Beyond STAR TREK

First, some mood music.


STAR TREK is my oldest fandom. It was my gateway drug to science fiction. And for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart, warts and all.

So here’s a review of Star Trek Beyond from an unreconstructed Trekkie: I thought it was great.

Even the title, especially if we’re gonna continue to do the colon-less thing started by Star Trek Into Darkness, lays the difference between the two movies bare.

My thoughts below in no particular order. Spoilers off the port bow, Captain!

Comrades in arms...and awesome jackets.

Comrades in arms…and awesome jackets.

I appreciated the character moments and the camaraderie on display among the crew, something I felt was sorely lacking in the first two “Kelvin verse” flicks. I really, for the first time, felt like these actors really were the characters I loved. In particular Pegg, Pine, and yes, Quinto as Spock. I loved Karl Urban as Bones in the other flicks but I now kind of see his portrayal is the closest to caricature and was surpassed by the rest of the cast. Loved Anton Yelchin (RIP) and Cho (“Are you kidding me sir?”) for the first time. Really the most underserved was Zoe Saldana as Uhura…but Uhura being underserved in nothing new, unfortunately. She had some good moments but I thought she wasn’t really given much to work with. (Which, I mean, fine, it’s a big cast, but it always seems like the black woman is the one who falls by the wayside, doesn’t it? Unless of course she’s being defined by her relationship to Spock.)

Of all the pairings–Kirk/Chekov, Scotty/Jaylah, Spock/Bones (obvi)–I thought Uhura/Sulu was the weakest. I think the Krall reveal should have happened during this mid-point when they discovered that Krall had been watching Yorktown all along…that would have given time to explore and develop the idea more and helped a bit of a saggy middle.

Idris? Is that you?

Idris? Is that you?

Krall. There’s a kernel of an interesting idea there, but, as with most villains in Trek movies, they pay only lip service to his motivations and he’s a shallow character screaming for depth. I was initially baffled as to why they would hire an actor like Idris Elba only to bury him under one of the thickest latex appliances possible, but now I guess it makes sense cause they had to “hide” his face for the reveal to work. Though there was a certain degree of “Bane syndrome” with his voice.

I thought the design of the aliens were uninspired (including Jaylah, as good a character as she was) but I’ve never watched Star Trek for the exotic aliens and creatures…we have Star Wars for that. So I give it a pass.

My one quibble is the villain hell-bent on poorly-articulated revenge, trope. (See my post from last year on that subject.) I’m done with super villains and super weapons in my Star Trek. Absolutely done. I appreciate the difficulty of telling a compelling story when you’re firmly in big-budget, summer tentpole mode, but the fact that the last six Trek movies have had some variation on this same trope exposes its limits. At least this time the target wasn’t Earth, which is a step in the right direction…I guess.

Which brings me to Yorktown. I absolutely loved Yorktown. A wonderfully innovative design, beautifully realized. It was the first time in a long time that something in Star Trek really made me feel the excitement and optimism about humanity’s future in space that’s always talked about in EPKs but I never actually got. That, combined with some wonderful music during the docking sequence, actually gave me goosebumps. So kudos to Beyond for being able to approach that level of wonder and optimism, at least for me.

A shining beacon in space...all alone in the night.

A shining beacon in space…all alone in the night.

That said, the name Yorktown, while I realize is an homage to Roddenberry’s original name for the Enterprise, is a little North American-centric for a multicultural (multispecies!) outpost. I would have given it a pass just for the homage, but then the derelict starship they find is called the USS FRANKLIN? Come on, guys. What about the USS Tiananmen? Or the USS Gagarin? Especially seeing that the movie was a co-production with Alibaba and they’re clearly going after the Chinese market something fierce with this. (Actually, scrub Tiananmen then. But anything less overtly Western would be welcome…it just seems like such a missed opportunity to demonstrate that humanity is beyond our nativist squabbles. Instead, it reinforces the idea that American hegemony will win the day. Though, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty, Star Trek‘s Federation has always basically been a vision of American manifest destiny projected 300 years.

