Whenever the age-old Star Wars vs. Star Trek argument comes up, I try to stay out of it. They've both got their high points, they've both got their low points, and it's difficult to judge something that started as a movie against something that started on television. Despite any similarities they may have, Star Wars and Star Trek are simply too different and too vast for both franchises in their entirety to compete on the basis of merit.
The argument boils down to personal preference of the creative details--Tatooine vs. Ceti Alpha V; phasers vs. blasters; Bothans vs....uh...Bothans--and preference between breadth and depth. In my experience, Star Wars has more breadth thanks to its wide variety of aliens and eons of internal history; Star Trek's focus on character interactions and social issues gives it more depth. I prefer Star Trek for its depth, and for the planets, technologies, cultures, etc. that are more in line with my tastes...but there are huge portions of both franchises to which I've never been exposed, so I can't say with any true certainty that the issue of breadth vs. depth is really what the argument boils down to.
Especially after reading Heir to the Empire.
As discussed yesterday, Heir opened my eyes to a level of complexity in the greater Star Wars universe that was largely absent from my experience with the franchise. The movies, television episodes, games, and books with which I'm familiar all have their share of plot twists and clever heroics, but I've always perceived the story to be what drives the characters, and I prefer the characters to drive the story--another matter of personal preference, I might note.
Luke Skywalker joins the Rebellion because two droids literally fall out of the sky and effectively drag him along through a series of events largely outside his control. The Battle of Hoth occurs because the Imperials happen to find the Rebels' hidden base. Kyle Katarn has to muck around in the bowels of Nar Shaddaa because the data disk he needs accidentally gets knocked off the landing platform when he shoots off 8t88's arm. Clone Troopers easily kill Aayla Secura because she happens to be looking the wrong way when Order 66 is given. So often in Star Wars, things just...happen. The characters are merely along for the ride, doing little more than nudging their destiny one way or another.
To a certain extent, the characters are driven by the plot in Heir to the Empire. The key difference, though, is that every character has well-defined goals and motives that drive him or her to fight against the flow of fate. Some are in better positions than others to succeed, but virtually nothing ever happens--or fails to happen--strictly because the story dictates it must be so. Author Timothy Zahn knows the characters extraordinarily well, and ensures they use every tool, trick, and ability at their disposal before succumbing to the inevitable, or before claiming victory over impossible odds.
I find myself invested in the Star Wars movies because I like the action sequences, and some of the aesthetics, and some of the characters, and some of the creative situations in which the heroes find themselves. I found myself invested in Heir to the Empire for all those same reasons, but I found myself in awe because these characters and their universe were living up to a potential I didn't realize existed.
You think of an X-Wing as just another snub fighter until its guts are willfully burned out and ripped apart to escape a tractor beam and set up an improvised homing beacon. You assume that a Jedi is the most powerful force in the galaxy until a little furry snake creature puts his Force powers on mute. You take for granted that Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are the baddest of the bad until criticisms from an Imperial officer and obvious contrasts with the increasingly sinister Grand Admiral Thrawn start to make you think that maybe the Rebellion had it easy. The book takes what already exists and goes to lightspeed with it.
This must be why Star Wars fans harbor such ire for the prequels--knowing what's out there, and what could be out there, makes a goofy Gungan who accidentally saves the day seem like a slap in the face. And that's to say nothing about the breaches in continuity that I've heard exist. For me, the prequels have the same kind of action and aesthetics and characters and creative situations that I like about the original trilogy. As films, they're not anywhere near as well-directed and well-scripted as the originals, but as Star Wars films, I'm getting all the sci-fi fun I could hope for.
That's what Star Wars has been for me: sci-fi fun. That is why I've steered away from those venomous Star Wars vs. Star Trek debates. That is why the rage against George Lucas over the prequels and the Special Editions has always baffled me. Dislike and disappointment, sure--but rage? I've seen a lot of passionate fans, and I've gotten up in arms about one thing or another ruining my favorite fandoms, but I have seen Star Wars turn people into irrational zealots who would hurl you into the Great Pit of Carkoon if you so much as suggested that it was maybe not beyond the realm of possibility that Greedo could potentially have shot first, you guess.
My childhood wasn't shaped by Star Wars. My adolescence wasn't spent immersing myself in the Expanded Universe. My adulthood hasn't been spent hiding or picking up the wreckage from the brand-new canon George Lucas has pointed at his fans. I watched the Star Wars films, and I liked them. I've tried out different parts of the fandom, and I've liked them too. It's been a matter of personal preference--nothing more, nothing less.
Heir to the Empire changed everything. I've read other books of comparable quality, and I've been exposed to other installments of Star Wars that have been just as captivating, but I'd never seen Star Wars as anything other than a collection of events that dragged along some interesting characters. For the first time ever, I understood both the heroes and villains as people, not just as archetypes or sci-fi characters.
Characters can never grow beyond their role as entertainment. People can become your family and friends.
Without my understanding this, the most diehard Star Wars fans became irrational zealot characters in my eyes when defending the people they cared so deeply about. Those debates were never about franchises; they were about friends. It's taken me a decade to realize this.
I don't know that I'll ever fully turn to the Dark Side (the Light Side?) and embrace Star Wars over Star Trek, but there is plenty of room in my heart for both. I've got a Dark Force Rising paperback on the table, a Clone Wars disc in the DVD player, and a Rogue Squadron cartridge in my N64. I am a Star Wars fan. That may not mean the same thing to me as it does to you, but I hope we can both come to understand each other as people before making judgments on the differences.