After J.J. Abrams departed from the franchise, Star Trek Beyond had a rocky road to production. Simon Pegg was brought on board to pen the script, with Fast & Furious veteran Justin Lin directing. As both are confessed Trekkies, this bodes very well for Star Trek: Beyond, with the creative team assuring fans that this movie would return to the spirit of The Original Series.
Everything seemed very hopeful... and then the trailer was released.
While some fans praised the neat Original Series references, the overall reception to the trailer was not positive. And yet, all we know about Star Trek Beyond points towards this film being pretty damn awesome, and it might even be on par with the original movies.
The Essential Trekkiness
You can't reduce Star Trek to just one adjective. The franchise stretches over almost 50 years, and in that time there have been many interpretations. The Original Series was an adventurous romp, The Next Generation was thought provoking, Deep Space Nine was a slow burner of social issues, Voyager pushed the boundaries of exploration, and Enterprise added some backstory. The films, again, were their own entity.
No matter which iteration you personally prefer, you can't deny it's difficult to condense Star Trek, but it does have its core values, put forth in Gene Roddenberry's vision.
"Star Trek was an attempt to say humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day it begins to not just tolerate but take special delight in differences of ideas and differences in lifeforms. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there."
Ultimately, Star Trek was meant to be an optimistic vision of our future, as long as we sorted out some of our darker impulses. Of course, the supposedly utopian Federation was not always portrayed as infallible, and it looks like Beyond is going to examine the downside of the Enterprise's mission of exploration.
The Federation is, for all intents and purposes, a post-scarcity socialist utopia.
Earth does not have a capitalist economy based structure any more: after World War Three ravaged the planet, humans managed to establish First Contact with the Vulcans, and adopted some Vulcan philosophy. This is all well and good, but as director Justin Lin commented to BirthMoviesDeath, sometimes Starfleet's mission of exploration can come off as an attempt to convert more primitive parts of the galaxy to the Federation's way of life.
"What would happen if you go on a five year journey and you’re trying to not only explore but also maybe introduce other people to your way of thinking? What would that mean? What are the consequences of that? You’re spreading a philosophy that you think is great - are there going to be any philosophies that counter you? That was something I thought about since I was a kid, and we got to explore that."
There's no denying that Starfleet strikes out with good intentions. But sometimes the best stories in Star Trek examine what happens when they slip up, like TNG's Homeward, which explores the limits of the Prime Directive.
Thanks to this line from the trailer, it seems like Beyond's main villain (played by Idris Elba) is ready to challenge the Federation's philosophy.
"This is where the frontier pushes back!"
But for all its lofty goals, can Beyond resist repeating Into Darkness' mistakes?
Forgetting How To Be Trek
Into Darkness was riddled with problems from the start. Marketing the film as dark and gritty was definitely a bold move, and it didn't necessarily pay off. And of course, there was the Benedict Cumberbatch/Khan mystery box...
According to producer Damon Lindelhof, this strange no-he-isn't-yes-he-is dance was one of the major flaws of Into Darkness:
"When we did Star Trek Into Darkness for example, we decided that we weren’t going to tell people that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan. And that was a mistake, because the audience was like, ‘We know he’s playing Khan.’ That was why it was a mistake."
Played by the excellent Ricardo Montalban, Khan was the iconic villain of one of the most popular Trek movies of all time: Wrath of Khan. The original movie also featured the death of Spock, which Into Darkness paralleled with Kirk's death.
Although intended as an homage, the parallels to Wrath of Khan are considered by many to be one of Into Darkness' greatest failings. Some fans criticized the movie as unable to stand on its own merit, J.J. Abrams even commented to Wired that this might have been a misstep on his part.
Moving Beyond The Problems
So how can Star Trek Beyond overcome these issues? Well, it seems to have already figured out that peddling a dark and gritty Trek doesn't work (although the marketing so far for Beyond hasn't been totally in keeping with the franchise's roots). And this film is certain to stand on its own merit: both Pegg and Lin have promised new aliens and a totally new story, rather than repeating what worked in the past.
The creators have also proved they've listened to fans by altering aspects of the movie, and are utilising little-known characters from Trek's history to speak to a wider story.
Star Trek is very tricky to get right: there are a lot of elements to the franchise, and what works for one show or movie might not for another. But overall Beyond seems to be retaining the spirit of adventure and the intellectual themes which Star Trek is known for, while forging ahead into a new story. And honestly, that's exactly what the franchise needs.