Considering Star Trek
Video – the final frontier. This is a think piece about Star Trek. The franchise mission – to present thoughtful, nuanced explorations of science philosophy, to inspire a better future for all living peoples, to boldly hope for a world better than this one.
Or, you know, it was.
My wife (and it tickles me to write that still, I love you) watches Star Trek before bed. Typically it’s Deep Space Nine, and she talks a lot of Next Generation and Voyager. She’s a bigger fan of the franchise than I am. We discuss it often and she brings up things and I ask questions and listen to her go. We’ve got books, novels, an encyclopedia, DVD sets, blu-ray sets, the role-playing game… we’re casual Trekkies.
So we both got excited when Star Trek Discovery was announced and were eager to watch it. We kept up for a few episodes before stopping and we sometimes ask people that are suffering through it if it’s worth tuning into with mixed responses. We’ve tried going back a few times but we keep coming to the same conclusion: we don’t care because it doesn’t feel like Star Trek.
Yes, this is the sort of discussion we have as a couple.
See, the thing that people that don’t get Star Trek don’t understand about the franchise is that the Federation is not a military body, but a scientific one. Kirk, the most gung-ho captain in Starfleet, was a scientist. The Enterprise’s mission is one of exploration and discovery – the most warlike the franchise got while still being itself was Deep Space Nine, which was still about humanity, family, and faith. Star Trek is about a thoughtful approach carried out by highly competent people, whereas Discovery (and the recent Star Trek movies) feel more like Star Wars – a science-fantasy opera that is more about spectacle than substance.
Here, I think this does a pretty good job explaining the difference:
Weirdly, the best Star Trek show in decades isn’t even a Star Trek show: the best Star Trek since Voyager ended is Seth McFarlane’s the Orville, which does everything that Star Trek was designed to do, is highly entertaining and character driven, and explores modern concepts and issues in a fascinating way.
You know, the way Star Trek is supposed to.
Bree and I were talking about this and what the problem with modern Star Trek is and she made a very simple observation that I think explains a lot.
“They keep going back to the past,” quoth she. “They need to jump forward a couple hundred years.”
Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all took place a couple hundred years after the original series and spun off from one another in chronological order. Enterprise, the new movies, and Discovery have decided to go back in time and play off nostalgia while re-inventing things that don’t need to be re-invented.
Is jumping forward another two hundred years into a science fiction utopia too intimidating for modern television? Do we need some kind of thoroughfare to connect us? Fine. Jump twenty years into the future and give us an Enterprise being commanded by Worf. Show what the Federation is like in a post-Dominion galaxy. Show the Borg disarming and trying to re-integrate into society, the promise made by Seven of Nine.
Just give us something new before you lose us completely.