Even during elementary school recess, all of the cool kids were playing Star Wars, not Star Trek.
I use the term cool loosely. I'm really talking about the coolest kids I could hope to spend meaningful time with. The truly cool kids were playing tetherball. (It's possible that at least some percentage of my Star Wars fandom stems from my extreme prejudice against tetherball - mostly because I played it about as well as Deb from Napoleon Dynamite. )
I've never really understood the divide between Star Wars and Star Trek fans. As far I can tell, they're just two sides of the same tragic coin. Yes, Star Wars happened to be the popular entity when I was in elementary school. While we were playing Star Wars (which pretty much consisted of children running around the playground pretending to fly an X-Wing fighter; the children pretending to be Han Solo and Chewbacca had to run around together in unison), the Star Trek kids were over by the fence, burning stuff with a magnifying glass.
See, it already sounds like I'm making fun of Star Trek fans. I swear that I am not. In the early 1980s, it was hard to compete with Star Wars. I'm sure today, as I type this, the cool kids are out on the playground pretending to be Chris Pine's Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock, while some sad child is off in the background, babbling something about midichlorians and drinking Sunny-D from his Jar Jar Binks thermos. (I kid. Obviously all the cool kids of 2013 are busy playing Grand Theft Auto 5 and tweeting recipes for crystal meth.)
I first encountered Kirk and Spock when my mom made me watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Her attitude was, effectively, "it's about space; you'll like it; now leave me alone." I've formed a mild appreciation of the film over the years, but, to a six-year-old watching it on cable, it was about as stimulating as chloroform.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan changed things. I saw this one on cable too (even though I don't remember exactly when), but strangely I wasn't bored. Actually, it made me interested in the entire series. It made me think, I would like to learn more about these people. Even though I didn't necessarily feel invited.
This divide is not just some figment of my imagination. Even recently, after the director of the last two Star Trek films, J.J. Abrams, announced that he'd be directing Star Wars Episode VII, a die-hard Trek fan friend of mine barked, "He's your problem now." (Abrams, for his part, has never been a huge Trek fan. Hold that thought.) And way back in 1981 (as recounted in J.W. Rinzler's upcoming and excellent The Making of Return of the Jedi), Mark Hamill called George Lucas and his team "traitors" after learning that Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic would be doing the effects for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Lucas responded, "It's a business, kid."
The first movie I ever saw at a theater was The Empire Strikes Back. I owned Star Wars toys before I had ever seen a Star Wars movie. I was born into Star Wars, basically. Though, by junior high, I was experimenting even more with Star Trek. (Yes, I realize I wrote that last sentence the same way an addict would write, "by junior high I was experimenting with marijuana.")
When I was in junior high, a local television station started airing episodes of the original series, which I found fascinating. I was always aware of the series, but until then I'd only seen the movies. It was like finding out there was a Star Wars television show with 79 additional Han, Luke and Leia adventures that I had never seen. Later, I begged my mom to buy me the home video release of the original series. At one episode per tape, these were staggeringly expensive. (I should also point out here that I was an only child.) It was after the purchase of the tenth tape that my mom realized I could just record these episodes off the television. Regardless, as a 12-year-old I owned a Betamax copy of the never-aired Star Trek pilot "The Cage." And yet, today, my very public affection for Star Wars makes people assume I can't love Star Trek too.
I happen to enjoy both of J.J. Abrams' cinematic Star Trek interpretations. I certainly understand how these Trek movies differ from what came before, but that doesn't prevent me from enjoying them. Sure, they're different from the originals -- but that's the point. To many Trek fans, however, Abrams himself is just a big bag of problematic, because he's so openly not a Trek fan. (This kind of thing seems to irk die-hard Star Trek fans more than it does die-hard Star Wars fans.)
Now, fans of both franchises are in the odd position of sharing a director. This has only widened the chasm by making it feel as if Abrams is leaving Star Trek for Star Wars. (And by making Abrams look a little like that annoying guy who likes both the Yankees and the Mets.) In reality, the Star Wars movie Abrams makes is likely to share the same tone and style as these last two Star Trek movies (only with less lens flare and more scene wipes). And yes, that will further cloud the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, thereby pissing off every Trek fan while bringing cautious optimism to Star Wars fans -- because we know that we will at least get something that was better than the prequels. (I have long given up on ever seeing a movie as good as the original Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back. At this point I'd take a Star Wars film that's even remotely as competent as Star Trek Into Darkness.) By the summer of 2015, those non-existent playground kids won't know whether to play Star Wars or Star Trek.
Today, I rank Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as one of my personal Top 10 favorite movies of all time. Yet, again, I am a Star Wars guy -- because a side must be picked and that's where my emotional ties are stronger. And, yeah, I get it: It's not the greatest feeling when the director who was tapped to bring Trek back from the precipice switches sides. But, as George Lucas told Mark Hamill, "It's a business, kid."
And that's why we really are the same: because we both desperately don't want that to be true, even though it is.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.