Category: Star Trek

Star Trek Beyond (Non Spoiler Review)

I’m on record as absolutely loving the Star Trek reboot. It’s been done in such a way that doesn’t alter what you loved before, but reimagines it in a new way and in its own space. What if you took Gene Roddenberry’s idea of a utopian ideal then threw a huge 9/11 event into it? How would that change the ideals? How would it change James T. Kirk? Spock? Bones? The crew? Even the Enterprise?

The actions of Nero in the first film were a 9/11 event to Roddenberry’s idyllic scene. The surprise destruction of the Kelvin by what the Federation thought was the entire Romulan Empire, followed by the destruction of Vulcan, changed everything from our heroes’ origins to the very design of Starfleet’s ships to be much larger and more capable of offensive action. As we have seen with our own reaction to 9/11, a surprise exposure of vulnerability can rip the very fabric of a society. In that regard, the terrorists win. Into Darkness explored our own reaction to 9/11 by giving us a Star Trek where elements within the Federation were willing to cast about for any solution to protect themselves from the next threat, including researching, discovering, and waking up Khan. Khan, metaphorically, is waterboarding and drones and Guantanamo. It sets up a compromising of Star Fleet’s own code as summed up by Scotty: “Is that what we are now? Because I thought we were explorers.”

For those who hated that aspect of deconstruction and 9/11 metaphors in the Trek reboot can take heart.

Star Trek Beyond builds. It does not deconstruct. It takes the idea of strength in unity and drives it home several times. Its central villain wants revenge because he felt he was abandoned and thus lost his way. But maybe he wasn’t, frontiers are just dangerous. The film leaves that for you to ponder. Kirk for all his personal internal conflict never wavers from the point of the promise of the Federation, and neither does the crew.

We join this film with the five year mission in progress. The characters now banter and jibe much better together than in previous entries. The foundation laid down by the previous films actually shines here as these cast members have a little fun while not tipping the hand wholly into camp. It feels like the third Harry Potter film where you can think to yourself  “Yes! There it is! Now we can get started!”

Some specifics of the plot could use 4 minutes or so of some more exposition. Some things are solved too neatly (and with some silliness). But our heroes are torn from their five year mission at a moment of existential crisis, only to find their purpose again. The means to get to that point are well played out and don’t jar harshly like the previous films.

This film is fun, poignant, and sometimes silly. It’s a summer blockbuster formula for sure and the affectations from Abrams’ other films flow through as callbacks, but it’s good Trek and will leave a smile on your face if you let it. Each character has something personal to confront and resolve, nods are made to previous entries and to previous timelines (including the least successful Star Trek TV show), but the message is that the Federation is the best hope for the galaxy. Unity and tolerance in all its forms should always win over seeking to conquer to make us stronger.

This is probably one of the most feel good Trek films I think I have seen since Star Trek IV. The stakes are high but not at the intent of ripping the mythos. The motivations are conflicted and personal but not in a way that makes you feel it’s making a large statement about where we are today. The nods and comedic beats are (with a few exceptions) earned honestly.

Go see it. Although the fourth film has been greenlit, this is good Trek. Worth your time.

Stay for the credits. For Leonard. For Anton.

NOTE: My spoiler filled review will have to do with the Kirk/ Spock/Bones moments in the whole three films and a couple of other specific things. I will wait to post that until Monday.


Because Facebook and other sites include the first paragraph of blog posts I’m going to pad for a bit so that no one gets things spoiled in their feed. If you want to read my (apparently pretty popular) non spoiler review of Star Trek Into Darkness, click here.

I’m going to start a bit slow here because there is a lot to my writing this piece. Specifically, the fact that I’m going to not just spoil the plot, I’m going to explain why this is a film that a new generation of Star Trek fans will look back on in 30 years when the series is rebooted again and go “The reboot sucks! Into Darkness was better!”

I never liked alternate history fiction, I always frowned and said “But that’s not how it happened.” Then I read Turtledove and Cherie Priest and oooooo now I get it, it’s a crazy new sandbox to play in for interesting ideas.

That’s what JJ Abrams new Trek universe is. As I explained in my non-spoiler review (WARNING THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS) this new universe has been pretty well and thoroughly messed with. Star Trek Into Darkness is very much like the second episode in the first season of a new show. It is not at all like the 12th film in a continuing series of movies. This is more Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale than it is Superman Returns.

That *should* be enough padding. SPOILERTOWN!

Cumberbatch is Khan, the movie is a retelling of Space Seed with elements of Wrath of Khan. Someone actually screams “KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNN!”

I’ll let you freak out, roll your eyes, or clap your hands for a minute before I deep dive into why it’s awesome.

As a Trek nerd I was seriously upset at the rumors that Benedict Cumberbatch was going to play Khan. It just seemed a dumb choice for the second movie out of the gate. The universe has been rebooted! Why would Khan be angry at Kirk? I would have rather they done a third or fourth movie where maybe Khan and Kirk would have been friends! The first second Star Trek film was about Khan (yeah I know just run with it)!

So let’s dive in! I’m going to discuss the plot linearly time wise, not in the way the movie lays out its reveals.

Shortly after the events of the first reboot film some members of Starfleet begin to realize two things: Klingons and Romulans are threats, and Starfleet is ill prepared to deal with them. The Federation authorizes certain Starfleet members to conduct special programs designed to bolster the military knowledge and capability of the Federation.

