After the recent death of Leonard Nimoy, I went on a massive Star Trek binge. I watched every episode of the original crew, from the original pilot The Cage up to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Along the way I rediscovered my love for the show.
I won’t do a blow-by-blow review of the series (I have the remastered editions featuring better effects and re-recorded music; it’s all the same, just better quality). Suffice to say that the first season was the most consistent in terms of quality; the second and third seasons swung more wildly between good shows and embarrassing (or merely forgettable) ones.
In many ways, the show was ahead of its time – not just technologically – and contains themes or messages which are provocative even today. I can live with most of the dated attitudes that crop up (particularly the way female characters were written, or the unbelieveably awful bit in one episode when Kirk is allowed to confront the yeoman his evil doppelganger attacked) because they make the ahead-of-their-time bits so much more impressive by comparison. I’m happy to selectively mine the good bits, because they’re the bits that deserve to be remembered. Star Trek has always consistently featured humanism, techno-fear and time travel.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Director’s Cut is far more palatable after watching the whole TV series. I suddenly got what it must have been like for fans to see how the characters had changed in the decade since the series ended. It was the first reboot, ripping off one of the episodes. Sadly, the muted colours, over-reliance on special effects and music, and bland script let the whole thing down (actor Walter Koenig wrote a wry diary detailing the hectic production).
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a damn good movie, never mind a good Star Trek movie. It was obviously made by people who watched the show and picked out the essential elements (getting the characters and banter just right), and taking advantage of the fact that the cast were 15 years older than they were in the show. Maximum Kirk is achieved in this film between him saying “I don’t like to lose [bites apple]” and defeating the USS Reliant (before the countdown). Shatner doesn’t get Kirkier than this.
The rest of the film series is enjoyable too; although the ending is obvious, and drags on too long, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (spoiler: they find him) still contains some good character moments and is remarkable for Christopher Lloyd’s outrageous Klingon pirate and a moment of high drama spoiled in every single trailer for the film. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is great fun, despite being nearly 30 years old (how many of the contemporary jokes would still stand scrutiny by a young, modern audience, I wonder?).
I’ve never understood the hatred for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Of all the films, it is the one that best captures the spirit of the TV show, for better and worse. Everything that made the good episodes good, and the bad episodes bad is in here, magnified for the silver screen. Ultimately, Kirk faces off against God and wins. And why not? He had plenty of practice!
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is an oddly dark and dramatic end to the run, reflecting the both the brooding uncertainties and cautious optimism of the end of the Cold War (how did that turn out? As Zhou Enlai might’ve said, it is too early to say). The movies – peppered with cameos from some of the minor characters in the TV series – did allow the crew to sign off and hand over to the Next Generation(s).
I’ve mentioned before how I wanted to be cool, knowledgable, and analytical like Spock, but never did quite achieve it. The values I got from the show were humanism; the relentless challenging of authoritarian and religious figures and the belief that the only ones who can help us is ourselves.
I also wanted to live in the future without any ‘-isms’. Treat people as individuals and deal with their foibles. Deal with the things we have in common, rather than our differences. Don’t be afraid to explore, investigate and think through the problems or issues you come across. Make friends with people whose opinions you disagree with and you’ll both end up better for it.
Above all, I got a sense of optimism. Things’ll work out, in the long run. It’ll be a slow, rough journey, but the human condition has been continually improving throughout history. We overcome problems, but that doesn’t mean there are no more problems to solve. You’ve just got to take’em as they come.
*Yes, I said ‘Trekkie’. I won’t pretend there’s anything respectable about being a pop-culture fan. I don’t call myself a ‘trekker’, because trekkers go on treks and Trekkies are Star Trek nerds and that’s all there is to it.
Finally: although I enjoyed the 2009 reboot, because it opened up the Star Trek universe to new storytelling possibilities, I have still seen Star Trek Into Darkness precisely once. I think I’d like to keep it that way; it’s a film made by people who by their own admission were never into Star Trek, for people who were never into Star Trek. Mentally, I’ve chucked it into a concrete pit and set it on fire.