(It’s since been pointed out to me that the name USS Franklin was an homage to director Justin Lin’s father, Frank Lin. Which makes it much more palatable for me, but the point still stands.)

I actually enjoyed the destruction of the Enterprise sequence, and I was surprised that it actually tugged at my heartstrings a little bit (even though I’ve never been a big fan of the Ryan Church “hot rod” design…the proportions are all wrong and obscures the elegance of the original). I was disappointed that the 1701-A at the end didn’t depart a little more from the Church design, though I think the lines are a little different…it was hard to get a good look at her.

All in all, I had a lot of fun watching it. It’s a well-made film that entertained the hell out of me and pushed a lot of my Star Trek buttons that the previous outings hadn’t. We know that this was a rushed script, and I think it might have benefitted from a little more time in the oven (the saggy middle might have been saved by moving up the Krall reveal and the thematic threads better tied together with all the imprisoned races banding together).

Something interesting that Annalee Newitz (formerly of io9) pointed out:

 

That’s an excellent point, but overall I’d say that this depiction of Kirk was closer to TOS Kirk than the XTREME Kirk we saw in last two movies.

All that said, I’m amazed the script was as good as it was given the time constraints. For me, it was an overall win. Kudos to director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. (Jung actually had a little cameo as Sulu’s husband, by the way.)

You kiddin' me sir?

You kiddin’ me sir?

Oh, and the fact that this is an afterthought just speaks to how well it worked: I loved the moment where Sulu embraced his daughter and husband on Yorktown. Completely natural and understated and absolutely an awesome thing to do. I was a bit taken aback by George Takei’s objections, but I thought that Simon Pegg’s response was absolutely spot-on. As someone who is not a gay man, I had to pause and really consider where Takei was coming from. But in the final analysis, no, I think he was just wrong on this one.

(I know this is a semantic point, but it really rubs me the wrong way when people talk about how they “made” Sulu gay. Nobody made him anything. We never even really got a hint at Sulu’s sexuality in TOS, so to say that they made him gay is to assume that he was never gay until now. Which implies that in the absence of evidence he must be straight by default, cause straight simply is the default unless you’re, ya know, deviant.)

…we have cleared the spoilers.

That's not how Kirk pronounces sabotage.

That’s not how Kirk pronounces sabotage.

I’ve read a lot of knee-jerk reaction decrying Beyond as Fast and the Furious in space, which I think is unfair, and something I doubt they’d be saying if they didn’t know the two franchises now shared a director in Justin Lin. As I said before, if you’re going to try to do Star Trek as a big budget summer tentpole, this is pretty much how it should be done.

Which raises a question, doesn’t it? How should Star Trek be done in 2016/2017? I tried to tackle this a year and a half ago when Simon Pegg was announced as a co-writer of the new movie. But now that we’ve seen Beyond, and we know more details about Bryan Fuller & Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek: Discovery series for CBS All Access, I have some further thoughts.

(You’d be forgiven for not wanting to read another thousand or so words on Star Trek written by some guy on the internet, but here it is anyway, ’cause my website.)

Frankly, I’m not really sure what Star Trek should be in 2016. Beyond is one mode: an action/adventure romp with Star Trek accoutrements. It’s the “theme park” version of Trek, which is fine, but I don’t know how much beyond that it can go. (Nice pun, I’ll keep it!)

You can’t really do Star Trek without the iconography of Star Trek, which means things like beam me up and aliens with pointed ears and funny foreheads. Things that I think science fiction has moved past since the 60s, but without them it’s not really Trek.

Star Trek is a fundamentally 1960s vision of the future, very much a piece with the Kennedy era of optimism and space as the new frontier, and that progress will be furthered by advances in technology. (This allowed it to present a classless vision of the future that ultimately sprang from a capitalist system, which has some interesting implications that Trek has never touched.)

It’s also interesting that the individual human being is still front and center in Trek’s future. There’s no AIs that have taken over the world, no transhumanist vision of man blurred with machine…no, people are still front and center, calling the shots. And while this is definitely a function of its 1960s origins (computers the size of buildings!), I think it’s an optimistic perspective that we can carry forward. It suggests that, at some point, we make a choice to value people and determined what our relationship to machines would be. We could have an AI running the ship, but we choose not to. We could have a neural network that links up all our brains, but we choose handheld communication devices instead. That’s not necessarily an anachronistic vision of the future, it can be read as a humanist one, which I think is pretty cool.