This results in Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller, loving every minute of his screen time) conducting an historical research project that uncovers the existence of the SS Botany Bay, filled with genetically engineered military experts. Marcus locates the Botany Bay, thaws out their leader, then proceeds to hold the rest of his followers hostage in cryosleep, threatening to kill them if Khan does not assist Starfleet in developing more warlike ships or improve their military strategy.

Khan proceeds to do this, joining a secret group in London called Section 31 and his work ends up resulting in a new and special class of ship. Along the way he sees the inadequacy and hypocrisy of what StarFleet is doing by claiming to be an agency of exploration while preparing secretly for pre-emptive war. Not to mention the singularly ungentlemanly act of holding his followers hostage. Thusly, Khan plots his revenge against both the specific target of his ire, Admiral Marcus, as well as Starfleet itself. Khan wants this special ship for his own, and he’s got some plans for his future.

(Everything I wrote above is revealed by the fine team over at Exposition Incorporated later in the movie when our villains monologue to Kirk, very little of any of it is shown.)

Ok right off the bat this is a brilliant (and I might say the only way) to introduce Khan back into this universe. It took enormous balls to make the second Star Trek reboot movie about the most iconic character in the series’ history, done so perfectly before.

Wrath of Khan hangs over the entire Star Trek movie franchise like some type of curse. The first film, the original Star Trek The Motion Picture, has been seen by fandom as good, but ponderous. It’s slow and tackles deep philosophical ideas. Wrath of Khan was a bit of a thrill ride where our illustrious crew faced their age, a confoundingly evil adversary, nearly lost the ship, rose to the occasion, and made sacrifices that for once were painful and immediate. The Kirk in Wrath of Khan was a man who had fought for everything he had and had never really failed. He cheated death, tricked his way out of it and patted himself on the back for his own ingenuity. We got our hearts broken, saw real danger in the threat to the crew, and saw two decades of story building get turned on its head. Star Trek suddenly was grown up. Star Trek 2 broke the mold.

Unfortunately it was so impactful that every single film following it except Star Trek IV tried to recapture that lightning in a bottle. “Cold open that has little to do with the ensuing plot? Check!” “Strong Villain with unique personality traits to play foil to the Captain? Check!” “Beat up the Enterprise to the point it’s either destroyed or semi-functional to create dramatic tension? Check!”

Oh don’t get me wrong, it didn’t result in every Star Trek film being bad or anything. First Contact and others were quite good. But they all tried to be Wrath of Khan, and none of them really came close. All of them except Star Trek IV, and more about that in a minute.

Back to spoilers!

The movie opens with a seven or eight minute sequence that could be its very own Star Trek episode. It’s thrilling, fun, and like Wrath of Khan’s cold open it establishes some items that are going to get explored later. Kirk and McCoy, in disguise, have been trying to distract the natives of a planet where their entire population is under threat from a super Volcano. Spock, Uhura, and Sulu are aboard a shuttle attempting to stop the detonation of the Volcano. Kirk and McCoy rejoin the Enterprise which is hidden underwater so the Prime Directive is observed while they try and save the natives.

(A moment here about the people complaining about the ship being under water or in atmosphere: in the original Star Trek series Enterprise could enter atmosphere. See the episode Tomorrow is Yesterday. Now shush.)

Spock gets trapped in the volcano before he can detonate a device to stop it, leading to a quandary for Kirk: disobey the Prime Directive and let the natives see the Enterprise so he can save Spock? Or let Spock die?

This continues the ultimate resolution of the plotline established in the prequel comic Countdown Into Darkness (written by the films creators) where Kirk learns a valuable lesson about letting the Prime Directive doom a civilization. He makes the call his friend is more important than whatever small damage might be incurred to a society doomed anyway and in an amazing sequence where I may or may not have shouted “THERE’S MY GIRL” when my favorite Enterprise arose from the water we get the first nod to Wrath of Khan when Spock protests saying “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

This open was pitch perfect Star Trek. Those who complain this reboot is too action oriented and not big on ideas *really* need to go back and watch all 79 episodes of the original show. The ideas are here. The Prime Directive is explained, albeit a tad breathlessly, the moral choice and character building moment of deciding to rescue Spock is pure Trek, and the consequences of Kirk’s actions to those natives (which I won’t spoil here because honestly it’s priceless and you have to see it) shows that actions have consequences. Very few original series episodes were “City on the Edge of Forever”, a lot of them were “Spock’s Brain”.

Anyways, alas our Captain Kirk has not yet had enough time with Spock to understand he cannot lie. Kirk’s report omits the rescue and violation of the Prime Directive. Spock’s, does not. It is at this point that Kirk is relieved of his command.

Yup, relieved of his command, in a scene conducted by Admiral Pike that squarely addresses the folks whose main complaint about the reboot is how Kirk went from cadet to Captain so fast. Kirk is angry and hurt by Spock’s actions, but at the same time Chris Pine plays him with a wonderful “I guess I should have realized things were going too good” sense of resolution that finally he had screwed up and got caught for it.

I want to go back here to Wrath of Khan’s Kirk. Kirk struggled to achieve what he was losing in Wrath of Khan. This Kirk is still too young, still too brash, and has been given far more than he’s earned. It’s an important character beat. He’s upset at Spock, but Pine does a wonderfully nuanced job of making me think he’s mad at himself too.

So Kirk gets drunk.

Meanwhile, in another movie, a London family is mourning the impending death of their young daughter. A father and mother visit her in the hospital, all hope seems lost. Benedict Cumberkhan appears, saying his name is “John Harrison” promising to save her. He’s escaped the confines of Admiral Marcus. Using the advanced properties of his genetically enhanced bioengineered blood he cures the girl but at a price, he convinced the father to smuggle a bomb into the area for Starfleet in which he works. Ostensibly a library, but in reality it’s Section 31. His plan? Enact revenge on Starfleet and Marcus and rescue his crew.

