Why I Am Not A Trekkie
I finally saw the new Star Trek movie and it was as unbelievably terrible as everyone told me it would be. Now, I should note that I’m not a fan of Star Trek; as readers of this blog will undoubtedly know, I’m a Star Wars guy. I didn’t really like the reboot in 2009 — mostly because the business with the timeline made no sense — but I nonetheless went into this movie with an open mind … or at least as open as is possible for someone who doesn’t love the franchise.
I’m not going to harp on the things that made this movie particularly terrible, like the fact that the director apparently told all the actors to just do an impression of the actors who played their characters on the tv show or the unending fan service that necessitates, for example, Bones to exclaim, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not a ____” at least once in every film. It’s egregious, but I have bigger fish to fry.
Because this movie — and the reboot in general — really highlights why I’m fundamentally not a Trekkie.
No matter how much time the Star Trek characters spend in space, and no matter how many bipedal aliens with different skin colors or slightly unusual facial features they encounter, the franchise is fundamentally Earth-bound. That is, its main characters are human and, in particular, are humans from Earth. Not some planet like Earth in our own galaxy, not some Earth in a different galaxy, but our Earth. In this way, I think, we’re supposed to be able to learn lessons from whatever actions are undertaken by Kirk or Bones or Sulu or whomever. These characters are like us in some really basic way.
The movies, especially this second one, really reinforce this notion. This second film reads like a rehashing of the past forty years, all about how hegemonic powers respond to external threats, how a common enemy can make strange bedfellows, and how chickens always come home to roost. Starfleet is America (and maybe Britain and France too); the Klingons are our Soviets; and Khan is Osama bin Laden. And the major plot points keep coming back to Earth, where a terrorist bent on vengeance finally fcrashes a flying transporter into a major metropolis.
All of that is fine, really. Lots of movies do this sort of thing. But where Star Trek goes wrong is in thinking that it can pair these little morality plays about human beings with a space opera involving almost perpetually unstable warp cores, all sorts of different sentient beings across a far-flung galaxy, and now a multiverse-ish timeline, with Mr. Spock calling Mr. Spock on Space Skype to inquire about how the terrorist — who used to be Ricardo Montalban but is now somehow Benedict Cumberbatch — was defeated in the future-past of an entirely different timeline.
What’s the problem? It’s that these things require the audience to suspend its disbelief in a radical way. And it’s very difficult to do so when the action is happening in a place we know, like San Francisco, and with people who are supposed to be just like us, like Chekov or Uhuru. We might allow the hull breach that sucks a bunch of people into space but then seems to be somehow contained or ignore the stupid creature that hangs out with Scotty and never says anything … because these events are happening a little ways into our future. But we can’t allow the timeline shift.
Once you start messing with people traveling back in time and encountering themselves, you have problems. And it’s especially a problem because none of it was necessary. The 2009 Star Trek reboot didn’t need its Romulan bad guy to travel back in time and it didn’t need Leonard Nimoy; it could have been a perfectly good prequel without any of that baggage. And without that baggage maybe the writers of this second film wouldn’t have insisted that their bad guy should be the same bad guy that people liked in a different Star Trek movie; Cumberbatch could have just been a really bad guy who isn’t actually Ricardo Montalban in an alternate timeline that’s also somehow this timeline (since Spock knows he’s talking to himself and not to some other Spock from a different timeline).
But Star Trek fans think the franchise ought to be pulling this sort of nonsense because they’re convinced that it provides some sort of high brow version of a space opera that Star Wars doesn’t. Its proponents are convinced that it’s hyper-philosophical and hyper-intellectual — again, because it’s grounded in the idea of the real world … but I’d say this is far more of a weakness when it comes time for an audience to suspend its disbelief.
I’m happier in the Star Wars galaxy because it’s nothing like my own. The aliens are often really alien, no one’s speaking English, and the technologies aren’t meant to be explained to someone like me. I can happily suspend my disbelief and watch the Hutts slime their way across the screen while guys with laser swords move spaceships around with their thoughts … because none of it is meant to be grounded in a reality with which I identify.
In short, I want my space operas to be other-worldly. And I want my narratives to be linear. And if you absolutely have to mess with my timeline, which you don’t, at least get me away from Earth when you do it.