The following essay comes to us from Lukas Kendall at Film Score Monthly (www.filmscoremonthly.com), whose Star Trek credentials including producing or co-producing most of the recent collector’s edition soundtrack CDs like the 15-disc La-La Land Records TOS box set. He also assisted with the recent publication of Return to Tomorrow, the oral history of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Lukas says he’s a lifelong Trekker who follows the ongoing dialogue about the franchise, and thought he had something to add about its fundamental appeal—and, among other things, the reason why J.J. Trek is so polarizing.
There has been a cottage industry of essays about how to make Star Trek more popular. Many of the prescriptions are simple: Put it back on television. Hire good people to make it. (Certainly, good creators always help.)
But there is a basic assumption that Star Trek could be every bit as successful as the Marvel universe or Star Wars—or even DC—if only CBS and Paramount could work through their business problems.
I think it’s not so simple—and the reason why is not a matter of taste. It is a matter of story.
Star Wars and the Marvel movies are action-packed spectacles that appeal to attention-deficit teenagers—the blockbuster sweet spot. Star Trek, by contrast, appeals to the brainy outsider. It’s slow, talky, even philosophical—a little bit like eating your vegetables.
The same things that are the source of Star Trek’s appeal are also the source of its limitations. Try to change it to appeal to everyone, and you’ll appeal to no one.
Star Trek just had two mega-budget blockbusters that were aggressively made and marketed for the modern, global movie audience. They are spectacular productions that cost a lot of money, made a lot of money, were popular and well reviewed—but did not set box-office records. A third film is likely to continue the trend.
Tellingly, some Trek fans revile the new films. That is because, in order to appeal to a modern global audience, they fundamentally alter the franchise’s DNA. This has nothing to do with the creation of an alternate timeline, which is ingenious. It is about taking a pacifist, cerebral, talky television show and turning it into an action-adventure movie. Something is lost along the way.
Star Trek is fundamentally not action-adventure. Drama is conflict, and blockbuster movies are about “branding” the conflict as specific forms of physical fighting: Comic book movies are superpower slugfests. Star Wars is lightsaber duels, blasters and spaceship dogfights. James Cameron’s films are commando-style militaristic warfare. The Matrix is “bullet-time” kung fu.
Star Trek has always had its share of fighting—from 1960s fisticuffs to submarine-style warfare—but the best Star Trek “fighting”…is talking. Kirk talks a computer into exploding. Picard talks a bad guy into laying down his arms.
Star Trek has never translated well to movies. Its style and ideas play best on television, without the need to: (1) encapsulate its entire world (2) into the fundamental transformation of a single character, (3) that happens over two hours, (4) with all of civilization in jeopardy, including (5) stuff for the supporting cast to do and (6) all the de rigueur “He’s dead, Jim” moments, while (7) humoring die hard fans by not changing too much and (8) pandering to morons.
The best Star Trek film is still The Wrath of Khan—which doesn’t put Earth in jeopardy or climax in a fistfight, kills a major character (as a requirement of being made), and was shot cheaply on recycled sets. At a time when Star Trek was only 79 episodes of the original series, a cartoon, and a widely seen but unloved movie, Nicholas Meyer and his colleagues had the freedom to do what they wanted, so long as it was cheap: tell a good, literary and character-based story. Today, that movie would not survive the first development meeting.
A common refrain is to put Star Trek back on television and make it for adults—the Mad Men or Game of Thrones of Star Trek series. Sounds exciting!
It’s also impossible. You can’t make the “adult” Star Trek series because Star Trek is not about adults. It can be for adults, but it is not about them.
What are the driving realities of adult life? Sex and money. What is never in Star Trek? Sex and money.
Sure, there’s suggested sex. Off-screen sex. Characters have romantic relationships, but viewed as a child would—Mommy and Daddy go to their room, and come out the next morning.
Money? There are “credits” but I still don’t understand the Federation’s economic system. Do the crew get paid? Is the Federation communist? (There was a great article about this: https://medium.com/@RickWebb/the-economics-of-star-trek-29bab88d50)
There have already been 726 episodes and 12 movies of Star Trek—and too many of them revolve around misunderstood space anomalies.
Would it be best to start from scratch? Creatively—no doubt about it. But Star Trek fans would never allow that. Star Trek is not like James Bond or Batman, where every decade you cast a new actor and wipe the slate clean. Or like Marvel’s movies and TV series, which are drawn from fifty years of mythology, but nobody expects them to slavishly reproduce the comic books—or even be consistent with each other.
Star Trek fans demand every installment connect with every other one. We already have the “Abramsverse,” which was cleverly constructed as an alternate reality. Can there be another recasting, with a third actor playing Kirk, or a second playing Picard? I doubt it.
Stay in the Abramsverse? Possibly, but Into Darkness demonstrated the problem of doing this: you’re constantly running into characters and scenarios you already know. Not only do the writers have to tell the same story twice—for the people who know the original, and the ones who don’t—but it’s never as good the second time.