Here, Captain Kirk literally reads the Declaration of Independence to a space heathen. Thanks, Hodgkins.

Here, Captain Kirk literally reads the Declaration of Independence to a space heathen. Thanks, Hodgkins.

Star Trek, the original vintage, is really an anthology series that poses ethical and moral questions through sci-fi action/adventure. (And often crosses over into fantasy. Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development, anyone? Omnipotent God-like beings floating around every other nebula? Fucking time travel, even? Things like this aren’t really palatable to a contemporary audience expecting science fiction, but they’re a part of what makes Star Trek STAR TREK. So you have to figure out how those elements factors in to a contemporary take.)

Gene Roddenberry never set out to create an overtly utopian vision of the future with the original series, but the progressive ideals that he (and many others) couldn’t help but inject into the show were embraced by fans who projected that vision on to it.

Roddenberry learned from them and built upon it, which leads us to TNG. Replacing the brash Captain Kirk is a bald, thoughtful European dude who values diplomacy over force. By any measure, TNG is definitely more overtly utopian than TOS, and doesn’t let you forget it. To the point where even having interpersonal conflict among the Starfleet crew was verboten. This does not necessarily make for good television, but as that show developed over the years, they took it as a challenge and figured out how to balance it out.

DS9 was a reaction to this. A more serialized show by its very nature, DS9 was in a lot of ways a deconstruction of the perfect human of the 24th century. (And mostly successful at doing so, in my opinion.) It’s also the beginning of 90s grimdark in Trek that worked so successfully in First Contact and reached its apex in the 2000s.

Voyager, in my estimation, was TNG-lite, only worse. I found it generally bland and consistently uninteresting. But it did have the first woman captain in the franchise, and I know many women who came of age in the 90s for whom Janeway was an inspiration. So it wasn’t entirely worthless, I just can’t stand it.

(As an aside, my favorite illustration of this is in the episode “Flashback,” which brings back George Takei as Sulu and revisits events from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Captain Janeway notes:

Space must have seemed a whole lot bigger back then. It’s not surprising they had to bend the rules a little. They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers. Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit: I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.

Well, shit, I want to watch that show!)

Continuity porn. But hey, at least porn can be fun sometimes.

Continuity porn. But hey, at least porn can be fun sometimes.

And then you get Enterprise in 2001. They tried something that could have been pretty daring in making a prequel to TOS, giving you Trek that still allows for recognizable and “relatable” 20th century humans, interpersonal conflict and all. Debuting two weeks after 9/11, Enterprise was defined by the grimdark, TELL ME WHERE THE BOMB IS kind of stuff that was being reflected in popular culture at that time. Eventually in its final season, it course corrected and became what some might call fanwank, essentially becoming a show overtly about Star Trek. (Which, as a fan, was fine by me, but I can acknowledge its shortcomings for a general audience.)

Then Star Trek goes away for a few years, only to be reborn as a big-budget summer movie franchise. Which is fine and good if you do it properly (bare-knuckle fistfights and pew pew space battles have been part and parcel of Trek since the beginning), but in retrospect, as decent a flick as JJ Abrams Star Trek was, it doesn’t amount much more than his demo reel for Star Wars.

So I come back to the question: what should a Star Trek series be in 2016? What we do know for sure about Star Trek: Discovery is that it’s going to be set in the so-called Prime Universe of the past series, and it’s going to be serialized as is de rigueur for television right now. So we don’t really know that much.

Hypothetically, if someone handed me the reins to Star Trek and told me to do whatever I wanted with, I’d probably do some version of the following: set it maybe a century after the TNG era to have a good buffer between it and established continuity. Have the ship look familiar enough to be of the same lineage as the Enterprise, have familiar looking alien races and such, but basically be far-removed from the continuity of the TNG era. (Kind of the same relationship that the first couple years of the revived Doctor Who had to its classic incarnation.)

