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The Journal Gazette

Monday, November 13, 2017 1:00 am

'Star Wars' winning war against 'Star Trek'

Michael Cavna | Washington Post

For four decades, “Star Trek”-or-“Star Wars” has been one of pop culture's most consistent binary conversation starters among nerds, right up there with Marvel-or-DC.

The thing is, shortly before 2015, you could reasonably argue that “Star Trek” had gained the upper hand as a cultural force, thanks to J.J. Abrams's hit reboot of the film franchise coming on top of the more recent television successes.

But now, three years after Abrams took his rebooting powers to Disney/Lucasfilm and scored huge with “The Force Awakens,” “Star Wars” has surged ahead and gained a lead that might be insurmountable for generations.

Game over, “Star Wars.” Thanks to Disney's new deal, you just won.

Disney and Lucasfilm announced Thursday that they will embark on a fourth “Star Wars” trilogy, with “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson at the helm. Not only does that move plot a course for unbroken “Star Wars” momentum on the big screen – as creator George Lucas' critically drubbed second trilogy disappears even further in the rearview mirror – it also sets up the perpetual relevance of Everything Else “Star Wars” for many years to come.

The franchise, in effect, becomes a cultural steamroller altering what millions of people see and hear and visit.

Consider the newly announced original “Star Wars” TV series that Disney will feature on its entertainment streaming service, which is set to go live in 2019.

Consider, too, that come that same year, Anaheim's Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida will open “Star Wars”-themed areas, as well as an “immersive” “Star Wars”-themed hotel at Walt Disney World that will encourage cosplay.

(Even Lucas' coming graphic-narrative museum in Southern California will be a fan destination that features “Star Wars” art.)

As Disney moves forward on all these fronts, it bears noting that “Star Wars” also appears poised to move beyond the Skywalker family line that has anchored the films for four decades, from Darth Vader through Kylo Ren. The Rian Johnson announcement signals the fourth trilogy will move beyond Lucas' narrative DNA, perhaps shedding weighty backstory like a junked Millennium Falcon.

So where does that leave “Star Trek”? CBS is streaming its new “Discovery” series, so there's a glimmer of hope there.

Yet since Abrams left Paramount's “Star Trek” franchise, it's become a story of box-office decline. Last year's “Star Trek Beyond” grossed $343 million worldwide – a significant dip from the previous two films, both guided by Abrams.

This is not a debate over superior philosophical storytelling or tech effects. This is a battle for mainstream cultural domination.

And as with so many things Disney these days, the commercial Force favors “Star Wars” for decades.

Live long and prosper, “Star Trek.” We need your narratives, even if they lack the cultural supremacy of multibillion-dollar trilogies.