Star Trek & The Future (or the Future of Star Trek?)

As longtime triscribers might know, I’m a Trekkie.  I don’t go to conventions and, contrary to popular belief, I do NOT own a Starfleet uniform; but I watched a lot of Star Trek, and the movies, and read a bunch of the books, read a bunch of fanfiction, and even got real close to getting published in properly licensed Star Trek fiction (I mean, close).  Part of me wonders if Star Trek should return to its roots – be a television show again and explore all kinds of storylines in an ensemble way again – maybe even in better ways than Star Trek had a chance to do before, considering the current advances in storytelling and the increased focus on diverse casting (which Star Trek had long been a pioneer in the first place).

A brief review of what happened to Star Trek to where we are now:

There came a point when Star Trek was the height of late 1980’s/1990s science fiction (yes, I know, there are fans of Babylon 5 who would say that that series took up the imagination of 1990s science fiction tv, but I wasn’t much of a B5 viewer). The optimism of Star Trek remains the source and inspiration of hope (and of our technology; iPads owe a lot to the devices that the TNG and DS9 crews used). It was something that defied the broadcast networks, dominating the wild and weird world of syndicated tv series (well, then came Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess, but hey, those series gave us actors Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless, so give them some credit).

Plus, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a series ahead of its time – with its serialization of stories, the wartime storyline of a democratic society facing its values in a candid way, the dramatic protagonist (who just happened to be a person of color), and the way conflict among the cast was addressed and progressed (Major Kira and the Cardassians; the rebellion of the Maquis, whose storyline really floundered when the war storyline hit maximum drive).  And, how DS9 expanded how dark the ideas of Star Trek could go, when humanity reached a lot of its optimism and still explore out there – DS9 didn’t get enough credit for what it did.

Then, Paramount became a network and tried to use ST: Voyager and ST: Enterprise for better or worse.  I stuck around.  I could refer you to AV Club’s Beginner’s Guide to the Franchise as a decent start, if you’re not familiar with the ST franchise. Here’s my list from 2009 on my personal favorite Star Trek moments/episodes (putting aside that I recently looked up the clip of that lovely Captain Picard Day scene, when the kids of the Enterprise entered their drawings and sculptures to honor their role model, Captain Picard, to the amused delight of Riker and Troi).

Then came the reboot, which somehow revived Kirk and the gang, without making me worry that the old ST universe could no longer be treasured. Some might complain that the movies (the original six and the two J.J. Abrams-verse reboot movies) were too much the “Kirk and Spock Show” (putting aside that the original television series was very much a Kirk, Spock, and McCoy show – the Big Three! – with the original six movies giving us the favorite supporting characters of Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov).

And, the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies were exceedingly the “Picard and Data Show” (no, really, it did hit some levels of ludicrousness, and I say that despite my fondness for Action Hero Captain Picard).

But, if there was a way to figure out contemporary issues, how different people can get along (or not), and how a crew becomes a family (something Picard took way too long to figure out, I think) – well, I think our times need such a show on tv! Star Trek could ideally return to tv bigger, better, and more refined than ever (or so focused in a world of niche tv).

And, really, an Abrams-style Star Trek tv series could be great – all of reboot Kirk’s issues could be properly expanded and considered, as would Spock’s (and really, so many of Abrams’ characters – tv and movie – have daddy issues). And, we need a chance to really get at McCoy’s issues on tv (the bad marriage; the “I’m not that bad a dad”; the Southern charm; the good and compassionate doctor; the dogged scientist; the bad astronaut; the not-great Starfleet officer – who got to stick around long enough to be an admiral meeting android Data).  As a sidenote: well, I like to think McCoy wasn’t a terrible father, besides his “I’m going to space to get away from my ex-wife” bit, but the intended episode about his relationship with his teenage daughter never made it to tv, since the space hippie episode became about Chekov’s ex-girlfriend instead. But, McCoy is clearly a remarkable tv character; the big screen still hasn’t figured him out.

And, the ensemble would have have a better shot at evolving on tv – Uhura as the great science fiction tv heroine, at last?  Hmm!  It was made for Abrams-style tv! (or… Whedon-style tragedy? I don’t know; let’s not go there; I’ll refer people to “Firefly” and “Serenity” and leave it at that).

For me, the only question would be what network would take a chance to bring Star Trek back to television?  I’d posit that BBC America would be the right place (it’s where reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation are on), since it seems to be a nice place for a cast of characters and stories, and it doesn’t treat science fiction in a silly way (like a lot of Syfy series seem to be), with the provision of a devoted but niche audience.

