For a franchise which started out by touting a "five-year mission," Star Trek has had an incredible run in its half-century of existence. This fan has been around for three of those five decades. I have watched as Star Trek has grown to include five (soon to be six) television series, and 13 theatrical films! In that time, I'd like to believe that I've come to have a pretty decent grasp of what has/hasn't worked in terms of story ideas. With that in mind, I'd like to share a few thoughts I have on the future direction of the franchise.
No More Wrath Of Khan Remakes
I was one of an apparently small group who actually liked 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, a story which brought one of Star Trek's most popular baddies, Khan Noonien Singh, back into the fold. This was largely because of the terrific performances from its villains. However, even I must acknowledge that the film series has grown stagnant, stemming from a strange desire to recreate that which cannot be recreated.
From 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection up to 2016's Star Trek Beyond, there has been a common thread. In each of these films, there has been a variation on the theme of vengeance, which the main villain intends to exact on either the Federation, the crew of the Enterprise, or members of their own race. In some cases, an act of self-sacrifice is made (or at the very least teased). All of this (and more) is stuff that has been appropriated from the plot of 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Recycling old material is fine for your basic action movies, but for a franchise that is supposed to be about the exploration of the unknown, this continuous stream of retreads has moved well beyond tiresome.
Avoid Time Travel
If there's one science-fiction plot device that ends up being used to an obscene degree, it's time travel. Star Trek, through its 50 year history, has used time travel over and over again. Sometimes it has worked quite well, but often times it needlessly complicates a plot in order to fill out a television hour, or two hours of a cinematic story arc. Without time travel, we would not have the TOS' "City on the Edge of Forever," or the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Yesterday's Enterprise" ...and that would be a shame. Conversely, we also wouldn't have had to deal with the headaches caused by the make-it-didn't-happen aspect of the film Star Trek: Generations.
The story goes that the 14th Star Trek film's plot may involve time travel. I hope this won't be the case as I'd much rather visit what is, and leave what used to be far behind us. Give me a brand new race from an unexplored part of the galaxy. (Those still exist, right?)
Star Trek: Discovery To The Rescue?
If my desire for stories of exploration are destined not to be met on the big screen, then perhaps it can still be satiated by the franchise's return to the small screen. Not only is it set 10 years before the time of The Original Series (placing it in a time period as yet uncharted on-screen), but it is also meant to exist in the original timeline, i.e. not part of the same universe as the J.J. Abrams films. They have the word "discovery" in the title, so I expect a more intellectual perspective than I have seen from this franchise in the last decade.
I expect, like with Star Trek: Enterprise, to see several familiar races, but an introduction to new species will certainly be welcome — so long as they don't dominate the show like the plot with the Xindi did on Enterprise. Most of all, what I am looking for from Star Trek: Discovery is for Star Trek to look and feel like Star Trek, which it hasn't for some time.
Innovation Is Key
Maybe the most important question about any future Star Trek projects is this: Will we still be talking about it years from now? I can still recall every detail of where I was and what was on my mind when I sat down to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation's third season cliffhanger episode, "The Best of Both Worlds." That's the kind of experience I am hoping for from Star Trek: Discovery. The new series won't survive unless it can give us something we aren't getting anywhere else. That's what Star Trek used to be, and what it can be again.
Star Trek has also been technologically innovative right from the start. Cell phones, iPads, and Skype are but a small sample of the gadgetry we now have that were pure fiction when they appeared on Star Trek. It's only a matter of time before we can use Siri to tell our 3-D printers to accurately reproduce food. The same can be said of our progress in virtual reality, ultimately resulting in a working holodeck.
Want to know what other pieces of technology we have today that came directly from Star Trek? Watch the video below:
Star Trek Must Remain A Metaphor For The Problems Of Today
The franchise must also get back to being a reflection of our own most relevant topics of discussion. As it did back in the day, this includes (but is not limited to) racism and the United States' relations with foreign powers. The headlines of 2016 should provide more than enough fodder for Star Trek writers to work with. Sometimes, the message has been delivered in a rather blunt, heavy-handed manner, as in the Original Series episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." This approach is to be avoided. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine handled the subject of racism brilliantly throughout its run, particularly in the first season episode, "Duet."
I don't know what the future will hold for Star Trek, but I know what it is capable of providing. It's tough to say when, if ever, that the film series will return to something familiar, but there does seem to be a genuine interest in making sure that the mission statement will remain intact on television. As Captain Kirk himself once observed: "Young minds, fresh ideas." New doesn't automatically mean good, but it does offer hope, and hope springs eternal.
What do you think will happen in the future of Star Trek?