Admiral Pike decides to make Kirk his first officer and go back to command of the Enterprise, where Kirk can learn what it really means to lead a crew. BeneKhan Cumberharrison’s terrorism in London calls all the smart Admirals and Captains and their first officers into a room at StarFleet headquarters. During the ensuing discussion Kirk doubts the official explanation of a library generating such a high level response and Harrison JohnberKhan appears to try and kill all of StarFleet high command before being foiled by Kirk from killing them all. He escapes.

Admiral Marcus lives, Admiral Pike dies.

Here’s where the movie nailed me, in two key moments. The first is that Khan doesn’t care a whit about Kirk or his ship or anything having to do with him. He’s after Marcus and the Admiralty. The second is when Spock mind melds with Admiral Pike at his moment of death. This was a real Spock moment for Zach Quinto. The depth of the expressions on his face while maintaining a stoic Spock exterior was moving. Here he was, connected to his former Captain, experiencing his last moments. Spock recounts them later in a scene that again, you really have to see to get the full impact. It was a wonderful touchback to “The Menagerie” episode of the original Trek, where Spock risked his career for Pike. This universe is told in movies so it doesn’t have time for that, we get this instead. And it worked. I got that these two men had a bond such that if Pike had not died, later on Spock would have risked his career simply to help the man if he needed it.

Back to the movie!

Khanadict Bumberjohn has escaped to the Klingon homeworld, and Admiral Marcus monologues to Kirk that the Klingons are a dangerous warlike race and John “Harrisonkhan Cumberbatch” Harrison could start a war no one’s ready for. Kirk is enraged at the death of Pike and wants revenge. Kirk is reinstated to Captain of the Enterprise to go kill Harrison. Not apprehend him, kill him. Kirk is incensed enough, manipulated enough by Marcus, and has bent the rules enough in the past to know sometimes you gotta take action.

This is where the movie surprised me. It’s now a Kirk revenge story. A totally believable one. Marcus has issued the Enterprise several of a new class of torpedo, Kirk’s to blanket the uninhabited area of the Klingon homeworld with them, killing Harrison who is hiding there. Few of the crew agree with this course of action, Scotty in fact resigns because no one will let him examine the torpedoes and the integrity of the ship is his responsibility.

Scotty’s resignation felt forced to me. I liked it, it was a stand for principle. Simon Pegg you can see throughout the film is having the time of his life playing this character. But the scene felt a bit rushed, and I was looking for nods to what Scotty went through in Wrath of Khan. I was hoping they would have tied his resignation more to his pride of the ship not his job as engineer. Things shake out ok later though. Scotty gets drunk and calls Kirk “Captain perfect hair”.

So we go to the Klingon homeworld, in which it looks like Praxis has already been destroyed so that’s interesting. Kirk decides after significant and well written angst to go down and capture Harrison instead of killing him or attacking the Klingon homeworld which might cause a war.

I liked the Kirk revenge story moment. Turning a Khan story on its ear and having Kirk be the blinded-by-revenge guy was great. But as the movie played along I was concerned by it. I didn’t like this Kirk. I didn’t want to root for him. The moment where he does the right thing and changes his tactics to bring Harrison in felt right and was a good emotional beat in the film.

The next 15 minutes on the Klingon homeworld are pretty much action filler and a reveal of the new Trek Klingons. They didn’t deviate too much from the familiar and I liked them quite a bit.  KhaniKhan HarrisonKhan shows up and rescues the crew from capture by the Klingons and Kirk gets his revenge moment when KhanKhan “John Harrison” Khan, calmly, surrenders after being informed the number of those special torpedoes the Enterprise has. Kirk beats the crap out of him while Khanikan Skywalkerson just accepts it, not resisting. Also, somewhat telling, our villain doesn’t appear to be in the least bit physically damaged by Kirk’s assault.

Come to find out those special torpedoes? They aren’t really all that special. They’re just super shielded oversized regular torpedoes. Admiral Marcus placed a member of Khan’s crew inside each one, still frozen in stasis, as an ultimate solution to the problem of Khan’s escape and ambitions, and having 72 super geniuses around.

This is all revealed by Khanison Harrison John in the Enterprise brig. He reveals his origins and real name (Thank goodness now I can just call him Khan when he’s in the movie plot now) and the location of a secret construction area near Jupiter where his special class of ship is being built. Kirk contacts Scotty to ask him to go check it out. And Scotty finds something interesting.

Here, plotwise, is where things got really explanatory, and the action slowed down ponderously. Kirk notified StarFleet that he would be taking Khan to the nearest Starbase under custody. Suddenly, Admiral Marcus shows up in Khan’s specially designed ship, the USS Vengeance. It’s an entirely new class, approximately three times the size of the Enterprise but with 1/8th the crew because Khan’s contribution was the design of automating for war versus all the things an exploratory ship has to staff for.

Admiral Marcus monologues his backstory and tells Kirk to hand over Khan and the torpedoes. When Kirk tactfully refuses then warps away (almost reaching Earth), Marcus reveals he’s perfectly fine with destroying the Enterprise. It is at this point that Marcus’ daughter, Carol Marcus (the same character from Wrath of Khan)—

Wait did I not tell you about her? Oh sorry it must have slipped my mind.

