Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

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Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2019-03-02 08:39am

When it comes to fiction, and if such a work focuses on society at large there can be two themes of work, Romanticism or Enlightenment. Romanticism is often an appeal to traditions, the past, nature, and how technology, society, and progress have made us worse, while Enlightenment is more of a focus on the promise of tomorrow, technology improving things, cities, and how technology, society, and progress have made things better.

Consider that Star Wars shows prosthetics/cybernetics as a sign of becoming evil, turning to the dark side, how believing in the religion and your instincts, as opposed to relying on advanced technology, is the key to victory.

In Star Trek, such technologies make life better, with basic needs being met, and shown as a way of society growing up.

What are your thoughts? What does this mean for fans of either or both works? Does this mean anything societally?

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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by B5B7 » 2019-03-02 08:47am

In Star Trek generic engineering and cloning are portrayed as evil. As for cybernetics there is the Borg.
Both seem pretty neutral as regards technology as both have shown it as both good and evil.
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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2019-03-02 08:53am

B5B7 wrote:
2019-03-02 08:47am
In Star Trek generic engineering and cloning are portrayed as evil. As for cybernetics there is the Borg.
Both seem pretty neutral as regards technology as both have shown it as both good and evil.
I would contrast that with Geordi, who seem to be an example of technology benefiting them. At no point do Geordi's cybernetics seem to be making him seem less trustworthy as a member of the crew than Crusher or Worf.

EDIT: we also see that some genetic engineering is considered good, as they fix Torres and Paris's baby Miral's spine condition with no one batting an eye. It's making her into a designer baby for no reason that is considered evil.
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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by Lord Revan » 2019-03-02 09:45am

Yes there's positive examples of cybernetics in Star Trek, but it's true of Star Wars as well while Vader and Grevious are villains whose status as "more machine then man" is seen as bad there's also case where cyborgs are good or neutral and the main villain of the 6 orginal films was mystic using tech for his own end rather then preferring tech over non-tech solution.
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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by Imperial528 » 2019-03-02 10:20am

The OT makes it fairly clear that cybernetics are not what makes Vader evil, instead it is why he has them.

Vader is a man so consumed by evil that the near-total destruction of his body couldn't make him reconsider his ways.

Meanwhile Luke's prosthetic hand is treated as fairly mundane by those around him. Thematically though, it helps establish what violence Vader must have been through in order to end up as "more machine than man" in the course of his life, and presumably the destruction of the Jedi Order. And of course, it is a valuable lesson for Luke as well.

The prequels demonstrate this out in detail: Anakin's first cybernetic is acquired as a result of recklessness much as Luke's was, but he fails to learn the lessons Luke did, and so Vader earns a life of suffering after betraying the Jedi.

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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by tezunegari » 2019-03-02 11:06am

FaxModem1 wrote:
2019-03-02 08:53am
B5B7 wrote:
2019-03-02 08:47am
In Star Trek generic engineering and cloning are portrayed as evil. As for cybernetics there is the Borg.
Both seem pretty neutral as regards technology as both have shown it as both good and evil.
I would contrast that with Geordi, who seem to be an example of technology benefiting them. At no point do Geordi's cybernetics seem to be making him seem less trustworthy as a member of the crew than Crusher or Worf.

EDIT: we also see that some genetic engineering is considered good, as they fix Torres and Paris's baby Miral's spine condition with no one batting an eye. It's making her into a designer baby for no reason that is considered evil.
The Visor isn't just beneficial, it's a downright security breach waiting to happen. (And it can cause migraines, at least in the early seasons)
Star Trek: Generations - allowed Lursa & Betor to spy on Engineering and a find way to breach the shields by knowing their frequency.
TNG'S 4.24 "The Mind's Eye" - allowed for the brainwashing of Geordi into a sleeper agent for an assassination plot.

On the other hand IIRC it did save their combined asses a few times as well (like when he was stranded on that one planet with the romulan).
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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by Formless » 2019-03-02 09:00pm

To the OP, I think its a vast oversimplification. First of all, because there are more than two philosophical/artistic traditions than just the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Moreover, you misrepresent the Enlightenment by merely conflating it with Progressive philosophy-- in fact it would be more accurate to say that your description of the Enlightenment is better applied to Modernism instead. Enlightenment philosophy is much more specific than that; its not just a set of attitudes like Romanticism tends to be. And Romanticism, while more vague, is also still a bit more specific as well since Romanticism was a reaction to Enlightenment philosophy. And its not all about tradition, skepticism in progress and all that crap, but really its about viewing humans as more than just rational machines like Enlightenment philosophers preferred to assume; we have feelings and morals and intuitions that motivate us to create things of value. Romanticism is definitely the more influential philosophy in the arts today than Enlightenment ideals, but it also has to compete with Modernism and Post-Modernism, which are both different again.

