A very fitting pun for what is being done to the Star Trek franchise lately. In this post, I’d like to echo the sentiments of old-school trekkies about this J. J. Abrams ‘era’ of Star Trek.
For some reference, read this very well-written Gameological Society article about the new Star Trek game that has just been released. For some entertaining listening, the reader should also direct their attention to second part of ContinueCast’s podcast discussion of Knights of the Old Republic II, where they express some mixed feelings about the changes made to the execution of Star Trek media.
Both of the sources seem to agree that Star Trek has been subject to more mainstream Hollywood production values. This is alarming, given what the series was meant to mean. Star Trek was meant to represent a social ideal of overcoming social conflicts through communication and shared understandings. This common core message was conveyed in both implicit and explicit ways throughout all of its media (TV, movies, even games) until recently, and one of the concrete things that it achieved throughout all this time was character growth and development. The original Star Trek ethic for character development is the complete inverse of franchises like Seinfeld, where characters are never meant to grow or change, existing exogenously–Star Trek characters developed through endogenisation, by learning through making mistakes and coming to understand the reason why things are the way they are. This is why characters like Commander Data, Seven-of-Nine, and Mister Spock are absolutely critical elements of the series, they provide a kind of blank slate from which to build upon rationalist humanist ideals. They provide a kind of relief against which the contradictions of humanity and can explored and explained.
What the contemporary iteration of Star Trek has done is refocused the franchise on the age-old hero genre. The complex web of personal relationships upon which the traditional Star Trek formula subsisted has been done away with, and instead the (no less traditional) Hollywood formula involving the defeat of a great obstacle has been foisted on the franchise in its stead. Two arguments can be made at this point, and I think both of them are equally pursuasive:
- Star Trek, as a series, was better off under its old formula;
- The old Star Trek formula, for all its flaws, is objectively better than the ‘hero-questing’ one now being saddled on it.
Heroes may grow and learn under the hero-questing formula (i.e. Star Wars), but they always grow in the same direction–towards enormous power and wisdom. The humanist Star Trek formula never demanded ubermenschian qualities from its characters, it only asked them to perform the most comprehensive self-reflection they could manage, and I think this rewarded the viewer with a far deeper, and more fulfilling entertainment experience.