Then I’d look to the best writers doing literary science fiction today, like Alistair Reynolds, James Corey, China Mieville, Liu Cixin, Charlie Jane Anders, and basically anybody writing for Tor Books, and set them loose. Like a Black Mirror but Star Trek, with some overarching continuity that comes together at the end of every season.

But no one asked me, of course. Time will tell what the future of Star Trek holds in the capable hands of Bryan Fuller.

I, for one, am not worried.

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The Wrath of The Wrath of Khan

The Wrath of The Wrath of Khan

I didn’t intend to write two Star Trek-themed pieces in a row, but it seems appropriate: Not only did we lose Leonard Nimoy last week, but also Maurice Hurley (writer/producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation and creator of the Borg), and Harve Bennett just a few days ago. Bennett helped resurrect the Trek film franchise after the “disappointment” of Star Trek: The Motion Picture as producer of the follow-up feature Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And Star Trek hasn’t been the same since.

The Wrath of Khan has been the template that so many Star Trek films have tried to emulate, usually with middling results. Every new film is the “best since Wrath of Khan,” every new villain is measured by how Khan-like they are. But the lessons learned from Star Trek II have been all the wrong ones.

Because Wrath of Khan was so successful and the titular villain so effective, writers and producers feel every Trek film needs a bigger and badder villain than Khan. This has had the effect of reducing many a Trek film to a hero versus super-villain formula, which is a format not generally suited to Star Trek. Many of these villains are fueled by revenge, but their motives don’t bear much scrutiny. Think Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, Nero in Star Trek (2009), and, well, Khan again in Star Trek Into Darkness. The most successful Star Trek film until Trek ’09 was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which had no villain at all.

First Contact, the most successful of The Next Generation films, also owes a debt to The Wrath of Khan, in the sense that it acts as a sequel to an episode of the TV series. The Borg in First Contact has weight as an enemy because it was a rematch with a foe previously encountered on the show. We don’t give a shit about Shinzon in Nemesis because we’ve never met him before. We don’t know who Nero is in Trek ’09, but he gets extra badass points for killing Kirk’s dad and destroying Vulcan in that movie. (First Contact, like Wrath of Khan, also lays the Moby Dick allusions on pretty thick but that’s neither here nor there.)

Star Trek Into Darkness goes so far as to re-introduce Khan as the villain in the rebooted universe. But it’s the pop culture version of Khan that Into Darkness trades on rather than the actual character. They wanted Khan to be to Kirk what The Joker was to Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. But Khan was never the Enterprise’s worst enemy. He only has such notoriety among Trek fans because he’s indirectly responsible for Spock’s death and because the movie he was in was really good. Into Darkness even knows Khan isn’t that fearsome; they have to rely on a cameo from Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in a superfluous scene to tell the audience that “Khan was the most fearsome enemy the crew of the Enterprise ever encountered.” Which, for anyone who has seen any Star Trek, is patently untrue. Khan was formidable enemy but he’s hardly a super-villain. He got lucky because Kirk made a mistake, both by letting him off the hook in “Space Seed” and by letting himself be too complacent in Star Trek II. Khan forces our characters to reevaluate themselves, and Star Trek II is a movie about the past returning to haunt the present.

The Wrath of Khan is a great movie because it’s about more than space battles and fisticuffs. The stakes are personal, and the movie is willing to upset the status quo of Star Trek to explore new territory. As is often pointed out, Khan and Kirk don’t even meet face-to-face in the whole movie. I’d like to see a Star Trek movie that could pull that off again.

2016 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, and as of this writing it seems like the only commemoration we’re going to get is the third entry into the JJ Abrams film franchise. I’d like to hope that we’ll get a story that’s more than just another super-villain threatening the galaxy. Star Trek is capable of so much more than that.

