For some of us, Star Trek will always be Star Trek, and for others, Star Trek is the only thing the universe will ever really need. I love Star Trek. I can’t imagine a universe without it. But this isn’t the Star Trek we all grew up with, or at least I didn’t. The Star Trek of today is something else.
I was listening to the audio commentary for the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture (aka Star Trek: The Original Series), and I couldn’t help but think that the director, producer, and writers were bleeding over to the new film. That was particularly true when the director and writer of the new film, J.J. Abrams, kept referring to the original show as “BAD Star Trek” and the new film as “Better Star Trek.” Well, first off, I’m sure they’re not bleeding, but these comments were certainly dated. And second, what exactly makes Star Trek “BAD Star Trek?” Is it the plots? The costumes? The sets?
It’s “Star Trek Day” today… On September 8, 1966, the first episode of Star Trek aired on NBC Television, commemorating 55 years since the show’s debut.
ViacomCBS has scheduled a series of panels from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles that will broadcast live today at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time/8:30 p.m. Eastern Time in honor of this special day (at least for us Trekkers). On StarTrek.com/Day, you may watch these panels and a variety of associated special activities for free. In the United States, the panels will be streamed for free on Paramount+ and Paramount+’s Twitch page. The panels will be accessible on demand on Paramount+’s YouTube Channel and on Paramount+ after their first broadcast.
The company also produced this fantastic montage video to go along with the news…
I mean, how awesome was that? Even if you don’t like for the current CBS Star Trek series, this whole event is amazing. Beginning in October, the same Skirball Cultural Center will host an exclusive Star Trek: Exploring Strange New Worlds exhibit for four months. During that time, Star Trek: Prodigy, a new animated Star Trek series, will premiere on both the subscription-based Paramount+ streaming service and the children’s broadcast channel Nickelodeon. This will be the first time in 48 years that a Star Trek series is aimed exclusively towards children (the next generation of Trekkers).
But wait, there’s more! In the exciting new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, ANSON MOUNT will make his debut as Captain Christopher Pike next year… a return to episodic Star Trek, with stories that don’t span seasons and include ever-increasing risks, difficulties, and hazards Instead, it’ll be good old-fashioned Star Trek the way we’ve enjoyed it in the past (we’re really hoping!).
Q, Guinan, and the Borg Queen will all be appearing in Star Trek: Picard, as well as whatever the USS Discovery will do now that her nacelles are detached. (Okay, maybe not everything is going according to plan.) Oh, and Star Trek: Lower Decks is still releasing two-thirds of a season each week.
But, hey, let’s take a step back—far, way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in time (with the aid of a Guardian called “Carl”) to a year you Of course, that year was…
No, I’m not making this up. Do you recall the year 2016? You could go on vacation, dine at restaurants, see movies in cinemas, and shop for groceries without jeopardizing your health back then. In the MCU, Tony Stark was still alive, and no one had yet been “snapped” into dust (Avengers: Infinity War was still almost two years away!). Nobody has ever used the terms “Baby” and “Yoda” in the same sentence before. Game of Thrones fans were eager to see how amazing the last two seasons would be. Britain was still a member of the European Union, the term “fake news” had not yet been coined, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was about to disclose his tax records and ensure that Mexico paid for a 1,000-mile-long border wall.
2016 feels like an eternity ago, doesn’t it?
It was also Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. This is significant for two reasons. The first is that when I heard about the Star Trek Day 55th anniversary celebration a few weeks ago, my immediate reaction was, “Hey, where was all this fuss five years ago when it REALLY mattered?” The Star Trek golden anniversary celebration (if you can call it that) was underwhelming… It’s almost as if the studio had totally forgotten about it until the very last moment (which they probably did). Magazines seemed to put out a greater effort than CBS…
And then there were all those crazed Star Trek enthusiasts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube who screamed the following gibberish (or something similar)…
BETTER NO STAR TREK AT ALL THAN ALL THIS CRAP FROM CBS!!!
Are you serious???
We Trekkies had a rough time in the years running up to 2016. Sure, J.J. Abrams was kind enough to offer us three Star Wars films starring Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise. Star Trek, on the other hand, has been off the airwaves (or cable waves or satellite waves) for almost a decade! Prior to that, we had been pampered with at least one (often two) Star Trek television series running every year from 1987 to 2005. Starting college in 2005, there were youngsters who had never known a world without new Star Trek episodes showing every week.
Then…nothing. For almost a decade and a half! Is that really what you want, you pessimists? Is “NO Trek” truly better than “BAD Trek?” Is Star Trek ever really “bad?” (Okay, “Spock’s Brain,” “The Infinite Vulcan,” “The Royale,” “Threshold,” and “These Are the Voyages” aren’t all home runs for Star Trek.)
But really, would you rather have no Star Trek at all (and I’m talking about you, cranky cynics)? Consider this before you respond…
“Just give us Star Trek the way it used to be—the way we like it,” a substantial percentage of the fans who gripe about the new Trek series believe they know how to solve the issue. “Stop making so many modifications to everything.”
Is it, however, really that simple…?
Let’s start with Deep Space Nine to address that question. DS9 failed to establish its footing throughout the most of the first season. Many of the scripts were TNG-style tales in which the people, creatures, and anomalies came to the station rather than seeking out encounters with alien species or odd space phenomena. “The Storyteller,” “If Wishes Were Horses,” and (shudder) “Move Along Home” were all first-season episodes that might easily have become Next Gen programs. There was even a Lwaxan Troi episode and a Q episode. Because DS9 was not TNG, none of them functioned. However, as the series developed and began to explore its own distinct features, DS9 began to travel in new areas that Star Trek had never gone before, including politics, religion and spirituality, family, long-term galactic war, heavily serialized storylines, and extended supporting characters.
