Power and Size
The Strategic Matchup(s)
Other Points of Comparison
TechnologyThe question of overall technological superiority is the first item on the agenda. In many ways, it is best to simply say that the two franchises show different technologies.
However, on the whole, it seems apparent that most Treknology is in general more advanced. It is perhaps not always as refined, and is not universally superior, but the technologies used are usually more diverse, sophisticated, and potent, from the TOS era Federation onward.
Tricorders are more compact than personal scanners; comms seem so much clearer in Trek than the grainy and static-filled holograms of Star Wars; in Star Trek, we see optical fibers and screens; in Star Wars, we see wires and bobbling needles in gauges. Translator droids are miniaturized past belief into universal translators. Replicators and transporters truly astound - then, when we move onto the more advanced factions in Star Trek, Borg nanoprobes, intergalactic travel, and godlike powers make our heads spin.
A few items in Star Wars - such as lightsabers and bacta - are incomprehensible, and must be assumed to be highly sophisticated. Few - if any - equivalents of those are seen in Star Trek. There are lots of interesting Miscellaneous points of difference in the technology of the two.
Power Tech for details) power plants. Whether antimatter or black holes, they provide for on the order of a hundred times the raw power... or would if the ships were the same size.
However, most estimates suggest that Star Wars fields larger warships, meaning overall power should be similar. Although observed firepower for Star Wars ships is generally much lower than observed firepower of Star Trek ships, there is not in truth a good reason for them to differ greatly in firepower. The Federation destroys planets, the Empire destroys planets. One starship is great enough to conquer a world with; one starship can endure a good long battle.
Where Star Wars shines is in the number of inhabited worlds controlled by a single faction (see Holdings for details). The Old Republic had a "hundred thousand" worlds and the Empire a "million systems" - even the Borg possess only "thousands" of worlds, humans had settled a "thousand worlds" in TOS, and the Federation of the TNG era was an alliance of only "150 worlds," with humans possessing more Federation worlds than any others - i.e., probably no more than a few thousand barely settled colonies in addition to the hundred and fifty core members.
Firepower is not too dissimilar between the two. Star Wars ships are often larger, nearly compensating for their use of less potent reactor technologies. A typical Star Wars capital ship has at least one tenth the firepower and generator power of a typical Trek military starship, and in many cases this gap narrows.
However, range, accuracy, and tactical speed are rather more lopsided, meaning that Trek ships have the advantages in Weapons as well as Shields. Star Trek ships of nearly all eras and factions have better range, fire control, and accuracy, as exhibited most clearly in "The Wounded," "Conundrum," "The Alternative Factor," and "Changeling." In ANH and ROTJ, ships can be visible to the naked eye but out of range, something that is exceedingly rare in Star Trek; weapons also seem to be often aimed by hand, or over iron sights, which would make the Federation's greatest feats of accuracy impossible.
Star Trek ships generally have an advantage in real-space maneuverability (see the STL Travel page). This, combined with the advantages of range, accuracy, and often firepower, mean that Trek ships tend to outclass Wars ships in most scenarios.
Fortunately for enterprising Star Wars ships, hyperspace travel may offer an escape. Although not definitively faster or slower than warp speed (see FTL Travel), avoiding engagement is usually a good idea. So is landing; the Intrepid class is the largest vessel we've seen land on a planet in Star Trek, substantially smaller than the Republic Attack Cruisers seen landing in ROTS or the Core Ships seen taking off in AOTC.
Although not always blessed with an enormous number of troops (e.g., the 1.2 million clones mentioned in AOTC), Star Wars militaries are commonly supplied with a variety of vehicles and weapons not usually seen outside of Quark's holodeck in Star Trek. The more extensive use of heavy armor and heavy battledroids makes up for superior Trek weapons technology.
One difference that generally favors Star Wars ships is the use of highly volatile power sources. Conventional Star Wars ships (i.e., everything but the Death Stars) do not cause collateral damage when they explode; Star Trek ships do. This is usually a tactical advantage for Star Wars ships, but can be an advantage for Trek in a few scenarios (missions where the ship is expendable or must be destroyed).
Politics and the capabilities of the Fleets of the various Factions.
Of these, the favorite is the scenario of "Federation vs Empire." The question is whether a technologically advanced and somewhat tactically superior - but peaceful - faction would conquer, or be conquered by, a vastly larger bloated Empire. Strategically speaking, the Federation only desires peace, and much of its military would be engaged in exploration; the Empire, on the flip side, requires most of its own military might to keep the Rebellion suppressed. It seems unlikely that the Federation would try - or be able to - conquer the Empire, although a surgical strike against the Emperor would be possible.
It is possible that - through clever timing in hit-and-run Death Star raids - the Empire could do substantial damage to the Federation; however, the field of play best to engage the Federation in is the political arena. Through clever political manipulation, the Emperor could quite possibly manage to achieve effective control of the Federation, or at least delay Federation recognition of his evil ambitions until he managed to upgrade his military further.
Most likely, however, is that encountering the Federation and its loose governmental structure would simply hasten the fall of the Empire - but even with its loose structure, the UFP would have difficulty adapting to even the peaceful sudden expansion that taking in most of the Old Republic would entail.
More interesting would be the Klingon Empire vs the Galactic Empire. The Klingon Empire has often been ready to engage humanity in a full scale war. However, it seems unlikely that the Klingon Empire could conquer more than a few thousand planets before having to slow down to integrate its conquests, convert industry to its own purposes, breed more Klingons, etc. Even a grand alliance of all the major Alpha Quadrant powers would have difficulty assimilating all the planets of the Empire within a decade's time; while any of them could smash the Empire into pieces, cripple its organization, or engage it in military contest, none have the existing population to humanely absorb a million systems.
The Dominion, with its rapidly-grown Jem'Hadar soldiers and incredible instant-industry, could manage to militarily occupy the entire Empire within the space of a human generation or two. However, they have no motivation to hurry when they can easily slowly assimilate the Empire while politically subverting it.
The only Trek power with the means and inclination to conquer the Republic or Galactic Empire by sheer conventional manpower in anything resembling a reasonable length of time are the Borg. One Borg vessel can assimilate an entire world in a tactically appreciable length of time, and the Borg field millions of vessels, which do not require all that long to transit across a galaxy.