Star Trek Strange New Worlds

CBS and Paramount are finally learning. After years of trying to force some offensively awful Star Trek down our throats, they've finally given us something palatable. Well, I guess that's not entirely fair. I actually like Lower Decks. But Lower Decks is a self-parody animated comedy, so it's not really "serious" Star Trek, even though it's far more worthy of the franchise than the first season of Discovery or Picard.

Well, now Paramount+ also has a live-action Star Trek show worthy of the name, in the form of Strange New Worlds.

The first episode of Strange New Worlds is much more in-line with what I expect from a Star Trek show. I already talked up the virtues of an episodic format in my Lower Decks review, but focused mostly on how the self-contained nature of episodes allows some to be bad without dragging down the entire season or series with them. But the episodic nature of Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds also highlights another fundamental advantage of the episodic format: those self-contained episodes can tell more high-concept stories.

Star Trek Strange New Worlds - past mistakes © CBS
Strange New Worlds is about learning from past mistakes and getting better.

The first episode of Strange New Worlds isn't the most creative or the highest of concept stories, but it's a serviceable story that is true to the spirit of classic Trek, and I'll be spoiling a lot of its plot in the coming paragraph. A first contact goes wrong, and the Enterprise has to be called into rescue the missing crew of a small scout ship. They find a pre-warp civilization that learned to reverse-engineer a warp drive from observing the events of Star Trek: Discovery. Except these people didn't use the technology to build a propulsion device; they're using it to build a weapon that they plan to use to end their own civil war. Realizing that Federation activity has already influenced the cultural development of the planet, Captain Pike decides that General Order One (the non-interference Prime Directive) does not apply. He choses to share the history of Earth's World War III (which this series assumes lies in our real-life immediate future) in an attempt to convince the warring factions to reconcile instead of risk mutual destruction.

Put simply, the first episode of Strange New Worlds differs from Discovery in that it is about preventing a war instead of starting one. It's about learning from the mistakes of past history so that they aren't repeated. And it's a stark warning of what might go wrong in today's society if political tensions don't cool off, without having to depict a future for humanity in which no social progress seems to have happened at all.

It's the type of forward-thinking story that I like about classic Trek, but which is absent from Discovery and especially from Picard (well, the first season anyway). Those shows give us a view of the future in which all the same problems that exist today still exist in 2 or 300 years. Strange New Worlds goes back to depicting a future in which humanity has learned from its past mistakes and improved itself. It's the hopeful, optimistic future that I loved from the older shows. I want to see more modern science fiction depicting futures for its audience to aspire to, instead of all the bleak, dystopian settings that dominate modern sci-fi and makes our future feel hopeless.

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Star Trek Voyager cast

In my last post, I vented some of my frustrations with Star Trek: Voyager. Primarily, I ranted about how the series mostly failed to follow through with its central premise of being about the ship being lost and isolated on the other side of the galaxy. But I still have more complaints with Voyager. A side effect of the show not following its "lost and alone" premise to its logical conclusion, the show ended up feeling like it was trying too hard to be a Next Generation copy-cat.

Steve Shives also brought up this complaint in his Youtube video "What's My Problem With Voyager?", and I echo the criticism. Voyager had the frustrating habit of retelling stories that had already been told (usually better) in Next Generation. Star Trek shows have always repeated archetype characters, but TNG and Deep Space Nine were very good about paying homage to the earlier shows, without outright copying them.

Many characters feel like slight variations of characters from TOS and TNG.

For example, it could be argued that Data in TNG is a copy-cat of Spock. Dr. McCoy, after all, frequently referred to Spock as a "computer", and Mr. Data is [literally] a computer. But Data isn't a copy-cat of Spock. He's actually more a reflection of Spock (though, admittedly, Spock's arc in the movies and in "Unification" does paint him as being more similar to Data). Spock (in the Original Series) derided his humanity and fought very hard to subdue and quell it. Spock was like a Dr. Jekyll who thought his human half was the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Data, on the other hand, inverts this concept and is more of a Pinocchio (which Riker explicitly spells out for us in "Encounter At Farpoint").

Data wasn't a copy of Spock, he was an inverted reflection.

Also, Spock was dueling with his human half throughout the Original Series and into the movies. That's a dynamic that isn't present in Data at all. That dynamic is present, however, in Worf! Then, of course, there's the whiz kid element of Spock's character, which was transcribed onto Wesley in TNG. So TNG took inspiration from the Original Series' most popular character (Spock), but instead of copying him with minor variations, it split Spock's attributes into multiple characters.

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Star Trek 50th anniversary

On September 8, 1966, a cultural revolution started. The first episode of a new science fiction television series named Star Trek premiered on NBC. This series broke new ground in the genre of science fiction by being one of the first series ever to present high science fiction concepts to television audiences, while also using its space adventures as allegories for contemporary social and political issues. While it presented itself as mindless space adventure in the same vein as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, it took a serious approach to science fiction that (at the time) was limited to literature like the novels of H.G. Wells and the stories of Isaac Asimov.

