Why Star Trek Still Matters: Dom-Jot Hustler special
The fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek is fast approaching next year, and it seems that this milestone is almost going unnoticed. Sure, plans are in work for a new feature, Star Trek Beyond, to be released during summer of that year, assuming that Paramount can start production as soon as possible, but keep in mind there are many other franchises, and all seem to be vying for the attention of the viewers. Simply releasing a new movie in time to commemorate the anniversary of the franchise after barreling through the creative roadblocks that have been going on doesn’t seem like quite enough. Star Trek is something special, but it seems, based on the latest reports, that Paramount wants to model its future against films like Guardians of the Galaxy.
So, wait a second.
Star Trek, the show that, almost on its own, set any and all standards for live-action science fiction while inspiring millions of astronauts, scientists and doctors, not to mention writers and filmmakers for generations, has to be modeled after a rather silly comic book film in order to be successful. Paramount once considered Trek to be among it’s most prized jewels in its crown, and now the studio thinks it can ensure its future by emulating something else, something that in the grand scheme of popular culture, is an inferior product?
Of course it’s all about money and profitability. Crown jewel or now, once any franchise no longer because worth the expense of the parent studio, it could (and maybe should) be canned.
Star Trek has been around for a long time, and in that time, it has formulated it’s own storytelling style, it’s own conventions, and even its own (overused) cliches. It, like any other franchise, has its share of strengths and weaknesses. And, as with any other franchise, the key to success is to allow it to lean on it’s own unique strengths. The idea of emulating this Guardians film doesn’t seem to be playing to Star Trek‘s strengths, even if, to the accountants, it makes sense to just “use what works.”
First and foremost, while Guardians of the Galaxy is a comedy, Star Trek is not. It’s format allows for wholly comedic stories to be told – there are episodes that merely play one joke – but they stand in relief to show that has big themes about the human condition. Star Trek may occasionally have comic style action, but it’s less a comic book.
This is the first in a series to explore what Star Trek’s strengths are.
The first of these strengths is its ability big themes.
Take the Kobyashi Maru. Just mention of the name recalls a few different themes converging on one simple story point.
The Kobyashi Maru is a testing scenario for wanna-be star fleet cadets who aim to take a shot at command duty. It involves the decision to cross into enemy territory in order to rescue a vessel in distress. The test was deemed un-winnable, and has become a test of character as much as it is about military intuition. After all, as Admiral Kirk says in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, the prospect of facing the un-winnable scenario is something that every commander could indeed face in reality.
For Kirk, the Kobyashi Maru truly was a test of character: despite what he said himself, he never actually believed in ‘the no-win” scenario,. Thanks to his own pride, he wasn’t willing to fail this test on his way to command. He cheated by reprogramming the conditions of the test, and was commended for original thinking.
That’s not where it ended. Because in the conclusion of The Wrath of Khan, he was confronted with an actual no-win scenario, one that was not a simulation, and one that he could not in fact win. With his ship and crew in danger with the “ticking time-bomb” left by his most bitter adversary, there was little Kirk could to cheat death.
Yet, he did win, an the ship was saved. In the process, he took the greatest loss of his career, and his life. It was Spock who saved the ship at the cost of his own life. Spock made this decision through pure logic: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” His deduced that he was a single life, and it was worth sacrificing himself to save the rest of the crew. Kirk had lost crewmen before, but none as close to him as Spock.
Spock asks him something quite profound as he died: “I never took the Kobyashi Maru test, until now. What do you think of my solution?”
Kirk had no answer. He knew that Spock had indeed made the only logical choice, and he knew that what had just occurred allowed him to cheat death again. The victory felt like a hallow one.
Kirk grew as a character in that film, and he would continue to grow in subsequent films. As his good friend, Doctor McCoy reminded him during the botched peace mission with the Klingons, he might be facing the Kobyashi Maru scenario again.
Let’s step back a bit. We already have multiple themes worth exploring, all coming together in a single thread. Friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, logic, and leadership, just to name a few. Also, Kirk himself was brought down a peg. He learned humility, in a way very few movie characters have ever learned it.
There are many franchises out there now, with narratives that occupy several films, with plot-lines and story threads that have built up to gradually. Yet, there’s always been Star Trek. It was one of the first of these ongoing narratives, and in it’s own way it defined the idea of an “expanded universe on film” long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was ever conceived (just not the connections between eleven films and five different television shows). Yet, through it all, it allowed itself to tell singular stories, stories with beginnings, middles and ends. Yet, it’s sprawling scope allowed the writers to hone in on some bigger themes in ways that these new “expanded universes” never quite learned how to do. The themes encapsulated in the Kobyashi Maru scenario was deepened by the fact that Kirk and Spock shared a deep friendship through three whole seasons that make up Star Trek: The Original Series.
To thrive, in the future, Star Trek must continue to be what it always has been: a challenge to the characters, a challenge to the viewers watching it, and a challenge to the possibilities of what could be explored thematically on screen.
With fifty years of history behind it, Star Trek has a legacy that is unmatched. It obtained it by not compromising.
Stay tuned for more of why Star Trek still matters.