The secret sauce to good Star Trek is founded on some basic principles. Next-generation Star Trek writers might want to pay attention.
Star Trek fans are an unusual breed. First off, it took us almost 10 years writing to Paramount to get our favorite series back from cancellation and onto the big (and small screen). There is no doubt – without your average Trek fan, the show would have just been a forgotten TV series, repeating its episodes for an eternity, or maybe forgotten altogether. But we all know there was something that kept us fighting for its return. Here are some of the things that may be the “secret sauce” and what fans demand from good Star Trek.
Five things Star Trek MUST have to capture and keep fans (new and old).
1) Stories in the Star Trek universe must be believable.
We can’t have magic. The science, while maybe not plausible today, we might see it come to fruition in the future. Faster than light travel? Well, we need that to traverse the known universe, we can’t do that without that capability. We also know our characters put their boots on one foot at a time. They aren’t superhumans, they are very human and suffer from physical failings just like everyone else.
There are consequences for bad decisions and rewards for good. And even in situations where heroes are thrown into “second chances” with Q-continuum antics or time travel, our characters always choose for things to “go back the way they were” – in a plausible universe – where they function best.
If our stories are based on a starship, we need our vessel to follow rules any commander of a navy ship would be comfortable with and believe in. Our officers don’t fly off the handle, go AWOL, or forget to shave unless they have a very good reason to do so. And as we all know, rarely IS there a good reason, and those who inexplicably do such things are quickly disposed of by the end of a typical episode. RIP Commodore Decker.
“Scout’s honor” is part of the job description.
2) Our characters are heroic.
We expect our captains, officers, and crew to be “Boy Scout material.” And even though Carol Marcus said, “Kirk was no boy scout” her son seemed to think she felt otherwise. Our characters cannot just act selfishly and get away with it. We see a lot of that in real life – we want our fictional characters to work to better themselves and help others to do the same thing. They put personal feelings aside to “get the job done.” We expect those folks to act as a great functioning crew and do big, heroic things. Which they all do, by the way.
3) Our characters are relatable and generally likable.
We can view our lives through theirs, we can see a perspective that is relevant to our daily lives but can also speak to us in a very human way. Star Trek is particularly good at taking an “alien” character and making them more human than our average human. The enormously popular Spock, Data, and Seven of Nine fit this bill quite well. The most “human” stories resonate with these characters who grapple with “the travails of humanity” in ways we can also relate to.
4) Stories are morally righteous.
That doesn’t mean every story must end happily. We know from “City on the Edge of Forever” that Kirk made a choice against his personal feelings to save his (and everyone else’s) future. We felt his pain when he let Edith Keeler, a woman he genuinely fell in love with, die. We want a reasonable resolution to a story that places our heroes in the most positive light possible. No one wants to root for the demise of some person, culture, or civilization simply because “it’s good business.”
In fact, even when the “chips were down” in “Mirror, Mirror” (Youtube.com) for the Halkans, Good Kirk pleaded with Evil Spock to take the initiative and use logic to solve the problem of wastefulness. Evil Spock saw the logic of the situation and had a moment of morality, making him the guy who could positively change and even save “The Empire”, goatee and all!
5) The future is ours, make it a good one.
Star Trek, at its core, is always optimistic in tone. Even the most dreary story development or story arc, will always end in a moral or personal victory. We may have to wait a season or two with extended story arcs, but we know our characters always have the best of intentions at heart, they repeatedly show those intentions in their decisions. In the end, those deliberate acts construct a formidable and positive future. You can always count on our guys to come through, even in the worst of times.
So this all adds up to what makes Star Trek, well Star Trek. Sure we are captivated with the future. The average fan is technically proficient and fascinated with the world around them, but also wants to see constructive things done with that evolving technology today, to know our potential place in that universe, and perhaps, as 50+ years of Star Trek have demonstrated, also allow fans to make that future a reality.