And thus is the problem of the entire second act of this film. It’s basically an exposition/reveal vehicle. The Carol Marcus character gets incredibly short shrift in this movie, serving solely as a momentary tense moment with Spock near the end of the first act (Spock, and we, are puzzled as to why there are two science officers aboard) and to maybe maybe not kinda sorta but not really flirt with Kirk. She’s not there for tension because just at the very moment you think she suddenly has a purpose in telling her father he cannot destroy the Enterprise because she is aboard, he beams her off the Enterprise onto the Vengeance.

It’s the first moment in the movie I felt let down. The character pretty much can be removed from the film without impacting a whole bunch at all. It’s one of the first moments when you can see the filmmakers went a bridge too far with the Wrath of Khan references or moments. There’s two more moments in that regard that happen as well. But the Carol Marcus issue is a movie-long problem. She’s not interesting as written (although wonderfully played by Alice Eve even if the accent is a bit odd) and given rather mundane plot duties. I hope she fares better in Trek 3.

Marcus’ USS Vengeance then Wrath of Khans the ever loving snot out of the Enterprise in a fun warp speed battle.

There’s a touching moment where, his ship disabled and about to be destroyed, Kirk pleads for the lives of his crew, pointing out they should not have to pay for his mistake in trusting Marcus’ original motives instead of his true ones, which are to kill Khan, his followers, and anyone who knows the origin of his new supership. Kirk offers himself, Khan, and the torpedoes. Marcus however points out he’s just tying up loose ends, and Enterprise was at the Klingon homeworld in an act of war. Blowing them up is just good housekeeping.

I loved this moment. This felt very much like the culmination of a Wrath of Khan beat, where Kirk would ingeniously outsmart Marcus with a command code or something and escape. Instead he turns to his crew, and he says simply “I’m sorry.”

It’s a wonderful powerful moment. I sat there for a second going “What?” The entire lift of “Federation ship against Federation ship” from Wrath of Khan was building up to this moment where a StarFleet Captain might pull some backdoor command to beat the other ship!

But this isn’t Wrath of Khan. And Kirk’s the inexperienced one here, facing a careered StarFleet Admiral. It was good stuff, the writers here confounded expectations.

It’s at this point the most interesting and unexpected moment in the film happens. They do a callback to Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock.  Scotty has stowed away on the Vengeance and disables this advanced new ship that would make the Enterprise obsolete much like he disabled the Excelsior. If the writers didn’t high five themselves when they wrote that moment I don’t want to work in that writer’s room. With all the Wrath of Khan notes in this film they had the guts to pull in a Star Trek 3 note. They wisely didn’t have Pegg quote any lines from Search for Spock but his panicked glee at what he had done was, again, pitch perfect. He’s having the most fun in this movie, and you can tell every time he’s on the screen.

There’s only one person who can help Kirk, and he’s in the Enterprise brig. Kirk has to use Khan to get aboard the ship Khan helped design before they regain power and destroy the Enterprise. So Khan and Kirk conduct a space jump that forces each one to trust the other in order to succeed. This was a moment I really enjoyed, this was the alternate universe portion of Khan that really shined. Khan doesn’t hate Kirk. In fact he couldn’t care less about Kirk. He’s after one thing: Marcus and taking over the Vengeance. While all this is going on Spock does something that perhaps you get the sense he might not have ever done before, he contacts Spock Prime to learn of Khan.

The moment between Spock and Spock Prime is really awkward because it seems like Spock Prime has some really arbitrary rules for revealing information about the universe he knows, and the information he imparts isn’t particularly damning since he provides no context or backup. Has Spock Prime told anyone about V’Ger? The Borg? The whale probe from Star Trek IV? All of these things are still out there and is he just going to hope that what happened to Vulcan in this new universe won’t happen to Earth because “People must live their own destinies?” I get why the moment was there. But it was awkward and rushed.

Khan wants the Vengeance and Marcus. Needless to say both things happen, Khan betrays Kirk and kills Admiral Marcus to take control of the Vengeance. Once done he negotiates with Spock for the beaming over of his crew for the return of Scotty, Kirk, and Carol Marcus. Having learned about Khan in the other universe, Spock agrees, but keeps Khan’s crew and only beams over the torpedoes, which are then detonated to disable the Vengeance, but not before it gets some shots off and both ships spiral down to Earth below.

I liked the outsmarting of Khan to only beam over the torpedoes and not his crew, and Kirk’s surprise of how Spock thought of that. It’s the beginning of their relationship that will one day result in “Admiral, if we go by the book, hours would seem like days” level understanding of each other.

But, sadly, that wont help an Enterprise in a death spiral towards Earth. The warp core is misaligned, the chamber itself is irradiated. Only a manual realignment can give the ship power to arrest the dive.

In Wrath of Khan Kirk had never been forced into a position to make a sacrifice. He’d cheated death. The entire opening of the film had established how jokingly he took the concept of death. Then, at the end of the film a character had to die to save him and everyone else. It was a decision that didn’t occur to Kirk at all on the bridge at the time, he never thought to run down and sacrifice himself. Death, and at some level sacrifice, had become jaded concepts to him. He wallowed in self pity about his age, but reveled in his outsmarting Khan.

This new universe Kirk had finally been shown what it meant to sacrifice. Through the deaths of Pike, the near death of Spock, his offer to sacrifice himself for his crew to Marcus, all this things build up to the moment when he realizes what he needs to do, what his father did. Do what he can to protect his crew.

And so Kirk goes into the chamber, he realigns the warp core, he has a final moment separated by glass with Spock, and he dies.

The beats here are perfection. I was surprised at how my repeated million times viewing of Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan impacted me while seeing that final scene with Kirk in Into Darkness. The Enterprise is saved, but at great cost.