Go another hundred years into the future, aboard the Enterprise-G? Maybe. But no matter what, you have a consistent, intricate universe that has to be respected. Hard to bump into an asteroid without it being like that time on Gamma Epsilon VI.
Star Trek already had one fundamental storytelling upgrade: when The Next Generation got good in season three (circa 1990) and took a turn into Philip K. Dick issues of perception and reality—which is to say, postmodernism. It jettisoned the 1960s melodrama—great move—but replaced it with technobabble. Ugh.
The Problem With Star Trek
Unlike the Marvel universe—which takes place in contemporary reality—Star Trek takes place in the future. And not just an abstract future, but a specific vision of the future from fifty years in the past. It’s not only a period piece, but a parallel universe—a “double remove.”
Before man landed on the moon, manned space travel was plausible. Roddenberry intended the bridge of the Enterprise to be completely believable. (Next to The Beverly Hillbillies, he was doing Chekhov—that’s with an h.) But we now know that (Interstellar and Avatar aside) interplanetary space travel is not realistic, or certainly not happening any time soon.
As a result, Star Trek is irrevocably dated. What was meant to be the actual future has become a fantasy future—but it’s not allowed to acknowledge it. Star Wars is unashamed space fantasy, set in a make-believe galaxy, but Star Trek is supposed to be real. (I guess I missed the Eugenics Wars.) Ever wonder why in Star Trek they only listen to classical music, or sometimes jazz? Hearing anything recorded after 1964 would puncture the reality (except for time travel stories). This is the same reason why The West Wing never referenced a president after Kennedy.
Roddenberry aspired to do cosmic wonder and weirdness—“The Cage,” Star Trek: The Motion Picture—but these stories are wildly expensive and dramatically abstract. (How do you fight an alien that can destroy you with its thoughts?) Star Trek became a more elevated version of Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers, a predecessor to Star Wars, transplanting 19th century colonialism (instead of feudalism) into space. Klingons instead of Russians, Romulans instead of Chinese (or vice versa). It’s a futuristic version of Captain Horatio Hornblower, as Nick Meyer realized—and Roddenberry intended—that could be practically produced on a weekly basis. (Master and Commander is a great Star Trek movie.)
Why can’t you do a variety of stories set in different corners of the Star Trek universe? Because Marvel can go anyplace in the contemporary world to mine relatable characters and interesting storylines—from the corridors of a high school to the streets of New York City to foreign countries to mythical Asgard. But Star Trek has to go different places within its own, make-believe universe, bound by specific storytelling and ideological rules: it is, by definition, a ship in space. They tried space without a ship (DS9), a ship lost in space (Voyager), a prequel ship (Enterprise), and an alternate universe ship (Abramsverse); how many more variations can there be? One wonders if even Star Wars will be able to sustain its “expanded universe” movies and TV series, but it has the advantages of a bigger fanbase, more action-adventure style, and fewer continuity restrictions.
How do you reinvent Star Trek for a modern television audience? There already was a terrific, adult human space drama—from one of the best Star Trek writers, Ron Moore. Battlestar Galactica was adapted from an old TV show that Moore was at complete liberty to rework (since it sucked and no one cared).
One thing Moore took care to do: no aliens. Because aliens fundamentally don’t make sense. All over the galaxy, there are aliens who look and act like (white) humans with bumpy foreheads, they all speak English (somehow “universally translated”), each planet has a single culture and government, yet the Prime Minister’s office consists of three people, and no society has television—really?
But we can’t get rid of aliens on Star Trek—because of Spock. Who rules.
So as much as I’d love to see Star Trek on the small screen again, I question how it could be done without violating continuity or its fundamental appeal. It’s certainly not suitable for a True Detective-style reimagining.
What is the appeal of Star Trek? Forget about sex and money—the humans on Star Trek aren’t even human. The aliens are human. Let me explain.
The appeal of Star Trek—the drug that intoxicates a certain percentage of the world’s population—is Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future. We despair at the pathetic failures of our species—our polluting, warfare, cruelty and selfishness—but Star Trek says, “Relax. Humanity will survive. We will triumph. We will solve our problems and fly to the stars. Everything will be great!”
It is a wonderful, inspirational message. It deserves to have lasted fifty years—may it last forever. It’s not necessarily a future that will come to pass, but it’s good to have this positive message in the culture. (The best TV series of the last twenty years to carry this spirit? The West Wing.)
It’s not just the fantasy of us as a species. Roddenberry’s vision is one of adult life as seen by a child, anxious about a future as a grown-up. How will I live by myself, without my parents? How will I learn to socialize, to have romantic love, a family of my own, a job? Will the world still be there for me? Who will take care of me?
Starfleet will! You will have a job on the Enterprise, full of friends, colorful uniforms, understandable work (Warp speed! Level-one diagnostics!), galactic adventure, and a social life of fun on the Holodeck and poker in Riker’s quarters.
Think about the characters on Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was adamant that humanity would evolve and shed petty and negative characteristics. Drama relies upon conflict between characters—but he didn’t want the crew to fight amongst themselves. Therefore—to the frustration of most of Star Trek’s writers—Star Trek’s human characters are bereft of the personality traits that create drama.
