“You know, your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved eight hundred lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”
-Pike (Star Trek)
“You don’t respect the chair. You know why? Because you’re not ready for it.”
-Pike (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Welcome back, nerds! We’ve made it to the end of our Trek 50 romp through the franchise (yaaaaaay!). This week, I’m going to look at the Post-Enterprise world and look at where the franchise is going. I figured I should discuss the J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” films because they exist and we can’t escape them. Sigh. I’m going to be VERY rambly here, so bear with me. You may also need motion sickness pills.
So, I’ll throw my biases on the table right away. I think the first film is fun, but it doesn’t feel like Star Trek. At worst, it feels like a Star Trek parody. At best, it feels like a reconstruction of actual Trek events by a species millennia in the future who don’t have all the facts. The second film is…not great. Instead of breaking new ground and dealing with the ramifications of the first film, it rehashes a classic story, resulting in a predictable, soulless film that feels like a cheap cash grab. Actually, for that matter, both feel like cheap cash grabs.
The issue with these films was that they were approached with the assumption that Star Trek was a cheesy, outdated franchise with bad effects that needed to be reinvigorated for nostalgia’s sake. Enterprise, which was actually pretty great, ended just four years prior to the new film’s release in 2009. Now, special effects made a massive leap in those 4 years, and the new films look great, but Star Trek was never about the special effects. The best episodes of the franchise dealt with gripping characters, social critique, and psychological drama. Even action-heavy stories like First Contact have a soul keeping them grounded. Even the Motion Picture, which is basically a visual love poem to the soul of Star Trek, keeps things grounded via the characters. Fans who grew up with Star Trek watched it for decades because the stories were so well-written, not because they craved cutting edged special effects.
Star Trek needed to make a return after Nemesis ruined things by trying to be something it wasn’t, but the franchise didn’t need to be gussied up in shiny new digs; it needed to find its core again. There are ways to reboot a franchise without throwing out everything that came before it. I’m a massive James Bond fan, and when the series was rebooted with Casino Royale in 2006, they toned down the goofy humor that made Die Another Day such a failure with fans, but kept everything that had made the series such a long-standing success. Doctor Who is notorious for its cheesiness in its Classic era, but when the series was brought back in 2005, the effects were updated, and the tone was made a bit darker and more complex, but the series never lost its roots.
With Star Trek, studios assumed that Trek fans would come see it no matter what, so they focused on appealing to non-Trek fans, making it as accessible and flashy as possible with the hopes of creating a new franchise (instead of continuing and reinvigorating a long-standing franchise). From a marketing standpoint, that was a smart move, because the film made boatloads of money, but in making money, they lost what made Star Trek what it was, turning it into a soulless action comedy whose throwbacks to the previous five decades of material seem like haphazard easter eggs, placed there to keep die-hard fans happy.
But enough ragging. There are elements that I actually like.
Michael Giacchino’s scores are excellent, drawing inspiration from both Alexander Courage and James Horner with a sprinkling of Jerry Goldsmith. He goes a bit overboard with his frantic action-scene underscoring, but the main themes are wonderful and I’m fond of his arrangement of the TOS opening theme that he wrote for the end credits.
In terms of casting, the central trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are pretty spot on. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban all have their characters down perfectly in terms of body language and voice. But I’m not sure I agree with the writers’ decision to make Spock so unstable. The three characters work well because they prop each other up. McCoy is all feelings, Kirk is all action, and Spock is all thought. McCoy is the one who gets angry about a situation, Kirk rushes in to fix it, and Spock is the one who tempers the situation by offering a more balanced perspective.
In this new continuity, Spock is much more unbalanced, fighting (and failing) to keep his human emotions in check, and he ends up being Kirk’s adversary more often that not. It feels more like a high school drama with Spock being the popular kid who terrorizes Kirk, the spunky kid who wants to be popular, while Bones, Kirk’s wise friend, is there to get him out of the crazy situations Kirk gets into. When he’s acting like Spock, he’s excellent, though.
Basically, I blame the writers for choosing tropes to build their characters rather than looking at the performances of the original actors.
I know I said i wouldn’t rag…but it’s hard…
OK, I’ll get this out of the way right away, then I can go back to my original point.
In the first movie, Nero’s arrival via black hole is mistaken for a “lightning storm” in space. *hits head against table*
-It’s a lightning storm in space!
-What? That’s not a thing that exists… Is it a plasma storm?
-No, but it’s…wait, something’s coming through it. It’s a black hole!
-Are you sure it’s not a wormhole if something’s coming through it?
-No, it’s a lightning storm-y black hole.
-*hands other dude a copy of Interstellar* Just…watch this and let me take over here.
It’s just awful writing.
My other issue is the supernova that threatens the galaxy in Spock’s flashback. Supernovas would never threaten the galaxy unless the star was the size of the galaxy’s core, which is not a thing the laws of physics permit. I can see if it was Romulus’ sun that was going to go nova, and it threatened the Romulan star system, but a sun going nova would never threaten the whole galaxy…
Also, in Into Darkness, “Khan” beams from Earth to Qo’noS. Again, that’s not a thing that can happen. The Dominion had powerful transporters in the 24th century that allowed Eris to beam off DS9 to a ship that was out of sensor range, but beaming from one planet to another is impossible unless the planets were in the process of smashing into one another.