A brief note here, Spock screams “KHAAAAANNN!” echoing Kirk in Wrath of Khan. It’s an incredibly tone deaf thing to do on the writers’ part. It wasn’t needed and only invites needless comparisons to Wrath of Khan’s iconic moments when what they were striving for was telling another side of that story.

When Spock dies in Wrath of Khan, Kirk slumps against the glass and mumbles “no.” Rather than scream Khan’s name, if they wanted to show Spock lose his emotional control he could have screamed “NO!” (note, not Darth Vader like “NOOOOOOOOOO” just shout out angrily “NO!”)

That would have been better. Spock screaming Khan’s name was a bit too cute to work. Another Wrath of Khan bridge too far.

Ah but remember Khan’s superblood! Why can’t they use the 72 existing crewmembers who would be super likely to have the same blood? Well that would remove the ultimate irony of, by saving Kirk with Khan’s blood, Kirk would always have a little bit of Khan in him.

The Vengeance crashes to Earth, Khan survives, and Uhura saves Spock and helps take down Benedict Khan Harrison Khan (last one I promise). Kirk is revived, Khan put back into stasis and a year later a rechristened (and yet again redesigned, the nacelles and rear of the dish have been changed) Enterprise launches on it’s five year mission.

To say making this second film about Khan is cheeky does a disservice to the word cheeky. There’s a million ways this film could have failed. Very few in which it could succeed.

But succeed it did. I’ve not mentioned the incredible special effects and look of the film. Michael Giacchino’s score is terrific. At times the film tries too hard, but I never faulted it for trying to begin with. I loved it and I can’t wait to see it again.

This film isn’t Wrath of Khan, but Wrath of Khan still hangs heavy over the Star Trek movieverse. I think what they were trying to do here is put Khan to bed. It’s done, they did it. No more conjecture about when Khan’s coming back. Of course Khan being in stasis sets up a sequel down the road but I doubt it’s worth going there. There are plenty of other stories to tell.

The Star Trek movie widely claimed by non-trek nerds as the best was Star Trek IV and is loved by Trek fans as well. It’s the only Trek movie to have a villain who doesn’t talk, doesn’t beat the crap out of the Enterprise, doesn’t have a lot of the tropes that the Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager shows managed to avoid that every movie since Wrath of Khan does. The Voyage Home was about combating a threat not a villain. Along the way it played with some big humanistic ideas like ecology, extinction, spiritualism (in Spock’s resurrection) etc.

I would love for Trek 3 to go down that path.

Actually what I would *really* like is Abrams to forego a Trek 3, work on Star Wars, and executive produce a new Trek TV show. 13 episode seasons broken up like Walking Dead or Breaking Bad so as not to tie the actors up too much.

I can only wish.

Star Trek Into Darkness: Non Spoiler Review


So I’ve seen Star Trek Into Darkness, can’t reveal how or why. But wanted to share some thoughts. There are no spoilers here. This review assumes you have not even seen any trailers or posters. Read ahead with confidence I won’t give away anything. This is my thoughts and feelings about the finished product.

The writing crew of JJ Abrams rebooted Star Trek universe have a hard row to hoe. On the one hand, they rebooted the Star Trek universe pretty completely.

The destruction of the USS Kelvin by Nero 35 years before the 1960’s original timeline in the 2009 film sparked a renewed war with the Romulans (that’s where the fleet is when Vulcan is destroyed, leaving Captain Pike with a mere 8 ship armada and Star Fleet cadets to respond to Vulcan’s distress call). Starfleet ships are now larger and heavily armed, hence the new Enterprise being much larger than the original 1701 from the 60’s TV show. The Klingons lost a significant amount of their own fleet when Nero broke out of Rura Penthe and reclaimed the Narada. James Kirk joins Starfleet much later than in the original show’s timeline, and during a time of crisis is given a Captainship due to performance under battle. (Those that claim a Federation Captain would never be promoted from cadet should study the career of General George Armstrong Custer, promoted to General at the age of 23 during the American Civil War and whose performance in the face of crisis earned him a spot as one of the commanders witnessing the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Granted, he didn’t end well, but I think we have more faith in James Kirk. Point being, in times of war, yeah stuff like that happens. No spoilers, but Star Trek Into Darkness addresses that complaint somewhat.)

JJ Abrams’ Star Trek universe is in a time of dark conflict. Where the original show’s 5 year exploration mission took place in a time of tense but stable cold war, this new universe might forego five year exploratory science missions because it takes place in an unstable cold war.

Everything I have said so far is canon either explained in the original film or the prequel comic written by the film’s authors. If you didn’t know any of the above, Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t reveal it, it builds on it.

On the other hand the writers have to deal with Star Trek fans and their accumulated knowledge of decades of Trekdom and canon and their “get off my lawn” expectations thereof. I admit to being in that camp before seeing the film.

When the second Star Trek motion picture was released in 1982 it had approximately two decades of storyline and character development to draw from. Kirk was in his late 40’s. His history with Spock and his crew spanned 20 years. There were 79 hour long episodes and a previous motion picture to draw from. There was a lot of there there. 82 hours to be exact vs…2 for this new universe.

Abrams’ second Star Trek film is very much like the second episode in the first season of an entirely new Star Trek. Not only has the universe been redefined, but the characters are still raw, still like gears grinding together until they mesh more fluidly. This is a baby universe compared to original Trek filmdom.

And it’s awesome. I loved every minute of it. Mainly because I viewed it as a second episode in a completely new series. I went in realizing this is what 1960’s Star Trek fans must have felt like when Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. Some turned it off forever and (thankfully) the vast majority loved it.