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In Search of…Spock

In Search of…Spock

Many people have highlighted Spock-centric scenes or quotations on social media following Leonard Nimoy’s death this past Friday. I’d like to recognize a particular Spock performance that I think has been overlooked throughout the years. It’s from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Yes, that Motion Picture. Conventional Trekkie wisdom says TMP is, well, bad. That it’s sterile and ponderous. That the uniforms are ugly. (Which they are.) But they’re neglecting the emotional journey that Spock takes in that movie. It’s not without its flaws, sure, but it’s one of the most important and misunderstood entries in the Star Trek franchise. Spock’s story in the film is central to its message and to Star Trek as whole.

By 1979 Star Trek had been off the air for over ten years but had been kept alive through a hugely successful run in syndication and a passionate fan base. In the wake of Star Wars, Trekkies were finally going to get their due when Paramount green-lit The Motion Picture after several false-starts throughout the decade. And the film we ended up with does something rather bold. Rather than picking up the status quo of the TV series, it starts out with the crew of the Enterprise split up. Even Captain Kirk isn’t Captain Kirk any more—he’s an admiral now—and the newly-redesigned Enterprise is no longer in his charge.

But more surprising than that is where we find Spock at the start of the film. Long-haired and on his home planet of Vulcan, Spock has been studying the discipline of Kolinahr, a Vulcan ritual that purges all emotion in favor of pure logic. As he is about to undergo his final rites, a consciousness from space calls out to his mind and reveals his emotional side to the elders. They tell Spock that he will not attain Kolinahr and must find what he seeks elsewhere.

The consciousness from space is V’Ger, a massive spaceborne entity that’s been destroying everything in its path and is on a direct course for Earth. Admiral Kirk uses the emergency to get the Enterprise back along with his old crew, even drafting the now-retired (and bearded) Dr. McCoy. On their way to intercept V’Ger, Spock manages to catch up with the Enterprise and asks to join the mission. The crew is overjoyed to have Spock back, but this is not the Spock they (or the audience) knew from the TV series. This Spock is colder, more aloof, barely acknowledging his former comrades and the friendship they once shared. McCoy wonders aloud if Spock could be using the Enterprise to reach V’Ger for his own means; a notion Kirk rejects outright. “I could never believe that,” he tells Bones of his old friend.

But when the Enterprise encounters V’Ger, Spock steals a spacesuit (neck-pinching a guy with an awesome 70s ‘stache in the process) and makes direct contact with the entity by himself. Kirk goes after him and finds an unconscious Spock floating in space; the result of an overpowering mind meld he attempted with V’Ger.

When Spock awakes in sickbay, he laughs. “I should have known,” he tells Kirk. V’Ger, having amassed all knowledge in the known galaxy, is now questioning its place and purpose in the universe. All the knowledge in the universe isn’t enough. It’s asking questions that it can’t answer on its own. Spock grabs the hand of his best friend, telling Kirk that V’Ger is unable to grasp “this simple feeling” of friendship. Through V’Ger, Spock discovers that in order to achieve true wisdom, he must embrace the emotional part of himself which he had previously tried to bury. It is through his understanding of V’Ger that the Enterprise is able to save the day. With Spock whole again, so too is Star Trek.

Spock embodies the values at the core of the Star Trek franchise; the merging of the rational and logical with the passionate and emotional. The pursuit of truth and enlightenment can be neither a purely rational nor purely spiritual one. The struggle between logic and emotion is personified in Spock. His struggle was central to Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek. Indeed, besides the Enterprise herself, the Spock character is the only carryover from Trek’s first pilot (“The Cage”) and the TV series. Beginning the first movie with Spock in crisis, and making it about the journey he takes to reconcile his dual nature, is nothing short of a bold reaffirmation of Star Trek’s mission statement.

There’s not another entry in the Trek franchise that so totally encapsulates Spock’s journey as The Motion Picture. Not “Amok Time,” not The Wrath of Khan, not “Unification.” We get glimpses in those, but nothing shouts as loudly or as clearly as TMP. We need both parts of ourselves, the rational and the spiritual, the logical and the emotional, in the pursuit of discovery.

Spock is as much a creation of Leonard Nimoy as Gene Roddenberry. Nimoy’s death is a great loss to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or that they didn’t belong. Because through Spock’s example, we learned that we must look inward and accept who we are before we can truly understand the world in which we live. And that is a legacy that will outlive all of us.