Voyager began by TRYING to be different (a crew made up of two sets of former adversaries, limited resources such as torpedoes and fuel, and a completely uncharted area of space), but it soon fell into the “same old thing” of being extremely similar to Star Trek: The Next Generation. The two crews quickly merged and buried the Hackett (ouch! ), torpedoes, fuel, and shuttles were no longer scarce, and adversaries like the Kazon and Vidiians kept reappearing (much like Klingons and Romulans in the Alpha Quadrant), despite the Voyager’s efforts to steer clear of those areas of space. Star Trek: Voyager took a few seasons to distinguish itself from the rest of the TNG franchise, diving into the Borg and what it means to be a sentient hologram, as well as putting the primary goal of getting home first.
The Enterprise, too, started with “the same only different,” which meant calling phasers “phase pistols,” “polarizing the hull plating” instead of raising shields, treating patients with odd space creatures, grappling hooks instead of tractor beams, and utilizing shuttlepods instead of transporters. Oh, and don’t forget to oil up…er, decontaminate each other after each away expedition. But, in reality, Enterprise soon devolved into a rehash of TNG-style tales (although set 200 years earlier) and didn’t truly take off until the third and, primarily, fourth seasons, when the plots took unexpected and novel turns for a Star Trek series.
To put it another way, doing “the Star Trek that we already know and love” isn’t necessarily the best solution. It may quickly become monotonous, dull, and uninspiring. And occasionally, with a new Star Trek TV series, taking a risk (“Risk…risk is our business!”) is what enables the program to grow and improve, bringing viewers a greater variety.
It’s not just Star Trek, though. Let’s take a peek at Star WARS…
Remember when The Force Awakens was released if you still believe there’s a magic formula of just offering people more of what they liked before, but with new characters. Many fans complained that it was simply a remake of A New Hope, with a female Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 as a rolling basketball, Han Solo as a wandering scoundrel (but much older), Dark Vader as an angry adolescent with a new mask, the Galactic Empire rebranded as The First Order, and a new and improved Death Star with an inverted name and the size of a planet instead of just a moon. Fans didn’t think the sequel film was very innovative or new… “Do it exactly the same way you did it before,” gets another strike.
Consider what would have happened if fans had chanted, “Better NO Star Wars than BAD Star Wars!” and Disney/Lucasfilm had heeded the call.
In the end, what worked was a TV program that no one anticipated to be so popular. It was a “little” tale, with no light sabers (until the end of season two), no Skywalkers (until the end of season two), no Millennium Falcon or Star Destroyers or Rebels or Empire, few TIE fighters and Stormtroopers, and a main character who was more of a bounty hunter than a hero. Oh, and as he battles his way out of danger, he goes about with a baby Yoda.
Yes, I’m referring to The Mandalorian, a Star Wars TV show reinvented as a mix between a science fiction Western and the 1970s Japanese samurai epic Lone Wolf and Cub. Would ANY fan have anticipated that we’d all be on the edge of our seats waiting for season three based on what I just said??? Of course not…because it was such a departure from what we had previously enjoyed.
Solo, on the other hand, a film that seemed like it would be a certain success (“When Han Met Chewy”) and offered fans a lot of what we already knew and liked, was, at best, mediocre. My argument is simply that neither fans nor studio executives always know what will appeal to them. They and we may believe we know, but we don’t.
That’s what occurred with Star Trek: Discovery and the other CBS Trek shows in many respects. The studio experimented with many ideas, observing what worked and what didn’t, and attempting to course-correct. Discovery’s first season was a disaster, and CBS recognized it, making many changes that enhanced season two and the lather-rinse-repeat cycle for season three. Short Treks went much farther with their experiments. Many fans considered Picard to be a significant improvement from Discovery, but he was still far from Borg perfection. Lower Decks was a unique experiment in that it not only embraced (rather than reinvented) the Star Trek canon, but also mocked it. Some fans (like me) have liked it, while others have not.
And, hey, if none of the above appeals to you, that’s OK, too, since CBS isn’t done trying yet! In addition to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which will return to Trek’s episodic, one-story-per-episode origins, there will also be Star Trek: Prodigy, which will feature an opening title sequence that looks like this…
Will Prodigy be successful? What are the chances? The studio, on the other hand, isn’t giving up. They’re experimenting with new ideas and, in the process, amassing an ever-growing library of Star Trek content for fans of all ages, genders, and preferences.
So, would it be preferable to have “no Trek” rather than “poor Trek”? I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with you!!! Because “no Trek” entails just that… All of these trials, on the other hand, enable the studio, writers, and producers to learn, develop, and enhance the franchise. Before they could travel to warp, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise had to crawl. They all suffered in their first seasons, learning from their errors, trying new things, and eventually becoming the Star Trek we know and love.
And, of course, Star Trek must keep up with Star Wars, don’t you think? Disney is attempting to do everything! They returned to CG animation after The Mandalorian with The Bad Batch, an incredible sequel to the long-running and equally great Clone Wars 3D show. The Japanese-produced Star Wars: Visions will be followed by The Book of Boba Fett spin-off series, Andor (a prequel to the film Rogue One), the eagerly awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series starring EWAN MacGREGOR, and the live-action spin-off series Ahsoka starring ROSARIO DAWSON in the next two years. There will also be the New Republic Rangers, The Acolyte, and Lando. Plus, Rogue Squadron, the next big Star Wars feature picture, is now under development!
Imagine their being no new Star Trek while all of this is going on across the street??? Star Trek would soon go away, adored and remembered only by a small number of elderly enthusiasts, while Star Wars would live much longer and flourish far more. That’s not going to work!
So, on this 55th anniversary, all I’m asking is give Trek a chance. Because there should never be a “no Trek” option for Trekkies!
Happy Star Trek Day, everyone!