Fifty Years of Star Trek

I saw read an article recently, reviewing the latest Star Trek movie. Its point was that the movie was doing very poorly at the box office, and would be lucky to eventually break even, and that therefore, the Star Trek franchise was finally dead. As a Trekkie since (very nearly) the beginning, I have several thoughts.

First, I would actually be glad if Star Trek lost enough popularity that it would be forced off the screens and airwaves for a while. It’s difficult to see a franchise I have loved since childhood be milked utterly dry, and then watch the studios beat the dead cow further to force out whatever powder might be left. And then try to wring out the desiccated corpse like a rag. Let it rest!

Second, I cannot say that I have been fond of how the franchise has been changing the “canon” history of the Star Trek Universe. It took me quite some time to warm up to Star Trek: The Next Generation, since it took them about three seasons to really find their footing , and start producing some great SciFi television. But even with ST:TNG, the tampering began. Take, for example, the Romulans.

In the original series, were depicted as honourable, if rabidly xenophobic. They took their cues from our myths surrounding the Roman Empire. If the Vulcans were Stoics, the Romulans were Epicureans. But during the time of ST:TNG, the Romulans were cartoonishly evil, devious, duplicitous, and dishonourable.

Likewise, the Klingons. Remembering the Original Series characters of Kor and Kang, we got the idea that as warlike and ruthless as the Klingons were, they were also intelligent, cultured, and even suave. In The Trouble with Tribbles, we see that the Klingons were not implacable enemies, without feelings, but political rivals—Witness the scene in which Korax shares his drink with Cyrano Jones when he sees that he cannot afford another glass himself, before going on to taunt the Enterprise crew.

Of course, ST:TNG chose to emphasize the warlike customs, the battle-lust, and martial-honour obsessed facets of Klingon culture.

As the series went on, with the TNG movies, DS9, Voyager, and the execrable Enterprise, Trek history was rewritten without a thought. For example, it had always been Star Trek canon that the Andorians were the first alien species Earth ever contacted when they went out to explore the galaxy. Eventually, the Andorians, Terrans, Tellarites, and Vulcans would go on to establish the United Federation of Planets. But as we know, history was rewritten so that Zephram Cochrane made first contact with a Vulcan survey ship on his first experimental flight using warp drive. And in Enterprise, the Vulcans are shown to be utterly un-Vulcan in their treatment of and relations with, the Andorians.

I will not bore you with more of my own complaints. But honestly, a fan film like Prelude to Axanar is far more true to its roots than most of the latest crop of movies and series.

Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that Star Trek is no longer Star Trek. Now, I know that this is an oft used canard, hurled by die-hard old-school fans at the new movies; however, it is justified.

The Abrams Trek movies are mostly Space Opera, in the mold of Star Wars. They’re filled with action, and as action movies set in space, they work very well. But they aren’t Star Trek. Back in the beginning of things, during the run of Star Trek’s original series, there were some very important themes to note.

In ST:TOS, we meet with numerous beings like Trelaine, the Horta, Charlie X, the Organians, the Gorn, and the Metrons, and Balok of the First Federation, and the Companion. In these situations, we meet with beings who seem to be monsters, or who somehow threaten the lives of our crew. But what we ultimately learn is that these are not monsters, or even adversaries as we might have thought: Trelaine and Charlie are simply children who don’t know any better, the Horta was simply defending her children and we misunderstood, Balok was testing our heroes to see if they were a threat, the Gorn thought that the Earthmen were invaders. The Companion actually loved her human “captive.” In all these situations, the real enemy was misunderstanding. And we were taught that there are no “monsters,” only other people that we had to meet and befriend.

Furthermore, in those shows in which the “monster” really was what it seemed, we were at least treated to ensemble cast work and character development. For example, in the Salt Vampire episode and the Tribble episode, we get many scenes of our crew tending to other duties and activities besides their posts on the bridge. Or, in the Doomsday Weapon, or the M5 episodes, we got to see more of the greater Starfleet organization, and saw what the Enterprise and her crew were a part of.

And there were many dangers that were not monsters, or “others” to be overcome. Like a malfunctioning transporter, or computer run planets, or a quasar-like object.

And throughout the series, compassion was the modus operandus, and trying to find non-violent solutions to their challenges. For example, after all Charlie had done to the crew, Kirk still pleads with the Thasians if there could be another way to handle him. Despite the terror Balok put the Enterprise crew through, Kirk still answered his distress call. When Kirk had the opportunity to kill the Gorn captain, he refused. In Star Trek III, despite Kruge having killed Kirk’s son and trying to kill him, Kirk still extended a hand to the Klingon commander when he was hanging from the edge of the cliff—He never finished him off until Kruge tried to take Kirk down with him.

And even though there were many occasions in which our heroes defaulted to violence, it was usually shown to be the wrong answer, as when the Organians stopped the Federation’s war with the Klingons, or when Kirk and Kang made peace in order to defeat the “hatred parasite.”

TOR.com has several “Re-Watch” series, one of which is a series of reviews devoted to the original Star Trek series, and the bloggers make these points quite eloquently in their season overviews.

My point is that there were certain ideals in the original run of Star Trek. Even if they themselves missed the mark (which they did quite frequently), those ideals were there, and emphasized. There was a good attempt at numerous ensemble type stories, before it became simply “Kirk, Spock, and McCoy have adventures together.”

The new films don’t do this. They’re wild action shoot-‘em-ups in space. The monsters really are monsters, and must be stopped. There’s little sense of exploration, seeking out new life forms and new civilizations, and making new friends. There’s little sense of learning anything about ourselves, or even of character development. The new films simply prey on our nostalgia.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. On the one hand, I am pleased it has survived this long. But I am also disappointed in the deterioration of the writing, and the abandonment of real Science Fiction in favour of action movie thrills. Perhaps it is time to let the franchise rest peacefully for a while until another generation discovers it, and groks it.

I would be perfectly happy re-watching DVDs of TOS and TNG rather than see the studios make such a hash of what so many of us love and grew up with. I would rather watch fan made films like Axanar, or Star Trek Continues—though the studio has recently put a stop to all of that—because the fans, working out of love, still understand what Star Trek was supposed to be about, even if the studios executives don’t.

 

I recommend going over to http://www.tor.com/series/star-trek-tos-rewatch/ to read through the reviews of the original series. They also have review series ongoing for TNG, and DS9.

I also recommend going over to redlettermedia.com and scroll up the Mr. Plinkett review of the Star Trek movies.

 

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaand, rant over. I guess. For now.

 

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a faceless drone in a corporate call center, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in my dead grandparents’ house, alone, with an impressive collection of martial arts weapons, where I practice and train daily. I am not currently on any medications.
This entry was posted in Misceleneous, Soap Box, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.