When Gene Roddenberry set out to create the very first Star Trek show in 1964 — this was the year he pitched Trek to MGM, but the show itself wouldn't air until 1966 on NBC — he had a very specific vision for the message the series should send. His dream was optimistic, feeling that we as a culture needed to see a version of our future in which humanity was the best it could be.
"Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there."
This vision has been present, in varying degrees of intensity, in each iteration of Star Trek, yet in recent years this vision of hope may have got lost. But the best thing is, the above quote could literally be used as a synopsis for Star Trek: Beyond.
Star Trek is a difficult thing to define, and it means different things to different people. Known for its intellectualism and progressive social politics, Trek nonetheless has to be fun and enjoyable, while being sufficiently science-y. Striking the balance between these elements is tricky, and there are definitely films that swung too far one way or the other — Nemesis and Into Darkness take themselves too seriously, while The Motion Picture is too lofty, and Insurrection doesn't have much substance.
For Beyond, the stakes were pretty high, after Into Darkness flopped critically. Yet writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, along with director Justin Lin, managed to strike the perfect balance of all of Trek's elements, while staying true to Roddenberry's vision in the best way.
This is the Vulcan philosophy that follows on from Roddenberry's vision, and Beyond pays homage to this idea beautifully (keep an eye out for the philosophy itself written in Vulcan script — that's a nice little Easter Egg for the beady eyed Trekkies out there).
Without spoiling too much, the entire message of the film revolves around humanity's progress from a conflict-driven species to a peaceful one, highlighting the Federation's mission of diversity and diplomacy via the USS Yorktown — a starbase right on the edge of Federation space, Yorktown is Deep Space Nine but without the post-occupation tensions.
Of course, it's the characters themselves who drive Roddenberry's message home, especially Kirk and Uhura. Beyond finds both these characters older and wiser than in the previous two reboot movies, and each of them have a fantastic dialogue with the villainous Krall — for most of the film, Uhura acts as Krall's main adversary, challenging his Tump-esque xenophobic rhetoic, but it's Kirk who has the final word on the matter.
Strength In Unity: We Need Trek Now More Than Ever
It's a depressing thought, but as much as things have improved socially from when Star Trek was first created in the sixties, there is much that has stayed the same.
2016 has been a time of conflict in many ways — the presidential race sees the United States divided, rising tensions in the UK lead to Brexit, there's police brutality vs Black Lives Matter, and then of course the events in Orlando are fresh in everyone's minds. If we ever needed an optimistic vision of our own future, and a way to achieve that aim, now is definitely the time for such a film.
Beyond's central struggle is that of unity vs conflict, showing the failings of the Federation while upholding its principles. The core message of the film is that we need to move beyond our differences, and that a sense of true harmony can be reached. Nowadays, even scifi is veering into darkness, presenting us with dystopic post-apocalyptic futures. The interesting thing about Star Trek is that it is a post-apocalyptic future, but an optimistic one — after World War III destroyed the majority of Earth's population, we achieved first contact with the Vulcans, and later the Federation was born from the ashes of the Earth-Romulan war (and surprisingly, that's an important plot point in Beyond).
Essentially, the villain of Beyond is our own past, humanity's history of conflict and the dangers of falling prey to prejudice and defying the future of diversity. Pegg and Jung cleverly utilise Trek's in-universe history to achieve this, paying homage to Trek's legacy.
But that's not to say the film is preachy — on the contrary, Beyond is one of the most amusing Star Trek films yet, and there's a good dose of genuine silliness and a sense of fun. Beyond may not be perfect (every film has its flaws), but it certainly succeeds in its aim to bring Roddenberry's vision to the forefront again, giving us a strong message of hope while entertaining us fully. And really, isn't that what Trek has always been about?