It’s hard to put into words the twisted relationship that I have with Star Trek. As evidenced by my many reviews on the movies and series, I used to be a huge, huge Trekkie, to the point where it defined my high school years. Seriously, you have no idea. I didn’t just watch the shows, I memorized them. I built Enterprise models out of LEGOs, owned every single one of the books and novels, went to the conventions, and even had my graduation open house invitations doctored so that my head was superimposed on James Kirk’s.
However, with college came a shift away from one geek lifestyle to others, and I packed up Star Trek as a relic of the past. It’s never quite left me, however. When it comes to Trek, I am fond of it, ashamed of it, love it, hate it, wish that I could put it behind me forever, and root for its future. Like many fans of the franchise, I see and understand its flaws, yet love its optimism, technology, intriguing stories, and ongoing sagas. Lately I’ve been rewatching The Next Generation (being its 25th anniversary and all) and thinking about what future lays in store for Trek.
The Trekkie retirement home
It’s undeniable that Star Trek is aging right now. I mean, it’s been a quarter-century since TNG came on the air, and well over a decade since we saw the zenith of Trekdom (which I’d put between the third season of TNG through 1996′s First Contact). Since the late 90s, we’ve endured the mediocrity of Voyager, the failure of Nemesis, the muddled mess of Enterprise, and a successful movie that more or less did everything it could to separate itself from the rest of the pack. Even though Star Trek 2 is in development — and don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for it — this question keeps popping up in my mind: Will Star Trek ever come back?
There’s two layers to the question. The first is asking if Star Trek will ever launch another TV series, and if so, what would it be and where. The second is asking if Trek as a whole will ever be as popular as it once was. I think the two are tangled together.
May 13, 2005. That was when the most recent episode of a Star Trek series aired — Enterprise’s “These Are the Voyages.” Beyond that, we’ve been seven-plus years without a new series, a feat that you’d have to go back to the 80s to replicate. It’s not hard to understand why this happened, either. Neither Voyager nor Enterprise were ratings blockbusters, and suffered from recycled stories, cardboard characters, a lack of fresh blood in the writing/producing arena, and continuity errors. It was a bloated ship of 26 or so seasons lumped together, effectively tying the hands of genuinely creative people who could’ve done so much more without the constraints of the past and the endless technobabble. While Enterprise’s fourth season saw an increase in quality and vision, it was too little, too late. The TV franchise limped to a halt and stayed there.
Not exactly the best way to go out.
Now, of course Star Trek is still very much a “thing.” There are comics, books, an online MMORPG (which semi-officially continues the timeline of the shows), conventions, and whatnot. J.J. Abrams’ reboot was well-received and did at least try to connect to the old show while opening the path for a new way of looking at the franchise. Yet through all this, we’ve heard very little about any potential new series. On one hand, I’m for this respite. Star Trek really did need to go fallow, get away from the routine, and wait until a more modern and fresh idea came forth. On the other hand, I’m concerned. Seven years is a long time not to really hear anything about a series. Star Trek is a cash cow for Paramount and CBS, yet they’ve not made a peep. Studios aren’t exactly lining up to do science fiction shows these days, especially not on spaceships and the like.
However, there’s hope. If one digs enough, one will see that there is movement. There is interest. There is hope.
Star Trek reborn
Bryan Fuller of the first two X-Men movies is quite interested in such a project, and has talked with Abrams about it. However, he says that any forward momentum on this would probably need to wait until after the next Trek movie comes out. Last year, Fuller proposed an idea called Star Trek: Federation that dealt with a decrepit Federation in the year 3000 that was a shadow of the superpower it once was, and how a new Enterprise crew could help turn this around.
Writer/producer Roberto Orci told TrekMovie.com that there are “almost real” talks going on about a new series, which may be live action or animated: “The relevant parties haven’t sat down in a room together, but they have sent messages through intermediaries. So after [the 2013 Star Trek sequel] comes out or as its ramping up and after the powers that be determine whether or not Star Trek is back or not – one movie doesn’t make a trend. Two movies starts to indicate that there is a trend and its viable. It will become more real as the year goes on.”
While these two news pieces are the most recent, if you cast your attention back to 2011, you’ll see that other folks like David Foster were making noise about their ideas for a new Trek as well.
So maybe the wheels are in motion, or maybe the deal-makers will decide that Trek needs more time to sit before reviving. It’s hard to say at this point, for sure.
Blending old and new
But if Trek does come back, it needs to be done right. It really needs to cast off the outdated constraints that were pulling the old series down and hold fast to the elements that made Trek so compelling to begin with. That’s not an easy balance to strike. The new Star Trek movie showed that audiences were very receptive to a faster-paced, slicker-looking Trek, although some stogy Trekkies thought it was blasphemy. However a future Trek series turns out, it really will need to be different than what’s come before in order to be successful. You simply can’t warm up the leftovers of 90s TV designs now that we’ve lived through Firefly, Farscape, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, and the like. It’s got to be more bold, more accessible to audiences, and more open to modern storytelling devices and character depth. Star Trek really needs deeper characters who don’t just fill a role with a one-sentence description, but have flaws, conflicts, and pursuits all their own.
Maybe by the time my kids are older, Star Trek will be entering its third golden age. If so, I’ll be glad to cast aside past prejudices and enjoy it with them.