Ever notice that no matter what major universe you are in everyone seems to have the same technology? There are of course exceptions – Dr. Who has people who can travel through time on one end and the earliest episodes were made before we had left Earth’s orbit on the other. But with Star Wars and Star Trek, every race seems to be within a few decades of each other.
You might point out that in Matrix, any Asimov work, the Riddick series, and Dune there are only divisions within the human race and therefore it makes a little more sense that there wouldn’t be much variation. Of course the flaw there is that there are 15-30 billion planets in the universe that might support life we would recognize. It seems ridiculous to assume any galaxy wouldn’t have dozens of planets with life.
Back to the Roddenberry/Lucas universes. Guesses now are that our universe is right around 14 billion years old and that our galaxy was born about a billion years after that. Let those numbers sink in – billions! It took our planet 14 billion years to find a sun, be created itself, develop life, and for some of that life to ponder the universe. 14 billion! It’s safe to say not only that there are other sentient species out there, but that most if not all of them are technologically millennia ahead or behind us. Look at our own planet, where the West had been trading with the East for centuries and when we finally sent ships to India we realized that they were at least a century behind us. We were building massive structures and they hadn’t developed the architecture to yet.
The Native Americans were further behind, from a military standpoint, because of their philosophies. The Aztecs were conquered by a few hundred conquistadores. Further north and south the natives were at the mercy of bad weather because they were largely hunter/gatherers. You could make the argument that many Americans hadn’t even entered the Neolithic period in 1492, that puts them 10,000 years behind the Europeans, and they were on the same planet!
I fully grasp that stories are more interesting when equals are competing so I can empathize with Lucas and Roddenberry in that respect. On the other hand, a universe with such broad technological differences could be great fun to explore. If anyone has seen the Stargate series you can understand. Watching the original group run into aliens who could revive a dead person one weak and another that had barely entered the bronze age the next gave the show a flavor that is often missing in space operas.
Of course the one important exception to my complaint is Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote of life forms that had lost their physical form and who could create life on other planets. He wrote about god as a being who experimented on a universal scale (the Rama series). He offered dozens of methods to travel the universe, all perfectly scientific and different enough that one often reads his work purely to see what kind of inventions he might have conjured up for his latest version of humanity’s, or some other race’s, future.
Science Fiction has grown by leaps and bounds over the last twenty years. The stories look better, the acting, plots, characters, and species are all done with more depth than ever before. But we should not forget the aliens, or their technological disparity with us. In the time of Dune and Asimov, aliens could only be painted as inferiors and so they were often avoided, but we’ve gotten over that. There is no excuse any more.