How does one tell a Star Trek story if drama (conflict between characters) is forbidden? The humans are drama-free—so you make the aliens the humans.
Consider Star Trek’s most pivotal characters: they are always the aliens. In Star Trek, humans are perfect—therefore dull. The aliens, however, are versions of human children learning how to become adults.
Spock is a repressed child. Data is a shy child. Worf is an angry child. Seven of Nine is a repressed, angry child with big boobs.
The same goes for the races: the Vulcans are repressed kids, the Klingons angry kids. (The Romulans have never quite worked because…what are they, exactly?)
Think of the three most-developed characters on Next Generation: Picard, Data and Worf. (Picard is the father figure, representing all of humanity.)
What did we really learn about Riker, except that he played trombone (because the actor did)? About Troi (half-alien, but close enough), except that she liked chocolate? About Crusher…at all?
And didn’t they struggle to find quality episodes for these characters?
In Star Trek, the human characters lack dimension—because they are idealized. They are viewed as perfect the way children view their parents as perfect—finding them incapable of dark or deviant behavior. At most, they are given trivial social problems to solve—like Geordi being nervous about going on a first date. (What was he, forty? The chief engineer on the best ship in the fleet, and he couldn’t get laid?)
The child-parent model explains why attempts to go “dark” on Star Trek—from Nemesis to Into Darkness, and even rebelling against the Federation in Insurrection—never work. It’s like watching Mommy and Daddy fight—it’s not interesting, it’s sickening. (The exception that proves the rule: the Mirror universe, a wacky funhouse that’s not real.)
In the last movie, watching Kirk be a brash asshole (again!) and the Federation warmongering maniacs is like seeing your dad as an alcoholic and your mom a hooker. Sure, it may make for a more interesting family, but it actually hurts to watch.
In marketing speak: it goes against the brand. (I hope someone reads this.)
The Best Star Trek
Maybe you think I hate Star Trek. Au contraire! I love it. I would love to see new Star Trek produced and be popular.
But it has to be good Star Trek, and that requires a leap of faith on the part of the producers.
For Star Trek to be high quality, it has to risk appealing to fewer people—less action, more talk. Fewer special effects, not more. Intimate, not epic.
Making a lot of it is not a good idea because it’ll start to repeat itself and suck (cf. Enterprise).
Fans are not necessarily the best people to dictate what Star Trek ought to be. They want exactly what they’ve already seen, while also being completely surprised. Can’t be done. (This is the problem with all sequels and franchises.)
Fans are also obsessed with “continuity porn”—brief moments of recognition with no storytelling value. They are empty calories.
Nick Meyer likens Star Trek to the Catholic mass, which has been set to music by composers throughout the centuries. The composers can change the music, but the text is always the same. Star Trek has a glorious text that can be set into music a few more times—at least. But the text is not well understood—certainly not by studio executives, and rarely even by fans.
There are doubtless readers of this essay who will bristle at my implications that Star Trek is for children—that by extension I am calling them children. Star Trek is not for idiot children. On the contrary, it is for very bright children—ones with big hearts and quick minds who long for purpose, a sense of belonging and a universe that is just and wise.
It is for the child in all of us, stripped of our adult baggage, forever hopeful, curious, eager to please and to experience love—not necessarily a romantic love, but the love of all of mankind. “All I want,” you may say to yourself, “is to be a good person, and be loved for it.”
Importantly, the best Star Trek stories involve death, from “The City on the Edge of Forever” and The Wrath of Khan to “The Bonding” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” They feature characters facing death, a little bit as a child would (the first loss of a grandparent), but accepting it with elegance and grace—an inspiration for all of us who must come to terms with our mortality.
When we accept death, we also accept life. We accept ourselves.
Or at least, I think this is what Spock was trying to tell me…on my birthday.
Live Long and Prosper
Star Trek has survived for fifty years, and will hopefully survive for fifty more. It’s a wonderful, timeless creation, with an important message about the human condition.
That message, says Linus on the school stage, is not to buy more DVDs, toys or movie tickets. When it comes to merchandising and exploitation, Star Trek may be the granddaddy of them all, but it will always to take a back seat to something flashier and more popular. As well it should.
Star Trek should not be run like a money machine, but curated like an important museum piece—which is paradoxically how it will become the most popular, and make the most money. This doesn’t mean it should never change. The “music” always needs to be updated, shorn of things that are dated and bad. But the “text” is immutable.
The next Star Trek creators need not be Star Trek fans—many of the best have known nothing of it (Nick Meyer), but also so have some of the worst (Stuart Baird)—so long as they understand and appreciate the text.
The text is the heart of Star Trek. It is story, not spectacle. It is gentle, not aggressive. It is optimistic, not dark. It is hopeful, compassionate and, above all—the captain says with a tear running down his cheek—human. In the right hands, it can, and should, last forever.
