I like Trek ‘the original series’ way better than Star Wars ‘Part IV’ because Trek gave us Spock.
That’s it, really. But let me explain some more. When Lucas developed Star Wars (by which I mean the original 1977 movie) he deliberately wrote a story that spoke to our deepest senses of mythic self –for which he seconded Joseph Campbell, the world’s greatest expert on mythology, as consultant.
That is why the series has been so popular, because it speaks to our deepest sense of self in ways we cannot conceptualise, but which we identify with for reasons we often don’t consciously know.
But I think Trek did something more. Trek – meaning the original 1966-68 series – gave us Spock.
Let me explain. Like Star Wars, Trek addressed the fundamentals of our nature as humans. But Trek did so in a different way. The approach was a product of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a better humanity, one not subject to the biases and prejudices that dogged his mid-twentieth century – but problems that spoke through time because, stripped of their immediate framework, those mid-twentieth century issues reflected the same human flaws and problems that dogged all humanity throughout all its cultures and history – problems duly reflected in the mythology Lucas, in turn, was evoking.
But into the Trek world came Spock, who wasn’t a sole Roddenberry creation.
Spock, particularly as the character evolved in the movies – which, from Leonard Nimoy’s second autobiography, had a lot to do with his personal vision – was somebody we can all identify with and aspire to. Spock was ordinary. He had no magic ‘super powers’ like ‘the force’. He wasn’t violent – the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, indeed, was something Nimoy invented as a way of underscoring the non-violent philosophy of the Vulcans. But Spock had a vision, one he learned to pursue – one of care and kindness born out of abstracting himself from the emotions that lead us down dark paths.
Nimoy helped evolve that vision through the various movies. It doesn’t mean being unemotional. It means understanding the concepts. Something Spock, by the last incarnations of the character, was totally able to do.
Yes, I know this is also the theme of Star Wars, and for the same reasons. But Star Wars relies on an imaginary super-power, ‘the force’ to make its point. Trek doesn’t. And that is the difference. In the Trek world, ordinary people choose their path, without metaphor. To me, at least, that has appeal, for it something all of us can do in the real world.
And in that path, I think Spock shows us the way – speaking to modern sensibility. An Indian philosopher named Siddhartha Gautama made similar suggestions, a long time ago. But perhaps his thinking is less relevant, these days, than modern entertainment. It doesn’t matter.
Where did Spock come from? I recently read Nimoy’s I Am Spock. I think Nimoy thought a lot about the character – a character who, as he said in that book, became a ‘calm voice’ in his head. Nimoy, then, played a part in the creation of Spock.
Today I think the fact is that Spock, thanks in large part to Nimoy, taught us how to be human.
Star Wars? Can’t fault the idea – it explored the light and dark of the human condition, through mythic symbolism and the metaphor of a super-power. Lessons we need to know and understand.
Trek? Thanks to Spock – and thanks to Nimoy – we have an example of how ordinary people can become human.
I like Star Wars. Sure. But I like Trek better. Because of the ordinariness of Spock.
Other people, of course, will have different views – and that’s fine too. Thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016