Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Star Trek.

Star Trek fandom has become the lazy man's punchline, the ultimate identifying characteristic of being a nerd. While I'll admit the more hardcore Trekkies don't make it easy for the rest of us I have a deep and abiding affection for Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future, one that will never fully leave me. It's been as much a part of the backdrop of my life as Star Wars, comics, and the works of Jim Henson. The optimistic message of Trek shapes my worldview, no matter how jaded and bitter the desert of the real may make me at times.

Star Trek is the last gasp of the notion of a utopian future in contemporary science fiction, at least in my experience. For the most part science fiction has settled into the notion that the future will be either

A) Very much like the present with some differences


B) A dystopian nightmare from your bleakest imaginings.

Most SF falls between either of those two poles with very little deviation. Created as it was in the early 1960s, Star Trek embodies all the hopes America had in the post-war boom; that their might would solely be used for right, that their United States (Federation) would be an inclusive, idyllic paradise where people would be judged by who they were and what they could contribute rather than on things like race or class. It was a world where--miracle of miracles-- we didn't blow ourselves up in a pointless struggle for land or resources and instead united as a common humanity and took our place among the stars. It wrapped these hopes and ideals in an (admittedly) clunky space opera wrapper, but scratch the surface of Klingons, tribbles, and the stilted cadences of William Shatner and you'll find something there that far outstrips the phasers beams and warp factors.

Star Trek--at its core--is about friendship and the family you make of your friends. That simple and profound truth is the emotional core that I think has allowed the franchise to endure for over forty years. The adventures of the intrepid crew of the Starship Enterprise have run the gamut from the epic( Star Trek II, Star Trek VI) to the silly (The original series' masterpieces that were 'Shore Leave' or 'Spock's Brain') but beneath all of the done to death quotes and the endless reams of paper, the hours of fanboy discussion dissecting the minutiae of each episode or film is the simple truth that the Enterprise crew are a family of friends bound together by an intense loyalty and devotion. No where is this more profoundly illustrated than in Wrath of Khan as Spock sacrifices himself for the good of the ship and his crew, or in The Search for Spock when Kirk sacrifices everything he's ever held dear on the chance that he can save his friend. I think a lot of Star Trek fans live vicariously through that bond, imagining that the day will come when we have friends who--upon hearing we're in any kind of need--drop everything and come running. That we can stand shoulder to shoulder with good company and be counted one of them. It's a pleasure I know I indulged in for a long time before coming to know the people I do in my life.

All things change, given time, and Trek was no exception. The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise. . .the concept has morphed and changed and grown over the years. In some cases the original premise was expanded upon (TNG), while in others it was challenged (DS9). . .though for the most part the concept seemed to have run its course and begun to feed off of itself in a weird kind of holding pattern (Voyager, Enterprise). Star Trek: Nemesis seemed to be the final nail in the franchise's cinematic coffin and I found myself to be largely okay with that. Nothing lasts forever, and if Star Trek had had its run I was content with all the cool that had been given admidst the dross.

When word came down the pipeline that J.J. Abrams was planning to do a prequel to the original series, my reaction was conservative at best. I hate to think of myself as falling into the trap of being an old fan that don' cotton t'nun'a that fancy new stuff, but I admit I didn't have much faith that it'd be any good. So when chance (and a good friend) put tickets to an advanced screening of the new film in my hot little hand, my reaction was hopeful but braced for the worst. With an underlying mantra of 'pleasedontsuckpleasedontsuckpleasedontsuck' spinning in my brain, Ryan and I saw it bright and early Saturday morning.

I won't spoil it, save to say that this film charmed the hell out of me and even impressed Ryan, a non-fan of Trek if ever there was one. This is a Star Trek film to drive the point home of why this franchise is fantastic, and it's a film I can't wait to see with my pals. It'll be a great get together with old friends and new. See you at the movies.


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