It turns out that I’m not the only one wondering if Star Trek should come back to television: like this item over at the Atlantic by Dave Sims.

And, of course, Star Trek’s 50th anniversary is coming in 2016.  I’d like to think that the anniversary could be something big and celebratory, hitting highlights while keep on trekking to the future (like how I really enjoyed that Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode).  But, to do something big, Star Trek is either going to have to be back on tv or the big screen.  And, I’m not quite sure how great the big screen effort might be, because I never quite feel enough room for philosophizing and character development with action (the usual blow ’em up stuff) in a movie (again, see above – the Kirk and Spock Show, Action Hero Captain Picard).

The drive for Star Trek 3 (J.J. Abrams-verse reboot) is turning out to be a a bumpy one though. Changing directors, who knows what the script will be, and oh yeah, Star Wars (which shouldn’t be a factor, but it is, because J.J. Abrams is helming Star Wars; I like both ST and Star Wars, but ST took up years of my life because it was tv).

Then, I gasped: for real, Justin Lin to direct the third movie?!  I thought Justin Lin’s “Fast and Furious” movies reached tv-levels of storyline craziness (in a good way, that is). I’d be very curious to see what Lin could do for Star Trek, especially if the 3rd movie is done by Star Trek’s 50th anniversary in 2016 – honoring the tv legacy but pushing the boundaries. It might even be good (not going to say great; I could be way too premature here). Plus, hey, maybe Lin would give John Cho (reboot Sulu) some meaty stuff for the movie (as Angry Asian Man noted, they worked in Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow”).

Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson writes on “Why Justin Lin is a Perfect Fit for ‘Star Trek 3.'”  Mendelson is getting very optimistic, stating:

Now it can be assumed that Mr. Lin was drafted onto the Starship Enterprise because of his experience with large ensemble casts filled with diverse (both in terms of ethnicity and personality) cast of would-be action heroes. And while there is some fear that Mr. Lin’s prior filmography means that Star Trek is going into an even-more action-centric direction, that may not be true. Justin Lin is also the guy who made Better Luck Tomorrow. Although that brings up a different point of why Lin can’t find an original project with which to cash in his F&F capital. […]

More importantly for this discussion, his last two Fast and Furious films were incredibly successful in terms of giving each member of the very large cast a chance to shine in terms of both character and action. If you’re someone who thinks the last two Star Trek films have been somewhat dominated by Kirk and Spock (beyond the extent that Star Trek has often been the Kick/Spock show), then this hire should be welcome news. At the very least, I have to imagine that Better Luck Tomorrow co-star John Cho will get a bit more to do this time around. Also of note, the Fast & Furious franchise’s head-first dive into sentimentality will actually fit right in with the Trek universe.

Say what you will about the “drink every time Vin Diesel says “family” game for Fast & Furious 6, but Fast Five was not just a terrific action picture but a pretty great movie, period, and this is coming from someone who didn’t care much for the previous four films. It was a fifth sequel that used its complex continuity to its emotional advantage, and I might on a given day argue that it’s an even better “franchise all-stars to the rescue” movie than The Avengers. When I first saw Fast Five I was so into the narrative that when Vin Diesel makes his climactic suicide play, I actually bought the possibility of his death, especially since the culminating chapter felt and played like a terrific series finale to a long-running television series. I only remembered much later than the franchise’s skewed timeline would make such a sacrifice impossible. Anyway, point being, the surrogate family themes of the last three Fast & Furious films actually fit the Star Trek universe like a glove.

[….]

We’ll see soon enough what kind of movie Justin Lin brings us for this Star Trek 3, but his experience on the Fast/Furious franchise, especially the superb Fast Five, has me more hopeful not less hopeful. No he’s not a geek favorite and no he’s not a die-hard Trekker, but frankly neither was Nicholas Meyer and he gave us two of the best Star Trek films around (23 years later, and I still well up at Kirk giving the course heading of ”Second star to the right… and straight on till morning”). I remain optimistic at the decision to give the man who made Fast & Furious into an A-level action franchise while actually upping the sentimentality can do the same for the ongoing Star Trek series. He is, to paraphrase the guy who I knew was never going to get the job but I would have loved  have seen get the job, not the first choice. But he is the last choice, and (I hope) the best choice.

My big tip to fellow Trekkies out there: keep hope alive, but don’t go overboard just yet. We’ll see what happens!

 

 

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