Opinions on Star Trek from and including Enterprise, how they measure against the cannon.
How did it get this far? Star Trek? Well now, there was a time long ago when those of us who are old enough remember, when those older than us, said “That’s not real Star Trek”. Today, I find myself saying the same thing. Maybe that Star Trek wasn’t their Star Trek and this Star Trek today isn’t ours. It could just be as simple as that and maybe it is that simple. Hand’s off, it ain’t yours.
Before we continue, this isn’t a “Bah humbug, all your modern stuff is rubbish”. It’s not rubbish, I like and enjoy these modern stories. Only there is something missing. Something that doesn’t fit. The feeling is like when you were just about to say something and then when you open your mouth, it’s gone.
So, what’s my problem then? There was the line that went around “Franchise Fatigue.” In my opinion an offensive excuse for poor writing. Not even that, the writing in of itself wasn’t that bad. It was the show as a whole. It was not Star Trek. Everything ‘Trek’ ever since has had this same problem.
First to mention the law of original thinking, “there is no such thing as original thinking”. Now, my opinion is that there are certain thematic elements which are needed to define a story as Star Trek. These elements are not characters, nor props, not even the overarching setting of the story. What makes something Star Trek? A general sense of optimism. Within the Federation, poverty has been largely and on the whole defeated. It’s a fantasy they can do that if they want. Acceptance of others, different races and different cultures accept each other and enjoy the richness that comes with diversity. The Federation represents an idealised version of 1950s/1960s United States America in the future with ray guns. That’s right, idealised where all internal conflicts are set aside and everyone has a fair shake at life. Oh and human religion? That’s just superstition locked up in history books. We’ll return to religion later because there’s more to that than might initially meet the eye.
To summarise some phrases used by Gene Rodenberry. Fans should not be allowed to run Star Trek, no change should be made just to please the fans, for in that direction lies prostitution. Science Fiction is one of people and ideas. The human adventure has just begun, the human condition is to improve and improve.
Now to draw your attention to some contemporaries of the modern Star Trek, what about ‘Lost in Space’ that is barely anything like the original, right? This is kind of true. ‘Battlestar Galactica’ – reboot too strayed in its way from the source material. In none of these cases their narrative was supposedly anchored in the original stories, where these new Star Treks are.
This brings us to religion and fan fiction. Lets look at fan fiction first. The topic at hand is subjective and inexact, so we’re not going to agree on everything. Let’s face it, we’ll be lucky to agree on something. Something looks like fan fiction to me, when it takes elements like characters or key parts of the setting and uses them to speak in the fan writer’s own voice. For example, taking aliens from the Alien story and setting them in a world with the predators from the Predator story. Thematically, these characters play almost identical alpha predator roles in their respective stories. Yet together, for one to rise the other must fall and one must rise, that is your favourite.
Fan fiction might even re-use the original story elements for the fan writer to insert their own characters. To these people I say, it doesn’t take much to try to be original. Star ships go faster than light, ray guns zap and nine times out of ten the villain is British! Seriously, who ever heard of a French villain… actually that would be scary! (Please leave your nominations in the comments’ below).
From the fan fiction point of view. If you were to delete the Star Trek branding from these new incarnations, then they’d be awesome stories with great potential that wouldn’t need to justify changes from what came before. There would then be the challenge of building and justifying their own brand rather than riding on the established Star Trek brand.
‘Lost in Space’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘The Orville’ were all mentioned? Wait ‘The Orville’ how’d that get in there? These are grouped together because they’re brilliant and original. Each in their own way. The term re-imagining is often used but if they had access to CGI in the 1960s, don’t you think they’d have given the audience many more spaceships and robots? As for ‘Battlestar Galactica’, a fresh lick of paint and a new social setting to stand it against, oh and CGI. The story though was mostly the same, pretty much the same characters, a few twists and changes thrown in. ‘The Orville’ is on this list because it is original, funny and clever. It deals with topical modern social issues gracefully with perhaps a hint of some ‘Star Trek’ parody going on. However, in my opinion ‘The Orville’ stands on its own but for good or bad, the comparison is inescapable. Without that anchor to the earlier stories these have escaped the fan fiction trap.
Oddly, religion does tangentially come into this but it’s not what you think. “Blasphemy!” and I say exactly. This is kind of a parallel not a direct comparison. They take your beloved childhood memory, twist it into a new shape, paint it a fresh in the colour palette of vibrant primary colours used for today’s generation of kids and you hate it. Religion comes into this because I imagine, if you were to take someone’s religion. The one they’d grown up with, one they loved and made them feel safe and then twisted it and made it look distant and alien, they’d be angry too. Here belief isn’t the issue, it’s the associations, the memories.
To make a ‘Star Trek’ it has to be that optimistic ideal world of an old-fashioned futuristic America. The current offerings give use a reflection of the debased present-day America. They are steeped in the struggle to breath and the struggle to escape. The fan-author’s voice ring through without even an echo of the voice that created ‘Star Trek’.
As my last exhibits, I’d like to point to the ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Harry Potter’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What do these have that the others don’t… Actually, it’s what don’t these have that the others do. These don’t have a big heritage to live up to and be measured against. The most challenging thing that Marvel have to contend with is the number of different ‘Spider Man’ origin stories that there have been (at the time of writing March 2020, within the scope of the MCU). This is admittedly for one of their most exciting characters.
In the interest of balance. The question should be asked, could I do any better? If I were to be writing a new ‘Star Trek’ story, could I do better? Probably not. Would I go about it differently, certainly but these writers have taken on a respectively difficult challenge. It has only been through understanding how they came to address these challenges that I believe I’ve discerned some of where they could improve or other might do better following them. It should be noted that there many things they did get right but those are fall out of the scope of this document.