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Boldly Going Where, Exactly? (The Future of Star Trek)

Keenser will be playing the role of Groot.

Keenser will be playing the role of Groot in Star Trek 3.

It’s been announced that Simon Pegg, the actor who plays Scotty in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and whose Trek bonafides are indisputable, will be co-writing the next Star Trek movie. This after news that Justin Lin, director of some of the more highly-regarded entries into the Fast & The Furious franchise, will be taking over as director of Trek 3. Rumor is that Paramount wants the next installment to “feel more like Guardians of the Galaxy,” which I don’t think is automatically a terrible idea, depending on how it’s executed. Especially with Simon Pegg in the mix.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big Trek fan. But I don’t fall neatly into any of the Trekkie stereotypes. I’m the kind of guy who notices that Vulcan had a blue sky in JJ Trek when it’s always been red, but I don’t care as long as the movie is good. Which the first of the reboot series largely was, though a lot of my opinion of it has been colored by what came next. Into Darkness was largely a rehash of old ideas, and though some of them had the potential to be interesting and even clever, I couldn’t ignore that in the end the movie was really just another instance of big budget disaster porn in Star Trek clothing.

I feel like there’s a bit of a funereal air regarding Star Trek right now. It’s the combination of a few things, I think: JJ Abrams has left to reinvigorate the franchise he really loves, the relative “disappointment” of the last movie both financially and creatively, this being the last of the three films this cast are contracted for, and a sense of obligation to commemorate the franchise’s 50th anniversary in 2016. (Especially given the recent high profile golden anniversaries of both Doctor Who and James Bond, both of which set high expectations for a celebratory landmark like this.)

That’s really the word for it: obligated. It seems like everyone feels “obligated” to make a third movie. And in some ways, the lowered expectations might be a blessing in disguise. Maybe the next movie will do something interesting and different. I’m already interested to see what a JJ Abrams’ Trek movie looks like with another director. And they’ve set themselves up to begin the 5-year mission of the TV series at the end of the last movie, so maybe we’ll be getting to some more strange new worlds instead of threatening Earth with a vengeful villain this go-around. But unless Star Trek 3 happens to be some sort of gargantuan hit which, to be frank, I don’t think it will be, I have a feeling Trek is in for another little rest.

But probably not for too long. There will always be new Star Trek for one simple reason: the economics of the entertainment industry dictate that any pre-existing brand has inherent value. Star Trek’s problem is that it’s never been a big winner overseas as a movie franchise, and the overseas audience is where the money is for blockbusters. But there is and always has been a pretty sizable audience of hardcore Trekkers who can be depended on to flock to anything Star Trek. They’re just not enough to justify the cost of a $200,000,000 movie every three years. So whatever form it takes, it’s gotta be relatively cheap.

So Star Trek should return to television.

Star Trek was never really suited to be a film franchise anyway. Its home has always been on television, and that’s where it works best. It’s episodic in nature, and though any future incarnation would almost certainly include serialized elements, I’d argue it should remain mostly episodic. (Format-wise, modern Doctor Who has been doing exactly this very successfully and could be looked upon as a model.)

There are two approaches to doing new Star Trek. (Or, at least, two that will work. I think continuing on in the future of the “Prime Universe,” acknowledging the events of the existing television series, is a mistake. Even if it’s set in the far future ala Bryan Singer’s Federation concept. There’s simply too much baggage that raises the barrier to entry for a new viewer.)

First is the Iconographic approach, which places the emphasis on all of Trek’s familiar trappings. The new movies have largely relied on this. You have your Kirk and your Spock, you have your Enterprise, warp speed, beam me up Scotty Star Trek. They even kept those pretty insane primary colored uniforms that, frankly, look a bit ridiculous by contemporary standards. And why did they do that? Cause iconography. Cause nostalgia. Cause that’s what Trek is supposed to look like, and that’s what everyone remembers it looking like. This is also the reason they tried to shoehorn Khan into some kind of super nemesis role ala Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Night. Cause everybody knows about Khan and his wrath.

