“Star Trek canon to the right of me, canon to the left of me!”
Star Trek, at 58 is middle-aged. For more than a half-century, it’s been around, and it’s still a cultural icon. It’s not going away anytime soon. Very few people haven’t heard, or (incorrectly) quoted those famous lines, “Beam me up, Scotty”, “He’s dead, Jim”, and “Make it so!” even though they may not have even seen a single episode. It doesn’t matter – we all know we’re talking about Star Trek.
Through the thick of it, fans remain loyal to the long-lived franchise, and for every “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” there’s a “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” one can look to as entertainment. We live with the “good, bad, and the fugly”.
Let’s talk about the “fugly” a bit, in this case, “canon”, the hotly argued pastime topic on message boards the universe over.
As the franchise continues to progress into our own, real future, how do we reconcile continuity from over 850+ episodes (and counting) AND manage Star Trek’s tiptoeing into the now-to-be-realized future? From the “Eugenics Wars” to that 2020 manned Jupiter Mission, Star Trek has weaved such a complex web of canon, that the likelihood anyone can escape the historical (real and imagined) logic puzzles is now impossible.
Maybe it’s time to take a “step back” from those mind-numbing mental calisthenics, throw our collective arms into the air, and declare historical amnesty from the whole Star Trek canon debacle.
This year alone, thanks to Strange New Worlds, we’ve seen a retelling of the Eugenics Wars (you remember the 1980s, with big hair and superhumans), James T. Kirk’s relationship with Captain Pike (originally there wasn’t one, according to Commodore Mendez), what’s that whole thing with Sam Kirk about, and a smiling, emotional Spock which is even driving Boimler mad.
How do we reconcile all of this inconsistent “canon”? The answer is: that we don’t even try.
Star Trek, from its earliest days, saw inconsistent storytelling. Heck, the producers hadn’t even determined the actual century Trek operated in until TOS’s second season, and even then, they never really explicitly mentioned it until “The Wrath of Khan” 20 years later!
Other early inconsistencies abound, from the “James R. Kirk” tombstone to smiling Spock from “The Menagerie” to Scotty’s amnesia about Kirk’s death in “Generations.” We’ve had these logic puzzles routinely thrown at us as each new story is written by someone without a Ph.D. in Treknowlogy. Their efforts throw the malleable timeline out of balance with just a couple of throwaway sentences in their script. The result: fans quickly trying to patch up yet another future history inconsistency.
Without a “Trekspert” on staff (though TNG had one), storytelling will always take unexpected twists and turns as the franchise boldly veers in some unexpected direction one script at a time.
Aside from a Star Trek virtual reboot like J.J. Abrams did in 2009, which created a tsunami of continuity problems, our “prime” universe Star Trek suffers from a Swiss cheese-like erosion with each Trek story.
Maybe because this whole thing is so complex, it is time to just jettison the whole notion of absolute timeline continuity and accept what’s staring us in the face. We cannot correct the past (or future) and we accept some basic premises, regardless of some clunky retcon fixes. I’m talking about you Star Trek: Enterprise.
Let’s just accept a few things: Klingons always had ridged foreheads, the Eugenics Wars happened while we were on vacation that day, and 1996’s Botany Bay (youtube.com) is out there headed to its encounter with Kirk and Company.
With 850+ Star Trek episodes, there are probably hundreds (if not thousands) of inconsistent plot points to sort through. For many it’s fun to find these little nuggets and noodle a storyline solution, but doing such mental gymnastics may eventually find you in a rubber room somewhere. In short, the timeline is irreparably damaged, and not even “The Guardian of Forever” can get us out of this one. Maybe it’s time to just “hope for the best and expect the worst” when the latest timeline inconsistency is lobbed our way. Star Trek fans, of course, will let the producers know when something is egregiously wrong with some storyline, but by then it’s become canon and it is too late to fix the offending “new” factoid. But email, websites, and message boards may keep Paramount and Trek producers from making really bad mistakes no one can live with.
Let’s just accept those “Sybok” moments, and go with the story at hand. Let’s all pretend this stuff is just normal (because it is normal). Attention producers, directors, and writers, just give us a good storyline and MAYBE, run it by your Star Trek family member for continuity’s sake.
We fans must learn to “accept what we cannot un-change, ignore inconsistencies which do not affect the plot, and wisdom to know the difference between good and bad storytelling” and just leave it at that.