The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Why to Feel Optimistic About the Future of 'Star Trek'

The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Why to Feel Optimistic About the Future of 'Star Trek'

Aug 11, 2016

It’s not always easy to be a Star Trek fan. To fully appreciate the first two seasons of the original series, you need to endure the third season. In order to get to the good stuff in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, you have to power through the early episodes. The films have also offered their fair share of pain, with Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek: Nemesis shaking the faith of even the most hardened Trekkies.

But right now, in the year 2016, in the 50th anniversary of the entire franchise, I feel really good about being a Star Trek fan. The best part of this feeling is that it feels like the best is yet to come.

On one hand, I’m still riding high on Star Trek Beyond, a movie that managed to blend the core tenets of Star Trek with blockbuster formula. The result is one of the best major studio movies released this summer, a spirited and optimistic ode to teamwork, diversity, and cooperation that also manages to feature motorcycle chases and phaser battles and a healthy number of explosions. In a season where so many movies were grim slogs, Star Trek Beyond soared above the competition by falling back on what made this universe so endearing in the first place. Sure, we had to suffer through Star Trek Into Darkness for everyone involved in the “Kelvin Timeline” movies to reach this point, but that’s just the common Trek pattern. You take the good with the bad. You roll with it. Everything tends to come around again.

Right now, Star Trek Beyond is faltering at the box office, the victim of poor marketing and a summer where audiences have been consistently let down by too many big movies. The plan to make a fourth movie in the rebooted universe now feels like a pipe dream. It’s hard to imagine it happening unless Paramount can crunch the numbers in a way that satisfies everyone.

And I’m at peace with this for two reasons. First, Star Trek Beyond is such a strong refutation of Star Trek Into Darkness’ cynicism and such a crystal clear depiction of the Trek mission statement that it feels like an ending. If we never see this iteration of the crew again, that’s okay. They went out on top. Second, Star Trek’s real home is on television and CBS’ Star Trek Discovery was in the works long before Beyond’s rocky box office.

I was never not going to be interested in Star Trek Discovery (it has Star Trek in the title), but the hiring of Bryan Fuller to run the show was a stroke of genius. Here is a television veteran who got his start on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, but went on to produce gems like Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and Hannibal. Fuller isn’t the guy you hire to play it safe – he’s the guy you hire when you want something special.

Our first real hints at what he could have planned came in a big Star Trek panel at Comic-Con last month. Fuller found himself moderating a discussion with Trek actors from across the decades, but he didn’t ask them to share stories from the set or indulge in geeky minutiae. Instead, he asked questions about politics and social justice, about diversity and inclusion. He grilled the men and women of Star Trek about the real world and how this franchise, which has always been progressive since its earliest days, could lead the way to better and more hopeful future.

That’s when it became crystal clear: Fuller is taking Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision to heart with Star Trek Discovery. If he’s willing to spend an entire Comic-Con panel using science fiction as an excuse to address real world issues, I can’t wait to see what he does with a proper series. The best Star Trek has always been adventure in service of a point. Every fistfight and every starship battle served a greater goal: to explore what it means to be human and how we can better ourselves and our world.

Star Trek Beyond proves that Trek ultimately just can’t hang in the cinematic blockbuster arena – it’s brand of hopeful optimism wasn’t built for multiplexes. But it got Star Trek in the way that Bryan Fuller seemingly gets Star Trek. And Star Trek is going home early next year with a creator at the helm who knows his lore and has his priorities in the right order. Star Trek has gone back to the basics, to its core ideas, and it’s starting to feel like we’re through that rough patch and about to journey into special territory.


Categories: Features, Geek
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