Enough politics! Time for geekery!
Yes, the new trailer for Star Trek makes me want to see it. Just the music does! Plus, come on, there’s a call-out to Vasquez Rocks about 3/4 of the way through.
I’m with the geeks who are a little nervous about the time travel angle, because that concept was responsible for some of the most corrosively stupid stories and ideas in the show’s previous TV history. Brannon Braga, out with thee!
Rebooting is fine with me, though. Just call it Star Trek 2.0, forget everything that’s gone before. Some of it was good, some wasn’t, none of it is harmed by a complete do-over.
In fact, a do-over clears a lot of narrative storytelling crud out of the intellectual property. As far as shared-universe serial fictions go, Star Trek is not one of the more coherent or consistent out there.
If a reboot, the question is, which way do you go? It looks just from all the fragments and pieces of information out there that J.J. Abrams has decided that the core of the property is the characters coupled with a bit of optimistic space opera. I think that’s basically right.
If you decided instead that you wanted to really work out the idea of the United Federation of Planets, explore the concept of the Prime Directive, and all that jazz, then you don’t really want what Abrams is bringing. But neither do you want what Star Trek has been to date, because all of those ideas as developed by Roddenberry and his successors were painfully stunted, dramatically hollow, unsatisfying. What you want is basically Iain Banks’ Culture novels (I’m not the first to point this out, mind you). But Banks’ novels, much as I love them, are pretty cerebral: it’s hard to imagine any of them being the foundation for a popular film or television series.
So if you go with the familiar characters, surrounded by some of their technological fetish-objects and a bit of mumbo-jumbo about Starfleet and tolerance and the final frontier, you still have an interesting problem, and I’ll be curious to see how Abrams handles it.
The basic Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad still is a serviceable dramatic engine. The man of action who has to mediate between the man of reason and the man of feeling. Simple, sometimes crude, but entertaining and a pretty good generator of stories. Once you overcome Roddenberry’s crippling ideal that perfect people in the perfect future don’t have internal conflicts, this lets you set these three characters against each other while also getting them to cooperate in lots of situations and permutations.
But what to do with the secondary characters? You can do what the later Star Trek shows did and distribute the triad’s characteristics among them in various ways that echo the central dramatic engine. (As opposed to what the original show did with them, which was more or less nothing in the case of Sulu or Uhura.) Or you can try to give them their own distinctive schtick, which is what sort of happened by accident to Scotty. (Though notably shows built around Scotty as a dramatic character were among the worst of the original show, because he’s got nothing going for him in dramatic terms, and therefore the only thing to do with him is give him a really bad romantic problem or something of that sort.)
Judging from the trailer, it looks like Sulu might be “Secondary Man of Action”. Scotty, given the casting, looks like he’ll still be doing amusing schtick, basically as comic relief.
Uhura? I kind of hope she doesn’t just end up being the new Ensign Janice Rand. If there’s one character whose job should suggest something about her character, it’s Uhura. If she’s the communication specialist, make her the person who knows the most about aliens, who specializes in mediating between conflicting characters, who is technically expert in modes and technologies of communication. Rather than being a switchboard operator, which is how the original show treated her.