Star Wars or Star Trek? It’s an endless debate over franchise supremacy between fans of the two sci-fi staples, but now Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, has stepped in to build a bridge between the sides: The ongoing success of Star Trek, he says, was only made possible by the popularity of Star Wars.
Addressing a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, Shatner said: “Star Wars created Star Trek. You know that? Every year there was the threat to be canceled. The third year, we were canceled, and everybody accepted it.”
The original Star Trek TV series aired from 1966 to 1969. Fans’ wish for a movie to pick up where the series left off was finally answered in 1979 with the arrival of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Two years earlier, in 1977, George Lucas’ Star Wars had become a global phenomenon and box office behemoth, opening eyes to the new money-making potential of sci-fi/fantasy movies. And that, Shatner explained, is what finally got Star Trek‘s revival off the ground: “At Paramount Studio they were running around bumping into each other: ‘What do we got?! What do we got to equal Star Wars? This is a big thing! There was this thing that we canceled under another management, it was called Star…Trek? Let’s resurrect that!”
Unfortunately, the first Star Trek feature film was no Star Wars. Shatner acknowledges its lack of success, pointing to Paramount rushing its production: “Star Trek was done so hastily…there was no time to edit the special effects, and so the movie was flawed and didn’t make as much money.”
While Shatner nodded to Star Trek‘s debt to Star Wars, he made sure to remind the audience which one will always be his favorite.
“It was Star Wars that thrust Star Trek into the people of Paramount’s consciousness,” he said. “Star Trek at its best tells human stories. It’s philosophical. There’s humanity. There’s a principle involved. And it’s well done. It’s about people. Star Wars was grand, like opera. It was huge with great special effects. It was a marvelously entertaining film, but it wasn’t specifically about people the way those Star Treks were.”
Star Trek got a second chance on the big screen with the release of The Wrath of Khan in 1982, then returned to TV in 1987 with The Next Generation, and has been adding new chapters through the years, for a total of 13 movies and 624 episodes of television, with more to come: The current Star Trek feature film, Star Trek Beyond, debuted to solid reviews and box office earnings, and CBS has another TV series on the way. It seems as though neither Paramount nor audiences are finished with the stories that Star Trek has to tell.