As the Star Trek franchise is about to get a much-needed re-boot later this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the series and the role its played in my life. Being born during the run of The Original Series, I represent what I suppose could be called the “second generation” of Trekkies (there was no stigma associated with that term 30 years ago.) I got acquainted with Star Trek through endless re-runs on syndicated TV in the 1970s, The Animated Series on Saturday mornings, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Once I was hooked, love of Trek stayed with me for a solid 25 years — as I have previously discussed. There have been many changes during all that time, from movie to movie, series to series, and cast to cast. I’ve weathered nearly all of them, but I find myself wondering if I am ready to fall in love again.
Part of this has to do with the “origin” concept of J.J. Abrams‘ new film. I’ve never felt that an origin story for The Original Series crew has ever been particularly necessary. I can look at the first scene where William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appear together in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and that holds up as well as their last scene together in The Undiscovered Country, twenty five years later. That’s an amazing thing to my mind, and a testament to the writing skills of Samuel Peeples and the production skills of Gene Roddenberry. Since Star Trek appeared nearly fully formed right at the beginning, why mess with that?
Certainly, others have tried and the results were less than stellar. The novel Enterprise: The First Adventure by Vonda McIntryre is a case in point. A ret-con that attempts to fit events of The Wrath Of Khan (Carol Marcus is mentioned), “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (Gary Mitchell is mentioned too), and “The Cage” (Christopher Pike appears) into one framework with ideas that would shortly surface again in The Final Frontier (a Vulcan relative of Spock’s that seeks out emotional experiences), the book can only be described as awkward and only moderately successful. The plot is also a bit of hack job, borrowing concepts from both “The Conscience Of The King” (Kirk has a circus/vaudeville company aboard) and The Motion Picture (a giant, all powerful space ship appears and Spock mind-melds with the inhabitants) and throwing in a winged horse for good measure. Note to J.J. Abrams: the Star Trek universe does not need more winged horses.
Mostly though, I wonder about Star Trek‘s continuing cultural relevance. The world of Star Trek represents a certain type of 1960’s optimism, where political and social divides can be bridged and a materialist utopia can be created with little or no cost. Sadly, that is not the world where we live today — I worry about whether the human race will be able to meet its terrestrial energy needs in 100 years without destroying the biosphere, much less developing anti-matter reactors and exploring the universe. As we can’t even seem to cope with fossil fuels without killing each other in thinly veiled wars of ‘virtue’, the shiny world of Star Trek seems very, very far away.
So, my dear Star Trek, this may be where you and I finally part ways. I will continue to treasure the memories, but someone else will have to keep a torch for you burning brightly. As Captain Kirk said in The Wrath Of Khan, galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young. Perhaps the continuing voyages of the Enterprise crew are best left to a new, younger generation of Trek fans… as my concerns seem decidedly earthbound and backward-looking.