Like its predecessor this Star Trek film is not without its flaws. There’s two points in the film where it simply goes a bridge too far in planting its own flag while paying homage to the original timeline. If you love Star Trek in all its forms you will know both moments when you see them.

But in the words of George Takei, “oh my”.  What a ride. This is perhaps the most fun I have had at a movie since The Avengers.

The tagline for the teaser posters for Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier was “This is why movie theaters should have seatbelts.” I think we all remember how that turned out. This movie, that would be a perfect tagline.

Star Trek Into Darkness feels *exactly* like what an original series episode would be like if they just had today’s technology. It’s funny, sad, smartly written, endearing, and even when it tries too hard you want to hug it for even bothering to try at all. There’s one or two moments of actual straight-out-of-the-1960’s show campiness. And when I say that you might crinkle your brow and go “That’s not a good thing”, I will tell you when you see the moments you will laugh like the entire audience did when I saw it. It’s pitch perfect.

This is Trek alive. Don’t get me wrong, I love the big ideas and the deep thinks that TNG and DS9 could bring. But this Trek is hot blooded. The score by the returning Abrams favorite Michael Giacchino is at times stirring and (when it needs to be) heartbreaking.

This is Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek writ large, Horatio Hornblower to the Stars. The film tackles post 9/11 ideas, it questions the concept of loyalty, it applies the very practical point of an enemy of your enemy having to be your friend. It looks great, there’s a fun visual pun on lens flares, and the opening sequence could be an episode all its own.

If you love Star Trek, I mean if you really really love Star Trek, walk into this as if you had the chance to write an episode of the first season of the 1960’s show knowing what you know now about the social messages you want to send.

And if you’re my age, and grew up with Star Trek The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, etc and TNG as your formative Star Trek experiences, I will be shocked if you don’t tear up at least once at how seriously Abrams and crew take their subject matter. I had to say to myself at least once, “God dammit don’t cry.”

Dear JJ Abrams, let’s stop making movies and get me a Star Trek TV show (I’ll settle for 12 episode seasons) ASAP. I love this crew, I love these actors. I love the ship. Take it to the next level.

One very very minor spoiler, well not a spoiler just something to look out for. There’s a Doohan on board the Enterprise. And when I saw him I grinned from ear to ear. Oh and also pay close attention to the ship at the end.

Why we need a new Star Trek TV series, with the new crew, now.

I’m not normally the guy to advocate this.  After Enterprise, I was convinced Star Trek needed a 10 year break. But JJ Abrams’ spectacular film reboot of the franchise, combined with stories like this, make me think otherwise.

We need a new Star Trek TV series before the next film.

The fact that reboots that I felt worked or even worked ok if you built on them, like Superman Returns or Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk, are being shelved is cause for great concern mostly because the drive to continue them is so tenuous.

I think about Spiderman, which has given us in the course of about 6 years a grand total of 6 hours of film.  Now Spiderman doesn’t need a movie franchise to continue the story, to enrich it. Spiderman came from comics. As did Superman and Hulk.  The movie reboots or adaptations can fail, but the source of the discovery of the material moves on unaffected.

Not so with Star Trek.  It was born on TV.  While the movies proved to be the foundation for returning to TV, the fact of the matter is Star Trek is too grand a franchise and a sci fi mythos to now be relegated to 2 hours every 3 years.

To be clear I am not proposing a full season of episodes.  But the next Trek movie will probably hit screens in late 2011.  Is it such a bad idea to have NBC broadcast a mini Trek season?  Perhaps 13 episodes?  These characters have arcs far more deep and sustaining than to have this group of actors come together maybe 4 times in one decade before they all want to do something else. I don’t think it’s hard to put together a storyline that builds their arcs before the next movie.  I spent the last 45 minutes slapping together an outline of what I think would actually be pretty successful if the execution was right.

Here’s an outline for seven or so 45 minute episodes (half a 13 episode season!) that could bridge the gap between the Star Trek movies.  If it works, great, you now have a model to chain TV shows between movies and make money.  If it doesn’t work, you can always use any success the second movie has to sell DVD’s of the TV season.


Star Trek: Series 1

Episode 1: “Balancing Power”

Summary: The Enterprise escorts Admiral Pike to a military summit with the Romulans to work out the continuing fallout from Nero’s actions. A minority of Starfleet’s leadership does not believe Nero acted alone.  Complicating matters is the fact Nero transmitted much about the Prime universe timeline to the new timeline Romulan high command before his death, in an effort to help protect the empire should his mission to destroy the Federation fail. Events come to a head when the Enterprise is attacked by a rogue Subcommander who believes that with Vulcan destroyed, the Federation is at its weakest now that they have lost their key scientific brain trust. Thanks to Spock’s science officer ability to work out weaknesses in battling a cloaked vessel for the first time, and Scotty’s ability to modify ship technology on the fly, Kirk safely gets Pike to the Summit, where a contentious but joint agreement to study creating Red Matter to prevent the coming supernova is worked out. However, the Subcommander and his ship escape. The tension and goal are meant to evoke the first TOS episode Balance of Power.

Crew Subtext: In the film, Spock had to work to understand the value of Kirk’s intuition.  In this episode, bristling under the presence of Admiral Pike, Kirk must learn to value Spock’s logic and intellect despite his instincts, and use both to enable his crew and Scotty to succeed.


