Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Star Trek franchise and how to fix it

The latest gossip about the continuation of the Star Trek franchise is that a film "Star Trek XI" is in the works. This production will involve an entirely new production crew in order to avoid the jinx of the previous films in the series. The nominal plot is that this series will focus on Spock and Kirk during their Starfleet Academy days.

This seems like a really boneheaded idea to me, although to be fair, it does have the virtue of having been tried with a successful spin-off into a television series. Another film followed by a few seasons of television will at least keep hope alive for the Star Trek fan base.

So how does one "fix" the Star Trek franchise by coming up with a blockbuster hit Star Trek film? In my previous analysis of the Star Trek franchise, I blamed outdated cultural assumptions that had been grandfathered into the Star Trek canon for the failures of the franchise. The key to "fixing" Star Trek is to identify those assumptions and update them.

A good place to start is with the Star Trek franchise's ideal of good Starfleet leadership being based around a core of sensibility. This is dead wrong. Good Starfleet leadership should really be based on decisiveness. Consider that the typical Star Fleet captain portrayed from "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" on through the early "Deep Space Nine" era (where my Star Trek interest largely ended) is typically something of a Jimmy Carter-esque prisoner of events. For example, the final four movies based on the original series involved the starship Enterprise being captured once, surrendered twice, and blown up once (and not even appearing in one of the four films) , while these four movies had Captain Kirk exiled on Vulcan, exiled in Earth's past, captured by Sybok, and convicted and exiled to a Klingon prison planet. The decisive victor Kirk of "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" is largely the last real hurrah of Captain Kirk's brilliant career.

But suffice it to say that even the Captain Kirk of "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" excels in comparison to Captain Picard (i.e. the Colonel Blimp of Starfleet) and his successors. The only real exception being Commander Riker; various high-level Starfleet and Federation puhbahs have been begging Commander Riker to accept his own command since about season two of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". Giving now Captain Riker of the starship Titan a starring role in a new Star Trek film would be an excellent idea.

Another big problem with the Star Trek films is that the main "bad guys" are either massively imposing overmatches for the Enterprise (such as in films I, IV, VI, VIII, IX, and X) or somehow manage to take a mechnically crippled or compromised Enterpise by surprise (films II, III, V, VII). The classic Klingon "bird of prey" starship -- highlighted in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" for example -- looks like a dependable, workhorse technology by comparison. So another great strategy for a "Star Trek XI" would be Federation technology that doesn't suck!

Another interesting point is that Captain Kirk's career starts to falter and decline in "Star Trek III", which not coincidentally is the earliest reference to the Klingon peace negotiations that end up becoming a dominant theme of all post-Khan Star Trek fiction. This is a sign that the Federation, at least in the post-Khan era of the canon, has been largely abandoned for the Klingon Empire as a creative inspiration for the film and series producers. As Andrew Sullivan might say, this tells us something about ourselves. So another good idea for reviving the Star Trek franchise would be inventing a reason for people to be inspired by the Federation again instead of giving us yet another ultimately self-defeating Federation conspiracy theory (as in movies VI and IX).

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