Its also a simplification because Star Trek has changed significantly over time, and in that time has covered a lot of philosophical territory. TOS IMO can be seen as Modernist, while TNG can be seen as more Enlightenment inspired. The TOS films in turn are Existential (which itself is an offshoot of Romantic philosophy) in how, if you ignore TMP and start with The Wrath of Khan, they start with Kirk brooding over the fact he is getting old and what that means for him, and end with him confronting the fact that the world he knows is changing in ways he never thought possible. DS9 is also be influenced by Existentialism (especially in Sisko's journey from atheism to religious conviction) and Deconstruction (AKA Post Modernism). DS9 specifically sets out to critique Gene Roddenberry's ideals as depicted in The Next Generation (hence Sisko's acceptance of religion, in defiance of Roddenberry's atheism) to show how coherent they were in a more realistic setting. Voyager was Star Trek without the grander aspirations of the earlier shows; its job first and foremost was to be a showrunner for UPN. Still, at its best it does continue the Existential trend, this time in how Janeway (eventually) confronts her responsibility for stranding the ship as well as its use of Seven in looking at identity and the importance of subjective experience (as contrasted with the Borg experience of a collective consciousness).

Enterprise and Discovery I am leaving out because, well, Enterprise sucked and I'm convinced its because Berman and Braga were just burned out on Trek. They needed to move on with their careers and Viacom needed to recognize that. Meanwhile Discovery is still on the air and thus hard to judge.

And this is without touching on any individual episode, since within that space any show as episodic as The Next Generation could deviate from its usual pattern. Tapestry is so beloved because it also goes the Existential rout as well and explores Picard's greatest personal regret-- then shows why he shouldn't regret it. Indeed, a lot of Trek's best stories aren't science stories or adventure stories, but stories about the human condition. They can't easily be stuck in a box called "Romantic" or "Enlightenment" because they are about the tension between the two in human life.

Now, Star Wars is definitely within the Romantic sphere, but its also remarkably Modernist as well. Star Wars looks towards mythology for values, but its not classical mythology like a normal fantasy story. Its a mythology of its own invention, created to highlight those things which in the story have caused society to stagnate and then fall into a period of darkness. Luke, the Hero, doesn't just learn more about the Jedi ways to defeat Darth Vader, he learns about the limitations of the Jedi way that failed his father in the first place. Like Star Trek, its a story with Progressive values, but those values are expressed differently and likely come from the different experiences of the two men who created them. Roddenberry looked to social changes happening around him in the 60's and asked what a better future might look like; Lucas looked to the political failures of his society (both during the 60's and seventies before the OT was made and contemporary politics when the Prequels were made) and asked how these things happen in a democracy and what the people can do about it. Notably, Star Wars could create a modern mythology because Lucas chose not to set it in a future history but a fictional past. And while The Force borrows ideas from multiple real world religions, it is deliberately vague so as to represent the more abstract concepts of Good and Evil and how they manifest in people and societies. Star Wars may have people repeatedly say that to use The Force they should listen to their instincts, but that doesn't mean it disregards introspection. The Jedi Order was all about introspection, and they fell. But they fell because they were too rigid in their dogma and blind to their own limitations. Luke's journey is about hearing the words of his teachers, taking from them what wisdom works and using his own judgement-- his instinct for Good-- to decide what ideas need to go. Remember, Obi-wan and Yoda wanted him to kill Darth Vader in order to become a true Jedi. And Palpatine wanted him to kill Vader to start his path to becoming a Sith. It is a contradiction that fundamentally shows how the Jedi had gone wrong in their thinking, and shows that the Jedi could only return to their former glory if someone capable of challenging old ideas with new ones was trained in their ways. And of course, that person was Luke.

Then Disney bought Star Wars and shit all over that, but that's for another time. Point is, in their general themes, both Star Trek and Star Wars are more complicated than merely "Romanticism VS Enlightenment thinking". Their approaches to technology are merely a small part of what makes them what they are-- Star Wars does not reject technology as a matter of course, it shows Yoda separate himself from technology as a practical matter of staying hidden. He also needed solitude to meditate on his failures and what to do next, but like Obi-Wan he could have done that somewhere less primitive if it wasn't for the need to stay hidden. Star Wars tends to keep technology in the background as something we need, but isn't worth commenting on because its mundane. Technology in Star Wars does not control our destiny, The Force does. Technology is thus only demonized when it is being used for oppression and murder, like the Death Stars. Obi-Wan does not describe Vader as "more machine than man" because technology is evil, but because it describes Vader's attitude. He is relentless like a machine, and he turns that relentlessness towards evil. He has abandoned his humanity, and he only returns to the light when he is reminded of what he was and what he still is underneath the mask. The prosthetics did not make him evil. They were sculpted to represent the evil he had already embraced.

