Star Wars and Star Trek are two of the most popular science fiction franchises on the planet. Star Wars spans eleven theatrical movies, dozens of seasons of TV, and innumerable comic book and video game tie-ins. Star Trek is similarly massive, debuting on TV in the 1960s and growing to encompass hundreds of hours of spin-off TV series, movies, books, and comics. Today we tackle the ultimate battle: Star Wars’ Empire or Star Trek’s Federation?
Fans often pit the two beloved franchises against each other in discussions regarding which is better. That’s not what I want to do here today. I don’t see a big reason to argue over which of these universes is superior because art is subjective and you can’t quantify why people like things.
Instead, today I’d like to talk about who would win in a hypothetical war between the Empire, the Big Bad of Star Wars, and the Federation, Star Trek’s utopian futuristic society. This is a full-on battle of good versus evil, with the Federation representing everything society strives toward and the Empire standing in for all the evil of totalitarian regimes. So, if the Empire and Federation somehow met in battle, who would win?
The United Federation of Planets is a future human government that grows out of the United Nations on Earth. In Star Trek’s timeline, humans first encounter the alien Vulcan species in 2063. The Vulcans are peaceful and interested in establishing contact between humans and other species of the galaxy.
The Federation possesses incredible technology, even compared to other science fiction settings. Federation scientists have mastered technology that allows them to teleport matter, including living beings, with perfect accuracy. Likewise, replicator machines allow them to create any kind of food or compound with the push of a button.
As such, life in the Federation is comfortable and safe. Average people never go hungry or toil in thankless jobs. Money is an outdated concept, and the Federation’s government allows people to freely travel pursue whatever peaceful endeavors they want. Beyond this, boredom is a thing of the past. Advanced holographic chambers called Holodecks enable the Federation’s citizens a way to experience any virtual reality simulation they can imagine.
The Enterprise is a Federation exploration vessel, and it is the main setting for the action of the original Star Trek series. Similar exploratory vessels function as the central location in other Trek shows, like The Next Generation and Voyager. The crews of these vessels are the series’ protagonists, and they’re some of the only members of the Federation who regularly encounter dangerous situations or face violence from other sapient beings.
The First Galactic Empire is the primary antagonist of the original trilogy of Star Wars films. The Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist, relying on its gargantuan navy to enforce its brutal regime. Director George Lucas drew inspiration from the real-world Third Reich when creating the Empire. Its officers wear nondescript uniforms, its Stormtroopers hide their faces, and its military uses grotesque, brutal force against noncombatants.
The Empire’s government is an incompetent, bloated bureaucracy that struggles to maintain any semblance of law or safety in the Outer Rim. While some citizens tolerate the Empire’s totalitarian rule, others chafe against its tyranny and form insurgent cells to strike back. The Empire seems to favor its human subjects over non-human aliens, as evidenced by its treatment of Wookiee slaves in the film Solo.
Despite its mind-boggling size and well-trained shock troopers, the Empire’s most dangerous military assets are its Sith warriors. The Sith, along with their mortal enemies, the Jedi, are mystics who can manipulate a fundamental physical phenomenon they call the Force. The disgraced former Jedi Anakin Skywalker serves the Empire as Darth Vader, a Sith Lord who commands nearly unparalleled mastery of this Force. Vader also commands the Inquisitorious, a clandestine organization of Sith assassins who scour the galaxy for any sign of surviving Jedi.
Vader and the Inquisitors serve the Emperor, Sheev Palpatine, a Sith Lord of unimaginable power who formed the Empire after engineering a coup of the ancient Galactic Republic. The Emperor is the ultimate villain of the Star Wars franchise, with his machinations creating the primary conflicts of all nine numbered films in the series. His presence in any given battle can unbalance things in the Empire’s favor, as he offers both tactical acumen and mystical assistance through the Force.
