Article by Ryan Wilson
Images courtesy of Paramount Movies
What makes a Trekkie? I’ve been pondering this after considering my mixed reaction to Star Trek: Into Darkness. Mainly because I’m curious as to what a true Trekkie would think of the film, as well as the overall re-launch of the franchise by writer/director J.J. Abrams. The answer to all of my questions can be found in the first: what makes a Trekkie?
A Trekkie should not be confused with other sorts of science fiction fanboys. No offense to those Browncoats or Padawans out there, but the Trekkie is simply more committed, probably because Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry didn’t just create a vehicle for a series, but a universe with a moral and intellectual center far beyond its stories. Say what you will about the power of the Force, but the mysticism anchoring the Star Wars franchise is really just a counterweight to the space cowboy antics we’d all rather see. The more serious and seriously political that Star Wars gets, the worse those movies turn out. Star Trek, on the other hand, is serious business and always has been. Even when the Enterprise crew did kooky stuff like save the whales in the fourth movie or chase after God in the fifth, they were at least allowed to try those things because Star Trek’s moral center always made those adventures intellectual, and, dare I say it, adult. Trekkies know this. They’re the men and women who grew up to dress up like Enterprise Science Officers and Engineers, more interested in inhabiting the mind of the universe than swinging a glowing stick at Comic-con. Trekkies don’t just tread on nostalgia. They’re also futurists, simultaneously looking forward and back.
I’m not a Trekkie, but I want to see as many Star Trek films made as possible. This goes back to my being a child in the 1980s and watching The Wrath of Kahn followed by The Search for Spock in the theater. I could never really get into the reruns of the original TV show. The production values just looked too cheap. The 1980s film production hasn’t aged so well either, but it doesn’t matter because Star Trek II and III have so much more “adult” material: friendship, vengeance, sacrifice, science-as-Genesis, reincarnation, Ricardo Montalban. But mainly, those films were patient. A 10-to12-year-old kid had to pay attention and anticipate.
This is what, sadly, is missing from the new films, which seem to be catered for the ADD-diagnosed generation, the next generation, if you will. Abrams films are so mile-a-minute pacing, cramming-in every single reference possible from the original show and films that the experience is exhausting to watch. What’s lacking are the lingering moments between Kirk and Spock, emphasizing the quiet before the storm. With Abrams it’s all storm; he’s too busy reorienting toward the next plot twist, the next new threat. Take me back to the simple yet primal conflict between two star ships and two captains trying to outwit each other in some murky nebulas. Even at warp speed, Abrams has the Enterprise peel out as if it’s a hot-rod.
And yet, and yet, as busy as Star Trek: Into Darkness makes itself, it still has the moral center of Roddenberry’s universe. The “darkness” here could refer to space itself, of course, but really it’s about the ethically challenged places Star Fleet goes after considering larger threats like wonky timelines and those Klingon Bastards. This not only works well to deconstruct Rodenberry’s future world, but also unexpectedly parallels our own timeline; it’s a scary time indeed when photon torpedoes begin to resemble our own contemporary drone warfare. Thematically the film is as solid as any Enterprise outing.
Which is why the film falters two-thirds of the way through when it tries to literally transform into The Wrath of Kahn, complete with the exact same dialogue. Abrams should have enough confidence to make his own film, while at the same time paying homage. Instead what we get at the end feels amateurish and very close to fan fiction easily find online. As I said, I want to see as many Star Trek films made as possible, but I don’t want to see the same one, even the best one, remade with a new cast.
And if I feel this way merely as a Star Trek movie fan, what would Trekkies feel? Would their criticisms begin with the minutia or the larger changes that ultimately send us where we’ve gone before? Trekkies must be pleased that the Enterprise is still trekking, just not as boldly as it could.
© Ryan Wilson, 2013