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April 27, 2015

So How Good is Star Trek, Really?

Does it make me more of a nerd to admit that I think Star Trek is really cool?  Or does it make me less of a nerd because I’m only just now admitting that in writing?

I guess I should start by saying that in this case, I’m talking specifically about Star Trek: The Next Generation, because I happened to catch a few episodes of those recently.  But I’m not opposed to any of the others.  Quite the opposite; when I was a little baby Voltech I used to drift off to sleep thanks to the lulling tones of reruns for TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  (Not Enterprise, though -- I don’t remember there being any reruns, at least none that threw themselves at me.)  Most of the show’s dialogue was lost on me, naturally, but these days?  If and when I catch reruns of TNG, I find myself pulling a Shulk and going “I’m really feeling it!”

In all honesty, though, I’m still a greenhorn when it comes to the franchise.  So what do you say we unpack this for a bit?  I’m sure it won’t be that hard, seeing as how it’s already off to a strong start.  As if you needed a reminder that SPACE IS AWESOME.

I’m gonna have to bookmark that video one of these days.

So I don’t know about you Star Trek fans out there (wherever you are, if not here), but I find it hard to sit through an episode without a big smile creeping across my face.  It’s the characters that make a story, and everyone’s going to have their favorites by tale’s end, but the optimal state is for a person to have a lot of trouble deciding just who their favorite is -- if at all.  That’s the situation I’ve found myself in with TNG.  I mean, Picard is so cool!  But Riker is also cool!  And Data’s cool!  And Geordi’s cool!  And Worf’s cool!  And Troi’s cool!  And Dr. Crusher’s cool, while also having a name befitting a supervillain for a 2X coolness bonus!

All of these characters are bursting with charm and charisma, so that anyone who names them as a favorite has every reason to.  And there are even more characters than that that deserve some praise, because the core seven don’t exist in a vacuum.  So in a way, I guess what impresses me immensely about the show is just how much it can get out of inaction -- with just a bunch of people standing or sitting around and chatting it up.  There’s a level of tension in a conversation with approaching aliens than there is with just a bunch of lasers and torpedoes going off.  And by the same token, seeing these people converse when there aren’t lives on the line is a reward in its own right.

My understanding of the ST universe is that it takes place in an era where pretty much all of the world’s problems and conflicts are solved.  People from all walks of life (alongside aliens, in a lot of cases) go out and do cool space stuff for the chance to broaden their horizons.  So anyone who needs inspiration to make a story that isn’t a dystopia or post-apocalyptic, here it is.  Setting that aside, the conflicts don’t always have to be physical; they can be based on nature -- well, space-nature -- or just a clash of ideas. 

I’ve said before that TNG had allure for me because it seems like a number of episodes deal with mysteries instead of “shooting up aliens”.  Recently, I saw an episode where the entire crew of the Enterprise lost their memories.  How do they handle it?  One systematic search through records and management of ship power/resources after another.  You know it’ll work out by episode’s end, but TNG makes it interesting by exploring the ramifications.  What happens when the chain of command gets shattered because no one knows who the captain is?  Legitimate conflicts of interest, wherein Worf thinks that getting the weapons systems back online takes priority over all else.  What happens when the crew learns what their ranks are?  Worf actually apologizes for being so rash and out-of-place, and asserts his loyalty to Picard and the cause. 

Fun fact: the key to my heart is a character who loves him some LOYALTY.

I could go on about stuff I like about TNG (I’m seeing Riker in a whole new light), but I feel like I can’t talk about ST without talking about its present day form -- which in this case would be the reboot films spearheaded by JJ Abrams.  Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the films for myself (seen bits and pieces via stuff like CinemaSins), so I won’t pass any judgments.  I certainly won’t do that now with news that perpetual badass Idris Elba might be attached.  But if there’s one complaint I’ve heard, it’s that even if the movies are good action movies, they’re not good ST movies.

The spirit of wonder and exploration has been lost, some would argue, so that ST can be just like every other big blockbuster.  To put it in video game terms, it’s like how the Tomb Raider reboot of 2013 had maybe one tomb in total and a whole bunch of murder.  Now to be fair, it’s not as if other ST movies or even the original show never had big dumb action; First Contact might be awesome, but it’s still got a suited Picard firing a machine gun at heartless cyborgs.  Sometimes compromises have to be made to bring in audiences, because even if I could dig a movie/show all about slow-burn conversations and meditations on interspecies interactions, there’s no guarantee anyone else will.  Then again, that calls into question the audience for a ST movie -- whether it’s best to cater to fans and earn a little money, or take a different approach and embrace corruption for big bucks.

…This is an increasingly-complicated issue.  Let’s have Riker with a trombone to diffuse some tension.

