Star Trek has always been about seeking out new life and civilizations, and we’ve met several throughout the various series over the years. Many of them have become mainstays in the series to the point that we almost expect to see them everywhere. Is it time that Star Trek went somewhere or met something truly alien for more than just an episode?
And no, not a xenomorph.
I watched the TNG episode, “The Chase,” recently. I thought it was boring when I was a kid. But looking back, I can appreciate that it does a few things rather sneakily. It addresses a common complaint about Star Trek, which is that most “aliens” are just humans in some kind of makeup, which itself arises from constraining television budgets and lack of believable special effects.
In addressing that, it also explicitly posits that the races of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants share a common ancestor, and we can assume this explains humanoid aliens in the other quadrants as well. And finally, it addresses in allegory our human race here on Earth, which may have superficial ethnic differences, but down in our DNA, we’re essentially all the same.
If many of the races in Star Trek share a common ancestor in some kind of progenitor race, then perhaps that means that they will all eventually find peace together if they aren’t as different as they thought, which is intimated by the Romulan commander to Picard at the end of “The Chase”.
And wouldn’t it be nice if we could achieve that in our own world?
But discovering that Humans, Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans share a distant relative in their galactic 23 and Me test results isn’t exactly a surprise.
Those alien aliens.
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There are also times when Star Trek has explored completely alien lifeforms. Life forms of pure energy, the devilish horta, the probe from Star Trek IV, and what about Nagilum or Tin Man? I always enjoyed when the series explored these kinds of aliens, even when they were extra-galactic visitors “in human form”… and played by human actors.
Most of the time, however, these alien beings are the focus of a contained story. They never show up again and we never learn more about them. The focus returns to the races we know, the ones we can easily identify with, because they are, in essence, us.
So what if Star Trek went off the deep end and embraced something truly different? Truly Alien? If Star Trek can be about discovery and exploration, what kind of challenges would the Federation and others face if they were to meet a new civilization or race that’s not just a one episode kind of thing?
Pushing boundaries on the big and small screen.
Recent films, like “Annihilation” and “Arrival” have been rather successful in bringing to the big screen hardcore science fiction concepts like humans making contact with aliens in a way that isn’t cutesy like “ET the Extraterrestrial”. Perhaps they’re not major blockbusters in the vein of “The Avengers”, but they exist, and so does an audience.
As a long time fan of Star Trek and science fiction in general, I feel alarmed that my interest in the Star Trek films by J.J. Abrams is practically nonexistent when compared to “Annihilation” and “Arrival”. The characters in the latter films are truly challenged in intellectual and emotional ways by seemingly unknowable life forms.
But it’s not only Hollywood that is pushing boundaries with genres that we all thought we knew. “The Haunting of Hill House” took what is essentially a ghost story in the horror genre and filled it with actual and non-cheesy terror, as well as fully developed and complex characters who made you care about hauntings again. It’s an elevated experience about more that just gore and jump scares, which is about all you’ll find in most other horror shows and films.
So what about Star Trek?
I think if Star Trek were to encounter something vast and alien, mysterious and inconceivable, it could revitalize the franchise. It’s exciting to wonder about the kinds of existential crises, fears, and failed communication attempts when everyone realizes that there’s someone new in the galactic neighborhood and that they’re here to stay.
Science fiction isn’t just about “pew pew” lasers and the accurate depiction of fictional aliens, it’s about asking questions, exploration, and maybe making us uncomfortable. Or even scared. A new presence in the galaxy could challenge the status quo and provide for some interesting story opportunities. I think I’m ready to see Star Trek go where no man, or previous series, has gone before. Or maybe have someone new come see mankind.