Star Trek wasn't the first serious science fiction television series. Shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had existed for a almost a decade. But Star Trek differed from these series in that it depicted a revolutionarily positive and uplifting version of the future of humanity during the height of the paranoia of the Cold War. Humanity, according to Star Trek would overcome the threat of mutual destruction that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union posed, and we would come out the other side with a spirit of cooperation and a desire to peacefully and benevolently explore the stars, exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations.

Television science fiction was dominated by childish adventures like Buck Rogers
and more cynical anthology series like The Twilight Zone that drew off of Cold War paranoia.

The show was created by Gene Roddenberry, a former United States army air force pilot and Los Angeles police officer who eventually found his calling as a television writer and producer. He wrote and produced some police dramas and westerns before pitching his defining project: Star Trek. The show was picked up by Desilu Productions, a company that was run by Lucille Ball (yes, the titular actress of I Love Lucy) and her husband. The production of Star Trek was tumultuous. The show was canceled by NBC after its second season, only to be revived due to an unprecedented, fervent letter-writing campaign staged by its fans. It did not survive its third season, however, as Desilu Productions was rapidly running out of money, was forced to cut budgets, and NBC moved the show to the dreaded Friday night "death" slot. In an age before DVRs, or even VCRs, if people were out on the town on a Friday night, and they missed an episode of a show, then that episode simply went unseen.

Gene Roddenberry
Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision
of the future remains endearing.

The series eventually saw tremendous success after its cancellation due to its episodes being syndicated during the 1970's. It gained a cult following that grew and grew, setting up conventions that would come to draw thousands of attendees. Though not immediately apparent, Star Trek would grow to become one of (if not the) most successful science fiction properties in the world. The series is often cited by scientists, engineers, and astronauts as their inspirations for their careers, and the technology of the series has inspired many real-world technological innovations, such as wireless communication, mobile devices (in particularly mobile phones), speech-recognition software, and so on. Roddenberry became the first TV writer to receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, and was one of the first human beings ever to have his ashes carried into earth orbit...

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Star Trek Beyond - poster
Star Trek: Beyond

I didn't really know what to expect from this movie. I was pleased that Abrams wasn't directing anymore, and that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman weren't writing it. Simon Pegg writing seemed like good news. Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame directing seemed questionable. The casting of a villain was also disappointing, as it seemed to set the stage for yet another dumb action movie. I watched the trailers, but I tried to avoid larger spoilers and speculation. I didn't want to go into the movie with a bias the way I did with Into Darknes because of all the speculation about Benedict Cumberbatch's character (would he be Khan? Would he not be Khan?).

I was really hoping for Simon Pegg to write a more pure science fiction story instead of a schlocky action movie, especially after the success and hype surrounding The Martian. "Beyond" sounds like a good title for a Star Trek movie. Maybe it would feature the crew of the Enterprise dealing with some kind of environmental challenge out in the unexplored frontiers of space? Maybe it would actually be about exploration and discovery? Maybe it would tell some timeless allegory for the human condition? I could only hope. The announcement of a villain sort of shattered that hope.

Star Trek Beyond - Krall
Yet another vengeful supervillain looking for a McGuffin doomsday weapon.

It doesn't help that the villain is really under-written, and that the plot revolves around the bad guy trying to get a McGuffin in order to activate a doomsday weapon. We've only sat through this plot a hundred times in sci-fi and comic book movies over the past decade. If his plan was to attack the space station anyway, then I don't know why he didn't just do it right from the start, while the Enterprise (and the McGuffin) were docked. Come to think of it, why is the Federation building massive, civilian space stations within eyesight of an ominous, unexplored nebula? Meh, I guess that's better than needing the Enterprise to warp back and forth between Earth and the Klingon homeworld in the span of a couple hours...

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Star Trek (reboot) - Enterprise

Rumors regarding Star Trek 3 (working title) are starting to fly around as of late. It has already been confirmed that Roberto Orci will direct Star Trek 3, since J.J. Abrams is directing Star Wars Episode VII. While I've already expressed my distaste for Orci's (and Kurtzman's) scripts for the new Star Trek movies, this new movie is also going to feature new writers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. Hopefully, these two can put together a more coherent script than Orci and Kurtzman did for Into Darkness.

A new rumor that surfaced in the past few weeks is that director Roberto Orci may have contacted William Shatner about reprising his role as James T. Kirk in the new movie. Shatner has supposedly said that he would love to be included, but Orci has not confirmed whether or not Shatner will actually appear in the movie. According to the rumors, Orci has written a special scene for the movie in which Shatner and Leonard Nimoy would reprise their roles as Kirk and Spock on-screen one last time, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the Original Series.

While there is merit in such a tribute, I really don't think it's necessary, and there is plenty of reasons for fans to be worried about such an inclusion.

Star Trek Generations - Kirk with Picard
Shatner may return for one last
Star Trek adventure.

First and foremost, Nimoy already handed off the baton in the 2009 reboot. His presence in Into Darkness was completely unnecessary and contrived. We don't need a similar scene in the next movie, too!

The whole point of these new movies is to go to new places and do new things with new characters. Not constantly bring back old characters and events that have already been done.

This news about Shatner really deflates any excitement that I may have had about other recent rumors stating that the new movie is going to take place in deep space as part of the Enterprise's five-year-mission of exploration...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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