I guess something like First Contact had the TV show to allow a “change of direction” -- that is, because they did lots of talking in the show, they could explore a different avenue with the movie without too much of an uproar.  People (wronged fans) had something to fall back on.  The Abrams movies don’t really have that, do they?  I’m sure there are supplementary materials floating around, but by and large it’s been the 2009 reboot, Into Darkness, and the upcoming third one.  They have no such cushion, so they’re judged for being “what Star Trek is now”.

On the other hand, is that such a bad thing?  Part of the fun of a franchise like this -- or any long-running franchise, on the same axis as the Zelda games -- is that it’s got the luxury of being able to reinvent itself according to a creative team’s whims.  Which iteration is the best of them all?  It’s hard to say conclusively, because of that pesky thing called an opinion.  But I will say this: whether it’s the old ST or the new one, I’m always down to see what comes next in the franchise.

So with that all in mind, it’s your turn.  Set a course for contemplation with the question of the day: how good is Star Trek, really?  Got an opinion?  Know the canon inside and out?  Want to caress Riker’s beard or whisper sweet nothings into Worf’s ears?  You know what to do then. 

Ready?  Set…comment!

Side note: holy crap, I can’t believe there’s an English to Klingon translator.  How much dedication does it take to set all that up -- the language, the translator, and all of that?  Well, whatever.  Let’s give this baby a whirl.

wa' cha' wej Huch jIHvaD dough nob Qo' bashed jIH je'laH 'e' baj 'ej vIneH

Only my brother will get that.  As consolation:



  1. That quote about the reboots is somewhat accurate I'd say. I barely grew up on Star Trek, and I felt that I needed a decent title that would help jumpstart me into the franchise. The reboots succeeded in that for me. To some degree they feel hollow, as if more flesh could have been added for a meaty and fulfilling meal; however, I liked the characters in the reboot more than the stories, which might be a good or bad thing. I'm one of the people who defends Into Darkness' questionable scene (despite it's cheesiness and loss of impact due to Wrath of Khan) if only in theory because of the character developments of both Kirk and Spock being so interesting and well-done.

    But because of the reboot's obvious flaws and shortcomings, it finally motivated me to watch Next Generation (which I also watched recently... weird o_O). I like it a lot better if only because I have far more time to watch these characters grow and develop in complex ways in installments that are longer than two hours in length. Less late-2000's glamorized action and more meat that matters, so to speak. So hopefully I can still it out so I can dive into more Star Trek that I have been iffy about, mainly due to goofiness and lack of... uh... budget, at times.

    While I'm still trying to find out if Star Trek is as awesome as people have always said it is, I'm learning that I like it far more than Star Wars by principle. Complex lore, politics, mystery, and philosophy seems more attractive than a small-scale personal journey within the context of exploring the vastness of space. The Star Trek inspired moments of Mass Effect endeared me far more than the Star Wars ones, but Star Wars is still a part of my childhood and I'm excited for episode 7.

    At this point in my life, Star Trek appeals to me more. So long I find the right TV series and movies.

  2. I grew up around Star Trek because my oldest siblings are trekkies. I often reference Star Trek when I need a good example of subplots. You know, the main conflict is: "The Enterprise is about to be sucked into a black hole!" while the subplot is who Rieker is flirting with today.

    Star Trek Episodes are delightfully consistent in this way and any budding novelist can benefit from taking a page from this.

    One of the reasons the "Star Trek" vs. "Star Wars" mindset came about? The fact that Star Trek keeps it real on a character level. everyone on the ship has aspirations and dreams, rather than just taking their place in a sprawling space epic with no real say in it.

  3. Interesting point about Star Trek vs. Star Wars. Though now that you mention it, I can't help but wonder how either of them will fare once Episode VII makes the rounds. Also, not to go off on a tangent, but I'm trying NOT to read up on that movie, so the only thing I know for certain is that there are lightsabers with crossguards. Cool, maybe?

    Well, anyway. It's surprising how much Star Trek can, as you say, keep it real on a character level. What would TNG be without them? It's hard for me to say at this stage -- maybe just a bunch of space-politics nobody cares about. Or random space mishaps. Something space-related. Point being, I'm glad that there are so many cool guys and ladies in one show; that's the way it should be all the time, but I guess it's all right to have something like ST to fall back on if/when disappointments abound.

    On a related note: it looks like I'll go to my grave thinking that trombones are hilarious.

  4. Yeah, those reboots are something else. I should probably get around to watching them at some point, but from what I've heard? One of the strong points seems to be the cast -- chemistry and charisma and whatnot. That's a good thing to have, if nothing else, so maybe they'll deliver once I give them the shot they deserve.

    But the TV series has some major advantages, doesn't it? There's just so much more time for stuff like TNG to make use of; not only does it have almost a solid hour per episode, but it has (at a guessed minimum) a dozen episodes per season and several years to its name. J.J. Abrams and his crew don't exactly have an enviable job...though that begs the question of why they opted for a movie instead of a new series, but whatever. Too late to worry about that now.

    Though IIRC, there's talk of a new TV show coming anyway. So let's see what comes from that.