Lukas Kendall has produced collector’s edition soundtrack CDs to multiple Star Trek films and television series, along with hundreds of other albums for his label, Film Score Monthly, and others. His first film as a cowriter and producer, the indie thriller Lucky Bastard, is not for kids and not at all like Star Trek. He says some of his critical ideas about Trek and child psychology were inspired by a little-known 1990s book of essays called Enterprise Zones (http://www.amazon.com/Enterprise-Zones-Critical-Positions-Studies/dp/0813328985).
Excellent article, Very much how I feel.
This essay really nails the essence of Star Trek.
It should be required reading at the Those Who Want To Produce Star Trek Academy.
Bravo! Spot on! An excellent analysis. The best thing stated about our current iteration of Trek: “…it goes against the brand.”
Man is a genius!
! not ?
Yeah sort of. But not really.
Yes, yes and yes
DS9 is not being acknowledged in this article, which is a real flaw. Nor is Star Trek’s role as a receptacle for interesting science fiction concepts, irrespective of the ‘optimistic vision’.
I respect the autor’s sentiments about Star Trek being different, but I don’t agree, not…one…bit.
That “cerebral” quality focusing on words was present in some fashion during TOS and TNG days, but if you look at the movies 2-12 (except 4), DS9 as well as most of VOY and ENT, the focus is on action, just the way it is on Star Wars, Marvel etc… So setting Trek apart from other genre franchises is nothing but an urban myth… In parts, Marvel and Star Wars creations have been wordier and more cerebral than recent Trek!
I’m all up for a change and would like to see a shift towards Avatar-style exploration of new worlds (which would still include plenty of action along the way), but Trek doesn’t need that Shakespearean “wordiness”… and what it certainly does NOT need it to be kept and curated in a museum!
Of course, Star Trek can be updated, rebooted and relaunched as often and as freely as necessary. Of course, three, four or five different actors will have played Kirk, Spock and Bones. There isn’t just the Abramsverse, there is an infinite number of parallel realities and even if you go back to the Primeverse, there are plenty of ways to expand that in every direction, featuring both visual nostalgia and futuristic updates.
You just lack the imagination and that’s true for vast parts of the fanbase that has taken canonicity too darn seriously for decades! All the obsession with continuity errors is pathetic… let it go and enjoy the ride…
You claim that there can’t be any “adult” Trek… but then, you already prove yourself to be wrong by talking about aliens being humans! Klingons, Romulans, corrupted humans, Ferengi, Cardassians, Orions, stray Vulcans… all of them could be engaged in sexual atrocities, brute behavior, monetary greed and bloody murder in the style of NuBSG, Game of Thrones or Defiance. This may stray from being a children’s program in the sense of TOS, TNG or Doctor Who, but not all of Trek is supposed to be that way.
Even those idealized, perfect human beings you talk about are an urban myth only true for very few periods of Trek, basically TNG, VOY and some ENT… There has been plenty of conflict on DS9 and even TOS should conflict among major characters. The NextGen movies also broke with the utopian approach of the (early) TV show.
I’ll tell you this: Star Trek can be whatever you want it to be. It’s a fictional world that can be updated in a multitude of ways. It can focus on adult.thened human drama NuBSG-style, it can be a series of action-packed popcorn flicks and include more action than Star Wars Eps 7-9 and the entire Avengers series combined, or it can finally start some exploration à la Avatar (which I’d prefer), but it’s NOT determined by what fundamentalist purists want it to be: a cerebral piece of Shakespeare in the future to be kept in a vault to protect it from the evil Zeitgeist of blockbuster tentpoles…
If there is one common theme defined by classic Star Trek it’s IDIC: infinite diversity in indefinite combinations and Trek needs to live up to THAT very core of its nature. Nothing else matters…
And yes, I want Star Trek to be part of this future franchise world that was launched by Marvel, Star Wars, DC, Planet of the Apes, Terminator, Universal Monsters, Potterverse etc… And Star Trek NEEDS to be quick if it doesn’t want to be late…
I really like this!
I largely agree with his points but I find myself bristling at the idea that liking Star Wars means you’re dumber than other people (Trek fans in particular).
I think a big reason why Star Wars has been more popular than Star Trek is that it doesn’t really reflect any particular cultural attitude but draws from so many different sources. Its’ themes are easily understandable and as such translate to a much greater audience.
I would also say that a new Star Trek series should go back to the TOS notion of human characters that are somewhat better than us, but not so different as to be unrelatable, a HUGE reason why I haven’t really gotten into the other series as much.
I liked that the TOS characters realized that though humanity had learned so much, collectively it still had a way to go.
“Star Trek is fundamentally not action-adventure.”
I disagree. It does not seem so viewed 50 years later, but in the 60’s it was quite action-adventure! (Certainly not always every episode, but there was some in each episode, and some were more than others.)
Something can have brainy elements as well as action.
Also, you claim that “Star Trek has never translated well to movies.” another thing that I have to disagree with. TWOK is perfect proof that it’s not true. But not only TWOK.
