Sep 25, 2020
Comparing the sci-fi bars
A bar or tavern in a sci-fi space opera setting can be a lot of things. It can be a place of potential danger, as in the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. It can be a place of opportunity to find the contact, ship, or job you’re looking for, also as in the Mos Eisley Cantina. It can be a place to show the audience the wonder and possibility of the setting, featuring diverse customers from many different alien species… also as in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Okay, okay, but it can also be a place of camaraderie, where regular and recurring characters can come together in off-duty hours for rest, relaxation, and entertainment. Examples of that type would be Ten Forward in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Quark’s bar in Deep Space Nine. These places show the audience the crew away from work and also allow for bringing in characters like Guinan and Quark, non-Starfleet characters who make their homes on a ship or station. Ten Forward was added in the second season of TNG as they were still figuring their way around, and was the site of a lot of that show’s memorable moments and scenes.
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Each of these three places offers something extra for the viewer, and here I compare them on a few different factors.
Well, with Federation economics, Ten Forward doesn’t seem to require money. On many occasions in TNG, we see characters who wouldn’t have a way, based on circumstances, of paying for the items that they consume. Q, for example, after being abruptly turned human, with no occupation or firm role on the ship, orders ten ice cream sundaes. It’s hard to beat getting that many desserts for free.
Quark is shown as having some questionable business practices, so his establishment may not offer the best value for customers. One might get a watered-down beverage or pay ten bucks for an off-brand root beer.
Mos Eisley Cantina doesn’t offer enough onscreen evidence either way for how good of a deal is offered. The only issue involving pricing we see is negotiating for passage on ships, which according to Luke’s reaction is on the outrageous side. So as far as on-the-side negotiations for services, a patron might be wise to be a little cautious.
Both Quark’s Bar and Ten Forward have the advantage of the resources of Starfleet security personnel as a deterrent to violence. Beyond that, Guinan keeps a gun that she seems pretty handy with, for when situations get too threatening.
In Star Wars: A New Hope, we only see Mos Eisley Cantina for a short time on screen, and even so, a fight breaks out. Also, Obi-Wan’s description of it as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” doesn’t exactly scream “relaxing environment”.
Ten Forward doesn’t seem to have very much as far as sources of fun. There are some games available, but that’s usually not what’s seen from scenes set there. Instead, there seems to be a lot of staring out at the stars through the windows, or talking to the folks seated at the table with you. Or you could bring work or studying material with you, I suppose. Peace, quiet, and company seem to be the key here, not options for fun. I guess that’s not needed there as much when there are holodecks available. Maybe Guinan should have considered adding a jukebox or some performers.
Similarly, from what we see of Mos Eisley Cantina, there doesn’t look like there are a lot of entertainment choices for the casual patron, but the Star Wars Holiday Special does include Bea Arthur as a singing bartender, so there’s that. There’s good music to listen to, but that’s hardly unique to a bar experience.
But clearly, Quark’s establishment has the most of these, as far as things to do other than eat, drink, or chat. There are Dabo tables, dart boards, and away from the main area are holosuites as well. Quark’s is an experience, not just a trip to a restaurant or bar.
There’s an image of a certain type of bartender: a trusted confidant who can provide the needed advice to rescue the customer from whatever trouble they’re currently in. This bartender is discreet, empathetic, non-judgmental, and capable of helping those who might find themselves on opposite sides of an issue or dispute.
Guinan is a trusted advisor to Captain Picard of course, but she’s also a trusted source of support to other members of the crew, as well as ship’s visitors. She advises without seeming overbearing about it, preferring to let her customers come to the right answer in their own time. As a “listener”, both from culture and profession, she’s more introspective and reserved than the gregarious Quark. While Guinan offers informal counseling and spiritual guidance if that’s what one is seeking, Quark offers a friendly ear and the ability to deliver an individually tailored entertainment experience.
The Mos Eisley Cantina bartender doesn’t get an onscreen name or much screen time, or much development from other sources for the most part. From the little the viewer sees of him, he seems a bit surly and not much of the sympathetic, confidant type of bartender. He’s also prejudiced against droids, which hurts the kind of welcoming atmosphere a customer might look for, and is a metaphorical slap from the viewer’s perspective, since the statement about him not serving droids comes after we’ve followed the adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2 for a good part of the movie at that point.
Whatever their respective merits, all three of these well-known sci-fi bars offer something unique and memorable to the viewer. Mos Eisley Cantina offers an impressive visual experience of a “lived-in” destination with a variety of alien species. Whatever modifications have since been made to parts of that scene, it was groundbreaking for its time and retains the impact of showing the possibilities of the Star Wars setting. Ten Forward set TNG apart from TOS, in the way that it softened the edges of the starship setting, and showed the “city in space” atmosphere that TNG had, along with the ship’s school and other community or family-oriented places. Quark’s showed a regular establishment and location run according to rules totally different from the Federation, and characters following their own agendas. This also fit with the premise of the show depicting the station as a hub of interaction of different cultures and interests. Like most effective sci-fi settings, these places can look like almost genuine places to visit.