Nostalgia Is Destroying Star Trek's Future
When the 2009 Star Trek movie came out, many people enjoyed it, while also dimly aware that we were all being played for fools. The big appeal of this movie was watching the roster of the original Star Trek show (now with fresh actors in the parts) assemble and newly find themselves in the roles on the Enterprise that we knew so well. The actual plot was a battle-filled space opera very unlike what Star Trek had been about, but just seeing these familiar characters convinced Star Trek fans they were being catered to.
Was this the future of movies? Nope. It turned out that the future was much worse.
In the decade to come, people's hunger for nostalgia would grow much more strong. Today, we're getting Star Trek: New Worlds, true, a prequel with new actors playing old roles much like the 2009 movie. But more often, even that isn't enough to satisfy the demands of today's nostalgic viewers. Today, in Picard and in too many legacy sequel movies, we demand to see old characters again and further demand that they also played by the original actors. It may be 20, 30, or 40 years since we last saw them, but we need to see the same (slightly more wrinkled) face doing the same thing.
Or at least vaguely appearing to do the same thing. A show like Picard doesn't use the same tone as its predecessor, or the same message, or the same style of storytelling, but it brings back the old icons, and that scratches viewers' itch. You might think that if someone enjoyed one show, they'd enjoy another show influenced by it rather than a follow-up that just reuses the icons, but here we are.
Many other people have made this complaint, but I'd like to chip in too because of the special nature of my emotional connection to Star Trek. Specifically, because I have none.
Seriously, I've barely ever watched Star Trek. I've seen more episodes of Nickelodeon's Space Cases, and I have not seen many episodes of Nickelodeon's Space Cases. I had a set of Star Trek trading cards as a kid, but I don't remember where they came from. I think my brother shoplifted them and then gave them to me when he couldn't find a buyer. I never quite figured out how to play with them, but I used them as a basis for my own trading card game drawn on construction paper, starring people on the school bus.
In some ways, this makes me unqualified to comment on Star Trek, but in others, it makes me the MOST qualified. Because when you know a franchise well, it's harder to separate how much you enjoy the stories from how much you just feel satisfied by seeing something you recognize. If you made me rank every Spider-Man film, I might get super serious and say No Way Home needs an asterisk next to it because it's not a movie at all, it's a Jimmy Fallon Spider-Man reunion show. But I'll probably instead end up ranking it with the others and even ranking it highly because I enjoyed the Jimmy Fallon Spider-Man reunion show. What do I care if it stands on its own or means anything to new viewers? I enjoyed seeing the familiar faces.
So, though I have no personal stake in this—nay, because I have no personal stake in this—I formally register my disapproval that Star Trek is trotting out old actors, old characters, old villains, and old catchphrases. Any franchise doing that marks creative failure, but it's especially a failure when the series is all about looking into the future.
Any more Star Trek series we get should take place further ahead in the timeline (Discovery moved to the future but started as a prequel), introducing entirely new concepts instead of trying to play fill-in-the-blanks with lore. We can also turn to entirely new series that take inspiration from Star Trek but aren't part of the franchise at all. If you like Star Trek, you probably like the genre, the style, the spirit, not just the intellectual property. And if you have no strong feelings toward Star Trek, everyone watching better shows will at least free you from having to listen to people complain about Star Trek.
Anyway, for those of you who really are keen on nostalgia, here's the theme song for the original Star Trek series. It is catchy, I'll grant you that.
Top image: Paramount