The Trouble with Star Trek

As we near the 50th anniversary of that juggernaut we call Star Trek, I’m reminded of all the things that make the series a pop culture icon and continue to capture the imagination of audiences from generation to generation.

Star Trek isn’t about science. Or photon torpedoes. Or action sequences. Or new life and new planets. Or even space for that matter. Yes, all those ingredients are vastly important and make up the very backbone of why this show works, but in the end they’re merely plot devices that the story hangs on.

Star Trek is about relationships. It’s about characters and how those characters interact with each other.  Star Trek invites you to fall in love with these characters and to boldly go on an adventure with them. And, hopefully, you’ll want to go on that adventure every week.

If you’ve ever watched the pilot episode of Star Trek: TOS, then you’ve seen how this series could have failed. Sure, you’ve got all those cool gadgets, an interesting enough story line, and you’ve even got Spock, but what you don’t have is the relationships that make you want to invest your time in the series. Captain Pike? Nurse Chappel? They’re fine I suppose, but they’re no Kirk and McCoy.

The original-cast movies of the 1980s were not, in the modern sense, action movies. Hell, my favorites are the one about rescuing a whale and the one about stopping an assassination attempt. And I would wager that those are near the top of your list too.

The rebooted Star Trek seems preoccupied with blowing stuff up and hinting at relationships that carry weight rather than establishing real relationships. Try removing all your knowledge of the original cast and describe the current iteration of these characters. There’s not much to them. They’re bland. They’re one-dimensional. They fit their archetypes. Kirk is a quick-to-action ladies man. Spock has difficulty expressing his emotions. McCoy is a doctor with a dry sense of humor. Uhura wants to have a relationship with Spock (is there anything else going on with her character?). The rebooted series doesn’t give these characters the time to interact with each other and develop meaningful relationships that you care about.

This is most highlighted in the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan and the death of Kirk in Into Darkness. One is about sacrificing your life for your friends while the other is about mirroring another movies plot point, but switching the characters around to be cool and different within the new timeline.

I want a Star Trek where nothing blows up. I want a Star Trek where the characters hang out and get to know each other (like the poker scenes from TNG). I want a Star Trek where the fate of all humanity isn’t on the line. I want a Star Trek where the Enterprise doesn’t get destroyed. I want a Star Trek that’s not trying to be Star Wars.

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