Once upon a time, there was an argument that tore nerdy friendships apart: Star Wars VS Star Trek. Personally, I never understood this debate. Star Wars was a film franchise focused on space magic and adventure! Meanwhile, Star Trek was a corny sci-fi political drama with numerous TV shows and movies based on said shows, centered more around avoiding conflict rather than reveling in it. Really, the only thing the two had in common was the use of the word star in their titles!
Unfortunately, times have changed. In recent years, Star Trek has become a shell of its former self. Rather than a compelling drama about unity and galactic peace, Star Trek is now a brainless IP trying desperately to keep up with its similarly named ‘rival’. Nowadays, the argument that has plagued nerds since the late 1970s has finally become a logical one.
Even if both answers are wrong. But I’m not here to stoke fanboy hatred. Even though I probably will anyway.
Let’s go back to where the decline started. The year is 2009. A new film, simply titled Star Trek, comes out in theaters. Directed by J.J. Abrams, this film would go on to be a big hit in the box office. It would get two sequels in the coming years, titled Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek: Beyond. Oddly enough, it wasn’t based on one of the TV shows, like previous movies were. Regardless, all three of these films would go on to be pretty successful entries in the classic series.
However, all three of these films were heavily criticized by long time fans of the series. They argued that the film was too action-heavy, the science was illogical and unrealistic (how can Spock see that planet so closely from another planet away?), and the script was nonsense. More infuriating for them were the inconsistencies with the original characters; this new Kirk was far from the original, the new Spock was a complete departure from what made the original who he was, so on and so forth.
How was this criticism alleviated? The classic explanation of ‘it’s not the same timeline’! Thus, the Star Trek universe was split in two. There was the old universe, featuring the classic shows. Then there was the new universe, starting with the new film trilogy.
But that’s not where it would end. Oh no! Next up, Star Trek would return to its television roots with a prequel set before the original series! It was time for Star Trek: Beyond!
The first season of this show didn’t make much of a splash. It was widely seen as a prototype. Something that was a bit rough around the edges, but it had potential. Unfortunately, the second season pushed people against the show. Again, it leaned more heavily into action and adventure rather than sci-fi political drama. It didn’t help that it featured such amazing lines of dialogue as “That’s the power of math!” and “I like science.”
Little hint for aspiring writers out there. If you pretend to look smart, you’ll only make yourself look dumber.
This show was the next nail in the coffin. Like it or not, this was Star Trek’s identity now. Still, at least it was something new. A new show with a new cast. Even if it didn’t have that classic Star Trek feel, it at least wasn’t butchering something that people already knew and loved. Even if it tried to stab the original with its storyline, it thankfully didn’t succeed.
At least not yet.
Which brings us to the latest Star Trek product: Star Trek: Picard. This show had all the hallmarks of a desperate reboot. Beloved characters that people already knew? Check. A new plot set years later? Check. Cheap fanservice shoved down your face? Check and double-check! Tons of action from a property that didn’t have much in the original? You know it! Still, it was too soon to judge! Maybe all the trailers just made it look worse than it was!
Then the first episode came out. And everyone’s fears were proven to be a reality.
Now, in all fairness: the show isn’t over yet. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn it around in the later episodes! Unfortunately, doubts are high. A first episode is meant to show you what a show will be; if this is what the show will be, then there can be little doubt it will improve. It’s a big mess and it will take a lot of work to fix it.
But hey! You can’t complain that it’s butchering Picard and the other Next Generation characters! Because this takes place in the J.J. Abrams universe, not the original! Even though they’re the same characters played by the same actors! And it’s set after the events of Next Generation! Just don’t think about it!
And that’s where we are now. A new film series with a questionable future and two TV shows with equally questionable futures. None of which have made hardcore Star Trek fans happy. All of which have completely failed to understand why people loved this series in the first place.
When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, we lived in a very different political landscape. Racism and sexism both forced strict restrictions on what could and could not be on TV. He set out to create a show set in an ideal future where everyone lived equally, where discrimination has been so long abandoned that people can’t even recognize it anymore. For god’s sake, Star Trek had the first-ever interracial kiss in television history!
Star Trek was all about love and respect. About accepting people for who they are and respecting their cultures, even if they’re different from yours. People were drawn to the show because it gave them hope! It showed them an ideal version of humanity and inspired them to make it a reality! Star Trek was never about space battles and shooting lasers! It was about spreading peace and acceptance!
Plus, Star Trek was smart! The world, as well as everything within it, was well thought out and logical! Sure, it was campy as hell sometimes! But there was clearly a lot of thought put behind it! Rather than the science-fantasy of Star Wars, where nothing needed to make sense because the world was magical, Star Trek was pure science-fiction! Every bit of science has enough logic behind it to feel real!
This new age of Star Trek doesn’t have these things. Rather than presenting an idealized vision of the future, the new shows are either focused on mindless action or recreating the modern political landscape (which is pretty much the opposite of what made the original great), xenophobia and all. Intellectual science and clever world-building are replaced by mindless space battles and equally braindead techno-babble. Like it was written by a football player. One that just suffered from a major concussion.
Granted, there’s clearly an audience for this. Otherwise, these shows wouldn’t exist. But they don’t have the same charm that the original Star Trek shows did. The series is a ghost of its former self.
I think it boils down that argument I mentioned at the top of the article. While Star Trek has always been popular, it’s never managed to reach the insane heights that its apparent rival did. For many years, this didn’t matter. The people behind Star Trek knew their audience and aimed for them. But as time went on and Star Wars only got bigger, the new heads in charge of Star Trek’s future wanted a slice of the pie.
Back in the day, Star Trek had its own identity that made it so lovable. Now, it feels like a Star Wars ripoff desperately trying to be politically relevant. It has become nothing more than a shadow of its former self. I can think of nothing more tragic.
Well, maybe one thing. But I swore a long time ago that I wouldn’t talk about that anymore.