Daily Archives: January 8, 2023

Reflecting on Star Trek as a Film Series

In coming to the end of watching all of the Star Trek films I feel like I seriously have to ask myself if I even like Star Trek anymore, or what Star Trek has become, or if it has just shrunk in the context of so many other options, or if I have just outgrown it.

Does Khan look like Kirk summoned him like a genie here?

Seriously, as powerful of an influence as the original series had on me as a kid the way things have carried on since then has been one unfulfilled promise after another.

I guess, first of all, I have to try to describe how important Star Trek was between the cancellation of the original series and the launch of the first film.

I have mentioned, in reference to the Star Wars expanded universe, the great Star Wars drought, where between Return of the Jedi in 1983 and The Phantom Menace in 1999 there was this huge longing for more Star Wars stuff that was filled by books and models and toys and games of different styles.

It was like that, only more so because, for most of that stretch, there wasn’t another major space fantasy IP to distract. (Okay, maybe Doctor Who, but sharing cons with those weirdos…)  The original series wrapped up due to production cost concerns while still very popular.  The Spock’s Brain episode aside, it never jumped the shark, never tired people out by dragging on too long.

So the three seasons of the show were continuously available in syndication.  In the age of broadcast TV before VCRs, it was a show you could find on the TV schedule a few times a week if you lived in a metro area with more that a couple of broadcast stations.

But to fill the void, the feed the need for more, all the things you might expect from your Star Wars memories of its drought appeared.  Toys, posters, games, cosplay, conventions, and books… so many books.  There were books about the ships, books about the series, books about the toys, posters, games, and action figures, and its own expanded universe of novels, some good, though most were pretty bad.  But they sold because people wanted more so badly.

There was a store at the same open air mall where my beloved San Antonio Hobby Shop was located called Starbase One or some such, which basically sold Star Trek stuff.  Yes, there was some Doctor Who stuff in its own corner and the occasional Blake’s 7 item would appear on the shelf, but it was mostly Star Trek stuff… and the place survived for a few years in the mid-70s selling toy phasers and bad uniform tunics and plastic models of the Enterprise and whatever other tchotchkes were available.

So I am going down a rabbit hole here for a bit about a time 50 years in the past to set the stage for how I feel about Star Trek… and, honestly, Star Wars… today.

I grew up in an era where there was an almost desperate desire to have more Star Trek on TV or on the big screen.  This is absolutely parallel to the feeling many Star Wars had in the era between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.  It was a deep seated desire to have MORE of these stories, and I just happen to be of exactly the right age to have a double dose that desire, and it never really goes away.

So despite having sat through thirteen mostly mediocre and occasionally regrettable Star Trek films and having seen how many seasons of whatever shows they are up to producing, I will always say I want more, because there is no way to sate that need for more that the initial lack brought about.

And it is the same for Star Wars.  I don’t really like more than half of the Star Wars movies and have felt the ups and downs of their television productions from the Holiday Special onward, but if you put me in a focus group and pitched a show about Bib Fortuna and his life on Tatooine before he went to work for Jabba, I would unhesitatingly be in favor of that show being produced.

This is the same me that bitches how everything has to happen on Tatooine and who doesn’t like half of the movies.

But something within me would rather have more crap than another drought… and, of course, there is always that sliver of me from the mid-70s who just wants to feel the way I did about Star Trek and Star Wars the way I did back then and maybe, just maybe, THIS TIME the

Anyway, enough rambling.  The sum of this is that I will always want more in search of the unlikely goal of making me feel the way the franchise did when it was new.  In this case, to feel about a film the way I felt about the original series back when I was… well… somewhere between very young and merely young.

Which means, for the final ranking of the Star Trek films, I am going to split them out by the degree to which they made me feel like I did when Star Trek was just a cancelled three season science fiction drama that was pretty much constantly available as re-runs in syndication.

Now, that is a pretty hard to quantify metric.  It is an emotion response, a gut check on the feels of hope, exploration, and *pew* *pew* that the original series instilled in me when I was a kid, the things that made Star Trek a future I wanted to live in.