STIII and STVI, as well as ST2009 and STID are perfect proof that Trek can be so wonderful in movie format as well.
And as for TWOK “not putting Earth in jeopardy” etc. etc., the movie itself doesn’t (it does put all our favorite characters in jeopardy, and two of them die –Spock and Khan–, so that’s plenty enough), but all the advertisement for it around the time of the release implied that the entire universe was in jeopardy. It kept claiming Khan was threatening “universal Armageddon”. Good luck accomplishing that with a single torpedo!
But back to my main point:
Action and blockbusters are not incompatible with good stories or moral dilemmas, criticism of issues of our time and morality plays, as Star Trek Into Darkness has proved so well. (And while indeed some so-called ‘fans’ do revile the new movies, mostly for the sake of hating on any new Trek, only the blind haters truly fail to see that the best elements of TOS are present all over STID. The reboot is the life and soul of TOS in a modern presentation.)
Getting a record box office is a combination of luck, good timing, marketing etc., it’s not always only quality. (Hence why some movies get it even though they aren’t as good. Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, was quite fun, but it is by far inferior to either of the Trek movies. Or, for that matter, to a large amount of other movies that didn’t perform as well as GOTG. Record holders owe a lot to timing, luck, marketing, merchandising etc., and Paramount/CBS being terrible at much of that certainly doesn’t help either.)
And yet, the reboot movies are making more money than any Trek movie ever did before. I don’t think we need to be too worried that it’s not a world record. It’s still a LOT of money, even in hard years where all the projected blockbusters like Man of Steel bombed.
Thanks to all that money, the future of the franchise (which had been at serious risk before 2009) is finally safe again.
And more importantly than the good sales, so far the reboot movies have delivered quality and a true Trek feel. So they’ve been on the right track so far.
We can only hope future movies will be as good as Into Darkness. Whatever haters may say, that movie was wonderful. (There’s a reason why it’s the most commercially successful Trek movie ever made!) And I say this as a lifelong trekkie who adores TWOK too.
We can only hope they won’t jinx it trying to make it Marvel-like or whatever. There’s no need to. Star Trek is Star Trek, and it’s far better that way.
A well-reasoned and sensible look at the problems facing Star Trek.
Very well put essay.
The next Star Trek should be something NEW. It shouldn’t go back or look back to any of Star Trek before it… It should be a Star Trek for a new generation of people and shouldn’t have much to do with any of the previous incarnations besides a ship named ENTERPRISE
This lost me at “Star Trek is fundamentally not action adventure”
Read the original 1964 Star Trek pitch – right across it reads “Action – adventure – science fiction”. It’s what TOS was to it’s core. It’s what the classic movies were to their core. And it’s what the reboot movies are too.
what no Bob Orci sycophants in these comments yet?
I think also, Star Trek is compelling when a mystery is being solved (or understood, and this induces in us adults a child like sense of wonder.
But yes. I can send this one to my partner and friends.
13. Paul – January 12, 2015
But at least the bashers and haters are around to make sure this place doesn’t get peaceful and civil. ;)
Nice essay. Many good points raised.
What are Romulans, you ask? They’re the paranoid children, always seeing conspiracies and overanalyzing everything, and sometimes the ones who will pop up out of nowhere and lash out like bullies. In other words, they’re internet commenters like us. And Bob Orci.
Excellent! This is how I feel about trek since I was 6 years old
This article is full of contradictions and half thought out ideas.
“Star Trek just had two mega-budget blockbusters that were aggressively made and marketed for the modern, global movie audience. They are spectacular productions that cost a lot of money, made a lot of money, were popular and well reviewed—but did not set box-office records. A third film is likely to continue the trend.”
Umm – they set box-office records for the Star Trek franchise and in terms of bums on seats, finally beat the record set by TMP. So in that regard, Star Trek has never been more of a success.
“Star Wars and the Marvel movies are action-packed spectacles that appeal to attention-deficit teenagers—the blockbuster sweet spot. Star Trek, by contrast, appeals to the brainy outsider. It’s slow, talky, even philosophical—a little bit like eating your vegetables.”
So out of the Star Trek films, which is the one that’s brainy, slow and talky? Maybe TMP, but without the brainy bit. If you actually watch TOS, it’s full of fisticuffs and action, which it sometimes combines with some social issue, which it often discusses in the most trivial fashion. See TNG’s ethics, which amounts to less than an A-level balloon debate.
It’s pretentious and frankly delusional to infer that Star Trek fans are ‘more intelligent’ than Star Wars fans.
“Stay in the Abramsverse? Possibly, but Into Darkness demonstrated the problem of doing this: you’re constantly running into characters and scenarios you already know.”
Clearly we’ll stay in the Abramsverse, I’m all for running into characters and scenarios that we already know, so long as there is a good variation on the story – which STID (at least for a lot of people) provided.
Star Trek as a franchise is in a good place right now. The new movies have been successful, and if the third one continues the upward box office trend then we might see a new TV show. I’m just gutted that the remastered TNG dissapointed with lacklustre sales as I really want to see DS9 in HD.
