The Force Awakens While the Federation Slumbers
With the mania surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this year, it’s easy to forget that Star Trek will be celebrating something of its own very soon – its 50th anniversary. Yeah, that’s a pretty big deal. And yet there doesn’t seem to be much buzz heading into next year’s commemoration or the expected new movie. And that’s sad.
Let’s face it – the timing couldn't be worse. Even for the most die hard of Trek fans out there (count me among them, of course), getting a new Star Wars movie is a pretty exciting thing. And it’s not just one movie but a series of new films over the next several years. The electricity in the air is simply hard to ignore.
Of course I’ll still be one of the first to stand in line to see any new Trek movie, but let me be clear: I don’t see myself as being either Team-This, or Team-That; I don't debate "Which is better?" I think most of us think the same way.
When I was a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was a fanatical Star Wars fan. By the late ‘80s I had embraced Star Trek. Trek has dominated my life ever since. And yet I can’t help but be swept up in the excitement of The Force Awakens. Luke, Han, and Leia were my first real heroes. Yes, it does feel like getting to be a kid all over again. But a new Star Trek movie? Of course I’ll be there.
I think the challenge for the powers-that-be will not be getting longtime fans on board for the anniversary by building early buzz and creating that charge of excitement in the air. This hasn't been easy so far. With Abrams out as director of the next movie and other creative changes that have been wheeled out for public scrutiny, it feels like Star Trek is facing a rushed production to meet its anniversary deadline next year.
The last thing Star Trek needs is a bad movie on its 50th anniversary. It may be a little too late in the game to suggest a creative course-correction, so let’s hope the franchise is being steered where it needs to go. And that, folks, is far away from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
It’s time to bring Star Trek back to its roots of exploration and intellectual discovery. There’s certainly room still for some villainy and space warfare, but the movie franchise needs to stop copying the tired Star Trek II villain-versus-captain template. Secondly, it needs to position itself as a smarter and more optimistic counterpoint to the darker genre fare we’ve been getting for a better part of the last 15 years.
The only way Star Trek is going to succeed now and in the future is to rediscover what made it work in the first place, and that’s “discovery” – both the intellectual and interstellar kind. There's certainly room for some smart, critical sci-fiction entertainment, as the movie "Interstellar" and its success reminded us.
I asked a longtime friend of mine, Earl Green of The Logbook, for his take getting Trek back on track: “Star Trek," he said, "could probably have a renaissance if it did what's happened with Star Wars -- bring in new blood, which a lot of fans interpret as a course-correction from Lucas' plotting and dialogue problems with the prequel trilogy."
"If Paramount made a very public sea change in a similar vein for Star Trek, either mending fences with CBS to launch a new TV series or backing away from the Bad Robot interpretation of the universe, there'd be more optimism for the future. Having Simon Pegg co-write the next installment is only a minor change, and probably not enough.”
Star Wars is certainly changing the game again – at the very least when it comes to marketing. Anticipation for The Force Awakens is certainly Everest-ish in scale, thanks in no small part to a couple brilliantly crafted teaser trailers. You also give credit to the recent Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, Califorina, reported to be the largest since 1999 (certainly no surprise, as that was the year The Phantom Menace was released).
With live-streaming and, of course, the second trailer’s big reveal -- featuring the return of characters and actors the fanbase has known and loved for decades -- the four-day gathering of Star Wars’ most devoted fans became a serious headline-grabber, helping to shape The Force Awakens as a movie that not only should be seen, but must be seen.
Can we expect a similarly epic convention event for Star Trek in advance of the 50th anniversary and the new movie, outside of the monotonous cookie-cutter Creation Entertainment events in North America, which seem to be geared more towards merchandising than meaningfullness? Aside from the recently-announced concert series planned for next year, my fear is that Star Trek is going recess into the background – at least for the short term.
There was a time when there was simply too much Trek out there, and that saturation (along with an unending creative sameness) led to its decline in popularity. It’s time to jumpstart the franchise again, but to do it right. And do it smart.
Star Wars is moving forward by going back to the familiar. It’s time Star Trek does the same.