shatner? And, as a corollary, why isn't someone trying this?

That latter question is a version of the Ship of Theseus posed by a philosopher who was recently featured in The New Yorker, an article that was interesting to read because it turns out you can make a living simply sitting around thinking about stuff (and then writing books about it) but I can't recall his name right now, and I tried looking it up on The New Yorker's website, but that wasn't helpful, other than to give me a link to an article from 1926 about Will Durant selling 50,000 copies of a book called "The Story Of Philosophy," and 50,000 copies seems a remarkable number of philosophy books to sell at any time, let alone 1926 when all of America was occupied jitterbugging and flagpole sitting and not having Calvin Coolidge speak.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, philosophy. Here's the thing, Trekkies: Your Captain Kirk isn't anything of the sort. See, according to noted scientists and also the writer China Mieville, and also the movie The Prestige, when you teleport, what you do is create a copy of the thing you teleported, so that in Kraken, by Mieville, there were all these little dead spirits haunting the guy who teleported a lot, and in The Prestige you had bins full of old Hugh Jackmans, and in Star Trek you'd have a lot of old Captain Kirks who presumably had been disintegrated on board the Enterprise, and a lot of new Captain Kirks who then were created on planets to make out with those women.

So is Captain Kirk, and the rest of them for that matter, the same person? There's a philosophical question I bet nobody in the Trekiverse ever pondered. Depending on how you feel about the Ship of Theseus, you may no longer be such a fan of Shatner's/Kirk's.

Advantage: Star Wars, because there's no worrying that somewhere is a giant pile of moldering Luke Skywalker corpses.

Girls who were prettier than Princess Leia: This one's easy to solve using what our President recently reminded us existed: Math.

Total number of times Jennifer Aniston pretended to be a woman from Star Trek? Zero.

Total number of times Jennifer Aniston pretened to be Princess Leia in the metal bikini: One.

One is greater than zero, everywhere you go.

Advantage: Star Wars.

Winner: Star Wars.


Claire Lachance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rogue Mutt said...

It is one of those nerdy questions of whether Star Trek could beat Star Wars. There's probably someone somewhere who's calculated if a Star Wars laser or torpedo could penetrate a Star Trek ship's shield and whether a phaser could damage a Star Destroyer. If there's not then I should get the government to fund a study for it. We can sit around like Dennis Hastert, playing action figures in our $900,000 office.c

Stephen Hayes said...

Aren't both of them derivative of Flash Gordon? If I had to pick between Star Trek and Star Wars, I'd pick Star Trek. I like the political ramifications of Star Trek while Star Wars is more of a comic book. But Star Wars has always had the better special effects.

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