Let’s talk about Star Trek. If that’s not your thing then, well, you can skip this one. Series acronyms are as follows: TOS = Star Trek (the original series, TNG = Star Trek: The Next Generation, DS9 = Deep Space Nine, VOY = Voyager, ENT = Enterprise. I’ll try not to overuse them.
I’m a Star Trek fan. I have been most of my life. My credentials are long: I grew up watching TNG and the TOS movies, got into DS9 in it’s later years, and had the occasional daillance with VOY and ENT when they kept my interest. I was a geeky kid: I dressed up as Spock for halloween for grade 5, sans Vulcan ears, as my own ears were abnormally large at the time, and already a source of teasing from opportunistic classmates. Courtesy of a recent trip to Vulcan, Alberta, I now actually own Vulcan ears (at the insistence of the lady- as far as you know).
As I grew up, I appreciated Trek for a lot of a different reasons. I liked the idea of space travel and fantastic adventures to strange new worlds when I was younger (I think there were a lot of classroom doodles of the Enterprise D, battling with Romulans or Klingons or whoever), and appreciated it more for the stories and characters and interaction when I get older. I was even part of a creative writing group that wrote and talked about the greater Star Trek universe for several years. That group was great for me, and I met a lot of good friends through there. It was freeing, too: It was comforting to realize that I wasn’t the only person who had this obsession. Which Trek series I like obviously has a bearing on how I feel, so here’s my pecking order: TNG/DS9/TOS/VOY/ENT, with the last two being far below the first three.
I was going to rail against segments of fans who haven’t liked the new movies, but in writing this, I’ve come to realize that people got into Trek for different reasons, and appreciate it in different ways. Even for me, that’s changed as I’ve grown up. I don’t personally see the value in making the Onion right, but as much fun as it can be to debate the merits of different series’/movies/characters/plots/favourites, you won’t often change an opinion.
Without going into too, too much detail, the consensus among fans was that the Trek franchise was struggling at the end of Enterprise’s run (or even the beginning). I often think about where Trek had lost it’s course, and I believe it was that the more recent iterations (Enterprise and Voyager, and to an extent even TNG and DS9) were re-treading old ground. It was similar, likable characters, similar plots, similar thinking, dressed up in different settings. There wasn’t often anything new, and any experimentation tended to be “safe”. In the mid 00s, the franchise’s future was uncertain, to say the least.
The Star Trek franchise had been around for nearly fourty years at that point, and that’s an amazing run. The more recent series’ and movies reflected the weight of that run, however: any potential to be original, and groundbreaking, was choked off by the sheer volume of the universe that existed before. Any new series or movie had a long list of things that they couldn’t do with the characters, storytelling, and the universe, and diehard fans who would call them out on any conflicting details. With that in mind, it’s little wonder that Voyager and Enterprise struggled to gain traction with fans.
As I mentioned previously, Star Trek (the 2009 movie) was exactly what the franchise needed. It was modern and adventurous in ways that Trek hadn’t been in a while. It was FUNNY, something that Trek has struggled with since the original series, to a point. It hit a good balance of staying true to the universe, while still not being afraid to set it’s own path, and stray from the guidelines that had hamstrung the more recent entries. It laid the groundwork for a whole new story, set in the same universe that Trekkers grew up on- with a few changes.
With the characters somewhat established, Into Darkness was able to dig into the nuts and bolts a bit, but still came out with the same fun, adventurous feel that make 2009’s Trek a success. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very good.
The old Khan/new Khan comparison is interesting to dig into. I really liked the new Khan, even if he was quite different from Ricardo Montalban’s dramatic performance. Cumberbatch brought a quiet, calculating intensity, which fit the profile of this character.
There were some things that the Trek nut in me could nitpick: maybe a few too many homages to original series/movies, a character did this that doesn’t make sense, or the premise of the opening sequence falls apart given the slightest investigation. The villain showed up at just the right time, the engineering is this or that, or whatever.
But focusing on that is missing the point. Here’s where I think I’ve changed in my movie going: I can ignore a few rough edges if you nail the main thrust of the story, and give me compelling characters to follow. Both of these new Trek movies did that. They were Star Trek, in all the ways that the good series/movies were. They used the backdrop of exploring the galaxy to explore human nature, and have fun doing it. Not in a heavy handed or preachy way (Voyager was awful for this), but in a way that made us want to come along for the ride.
The movies have made me miss having a Trek series on the air, but there’s no way they get this cast into a weekly series, or maintain the blockbuster feeling of the movies in doing so. This Trek is calculated to work in a big theatre. Maybe a series is in the offing, but as it is, I’m happy having a quality Trek, for the first time since DS9 ended it’s run.
Growing up and having actual, semi-adult responsibilities has made me re-evaluate how I spend my time, and value what I spend it on. In thinking about that, I’m not sure if a younger me would have enjoyed the new Trek, or if he would have paused and railed against it’s differences.
But I like it. I like that it’s different. I like that it challenges me. I like that people who wouldn’t have touched any of the prior series’ and movies with a ten foot pole are interested in the new Trek, and that said new Trek has the same adventurous spirit as the series/movies that came before. It’ll be interesting to see how they sustain that interest going forward, whether it’s with new movies, television, or other media. But ultimately, I’m glad we have a new Star Trek story, and to share that universe I love with many, many others.