“How do you reinvent Star Trek for a modern television audience? ”
Easy, break the old act based story structure, let us be emotionally invested in the characters and introduce more high concept science fiction story telling. Most of all, don’t explain everything to the audience, assume they’re smart enough that they don’t need everything spelled out in horrible info-dumps. Here’s a good article about how to write for modern audiences:
“Star Wars and the Marvel movies are action-packed spectacles that appeal to attention-deficit teenagers—the blockbuster sweet spot. Star Trek, by contrast, appeals to the brainy outsider. It’s slow, talky, even philosophical—a little bit like eating your vegetables.”
With comments like these, it’s no wonder nobody takes Trekkies seriously.
Great article. The immediate future should be simple. a celebration movie for the 50th, maybe something of a mega budget version of Generations i.e. some McGuffin (not necessarily time travel but might well be in some different way – maybe even the Guardian?) to enable Shatner/Nimoy and maybe more TOS cast (not necessarily as they are now thanks to CG) and even Stewart, to interact with the JJcast who are dealing with some threat that spanned all Trek
Fun, action, greatest hits type thing, maybe that BTTF2 type of movie which is very much in vogue at the moment with XMDOFP, new Terminator, Dr Who 50th, (with maybe a touch of the team up thing like Marvel/DC/Fast Furious) and although ST09 touched upon that it didn’t really do it in the Yesterdays Enterprise/Trials Tribulations crossover type way, in fact none of the films have done that yet (also ST09 will be 7 years old by the time of ST3 so maybe they could get away with more timetravel) plus I guess it could be argued the Prime timeline seeping into the alternate timeline has been simmering for 2 films as if building toward something big…maybe something to tie it up as a trilogy TDK style..
I dont know what they should do after that though, A new TV show i guess but what I dont know (alternate universe TNG era?)
Nice article, but why name ‘The Bonding’ as ‘one of the best Star Trek stories’..?? I like the episode, but the episode doesn’t DEFINE Trek the way Lukas suggests…
“Think about the characters on Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was adamant that humanity would evolve and shed petty and negative characteristics. Drama relies upon conflict between characters—but he didn’t want the crew to fight amongst themselves. Therefore—to the frustration of most of Star Trek’s writers—Star Trek’s human characters are bereft of the personality traits that create drama.”
…this is a HUGE problem in TNG-Trek and the spin-offs. Fortunately, in the early days of TOS, Roddenberry hadn’t yet traveled the boring path to Utopia. Nor has JJ’s Treks maintained that “mandate” of “let’s all get along.” …thankfully!
Also love the article and agree with the majority of its points. As much as I love the movies, Trek does tend to be best fit on television.
I personally could see Trek return as something like a ten episode five-year mission-set event series, with the classic characters (these have the most public awareness). Of course, they would have to be recast, but the Abramsverse proved this could work, and could work again.
I wholeheartedly agree Trek should not stray from its core values. Conflict can and should be seen between the crew, but they should also be a family we tune in to watch every episode.
Action adventure most definitely has its place – I don’t necessarily agree that Trek need be “talky” – but imaginative, compelling, thought provoking science fiction stories should drive it.
I’d be happy to see at least one more Abramsverse movie adventure before Trek finally returns to the small screen.
Great article, though I don’t agree with everything.
The Star Trek writers mostly weren’t fans when they wrote for TOS in 1966, so no, you don’t need to be a fan to produce good Star Trek but I agree, you need to understand what it’s about and that’s more than the character arcs etc.
The sum is more than all of its parts.
I’m hoping for a Netflix or so TV series that doesn’t need 24 episodes produced in one year etc. and requires no TV. That might improve the quality.
So it’s settled then. Aaron Sorkin should write the next Star Trek TV series. And it should be no more than 13 one hour episodes in a season. I’ve not watched The West Wing, but The Newsroom was quality TV filled with intellectual content, challenging drama, rich characters and zero special effects… Oh and tons of optimism. If you want story, he’s your man.
I truly enjoyed this unique viewpoint. I really takes me back and even highlights to me why I love star trek and that quite fairly it does present such a utopian world, like the federation star ships, the clean lines, the soft curves, the heritage. It is a perfect world, a world I would give anything to live in.
I can also see why 50 years later is may be a bit dated.
I recently watched Voyager again, and the stories feel shallow, even I like the more edgier Deep Space Nine episodes at the time,
Modern entertainment is al lot darker. Heroes are fallible. The happy ending is an anti climax. Nothing is certain; you cannot trust the person next to you. A character you fall in love with suddenly has an affair or kills someone in a plot twist. I hate it, it makes me feel uneasy, like heavy traffic, living in a country where crime is rampant, social values decline each day, rape and murder long since not front page news. Entertainment reflects this harsher unsheltered world.
Which is why I long to go back to trek, I find that it makes me feel good about people again, a sense of honour from the Klingons, a sense of logic from the Vulcans, and a sense of purpose from Capt Picard.
