Star Trek was never supposed to be like Star Wars.
When you buy Pepsi, you’re expecting a soft drink. Pop, as we call it. You’re expecting something tart and a bit unique. You’re not expecting orange juice or milk. So if you started drinking a Pepsi that didn’t taste like Pepsi, would you really want to keep buying it? No, probably not. You’d probably just buy whatever it tasted like. Brand identity is a big thing and once it’s established, it’s unwise to move from that spot. That’s the issue that Star Trek has suffered from since 2009.
When J.J. Abrams and his buddy Alex Kurtzman joined Trek, it was clear that neither man loved the Star Trek that came before them. In fact, Abrams was a Star Wars fan. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some Star Trek is great, and the original trilogies still stand the test of time, but no one wanted Star Trek to be Star Wars. After all, Star Wars already existed, so why try to be like something you could never be better than?
Some people have pushed back on the idea that the Nu Trek Era of Star Trek is designed to be like Star Wars, but former Star Trek 4 director Matt Shakman confirmed that the franchise was in fact trying to go in that direction when Abrams came in, saying to Collider;
"I think that one of the things that JJ [Abrams] has done so well is that, he’ll be the first to admit, he didn’t grow up being a giant Star Trek fan even though he’s a fan now. But he was a huge Star Wars fan. So I think in rebooting it with Chris Pine and Zoe [Saldaña] and Zach [Quinto], he brought a little bit of Star Wars to it, which I think helped expand its audience, in terms of the scope and the scale of it and the energy of it. I think that that certainly is the goal is to find more and more of an audience for Star Trek. But I am, like you, a huge fan of that, and it was a real shame that I couldn’t make the timing work on that."
Star Trek brought in 10s of millions of viewers a week, it didn’t need to “find more viewers”
Star Trek was never and should never have been considered a Star Wars-like property. Firstly, Trek came first and established instantly what they were and what they wanted to be. The idea that Paramount or Abrams needed to expand the fanbase past the conventional Trek fans is exactly how we ended up with another era of oversaturation.
Trek currently has five shows, with another two in the work and a gestating fourth film in a declining series of films. All of which attached to a streaming service that is constantly getting lapped by its competitors.
No, Star Trek didn’t need to expand its fanbase, as its fanbase has left in droves since the chance in the series. The series has gone from a stage play that argues about the morality of life’s biggest questions while asking what the right answer is. Rarely did the show browbeat it into you.
Now, the show is a big experience, with gaudy special effects that give nothing new to the product, with storylines that are bleak and depressing and usually devoid of any moralistic questions. And when the shows do dive into that area, they rarely use the same tact the other five shows used. Instead, now they use a sledge hammer to brow beat the “correct” answer into your heads. Lest you disagree.
The franchise has sort of course corrected with Strange New Worlds, and to a lesser extent Prodigy, but the franchise is still trying to feed fans “grimdark” storylines, and Rick and Morty clones to such a degree that what Star Trek was is getting lost in what it is now.
Some argue that Star Terk can be “anything” but it can’t be. Star Trek is Star Trek. It is uniquely its own thing and no matter what genre the show slides in and out of, it should always be that. Trek. A franchise that tackles big questions and leaves viewers with some lingering ideas that may be both sides have a point.
That’s what Trek is. That and punching Klingons in the face.
What it isn’t and should never be is Star Wars.