Star Trek may have arrived on the scene well before George Lucas had even thought of the idea for Star Wars, but James T. Kirk himself still credits the sci-fi saga from a galaxy far, far away for saving Star Trek.
Speaking at the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas over the weekend, Shatner surprised the thousands of Trekkies in attendance by admitting that there would be no Star Trek without Star Wars.
“Star Wars created Star Trek. You know that?” he said.
What Shatner really means is that Star Trek earned a new lease on life thanks to the success of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The 1977 film renewed public interest in sci-fi, which helped resurrect Star Trek, which had been cancelled a decade earlier after three seasons.
“Every year, there was the threat to be cancelled,” Shatner said. “The third year, we were cancelled, and everybody accepted it.”
After Star Wars proved successful, Paramount Studios began looking for ways to bring Star Trek back, resulting in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was released in 1979.
“At Paramount Studios, they were running around bumping into each other. ‘What do we got?! What do we got to equal Star Wars?’” Shatner told the crowd. “There was this thing that we canceled, under another management, it was called Star Trek? Let’s resurrect that!”
Although Star Trek: The Motion Picture didn’t prove to be as good or successful as Star Wars (for the record, Shatner calls it “flawed”), it did well enough to keep going, leading to a dozen more films and a number of new TV series. Star Trek now stands as one of the most successful sci-fi franchises of all time and it’s at least partly due to the success of its biggest competitor … though Shatner still believes there is room for both franchises because they achieve very different things.
“Star Trek, at its best, tells human stories,” Shatner said. “Star Wars was grand, like opera. It was huge with great special effects. It was a marvelously entertaining film, but it wasn’t specifically about people the way those Star Treks were.”