Now consider Seven of Nine. She too is covered in cybernetics, but unlike Luke and Vader's they are not prosthetics. They are enhancements. They come from a society that forced them upon her, victimized her in the misguided notion that they were doing her a favor. That they were making her "better" than she was at birth. And when they are taken from her (most of them, anyway), she initially dislikes it and resents Janeway for removing her from the only life she has ever known. But over time, she comes to understand what a horrible thing was done to her, and so in Dark Frontier when the Borg queen is trying to tempt her to return to the Borg but with the privilege of being left as an individual, she is resentful of having new implants installed in her sleep without her consent. She has a new identity by this point, one which is unique and not fully described as merely "human" or "Borg." Technology is not the issue here, but again how it is used and what that use represents. So even in Star Trek which is optimistic about technology, technology is not inherently good.
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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by Patroklos » 2019-03-03 05:34am

TOS also had some pretty bleak critiques of the ideas of super intelligence or otherwise extreme enhancements to normal humans via alien technology. Specifically "Charlie X" and "Where No Many has Gone Before" but several others also dip into it. TMP is not quite so bleak by the end, but I don't think too many of us would want to be in Ilia/Deccker's shoes....

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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by FaxModem1 » 2019-03-03 07:39am

A key rebuttal is that there's optimism about the future, science, and technology in Star Trek. Yes, things like the Borg are worrying directions of where they can go, but it's still focused on the positive directions they can go, compared to Star Wars direction of "Before the Dark Times", "Weapon for a civilized age", and a seeming unease about the future. It's important, because Star Wars is a story about fighting against tyranny, but there's a definite edge of 'things were better in the good old days', to the point that wondering if the future will only be worse.
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Re: Is Star Wars Romanticism to Star Trek's Enlightenment?

Post by Formless » 2019-03-03 05:51pm

FaxModem1 wrote:
2019-03-03 07:39am
A key rebuttal is that there's optimism about the future, science, and technology in Star Trek. Yes, things like the Borg are worrying directions of where they can go, but it's still focused on the positive directions they can go, compared to Star Wars direction of "Before the Dark Times", "Weapon for a civilized age", and a seeming unease about the future. It's important, because Star Wars is a story about fighting against tyranny, but there's a definite edge of 'things were better in the good old days', to the point that wondering if the future will only be worse.
That's taking things out of context, though, and its also wrong. First, we are shown that "more civilized age" in the prequels, and it is definitely better. Not perfect, but better. And by the end of the films, the Emperor is dead, Vader is dead, the Death Star has been destroyed and the capital is in open revolt against the tyrannical regime. The story isn't about the future or the past, its not even set in the same galaxy as Star Trek! Its more like a thought experiment set in a place outside of time, so that the story may tell us something about the nature of evil, tyranny, and personal growth. Star Wars is realistic in that it shows how oppressive regimes come into power, but its optimistic that we can fight against them and better ourselves in the process. Technology's role in the story is minimal, except to show how evil powers use technology, which is a hard point to argue against since it is a reference to the development of the atomic bomb in real life. Which is fine, because again, the story is set outside of time. Not the future. That's why its a modern mythology: its trying to tell moral lessons, not make predictions. Thus in context, the statements about the past are not statements about our past. They are a plot device to move the narrative forward.

