It’s time to let Star Trek go. I say this as someone who has been an enthusiast of that rich canon for most of my life. And yet, nothing lasts forever. All good things come to an end, as the last episode of The Next Generation reminded us, and there comes a time when we have to learn the lessons offered to us and move on to finding our own new worlds.
The impetus of this conclusion is the new series, Star Trek: Discovery. Having watched the first two episodes and the preview of things to come, it’s clear to me that calling this latest iteration Star Trek is to spread out the concept so far as to be meaningless.
This dissipation has been going on for a while now. J.J. Abrams created a lazy parody of the world, and before that, Enterprise failed to live up to its potential. But the latest effort isn’t even trying to fit in with what has come before.
There are starships with shields and phasers (well, phase cannons), Klingons who speak what sounds like Klingon, even though they don’t appear to belong either to the species in the original series or the species from the first movie onward. They look like relatives of those presented in Star Trek Into Darkness, which is a poor choice, given the slovenly realization found therein.
But the chief flaw is to be found in the main character, Michael Burnham. She — despite her unlikely name — is a first officer, which is a step down from the world’s usual centering on the commanding officer, but all right. The problem is that she doesn’t fit into the ethos of the Federation or Starfleet. At least she isn’t the snotty child that Abrams’s James T. Kirk is, but is instead edgy and tormented with angst.
Edginess and angst are permissible traits for characters, though they are by now a cliché, but they don’t belong in the world of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was a product of America’s experience in World War II and after, a time when the future was a hopeful place. The United Nations was supposed to bring peace and development across the globe. We were on our way to the Moon and beyond. Poverty, disease, and ignorance were all things that we could cure.
And that’s what Star Trek is supposed to be, stories about how smart people working together will not only save the day, but make it worth living through. That’s not the only kind of story that needs to be told, of course, but if someone wants to tell a different kind, go for it. But do it as something new.
Star Trek doesn’t have to die. It’s been continued by fans who have produced their own filmed episodes, and there are many books of varying quality available. At this point, the holders of the copyright should let the franchise go into the public domain. If the official version isn’t going to continue the tradition, allow the many creative people outside Hollywood free rein to do as we wish.
Or better yet, create our own worlds with new histories and languages and themes. This is not the handing out of cheap and easy advice on my part, since my Concordia series has been and continues to be the product of much rewarding labor.
But Hollywood’s main skill is recycling — and not even a bold job at that. Will I watch the new series? Probably, if I can find it somewhere that I don’t have to subscribe to CBS’s attempt to remain relevant. But Star Trek as a coherent phenomenon ended with Nemesis, and I’ll try — and likely fail — to judge Star Trek: Discovery as just Discovery.
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