Episode 2: “Legitimacy”

Summary: Fallout from the Nero incident continues as Starfleet, facing questions as to its awarding a young cadet command of the Federation Flagship, assigns an auditor to the Enterprise to observe the young Captain’s ability to command.  The auditor is skeptical and questions many of the decisions made during Kirk’s initial command during the film. The Enterprise is assigned the task of helping protect convoys of Vulcan refugee’s as they resettle to the new colony world. During this assignment, the rogue Subcommander from the previous episode reappears, and the auditor witnesses Kirk in action, leveraging all of his crew as a captain to succeed.  Particularly, a key conversation between Spock and Kirk, mediated and prodded by Bones, gives the insight needed to finally destroy the Subcommander’s ship. The Auditor’s skepticism is satisfied, but stays on the ship for the next several episodes.

Crew Subtext: After Pike’s visit, which Kirk felt stifled due to his respect for Pike, the auditor represents a chance to prove himself. He proactively seeks out Spock’s advice, building on the lessons from the earlier episode, but Bones emerges as the binding force for the two, providing both with the catalyst for insight present in the original series.


Episode 3: “She’ll Always Bring You Home”

Summary: The Enterprise has completed its forced shakedown, and now must return to Star dock at Earth for refit and tweaking. While the crew departs for various Earth side shore leave, Scotty is alone with his ship for the first time. In this episode we explore the empty ship from Scotty’s viewpoint, and get a good grounding for the various capabilities that will be used in future adventures.  A rattle in engineering has Mr. Scott bothered.  And we learn from flashbacks and asides with the refit crew both Mr. Scott’s passion for his ship, as well as his engineering capabilities as he discovers what is causing the vibration and realizes in no small way that the Enterprise is as much a member of the crew as anyone.

Crew Subtext: This is the episode that both the back story of Scotty and his expertise is revealed, as well as the foundation for the Enterprise being a member of the crew as much as Scotty’s protective attitude towards her. It’s the very seeds of his disdain for future technology like he had in the Prime universe for the Excelsior.


Episode 4: “McCoy, Leonard H. Son of David.”

Summary: While the Enterprise is in refit, McCoy returns to his family home in Kentucky, where is father is gravely ill.  Bitter at his son’s divorce when he remained married to his wife for 60 years, McCoy’s father is hateful for his son’s choice to join the militaristic Starfleet. Despite McCoy’s success, he chastises him. McCoy laments that their loving relationship ended with the divorce, but an interesting local medical challenge temporarily unites the two. Showcasing sci fi medical techniques, the two work together to advance medicine. Though they work together to solve the problem, and the elder McCoy grows to see his son through new eyes, the elder’s health decreases and his pain increases, leading him to plead with his son to end his life and let him go. McCoy, unlike Prime McCoy, cannot bring himself to be the individual who actually ends his father’s life, now that his once estranged father has re-instilled his pride in his own choices.  In pain, the elder McCoy asks his doctors to end his life and they do. Anguished, McCoy contacts Kirk, who helps McCoy deal with the death of his father through the lens of his own dealings with George Kirk’s death. “Better to miss a father you knew, than to imagine a father and never know if you are right” Kirk says. The discussion evolves into the personal choice euthanasia represents, but overall the fact that there was a choice.

Crew Subtext: McCoy deepens as an individual character outside the lens of Kirk and Spock. And we see both his southern heritage that was part of the Prime character as well as deeply understand his commitment to his profession. At the end, this is the McCoy we can see glibly telling Khan to be sure to cut his carotid artery during the “Space Seed” episode.


Episode 5: “Three Vignettes”

Summary: While the Enterprise is in refit, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov head down to Earth for Shore Leave.

Uhura: At home in Africa, Uhura reunites with a domineering ex-fiancé. While clearly denoting her existing relationship with Spock, she is drawn to the magnetism and history the two have had together as the fiancé promises to amend his ways.  Events come to a head where he forces her to make a choice between a kinder gentler him, but only if she gives up Starfleet.  Incensed that he would try to dominate her through such a choice, she is reminded of what she has achieved and denies the ex-fiancé

Chekov: Chekov returns home to Russia just at the right moment his older sister is set to be wed.  He is the first most successful member of the family, being a whiz kid, and is assigned all the tasks of an official wedding coordinator.  Things quickly go awry as we realize more quickly than the family does that a physics and math whiz kid might not be the best person to coordinate the delicate family politics of a large scale Russian wedding.  All is forgiven however when Chekov realizes his best contribution: officiating the wedding.

Sulu: Having no living family, Sulu returns to San Francisco to stay with friends from his academy days. Having moved on, his friends are now anti-Starfleet, viewing it as a military organization bent on changing the culture of other worlds. in dealing with his friends rejection of his primary mission he visits the Starfleet Academy training center and undergoes several military simulations.  Just at the point he is starting to despair that his friends are right, he discovers that each military simulation has an underlying humanitarian mission (a la Kobayashi Maru)  He ends the episode deciding to repeatedly try the Kobayashi Maru mission.

Crew Subtext: Each Vignette has a different one, with Uhura its her strength and success that is due to herself, not someone else or some other role.  With Chekov it is the humor and joy of his youth and intellect, punctuated by the end where he realizes his role is best kept to uniting people not driving them.  Lastly, Sulu’s story reinforces his underlying ability to one day command.  That he believes deeply in Star Fleet and its role.  This is the foundation for thinking of Sulu as one day being “Captain Sulu”.


Episode 6: “Be Careful. *We* Will.”

Summary: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy return to the Enterprise ahead of the crew.  While Scotty appears to be obsessed with a hull vibration, the three share their stories of being away over dinner and drinks.

Kirk details his intensive new training on romulan combat maneuvers.  His segment is detailed with new starship tricks and space combat flashbacks. Flashy special effects fun.

