“You’re all on some sort of star trek?”
So is paraphrased Zefram Cochrane, the warp-drive pioneer first seen in ‘Metamorphosis’, a season 2 episode of the original Star Trek series and who subsequently made appearances in Star Trek – First Contact and Star Trek – Enterprise.
That quote, along with the Starfleet Charter to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before, seems to have been forgotten to some extent when it comes to the franchise’s movie series.
Some two years or so since Captain Kirk brought the Enterprise home safely after his initial five year mission, he was charged by Starfleet Command to head a mission to investigate the approach of a mysterious cloud that was heading to Earth intent, it was believed, on wiping out the planet. Star Trek – The Motion Picture has its faults and its good points and, like it or not, successfully relaunched the franchise to soaring new heights. Yet the plot meant that Kirk and his crew never actually left the Solar System.
So not much trekking but certainly something new to seek.
In the follow-up, the one that set the bar high for all future films, Admiral Kirk is present on the Enterprise that is now simply a training vessel captained by Spock. Meanwhile the Reliant, under Captain Terrell’s command, is looking for a planet to test the Genesis Device on. A distress call is received from a Federation space station and Kirk takes the bait, finding both an old adversary and his son in the depths of space. So a bit of trekking for Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan between Earth and the Mutara Nebula but no new worlds, life forms or civilizations to speak of. And Spock dies, too…
Then came the search for Spock, Kirk’s aforementioned dead friend. The Enterprise returns to Earth then goes back to where the Mutara Nebula had been and where now exists the Genesis planet. So a trekking of sorts for Star Trek III – The Search for Spock but again no new life forms (unless we count the mutated bugs on Spock’s casket) or civilizations. But hey, the Genesis planet is a new world, isn’t it?
A new life form did appear in Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home, but why it came to Earth to threaten humanity because all the whales had been made extinct is never actually explained. Perhaps this Probe was a friend of V’ger’s and heard Earth could be a bit of a pushover? So no trekking here apart from a time-travel one.
The shiny new Enterprise in Star Trek V – The Final Frontier is sent on a rescue mission, which isn’t really a trek, but does discover a new planet and a new life form in the centre of the galaxy so perhaps we can give William Shatner a pat on the back for that?
There is no trekking in the proper sense or any new life form or new civilizations discovered in the Cold War-influenced Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country. But that doesn’t stop it from being a fantastic movie and links nicely plot themes that have come before. The Klingon Empire and Starfleet properly interacting on the big screen at last.
Then comes the next generation of trekkers, who follow in the big screen footsteps of their illustrious predecessors by possibly doing even less seeking than they did.
The Enterprise-B is on her maiden voyage when its guest of honor, Captain Kirk, goes missing. Then 78 years later, the Enterprise-D answers a distress call from a Federation outpost. While Star Trek – Generations successfully hands over the franchise finally to Captain Picard, what we see here is nothing new apart from an extra-dimensional realm that allows people to live forever in whatever fashion they choose. As a swashbuckling hero, the last place I expected Kirk to want to be was in a forest chopping wood and setting up a comfy home. Would he have not wanted to relive his glory days on the bridge of his beloved Enterprise? No? Oh well. Anyway, still no real trekking or new life or civilizations. And Kirk dies, too…
The Borg return to wreak havoc against the Federation in the smash-hit Star Trek – First Contact. Definitely no trekking or the seeking of new life and new civilisations here. Just a gung-ho battle for survival. Bloody marvellous it is, too.
Hurrah! Finally! A new civilization! On a new planet! Yet not really a new life form. But still, we’re let down when Picard ignores Starfleet orders and goes to rescue his malfunctioning second officer, Data, in Star Trek – Insurrection. So still no trekking, just Picard having to reveal the nasty shenanigans of a twisted Starfleet officer.
A diplomatic mission (so absolutely no trekking here whatsoever) sends Picard to Romulus, where he finds his clone in charge of the Remans (created by the Romulans to spy on the Federation). Star Trek – Nemesis has no new lifeforms, or civilisations. Or planets. And Data is destroyed, too…
An alternative [Kelvin] timeline sees the young Captain Kirk helped by the old Mr Spock to overthrow a psychotic Romulan called Nero in Star Trek. So a bit of an action movie and definitely no new planets, life or civilisations to be seen.
Still in the same Kelvin timeline to find – gasp! – the Enterprise is (literally) on a new planet, seeking out a new life form and a new civilisation! Fantastic! At last! Then it all goes belly up when the ghost of Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan appears, clanking its chains and reminding us of how wonderful that 1982 film is. Star Trek Into Darkness really has no hope even if the title implies that the crew is trekking to somewhere bleak.
Star Trek Beyond doesn’t really improve matters a whole lot. In fact, by the time the movie opens we are led to believe that the Kelvin timeline crew has had countless adventures and Kirk himself is jaded by it all. If that’s so, we weren’t witness to it and then the plot takes us along on a rescue mission! Bizarrely, the main antagonist isn’t an alien after all and Kirk reveals the nasty shenanigans of a twisted Starfleet officer (deja vu, Captain Picard?). Yet new characters Jaylah and Kalara are from species that we’ve not witnessed before, so technically ‘..new life forms…’ get a nod, here, as does a new planet in the form of Altamid. As an aside, the Xindi are name dropped (so add that to Archer getting a mention and the Enterprise NX-01 seen as a model in Admiral Marcus’ office, Star Trek – Enterprise is the only TV series that ties in canon-wise to the Kelvin timeline).
Now I like Star Trek. I like it very much. But, just like the recent james Bond films where our gallant secret agent doesn’t really do much proper spying, I really want to see these alternative versions of Kirk and Spock et al going out there, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new lifeforms and new civilizations. Really and truly boldly going where no one has gone before.
Come on Abrams and/or Tarantino, don’t let me down.