What are differences and similarities among the fandoms of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica?

(Republished on The Huffington Post, July, 2015)

Star Wars 300Star Wars fans are people who enjoy high fantasy, mythic stories. They like action, drama, romance and teasing out deeper significances to the characters and plot points, relating them to other myths and archetypes in literature. They like technology to be fun and futuristic without needing to understand how it works. They like political intrigue and ancient secret societies. They appreciate the role of spirituality in the world and understand that faith is a powerful tool, which can be used for good as well as evil. The good guys are the ones who understand the importance of finding and keeping the right kind of faith, and fight for it. Star Wars fans are probably the most escapist of the three, given that the world of Star Wars is the one furthest removed from our own, where magic is real and observable, spaceships fly, bob and weave as though flying through air, and so forth.

Star TrekStar Trek fans are people who are science fiction enthusiasts, who enjoy stories based around the theme of “what would happen if …”. They are believers in the essential nobility of the human race, and enjoy the optimism of humankind surviving through our modern day problems and challenges to someday mature into an enlightened, powerful race of explorers and cultural unifiers. Trek fans enjoy technology that seems and sounds plausible, based at least in part on modern theory. They enjoy seeing humanity interacting fluidly with other species without racism or prejudice, and like stories centering on what happens when our cultural values come in conflict with the values of alien societies completely different from ours. And they enjoy seeing contemporary issues addressed by recasting them in Star Trek terms and showing how an enlightened human race would/should deal with them.

Now that J.J. Abrams has done two Trek films, it’s clear he does not view Star Trek through this lens at all. Abrams’ films have other thematic and dramatic priorities. I’m of the opinion that this explains why many, many fans of Trek do not like his take on the franchise. I think it’s also interesting that of all the Trek films, the ones that performed the worst, and take the most of Trek-fan hate, are the ones that conform the least to these expectations.

Battlestar GalacticaBattlestar Galactica fans are people who prefer a heavy dose of realism in their “science fiction”. These are people appreciate the show’s post-9/11 mindset, who realize that the world/galaxy is a dangerous, uncaring place. In the universe of BSG, there are no heroes and few villains. All characters are actually flawed, they have complicated personalities and behave unpredictably in situations of extreme stress, and the show is very much about this. While Star Wars is about romantic war, and Star Trek is about technological utopia, BSG is about post-apocalyptic existential survival, where there is very little technology that doesn’t feel completely believable, at least on the human side (FTL jumping, etc. notwithstanding). Guns shoot bullets; the battleship’s most powerful weapon is the nuclear warhead. People die on the operating table. Politics are very messy. BSG fans enjoy this show because it is probably the easiest to actually relate to, because while the spaceborne survival-of-the-human-race motivation drives the story, it doesn’t feel too far removed from the real world, and is not afraid to show blood, drug abuse, depression and loss, betrayal, and highly uncomfortable themes that don’t fit in either of the other universes.