Spock notes his journey visiting his mothers home place and partaking in their funeral/celebration of his mothers life via flashbacks which show the impact her death has on the character.

In the end they ask McCoy his time on Earth. Kirk notes that McCoy lost his father and asks if he’s ok.  McCoy takes a moment and says simply “hell of a time to ask”  When Kirk looks taken aback McCoy smiles and laughs. “I’m not sure how I got here,” he says, “I just know I’m looking at a green blooded hobgoblin and the only cadet who’s ever beat the no win scenario and I can’t imagine any other place I would rather be.” He chokes up for a second and raises his drink and says “Cheers, god dammit”

Mr. Scott interrupts to detail his findings on the health of the ship after refit, and the notification that all crew are due to be back on board within 24 hours. Kirk ends the dinner with “Mr. Scott, the crew are due to be back home.  Not on board. Let’s note that moving forward.”

Crew Subtext: while the threads of the show have taken a detour to the other crew, in the end the triumvirate of Kirk and Spock and McCoy are paramount. This episode is meant to solidify their camaraderie. Lastly its meant to show the Enterprise is their home, not just their ship.


Episode 7: “The Seven Year Itch.”

Summary: Our good friend Cyrano Jones is back, along with the Auditor. This time instead of trafficking in Tribbles, Cyrano Jones is peddling a new serum that allows Vulcans to mate with Ponn Farr anytime they want, as opposed to 7 years. Given the longevity of the Vulcan race and their slow mating cycle, a race down to 10,000 members needs help to breed. This episode is told in flashbacks done during interviews with the auditor and Kirk in Kirk’s (cramped) ready room.  We learn that the Enterprise is summoned to the Vulcan colony established by Spock Prime due to the threat of both Romulan attack (since the Vulcans have almost united in their small pool to give the federation a scientific advantage) and hucksters like Cyrano Jones.  Cyrano, a bit before his tribble days, claims to just be peddling happiness like the tribbles. But it takes Spock to find out that the breeding serum, which appears to work a third of the time on Vulcans, it 100% illuminates Romulan infiltrators to the colony.  While Jones tries to explain his serum had a net benefit, he is forced to stay on Vulcan helping those to whom his serum didn’t work.

Crew subtext: This is an opportunity to both mix humor with the dark reality of being a member of a long lived species being endangered.  This episode could be considered Amok Time meets Trouble with Tribbles. By telling the story as Kirk explaining the delicacies of the situation to the auditor it ends the auditor story line with a line of humor and competency on Kirk’s part. A sequence with Spock explaining breeding patterns to Kirk instead of a fight is enhanced by McCoy trying to describe a battle between two jealous lovers a la Amok Time and Kirk dismissing a scenario as “impossible”. Lastly, there is the underlying exploration of a civilization forced to realize it must force breed to survive.



More than half a season outlined and ready to hand off to a writer or team of.  If I can do that in under an hour, I bet someone else could do it 10 times better and more professionally. ‘Course, the above might all be crap, but my point is more that leaving it lie for just movies means that come the third movie the cast, etc start to drift or some suit nukes the whole thing over a bottom line item.

Star Trek is too grand for that. 

Here’s hoping at least.

Thoughts on the new Star Trek Movie

This is spoilery.  So if you haven’t seen the movie don’t read this.

I really really loved this movie.

I’m not going to bother to go any further in terms of praising it from a movie or sci fi fan perspective.  I wanted to see it twice before I wrote about it because I enjoyed it so much the first time I wanted to go one more time to nit pick it. It’s definitely not Citizen Kane in terms of its big ideas or narrative.  But so much of what the film gets right about Trek is just absolutely dead on.

I dislike that to fully get Nero’s backstory you have to read a four issue comic series, Star Trek: Countdown, but that’s pretty much my sole complaint.  Everything about the film hits the perfect notes:

Replicating an older film look by using camera/shooting flaws like lens flare or blinding bridge lights. Made it feel like it was rougher, more like the bad sets and cardboard bridge of the old show but without stooping to that level.

Sound cues. From the opening scanner ping noise from the old show, to the torpedo sounds, to the transporter.  Everything was updated, but in a way that supported the alternate timeline idea.  Comfortable, but new too.

Soundtrack: The film has an outstanding score. Go download it.

Original series nods: Kirk form Iowa, Spock saying fascinating, Pike in a wheelchair, Kirk eating an apple during the Kobayashi Maru test, McCoy’s “I’m a doctor not a …”, Kirk’s lady chasing, Vulcan neck pinch, “I have been, and always shall be your friend” and on and on and on.

Kicking original series canon to the curb: Holy FUCK they destroyed Vulcan and all the people on it.  Spock/Uhura romance, Building ships on earth, making the ships far larger and more warlike due to the destruction of the Kelvin, Romulan first contact, and on and on.

I think it’s a wonderful and awesome a reboot as Battlestar Galactica was, without having to go through as many machinations as Galactica did.  Everything that was great about original series Trek is here in the movie.  While some bemoan the lack of some big social message, I preferred for a reboot the message that at some level these people were fated to be together, and fated to be on that ship.

I can’t wait to see what they do next, and again wish they had gone straight to a two season TV show to let the cast gel some more rather than make us all wait 2 years for another two hour movie.

But what I love most about this film, is watching people come out of it.  From the kind of kids who used to beat the crap out of Trek nerds like me in High School, to small kids, to adults who never really got into it.  I love hearing the buzz from them as I leave the theater.  Trek’s cool again, and without really having to give anything up.