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Star Trek, part 1: How to Do It Right

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May. 8th, 2009 | 11:12 pm

Having set the stage in the last post, let's talk Trek!  First, the hows and wherefores. 

To begin with, after thirty years, the curse of the odd-numbered movie has been broken!  Old time Trekkers know the long-standing fan lore that the odd-numbered movies in the Star Trek series of movies have been, to be charitable, weak (when they haven't outright stunk!).  The eleventh entry in the series, though, has killed this truism with a vengeance.  Star Trek has not only jettisoned numerical suffixes and subtitles (it's just plain old Star Trek!), but it has also jettisoned the encrustations that have gradually been choking the Trek franchise to death and has restored it to glorious life. 

It is fitting that this is the 30th anniversary of the first Star Trek movie because the franchise has now come full circle.  1979's Star Trek:  The Motion Picture revived the Star Trek franchise ten years after the original series (henceforward TOS) left the air.  Now, J. J. Abrams's Star Trek has once more revived the franchise, which had become moribund over the last several years.  Abrams has managed this near miracle by producing an almost textbook example of how to do a reboot the right way. 

Star Trek has been in need of a reboot for years.  The quality of the movies varied wildly, with the first being widely considered a vast disappointment (as well as a rip-off of several episodes of TOS simultaneously), the second (The Wrath of Khan) considered one of the best, and so on, oscillating like a pendulum.  The successor series also varied wildly.  Star Trek:  The Next Generation (TNG) was mediocre for the first three seasons, eventually developing into a fairly decent series.  Deep Space Nine (DS9) also started out slow, but developed a darker and more political take on the Star Trek universe.  Voyager started with an interesting premise, but lagged until it introduced Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, and put her in a very tight outfit (yes, I'm being cynical).  It seemed to me that it had a higher ratio of weak plots resolved by pointless technobabble than average.  Finally, the well-intentioned Enterprise promised to show us some of the backstory to the Trek world we knew and loved, only to spout muddled crap like the "Temporal Cold War" plotline, engage in some of the worst and clumsiest retconning ever seen (the m*^%$#*@#$%^g Xindi??!!), and use shameless and irrelevant sex scenes even more blatantly than Voyager (I used to joke to my wife about what the "grope T'Pol" or "disrobe T'Pol" gimmick would be for the latest episode).  Enterprise actually had some decent episodes in its last season, but by then it was too late; and the series finale was totally execrable.  It is little surprise that Paramount decided to give the franchise a rest.

The concept for a reboot actually has been floating around for awhile, originally devised by Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski--you can read about it here.  I actually do regret that his proposal never flew--he had the idea of a series, not a movie, and from the outline, I think it would have been truly great.  However, it would be illogical (as Mr. Spock would say) to regret what never happened, and I think the current movie makes up to a large degree for the regret for what could have been. 

In any case, the idea most talked about after the (in my opinion overrated) Nemesis was a Kirk-and-Spock-in-their-Academy-days plot, which I always thought a horrible idea.  One, it would require too much squeezing into current continuity or drastic retconning, and second, it would require really artificial plotlines to get them into galaxy-saving heroics as cadets.  Wisely, Paramount went with Abrams's reboot concept.  The movie does have a bit of the Academy days, but that is not the focus of it, and it is at the end of Kirk's Academy career that the main plot takes place, anyway.

I must say, Star Trek is an almost perfectly done reboot.  Warning:  random spoilers here and there henceforward.  The basic concept is that in the post-TNG future, Spock (last seen working to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan people) has failed to save the Romulan  homeworld, Romulus (presumably Remus, too, although that's not explicit, and really a small quibble) after their star goes supernova.  Nero, an embittered Romulan who has lost his pregnant wife in the catastrophe seeks out Spock for vengeance; at the last minute, they are both sucked into the past, as a result of a black-hole-making device.  Nero arrives just before the birth of James T. Kirk and destroys the  ship captained by Kirk's father (who lived to see Kirk as an adult in the original continuity).  From this point on, a new continuity is created and the Trekverse diverges.  Spock turns up twenty-five years after Nero (by this time, Kirk is a  young adult), and the continuity diverges further.  This is a clever and very successful plot device.  It allows an appearance by Leonard Nimoy in a sort of valedictory performance as representative of TOS, and since the Old Spock remembers the old continuity, it is a tip of the hat to all Treks past.  Meanwhile, by the principle that seemingly minor changes in the past radiate unpredictably into the future, this allows an essentially blank slate for the story of this (and future) movies.

The posts are longer than I'd thought, so I'm going to leave it here and go to number three.  


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