But Star Trek doesn’t really do super villains or nemeses. Big action movies do. And that’s what these last two movies have been: (mostly) entertaining action movies that look like Star Trek but are clearly doing their own action movie thing. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re satisfied with. My problem is that it Star Trek can be so much more than just another action movie franchise.

Which brings me to the second approach, what I’ll term the Fundamental. Basically, you take away all the trappings of Star Trek, everything that’s dated, everything that doesn’t jibe with how we’ve grown both socially and technologically in the last 50 years,  and see what’s left. What is Star Trek actually about?

This is a tough question to answer, if for no other reason than it’s about lots of different things to lots of different people. It’s no surprise that the JJ movies went with the iconic approach, because in many ways that’s the safer way to go. (And they’re big budget spectacles to begin with, and big budget spectacles always emphasize style.) So a lot of JJ Trek is based on nostalgia, but Star Trek has always about looking forward. In so doing, a lot of the trappings the new movies chose to recognize were born from a very 1960s vision of the future with a 1960s television budget. Perhaps some of them could bear some re-evaluation. Things like the way we interact with computers. How every alien species is depicted as a monoculture.

So since I posed the question, here’s my version of the answer. Though Gene Roddenberry is often quoted as calling Trek “Horatio Hornblower in space,” it’s equal part Gulliver’s Travels in space. It’s about a group of diverse human beings, on a spaceship, who travel to new places and get into adventures every week. Most of the stories have an underlying allegory that makes a point about the human experience.

It’s set in a future where human beings still have center stage: our computers haven’t taken over, we’re still in charge, and people still act and behave largely as they do today. But these guys and gals are definitely ones with the “Right Stuff,” the ones who try to do the good and right thing no matter what, even if they end up failing in the end. They value discovery and seeking knowledge even as it puts them at risk. (And yes, the characters can and should sometimes have conflict with each other, something Roddenberry decided was not acceptable at some point between TOS and TNG.)

That’s really all it is.

You know what’s a great Star Trek movie? Master and Commander. I haven’t read the book series it’s based on, but that movie is basically what I think good Star Trek is. Except in space. And you’d probably better call the Navy the Starfleet and have starships that go to warp speed, otherwise you may as well call it something else.

So my answer, then, lies somewhere on the spectrum of Fundamental to Iconic, leaning more toward the Fundamental side. I think the real trick will be to create a future that’s as “futuristic” to a contemporary audience as classic Trek was to a 1960s/70s audience. Next Generation had touchscreen interfaces to illustrate 80 years of progress from Kirk’s time. And already we all have PADDs. But how far do you take it before it becomes unrelatable? That’s the balancing act.

One of the things that they hinted at in the beginning of TNG was the fact that this new Enterprise was on a 20-year mission of exploration. That’s why they brought their families and children along. Early on they seem to have abandoned that concept, probably because it was too expensive to realize in 1987. That’s not an issue with digital set extensions today. Maybe fully realizing that concept would be an interesting and sufficiently forward-looking take on humanity’s spacefaring future worthy of the name Star Trek.

Talk about nostalgia.

Talk about nostalgia.

Or not. Trek really belongs to pop culture now, which makes any attempt to change it nearly sacrilege to a large number of people. Any new Star Trek will never be able to please everybody. I don’t envy the guy (or gal) who gets handed the reins next. (What am I saying, of course I do.)

You know what? Maybe the answer is this. Fans seem to be doing a fine job on their own of making more of the kind of Star Trek they want to see. Maybe that’s all Star Trek should be at this point. (Take a look at Star Trek Continues, by the way. It’s pretty damn close to the look and feel of the original show. They’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their next two or more episodes, and have cleared their goal by the time of this writing.)

Maybe Star Trek exists as a lot of different things now, not a slave to a one official canon production, every interpretation equally valid and legitimate. IDIC, as the Vulcans preach.

But regardless of where “official” Trek ends up post-2016, I’m cautiously optimistic for the next flick. With these new players, we’re at least going to get something a little different than the last two. And that means it has the potential to be better.

In the meantime, I hear there’s some new Star Wars movie coming out?

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