In comparison, Star Trek tells a story set in our direct future. Earth exists and is the center of the Federation government. But it is not completely optimistic about our future because it is demonstrably pessimistic about our present. It repeatedly tells us that the 20'th and 21'st centuries were barbaric times and predicted that there would be a third world war in the 21'st century, during which nuclear weapons would be used and afterwards there would be tyranny and oppression like we haven't seen since the Dark Ages. In this sense, Star Wars is less pessimistic because it shows the people of The Galaxy Far Far Away as being essentially the same as ourselves, and then showing our capacity for both good and evil. In Star Trek, things didn't get better until we made First Contact with the Vulcans; in Star Wars things get better when good people stand up for what is right. Star Wars tells us that our better nature will ultimately win out in the end, that the Dark Side is not stronger than the Light Side, and that everything depends on our personal choices. In this way, the optimism of Star Wars is based not on faith that things will magically improve because of technology, or as I will explain later, evolution. Star Wars instead tells us that goodness already exists in ourselves, and that we need merely make the right choices to make the world a better place. Star Trek is, in an ironic way, deterministic in its approach, and as a result I might add can seem phony because it never explains how we even survived the nuclear holocaust of the Eugenics Wars. Star Wars shows us a world where destiny literally exists... but we have Free Will and can influence destiny if we choose to. In fact, an Existential reading of Star Wars shows that what makes Vader a bad guy is that he is a nihilist: he has given up on changing his life because he is convinced his Destiny is to be the Bad Guy. And ironically, Gene Roddenberry wrote Picard to take a nearly identical stance towards humanity, but with the moral conclusions inverted.

See, a close reading shows that Roddenberry did not actually say that Technology would make us better. Far from it, not all technologies were shown to be good. Genetic engineering in particular was outright vilified, with Khan Singh being repeatedly compared to Hitler and his evil being attributed to his genetic enhancements. "Superior ability leads to superior ambition" the show tells us. Remarkably, this lesson is not extended to other technologies, just to ones that enhance people directly. The lesson is reinforced in the episode "Hide and Q", when Q grants Riker the powers of the Q and Picard tells him to resist the urge to use it. Then Riker proceeds to use it anyway and acts like a douche for the rest of the episode. Apparently humans can't be trusted with powers above that of normal men, but they can be trusted to fly spaceships powered by antimatter. Its inconsistent, and shows a fear of certain technologies and not others with similar ramifications. Finally, what Roddenberry does say will make us better... is evolution. Somehow. Or something like it. Again, for proof of this look no further than the same episode, where Picard quotes Hamlet at Q and says that while Shakespeare was being sarcastic, Picard sincerely believes humans are angelic. Or look at Picard's overall rhetorical style throughout the first two seasons. For instance, in "The Neutral Zone" when the ship encounters a 21'st century sleeper ship from pre-warp times, Picard repeatedly calls their professions "infantile" and claims that humanity has "grown up" or "grown out of" certain tendencies, like a desire for wealth. Same goes for how he used the Ferengi. Roddenberry doesn't justify this by talking about the replicators like people often assume. He simply says it as if something has changed about human nature. And this is consistent with other message episodes. For instance, multiple episodes like "Skin of Evil" insist that humans no longer have a need to grieve. No explanation, we just don't. Even in good episodes like "The City on the Edge of Forever", the character of Edith Keeler tells all of the homeless of the Depression era how much better the future will be without ever saying how she knows this or how it will happen. She just knows. And you can't blame that on Harlan Ellison, this was a change Roddenberry made to the script, and one of many that forever made Ellison hate the man forever after.

And this again gets back to why I think its overly simplistic to view Star Trek as just reflecting one philosophy. Star Trek wasn't just Roddenberry's creation, it was many writers with many viewpoints that made it into what it was. Certainly after Roddenberry's death he ceased to directly influence the show at all and left room for a man like Ira Steven Behr room to criticize his utopia from within. I will forever say that the defining speech from DS9 is Sisko's rant that "its easy to be a saint in paradise." DS9 directly contradicts Roddenberry's claim that humanity will "evolve" into something else, and is the true source of the idea that it is our technology and other social conditions that will lead to this change. In TNG, technology is more prominent as a tool for solving problems but in reality that is all it is. A toolkit that gives us more options for resolving conflicts, not something that radically changes who we are. Like in Star Wars, the humanity Behr is showing is one that is just like ourselves today, capable of choosing good or evil. Technology has little to do with it, as shown in the episode "Past Tense" where Sisko actually takes part in a 21'st century event. Technology isn't what will make us better, it says, but rather our ability to recognize right and wrong when we see it and act accordingly. This is also reflected in certain TOS episodes where Roddenberry wasn't the writer. Take "A Taste of Armageddon", for example, where the leader of Eminar 7 tells Kirk that both of them are barbaric savages, but Eminar 7 at least has made violence civilized. In that episode, Kirk does not deny the accusation, but instead turns the tables and says that all it takes for barbarian people like themselves to become truly civilized is to say "I will not kill today." The episode lays out a foundation for creating peace, but does not deny our nature as human beings will remain the same in the future. And the foundation for peace is a virtue-- self control-- that already exists within us. Like in Star Wars, this isn't about the future but the present. And in my opinion, that is a more optimistic kind of message than any amount of blathering about evolution and growing up as a species.
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