It will be a fine balance to keep it’s soul alive while making it commercially successful at the same time. A greater mind I hope than mine.
Lots of of folks on TOS were advocating the limited series approach in the 70s, doing 6 or 8 90-minute installments a year (a la MCCLOUD and COLUMBO), which is something akin to our current netflix/AMC/Starz/UKseries approaches, and it still feels like the right approach to me (always has), because you could tell a trek story but spend a little more time to go deeper into the story, which could develop supporting folks and give more of an idea of the ep’s location in the Trek universe, too.
After GENERATIONS (which I loathed, outside of the opening), I thought a limited series about the E-B would be a great outside-the-box way of looking at trek fresh. You wouldn’t have all the magic box tech of the 24th century, but you would have the end of era aspect that makes ‘tween movies like THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (coming of automobile) and THE WILD BUNCH (west gives way to automatic weapons) so compelling.
And the idea that you’d have a story that could take a year or more to play out to completion in maybe 8 hours time, one that started with the ENTERPRISE name burned off the hull after The Day Harriman Got Kirk Killed (as it would play in the press), and how the crew faced various issues and challenges, many arising from the somewhat paranoid vision of Starfleet and Federation we see in SFS and TUC (still haven’t recovered from the Fed security guy telling McCoy that this subject isn’t something he should be discussing in public … !!!)
Actually, some of the Marcus/Kirk dynamic in ID isn’t too far afield from what Harriman was going to face before he realized that he needed to be allegiant to the ideas of Starfleet rather than just his bosses. I’ve never read David’s CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER because I’m still trying to not take other input on this relatively unexplored era, but over 20 years on, I’m thinking I might as well break down and do so. Not like anybody is going to trot Alan Ruck and Jacqueline Kim out and take the decades off via digital makeup to do this, so …
Sorry for the digression, I did think the article addressed a lot of pertinent issues, and it does point to the idea of having a showrunner with a genuine plan for Trek that is more than just ticking off boxes. As to whether we’d ever get it, well …
I actually completely disagree with this agreed upon assumption that Star Trek is brainy and philosophical. It’s anything but, the heavy handed messages of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, The Outcast, and similar are hardly among the best episodes of the franchise. Trek never knew how to be subtle about social commentary unfortunately.
The most popular episodes are the action, adventure and very Hollywood blockbuster oriented ones (as much as they can be on TV budgets) like Mirror, Mirror, Balance of Terror, The Doomsday Machine, The Best of Both Worlds, Cause and Effect, Yesterday’s Enterprise, Chain of Command, and many, many more.
Sure there are exceptions like the amazing The Measure of a Man, The Inner Light and The City on the Edge of Forever (although I could totally see The City adapted as a movie).
While I agree with the spirit of the article, I do take exceptions with a few points.
1) How great the Federation is. On TOS, The Federation is “perfect” except that most of the time the story is Kirk against the machine. Was there ever a Fed representative that we were supposed to like? How many times did the “law” get violated? TNG embraced the Federation, and became stale.
2) Continuity was dealt with brilliantly the Star Trek 2009. It was hard to watch at first for a long time Trekkie, but in the end great story with action, humor and clean slate. They then went for Khan and STII. What a waste! The house was torn down and instead of a new structure, the started rebuilding what was there. A shame.
3) Star Trek is for kids… OK. The YA market is on fire right now. What a great time this should be for Trek!
4) The tech is impossible? That’s the point. We get closer to the tech that was impossible 50 years ago every day. Let’s dream about future tech at a time we ponder the return to the moon and Mars, what the Higgs Boson or Gene splicing can mean, or any number of emerging tech that could inspire the future.
It’s my opinion that if Trek is done right, it can be relevant and entertaining for years to come.
They just need to fulfill the promise of All Good Things…Imagine a final showdown between Picard and Q? Don’t even have it take place aboard a Starship…The possibilities are endless. Formula is what’s killing Star Trek. Just as so many Bond movies attempted to recreate/retread Goldfinger, even more Star Trek films retread The Wrath of Khan. Do Something unique!
I think this was a good analysis. For similar reasons is also why I liked Star Gate SG1 and Atlantis. They maintained an optimistic view of humanity and focused on exploration of new things with conflict coming from mainly outside of humanity or at the very least outside of the team.
By the way, I think this is also why Star Gate Universe didn’t do as well. It “went against the brand” with most of it’s stories revolving around the crew bickering among themselves.
For Star Trek they should go back to Gene Rodenberry’s basic rules and outlines. It was obviously the recipe for it’s success. If they don’t want to stick to those rules just name it something else. There are plenty of space movies without the name Star Trek attached to them.