And, just to clarify, this is how successful they were at that measure in this re-watch of the film.  Each is also linked to my post about that particular film.

Hit The Mark

Which of the films I think met that rather nebulous criteria?  And the ordering in these categories is irrelevant.  This is entirely an exercise of sorting them into buckets.  I ranked them previously by generation if you want that sort of scoring.

These are the three films that most closely got me there.  Star Trek II, of course, was a direct pull from the original series with the original cast still not too old relative to the series, with a script that aligned well to how those days felt.  It probably helps that the current remastered version also looks pretty good.

Then there are two of the three J.J. Abrams re-boot films.  What can I say?  Despite their obvious flaws in script, story, continuity, and lens flare, those two managed to evoke a sense of the original in me that I was not expecting.  As I noted in those reviews, there were a lot of powerful performances and effects and music that helped them along, but those are not things to be set aside, they are part of the whole of the picture.

Add in the fact that they also go to pains to link themselves to the original series, that what we are seeing isn’t another version of Star Trek, but a parallel universe version where events transpired differently… a possibility established in original series canon back with the Mirror, Mirror episode… and I am willing to embrace the whole thing.  I want to be in the original series Star Trek, but I would happily go to the J.J. version of Star Trek.

I would also turn around and re-watch any of those three again.

Came Close

These four have some emotional resonance that put them at least close to the target.  They are imperfect wessels of my fandom, but I still feel like they had something that was able to capture a bit of the elusive magic of Star Trek for me.

The third J.J. film is here.  It fell off the rails a bit for feelings for me largely based on script.  Performances were still powerful, but not enough to overcome the seeming obsession with the film series of blowing up the Enterprise.

The rest are original series films which, while goofy at times, did still sell the original cast pretty well without getting too deep into that.  Star Trek III was kind of a tough call, but Christopher Lloyd’s occasionally erratic Klingon commander performance kind of sold it.  I know, not original cast, but somehow an original feel.

Likewise, The Motion Picture is a very flawed tale, but it still manages, in its own way, to pull on the threads of desire I felt back then to have some Trek, any Trek.

Wide Misses

For reasons below, these just did not cross the emotional threshold.

I am not necessarily going to declare these bad movies or anything.  That is not my criteria.  It is more a matter of my own emotional attachment.

As you can see, all four The Next Generation films are here, not because they were of poor quality, but more because TNG has never really felt like *my* Star Trek.  By the time TNG came around we had not only had six Star Trek films, we had also had Battlestar Galactica, Aliens, Terminator, and the original three Star Wars films, including arguably the two best out of the entire bunch.

In that mix, TNG was kind of okay.  It had a rough first season for me.  I don’t think I have even seen the full first season.  And even when it settled down in season three and I was watching it every week, it still didn’t have that special feeling that the original series did.  And I have never really spent much time watching TNG in re-runs.  So Kirk, for all his flaws, will always be my Enterprise captain.

But even that can’t get past the last two films in the series.  I know I am bucking the even/odd good/bad legend of the original six Trek films, but those films feel tired.  The scripts are tired, the cast is tired, the Enterprise… whatever version it was… is tired, even the aliens seem tired.  And, to give TNG its due, there was better Star Trek available on television while those films were being made.  Neither connected with me, and I am going to claim to be to have been the core audience when they are released.

So there we go.  I have ridden the gauntlet of Trek films and come through on the other side.  It was certainly a more manageable task than trying to watch all the shows… or even all of one of the shows besides the animated series or Short Treks or one of the new shows that doesn’t have too many episodes.  But if I were to go watch something at the end of this, it would probably be some of the remastered originals.  But that probably says more about me and where I came from than what the best options are.

Finally, if there is one lesson I can draw from the entire series it is; when in doubt, put your goddam shields up.  Beyond blowing up the Enterprise, how often do they get caught with their shields down?  There should be a Star Fleet regulation about that!