The Federation has a distinct technological advantage over the Empire. In an episode of The Next Generation, Captain Picard notes that there’s no reason to raise the ship’s alert level when they’re targeted by laser weaponry. The Federation’s ships are equipped with shield technology that makes them extremely resistant to the types of weaponry the Empire would field.
Beyond this, it’s unlikely that the Empire would be able to leverage its weapons against the Federation in battle. The Federation’s realistic long-range weapons can function at distances that the Empire can’t hope to compete with. However, the Empire does have one technological advantage over the Federation: hyperspace.
Ships in Star Wars can travel in a fictional alternate dimension called hyperspace, allowing them to bypass the speed of light and cross vast distances in moments. The Federation can use Warp Speed, a pseudo-scientific faster-than-light drive that is orders of magnitude slower than hyperspace. This gives the Empire the ability to outrun the Federation and quickly slip past its defenses.
The Empire has hundreds of capital ships and millions of vessels available to its navy. This is several hundred times larger than the Federation’s military, which is comprised of only a few dozen capital ships and a few hundred wartime vessels. The Empire also governs most of a galaxy, while the Federation only controls a small quadrant of the Milky Way. This gives the Empire dramatically more raw physical resources than the Federation, as well as a significant advantage in manpower.
Even if the Federation’s ships vastly outclass their Imperial counterparts, they could simply be overrun while cutting through the seemingly endless Star Destroyers the Empire could throw at them. This makes determining a victor in a hypothetical battle between the two forces tricky. We need to establish what each side’s tactical goals are to determine who would win in a fight.
If the Federation and the Empire simply met in open space and proceeded to battle to the death, it would be a long, drawn-out conflict. The Federation would suffer few losses in space, as Imperial ships’ lasers would bounce off of Federation shields. Likewise, the Empire would be unable to get close enough to use explosive ordnance due to the Federation’s embarrassing range advantage.
However, this scenario would be unlikely to play out. The Empire is a cold, ruthless regime that has no compassion for life nor issue with committing wartime atrocities. As such, it would likely abandon any attempt to meet the Federation in head-on conflict or conquer its territory. Instead, it would divert its considerable resources to attempting to simply obliterate the Federation’s planets.
Since Imperial vessels can travel through hyperspace, they could bypass any Federation blockades and unleash vicious laser salvos at the surface of a planet. The Federation’s ships would struggle to shoot down wave after wave of Star Destroyer fast enough to prevent catastrophic civilian losses planetside.
What’s more, the Empire’s astonishing advantage in speed makes it unlikely the Federation could evacuate planets before Imperial forces swarmed into a star system. The Empire could even execute a series of simultaneous bombing runs on every Federation planet, overwhelming the smaller government’s navy and razing its seats of power in a matter of hours.
In a total war scenario, the Empire would win against the Federation. Should the Federation fight anything less than total war against the Empire, however, it could likely win more significant victories than just military engagements.
The Federation is a utopia. Life under its laws is easy, fair, and comfortable. If the people of the Empire learned how much better life could be if they embraced the Federation, it could dramatically bolster the Rebellion’s numbers. This is a political victory that could offer the Federation a significant guerilla advantage over the Empire.
In the original trilogy, the Rebellion managed to defeat the Empire because the larger force consistently underestimated their fighting spirit. The same could likely allow the Federation a chance to upend the Empire’s power by undermining its authority. If the common people of the Outer Rim knew that replicators could eliminate their dependence on moisture collectors and Imperial supplies, they would likely turn against the tyrants in a matter of moments. In this scenario, it’s hard to picture anything less than a total defeat for the Empire.
This thought experiment shows how different these two sci-fi franchises are. Star Trek is more realistic, featuring long-range space combat between small forces and exploratory vessels. Star Wars is a space fantasy, and its naval combat is modeled on World War II-era battleship engagements. They’re simply two different ways for sci-fi directors to frame space battles, and neither is better or worse than the other. They’re both awesome in their own right!