I‘ve given it a great deal of thought, for it’s a complicated subject. However, I now believe that rebooting Star Trek is not a good idea.
The new Star Trek film, premiering this Friday, is a “prequel” in the sense that it takes place prior to the original series, but not a prequel in the sense that it actually results in an alternate timeline.1 This allows J.J. Abrams to effectively shed the burden of forty-three years of Star Trek continuity and boldly go where Star Trek has never, never gone before.2 Well, for the record, I think J.J. Abrams is wrong.
Yes, yes, I‘m well aware that for many people, J.J. Abrams is God, and oh-em-gee-how-could-you-say-such-a-thing?!
I’m not against rebooting Star Trek’s continuity per se. After all, Ronald D. Moore reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and that turned out rather well. Star Trek arguably has a more developed universe than Battlestar Galactica, however, which requires far more careful handling than simply overwriting the timeline. In that respect, Star Trek is more similar to Dune.3 It’s not the reboot that worries me—it’s the reasons for the reboot, and the ramifications of the reboot on both Star Trek as a franchise and the entertainment industry itself.
Abrams has repeatedly said that he’s not necessarily a fan of Star Trek in the way fans are (fanatically) and he tried to make a movie for people who like to see movies, not just for the fans. This strategy worries me, because it implies Paramount lacks confidence in the current Star Trek mythos‘ ability to attract more fans. We don’t want another Star Trek: Nemesis, after all.4
Let’s suppose that this is true. Suppose that, for whatever reason, our cultural climate is more attuned to the darker stories of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars than the optimistic, semi-utopian future portrayed in Star Trek. If that is the case, then why are we trying to change Star Trek to fit into this new box? In doing so, we compromise the themes upon which Star Trek is based, and if that happens, then we don’t have Star Trek anymore—we‘ve got a new, mutated franchise inspired by Star Trek.
To some extent, we fans are complicit in this mutation of our beloved Trek. There’s a difference between loyal campaigning (to save the original series, for instance, or even the misguided efforts of those Enterprise loyalists) and attempting to sustain a franchise beyond its viability. Paramount wouldn’t have greenlit this movie were it not for the fans; regardless of intent, it’s the fans who are going to fill those seats—because of the title of movie and not its story. Because, let’s be honest here, fans: we’ve had the bald bad guy before (General Chang, Shinzon) and the evil uber-weapon (General Chang’s bird-of-prey, Shinzon’s Scimitar). This new film isn’t a fresh start for Star Trek; it’s a classic science fiction plot with cutting-edge special effects and the Star Trek characters.
Aside from the fact that it means starting from square zero, as far as fan base is concerned, why bother making another Star Trek movie at all? If Paramount is so concerned about the marketability of Star Trek, why not give Abrams a mandate to launch a new space opera movie franchise?
It pains me, as a Star Trek fan, to say this…. If this movie flops, it may be the final nail in the coffin of the dead horse that we’ve been beating. “Even J.J. Abrams, who is our Lord and Saviour, could not save Star Trek,” the Paramount executives will say. And maybe, just maybe, some overlooked script for a new space opera will get a second chance. On the other hand, if the movie is a success—and I suspect it will be, because it does look like a good movie—then the Star Trek franchise will have wind in its sails, but it won’t be Star Trek anymore. It’ll be the Abrams Science Fiction Franchise, Based on Star Trek Created by Gene Roddenberry. And all those franchises-that-could-be that wait in the wings for their turn will have to wait much, much longer.
To be clear, I‘m not saying Star Trek is definitely dead. I just don’t think that “any Trek is better than no Trek.” I‘d rather have a brand new science fiction franchise try to gather fans, and wait until such time as the Executives-on-High deem the market ready for a real Star Trek film.
I’m worried that by fervently attempting to resurrect Star Trek as a movie franchise, we‘re dooming the fledgling future science fiction franchises. We’re starting to get into territory where movie studios greenlight more and more adaptations of comic books and sequels to franchise films, putting their money on “safe” bets with pre-existing fans rather than taking a chance on new, more creative directions.
P.S. Another Firefly movie please, Universal!
- [ 1 ] Yes, time travel—prepare for headaches.
- [ 2 ] Namely, Spock and Uhura. Yeah, that’s right.
- [ 3 ] Seriously, who are you trying to fool, Brian Herbert?
- [ 4 ] I know that by saying this, I’m just begging for a comment from the one guy out there who thought that Star Trek: Nemesis was the single best movie of all time. Bring it on.