Why 'Star Wars' needs its own answer to 'Star Trek: Lower Decks'

“Strange New Worlds” and “Lower Decks” are both unmistakably “Star Trek,” even though they hail from very different corners of the final frontier. The former plots a similar course to Gene Roddenberry’s original series, a live-action T.V. show set on the flagship of the Federation, crewed with familiar characters and steeped in canon.

“Lower Decks” meanwhile, goes where no “Trek” had gone before. Yes, the Animated Series had taken Kirk, Spock and the rest of the original crew into the second dimension back in the ’70s, but the veteran franchise had never previously set its phasers so blatantly to fun. The comedy show’s setting is also far from traditional, seeing as the U.S.S. Cerritos is in the second division of starships, crewed by officers unlikely to trouble even the footnotes of Federation history.

Yet when the two shows collided in “Those Old Scientists” (the latest episode of “Strange New Worlds”), they were able to co-exist organically. More comedic than your average “SNW” story and more serious than the standard “LD” outing, the crossover ensured that Ensigns Boimler and Mariner never seemed out of place alongside Pike, Spock and Uhura – not beyond the usual fish-out-of-water time travel gags, anyway.

That’s largely because “Lower Decks” has never lost sight of the fact it’s first-and-foremost a “Star Trek” show. It’s an animated workplace sitcom that just happens to be set in the same 24th century that Jean-Luc Picard calls home. This is a show that laughs with the franchise’s long-established tropes rather than at them. And with the show’s fourth season heading for Earth later this year on September 7, 2023, it’s a formula that has a proven track record. It leaves you wondering why “Star Wars” is yet to make a genuine comedy of its own.

There’s no franchise in history – with the possible exception of James Bond – that’s been such a gift for comedy writers as “Star Wars.” Beyond the all-out spoofs (“Spaceballs”, the “Family Guy” extended original trilogy parodies, etc.), George Lucas’s galaxy far, far away has provided rich pickings for everything from “The Big Bang Theory” and “Friends,” to “Robot Chicken,” a large chunk of Kevin Smith’s filmography, and Bad Lip Reading videos about the relative merits of sticks and bacon. But beyond the numerous Lego Star Wars-themed spin-offs and Aardman’s wonderful “Visions” episode “I am Your Mother,” Lucasfilm have traditionally been reluctant to play “Star Wars” for fun, as they’re happier to let other people write the gags than make the funny for themselves.

They only need to point their binocs in the direction of “Lower Decks” to see how they could make a comedy of their own. Although the “Trek” cartoon plays its characters for laughs, it never reduces them to objects of fun dressed in brightly colored uniforms. Starfleet – and the franchise as a whole – are treated with utmost respect, and while the Cerritos’s missions are frequently mundane, “second contact” affairs, everybody on board (more or less) cares about getting the job done. It really is “Parks and Recreation” in space, a celebration of the people who don’t attract headlines for saving the universe, but tend to make the world go round.

The show is also careful to embrace its “Trek” heritage, unleashing an onslaught of references to the exploits of previous crews. Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford are fans of Spock, Kirk and Picard as much as we are – a good excuse to pile on the in-jokes without them feeling as forced as they often have in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”

Lucasfilm haven’t always been resistant to the idea of a “Star Wars”-themed comedy, however. Over a decade ago, “Robot Chicken” creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich worked alongside George Lucas on “Star Wars Detours,” a series pitched as both “the other side of the stars, between the wars,” and “an animated comedy that explores what daily life is like in a galaxy far, far away. There are no Empires striking back or attacking clones here. Instead, ‘Star Wars’ Detours’ focuses on the universe’s regular folks and their everyday problems.”

Thirty-nine episodes were completed, with scripts for dozens more written, and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Ahmed Best (Jar-Jar Binks) all returned to voice their roles from the movies. Then Disney spent billions of dollars on the universe that George built. They subsequently put the project on carbonite, announcing back in 2013 (via StarWars.com) that: “‘Detours’ was conceived and produced before we decided to move forward with the new ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, and in the wake of that decision, Lucasfilm has reconsidered whether launching an animated comedy prior to the launch of Episode VII makes sense. As a result, we’ve decided to postpone the release of ‘Detours’ until a later date.”

Ten years later, the show remains conspicuous by its absence, and it seems increasingly unlikely that it’ll ever materialize on Disney Plus or elsewhere – especially as many of the jokes will surely feel out of date now that five further movies and even more T.V. shows have been released since it was made. But even if “Detours” isn’t the show destined to bring laughter to the galaxy, the lack of a bona fide “Star Wars” comedy remains a void in a franchise that doesn’t traditionally go in for variety.

While most “Star Wars” content exists somewhere on a scale between the kid-friendly “The Phantom Menace” and the more adult-oriented “Andor,” the entire canon is remarkably consistent in tone. Indeed, even when you compare the sillier moments of “The Clone Wars” with the darker moments of “The Empire Strikes Back,” it can’t even rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe (a franchise often criticized for being samey) for range.

The “Star Wars” universe is so vast and rich with potential that any genre should be on the table, whether it’s horror, romance or all-out comedy. And, as “Star Trek” has repeatedly proved with its brilliantly thought-out approach to world building, pushing the boundaries of what “Star Wars” can do doesn’t have to diminish what has come before. Sensibly, “Trek”‘s writers have allowed each show to explore its own sector of the timeline and/or genre, while still acknowledging that they’re part of a wider universe. Even when “Lower Decks” pokes fun at the franchise’s more embarrassing moments – like that time Captain Janeway and Tom Paris evolved into giant salamanders in “Voyager” – it’s done with affection rather than all-out mockery.

“Star Trek” has shown the way. Now it’s time for the ever-expanding “Star Wars” empire to stretch its comedic ambitions a little further than a character saying “I have a bad feeling about this” every so often.

While most “Star Wars” content exists somewhere on a scale between the kid-friendly “The Phantom Menace” and the more adult-oriented “Andor,” the entire canon is remarkably consistent in tone. Indeed, even when you compare the sillier moments of “The Clone Wars” with the darker moments of “The Empire Strikes Back,” it can’t even rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe (a franchise often criticized for being samey) for range.

The “Star Wars” universe is so vast and rich with potential that any genre should be on the table, whether it’s horror, romance or all-out comedy. And, as “Star Trek” has repeatedly proved with its brilliantly thought-out approach to world building, pushing the boundaries of what “Star Wars” can do doesn’t have to diminish what has come before. Sensibly, “Trek”‘s writers have allowed each show to explore its own sector of the timeline and/or genre, while still acknowledging that they’re part of a wider universe. Even when “Lower Decks” pokes fun at the franchise’s more embarrassing moments – like that time Captain Janeway and Tom Paris evolved into giant salamanders in “Voyager” – it’s done with affection rather than all-out mockery.

“Star Trek” has shown the way. Now it’s time for the ever-expanding “Star Wars” empire to stretch its comedic ambitions a little further than a character saying “I have a bad feeling about this” every so often.

“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” episode “Those Old Scientists” is now available on Paramount Plus. “Lower Decks” returns to Paramount Plus in the U.S. and Prime Video in the U.K. later this year.

Source: Space.com

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