And Khan… Khan is a Sikh warlord from Earth’s past who, thanks to his genetic engineering, conquered a great deal of the planet in the Eugenics Wars. Now, one aspect that “Space Seed” and “The Wrath of Khan” didn’t address (but the books did) was that Khan being clean shaven is weird. Cutting hair is not permitted to Sikhs, so Khan should have a beard and long hair. His cutting it was an act of defiance against his heritage, the ultimate act of hubris.
Here’s him in “Space Seed,” admiring a painting of himself that his future wife started (basically, the two are made for each other).
But, despite all those things, he would not have been a white British dude. he would have been an Indian fellow from the northern Punjab region. Now, Ricardo Montalban was not from India either, but at least they tried. I assumed that 60’s era political incorrectness was not something that we still had to deal with, but apparently casting an Indian actor was so terrifying that they went completely in the opposite direction and ignored everything about the character’s backstory.
And finally…the Klingons.
Put simply. These are Klingons.
This is not.
Ok, moving on.
What was my original point?
Oh yeah. It’s not all bad, and I know a lot of folks enjoyed them as uncomplicated popcorn flicks, and that’s fine. But I think if Star Trek is going to endure, it needs to return to what made the first five series great instead of changing its external image to make money from non-fans. It just feels cheap and desperate. Perhaps the 90’s era naïveté that made TNG so iconic is a bit passé, and I can understand that, but that doesn’t mean that Trek has to abandon everything to stay popular. What we need is a TOS era story with a DS9 maturity. You can have great effects as long as the characters have souls.
After seeing the trailer for Star Trek Beyond, I’m even more convinced that the writers are just looking to rake in lots of money with a flashy summer blockbuster. That’s their prerogative, I guess, but I wish they hadn’t called it Star Trek.
The upside is that studio execs now see Star Trek as something profitable again, and so they’re working on a new series that will take place outside of the J.J. Abrams version of things (whoohoo!). There are many rumors floating around, chief among them is that the new series will take place in between The Undiscovered Country and “Encounter at Farpoint.” This is exciting because that includes the voyages of the Enterprises B and C as well as the continuing voyages of the Excelsior. It also covers the time following the Khitomer Accords when the Federation and the Klingon Empire learned how to be peaceful neighbors rather than enemies. There’s LOTS of stuff that they can explore. I’m curious why the post-Dominion War era is so taboo, but I don’t mind. As long as the new series actually tries to appeal to established fans (as well as new fans) instead of throwing them under the bus, saying, “bye, nerds, we’re here to make Star Trek cool again.”
Sorry corporate leeches, Star Trek was already cool.
On top of that, we’ve still got the novels. They’re not technically considered canon by Paramount, BUT the writers of the current batches of novels are all die-hard Trek fans who are so good at their research that a great deal of their writing still fits into established continuity.
I’ve got a few suggestions if you want to get started.
The A Time To… series follows the Enterprise E in between Insurrection and Nemesis. It answers some questions about what Wesley Crusher has been doing since his time as a Traveler, why Data doesn’t seem to have his emotion chip anymore in Nemesis, and how Riker and Troi decide to get married. It also brings back Riker’s father Kyle for a heartbreaking farewell, and looks at the aftermath of the Dominion War, checking in on Worf in his new ambassadorial duties and Martok being all Chancellor-y. It’s also a great Picard story as we examine what happens when Starfleet’s greatest living legend makes a HUGE mistake and loses favor with Starfleet. It’s a good series that doesn’t require tons of background knowledge apart from TNG and DS9
There’s also a fantastic trilogy of novels that offers everything you ever wanted to know about the Borg but were afraid to ask. In Destiny, we see every crew (including Riker on the Titan) reacting to a massive Borg invasion unlike any they’ve encountered before, and also getting a look at what happened to create the Borg. No spoilers, but it connects to the Enterprise era, and has a crazy cool payoff in the end.
There are a number of longer series as well, such as the Typhon Pact (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s another huge war that shakes everything up in the events after Destiny), the DS9, TNG, and Voyager relaunches (all of which are very good, especially DS9, which picks up on a number of unresolved threads and weaves them back into the story), and the Titan series which follows Riker, Troi, and Tuvok aboard their ship (it starts off a bit weak, but gets really good after the first book).
I’m also fond of the Q Continuum trilogy, which looks at Q’s past and also brings in basically every omnipotent species any ship has ever encountered. It’s a big, crazy romp that’s a whole lot of fun.
So, even though Star Trek’s main run is finished, fret not! There is still more to come. I will probably go see Star Trek Beyond out of morbid curiosity, but I’m not heartened by the trailers… but this is Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, so enjoy it!
Thank you for sticking with me while I nerd out about the best sci-fi franchise ever (don’t tell Babylon 5, Star Wars, or Stargate that I said that).
Before I go, what’s your favorite Star Trek film/series/book?
And don’t say Star Trek Into Darkness because I will literally cut you.
Maybe not really…
…but I’ll give you a Tribble.
And you don’t want that.
Live long and prosper, nerds!