Hey guys, I’ll be back in 2 weeks but please give a warm welcome to my mother, Lois K. Adams! She was kind enough to pen this write-up of what this latest movie looked like through the eyes of an OG Star Trek fan after we went to a Trek-tastic Boston Comic Con. In addition to being a great blerd mom, she is the Pastor at First Baptist Church in Sharon Massachusetts. In her spare time (<– just kidding, she has none) she enjoys hanging out on the Vineyard, engaging with her fellow Delta Sigma Theta sorors, and watching my beautiful niece who is sure to grow into a fine young
Uhura woman. *I was responsible for this intro, images, and captions*
Captain’s Log – Stardate: 2016.232
From its first airdate, I have held this series very near and dear to my heart. There was nothing like Star Trek fifty years ago and my fondest hope is that fifty years from now, my grandchildren will also be as intrigued with Star Trek as I have over the years.
I truly do want the series to boldly go into the future and always be part of the present dialogue for sci-fi buffs. After fifty years of being a faithful Star Trek fan and having seen the good, bad and ugly attempts at preserving the integrity of the brand, Star Trek Beyond (STB) maintained the threads that identify it as pure Trek food for the junkies among us but did little to advance the work along a trajectory towards a future that raises the bar for the franchise.
The first rule for any Star Trek outing is “do no harm” which is a rather low bar to set. Yet in the past some of the movies (i.e. the original Star Trek-The Motion Picture, the “odd numbered” of the original set) did not clear this threshold. “Do no harm” also applies to the creators of new content, in that you don’t turn off people from Star Trek because you failed to capture the basic ingredients for every good Trek film: never change the basic nature of the main characters but enlighten our understanding of some aspect of them; have a believable action filled plot; make sure there is a Kobayashi Maru situation* for ship and/or crew; demonstrate believable scientific advances; make the enemies interesting; and avoid really graphic sex, horror and death scenes.
Each time I have gone to see a Star Trek movie, I hold my breath praying that the first threshold requirements will be met. I have to say that I was not disappointed from that perspective. While this movie met these basic criterion it did not exceed them by very much. STB felt more like an episode on a big screen than an epic feature film. Since I still regularly watch reruns of the different Star Trek TV series as well as the older movies, an episodic movie works for me. The story line between Spock and Jim was set up well in the beginning, with both men independently wrestling with the question of “what is my purpose in life?” The question played in the back of my mind throughout the movie. As someone in my sixties, I have asked and answered that question many times during my life. It is a question that transcends generational lines making it relevant to every age. Like variations of an old theme, Jim and Spock both conclude what Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz and for them, home is the Enterprise and its crew.
Kirk has historically and consistently exhibited the traits of presumptive arrogance and an insatiable need to tempt fate as a means for finding fulfillment in life. These two traits though somewhat tempered in the original series have been a driving force in these last three movies. The opening scene of James Tiberius Kirk as a child in the first Star Trek, who with the radio blasting, drove a sports car off of a cliff while evading the police and barely jumping out in time to keep from sharing the same fate as the car, told us everything we would need to know to account for his behavior in the two J.J. Abrams relaunches. Those deep seated needs are the source of questioning his purpose. Starfleet life has become too routine and the costs of command decisions are outweighing the benefits of personal satisfaction.
On the other hand, Spock’s human half with his emotional needs are also elucidated in the first relaunch film when we see him fighting as a child; rebelling against the racism of the Vulcan High Council by rejecting admissions to the Vulcan Science Academy; and ultimately having a relationship with Uhura, a black woman. In STB, he initially struggles with the logical purpose for his life independent of his emotions and believes he must leave Starfleet to assist with New Vulcan. But in the end, he realizes part of his purpose is to live fully as himself which includes his human qualities.
The story line of the main battle between villain and Enterprise crew was not always clear. Krall’s purposes, powers and past remained more of a mystery than was necessary. Only in the last few minutes of the movie do you find out the genesis of his existence and motivations. The plot would have been better served if some of these facts had been introduced sooner rather than later. The revelation of his true self was rather anticlimactic because of the single-minded focus on stopping him without exploring his driving intentions. I felt like Marvin Gaye and kept saying “What’s Goin On?” Each time a scene would involve Krall it would suddenly be over, leaving me with no better understanding of this character time and again.
Action scenes such as skirmishes and battles held my attention but rarely raised my blood pressure to the point of overexcitement. The rescue of the crew gave Kirk a chance to have a fun and nostalgic motorcycle ride while Spock had a chance to show that his love of Uhura outweighed his logic. Overall, they were the quality of a good weekly episode but missed the epic expectation of a feature film.
Of course, there were a number of scenes that trigger memories for faithful followers. There were several Kobayashi Maru moments with the first one being yet again Jim watching the loss of the Enterprise. This was a true #ThrowbackThursday equivalent to “The Search for Spock” when Jim watches the Enterprise go down in flames from the surface of the Genesis planet. Another notable “harkening back’ was the birthday scene between Jim and Bones which was first seen in the Wrath of Khan (WOK). Both started out with Jim in a somewhat dark and contemplative mood dissatisfied with his Star Fleet career. Bones comes to the rescue both times with a drink and the eyesight reference is in both as well. In WOK, Bones gives Jim a pair of old fashion spectacles because he is allergic to the drug that could fix his eyesight. And in STB, Bones toasts to Jim’s full head of hair and “good eyesight” which we all know he will lose over time. There were other easily identifiable scenes such as the enticing green girl who has yet another cameo shot in the beginning of STB, but of greater significance were the two real world nods that were tastefully acknowledged. George Takei is gay and his character, Sulu, gets to meet up with his male spouse and daughter. Also, our cherished and beloved Leonard Nimoy passed away in real life and Ambassador Spock has passed away in the movie. Neither acknowledgement was overemphasized but one was overdue and one was necessary.
Did Star Trek Beyond meet all of my expectations? I admit it would be hard to meet my personal expectations because after 50 years any addiction requires intensified dosages just to get the same feeling of euphoria, and Star Trek is no different. It was indeed entertaining and I would say it is a “must see” for anyone into sci-fi. But what is ultimately important to me, is that Star Trek will have a life well beyond mine and one that is not trapped in time but regularly reinvigorated for new generations to find inspiration and relevancy for themselves.
In closing, I recently had the opportunity to go with my daughter to my first Boston Comic-Con and see William Shatner. I was excited but I really didn’t think it would be as awesome of an experience as it turned out to be. We waited in line for over an hour and watched the people around us who were dressed in full costumes of numerous characters from fantasy, comics and sci-fi. I myself was in my STNG uniform and feeling pretty righteous about it too! But when we were actually there ready to take the picture and my arm was around William Shatner, I suddenly transformed (from a sixty one year old retired engineer and Pastor) into a ten year old girl who was looking at someone who represented a bright and better future beyond the violence of the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam War; the all too common assassinations of great leaders whose voices were needed in social discourse; and a world where women’s equal rights were yet to be recognized. Star Trek let me see a world very different than the one around me but one I believed could exist…and still do.
As a Christian I kind of chuckled because I thought to myself, “if I suddenly felt that overwhelmed about William Shatner, what in the world will I do when I actually see Jesus Christ?” May you be blessed to live long and prosper (and any of you who know the origins of that saying also know it is not too far off to start it as a blessing).
* The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise in the fictional Star Trek universe designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario (Wikipedia, because it explains things better than I can)