I think the best way to carry on with Trek is with a series in the Abramsverse, with a different ship. Keep the shows mature and intelligent. By mature, I don’t mean “lets use swear words” and “lets have sex,” I mean…well, make things matter. The article above talks about how some of the best TOS eps involved death. Well, but the funny thing is, death in Trek almost never means anything. Two redshirts die in the beginning of the show, and Kirk is cracking jokes on Spock at the end of the show. Explosions and dead people all over the bridge on TNG, yet next week, they’re sitting and shooting the breeze like Ensign Ydobon didn’t die two feet away from them last Thursday. Did anyone mention anything about Tasha until her Romulan daughter popped up later? DS9 did pretty good, as I remember, especially “In the Pale Moonlight” where they dealt with the mounting death tolls. Make things matter. Good and bad. Let the shows kind of be attached together, so what happened two weeks ago still is relevant this week. The biggest problem with Trek is sometimes the humans don’t seem human. If you have a kid and raise him in an episode and he dies/goes away, like Ian Troi, I’m thinking that I want to hear something about him in another episode.
Story, yes, but so much more.
Its a recipe – and if is entrusted to the wrong chef can make a real mess.
This isn’t a specific rebuttal to anything in that article, but just my general feelings – If Trek is going to be in the theaters, it can’t be what it was in the TOS and TNG movies. They won’t make it, and won’t be worthy of the big screen experience. So the movies had to venture into a format previously uninhabited by Trek. But what worked so well in Trek 09 for me didn’t in STID… the story. At it’s heart, it can be dressed up with intense action and stellar visuals, but the essayist is right.. story comes first. And it’s not that STID’s story was bad, it’s that it relied too much on a history that hasn’t been built in the alternate timeline yet. There were two stories there.. one that resonated with me in an overall sense, and the other that fell 100% flat and went off on tangents that diminished the impact of the previous. The militarization of Starfleet in the wake of future technology introduced into their timeline was compelling. The introduction of a Khan that did not even seem to have the same personality as his previous incarnation coupled with a dialogue rehash was not. So yes, story is important, but it probably isn’t going to work in the old format.
On TV, I think you can go for a Homeland like show.. not in tone exactly and certainly no in it’s target demographic… but character driven and high on drama, not action. Building tension and intrigue, less technobabble. No real isolated episodes. DS9 kind of went this way, and that can work for Trek. I’d love to see a shorter series maybe.. 10-13 episodes a year.. but what’s great about TV and movies is they can round out that universe and make it interesting.. and both mediums can give us different approaches that work well. I’m all for embracing a new paradigm in Trek, I just want it to be done well, and explore the core principles, not be drug down by them.
39 Horatio ” Its a recipe – and if is entrusted to the wrong chef can make a real mess.”
It’s 2 recipes.
Don’t ever make the mistake that TOS and TNG,etc. were cut from the same cloth. If EVER there were apples and oranges it’s, Star Trek and TNG! How you blend the two I can’t tell you and not sure that you should even try.
How you focus on just one recipe, and do it well, is apparent with the Bad Robot movies. There is a decided fork in the road, the question is, which one takes you to further prosperity and success with modern audiences and which one shovels yet one more pile of dirt upon the casket..which, has been partially exhumed-thanks to JJ and bad Robot- but could easily be dropped back into the grave of apathetic irreverence.
Oh, who is this guy? The president of Terra Prime? Too much humancentric …ST needs aliens…aliens and more aliens because Earth is not the heart of the Universe…
The article is very pessimistic and I agree that old Star Trek can not be revived in any conceivable way. But if you like modern Star Trek there is no need to be so pessimistic.
And if you do not, I think a tv series will not pay any attention to older fans and their need to have it all connected. It will be totally new. Possibly something you will like.
TOS was “pacifistic” and “talky”?
I have to disagree with the article on this point: Star Trek IS action-adventure, precisely because of its TOS roots, but it was a “thinking man’s” action-adventure. The difference is HOW that genre is dealt with. INTERSTELLAR, to me, is a thinking man’s action-adventure. The difference is that it uses the classic elements “Man-v-Man”, “Man-v-Nature” and “Man-v-Self”. There weren’t any “villains” in the film per se, but there was definite conflict throughout the film that was resolved at the film’s conclusion.
Also, the concept of sex and money has already been dealt with in ‘Trek: Deep Space Nine. Check it out.
Aliens just represent different facets of humanity on Trek, so they are more symbolic than necessary, though you could hardly do aware with them at this juncture.
I think the ‘no aliens’ part of nuBSG was one of the smarter ideas, though I wish they’d explored at least a few additional hard SF notions on occasion. They could have stood to find that a lost tribe had built a dyson sphere and exploited that for visual and expanded story options for a few eps, that kind of thing. Then again, TNG utterly squandered the dyson sphere as a throwaway element in RELICS (I find TNG kind of peed all over a lot of good ideas rather than developing them, and that view has not changed with the passage of decades.)
Something a few posters aren’t realizing is that a number of the action eps are also the idea driven eps. DOOMSDAY has a very real concern at its core, of war tech out of control (extremely relevant in the 60s after STRANGELOVE and FAIL-SAFE), for example. My two alltime faves are DOOMSDAY and THE EMPATH, and I don’t think you could find two differently scaled or styled eps all that easily. And that points up that TOS is not just one thing or the other, but that in most successful shows, the character interaction among principals is instrumental in developing a compelling tale.