Does Star Trek have a future? Most probably not. The same craft failures that turned fans off, have not improved. The rights holders and head writers have run out of ideas. They don’t even want to look to the future of the world they made. This did not have to happen. The head writers could have looked to the future of the Federation after Deep Space Nine, even twenty years later. They still have time. But if they don’t act fast, they will lose what loyalty they have.
Star Trek: Boring
The thirteenth feature film, Star Trek: Beyond, came out on 22 July. It has disappointed fans and “outsiders” alike. It has bored people, especially most reviewers. Owen Gleiberman, for Variety, complained the film says nothing new, for either Star Trek or interplanetary action-adventure.1 Matt Zoller Seitz, for Roger Ebert’s site, makes a similar complaint.2 Tasha Robinson, for The Verge, sums up thus: “Two minutes of humor, two hours of angst.”3 Jamahl Epsicockhan complained of a “stale” plot and a (dramatically) “weak villain”.4 Eric Newport made the worst complaint: “Nearly all action, almost no story.”5
In sum: the latest film bores them! They’ve seen it before, and didn’t particularly want to see the same things again. Nor, apparently, did the film viewing public. “Box Office Mojo” tells the tale.6 Paramount spent over $185 million to make this film. They have barely made that back: less than $216 million, including foreign ticket sales. Of course they made a profit. But they did not make the killing they wanted to make.
Into the past, not the future
And small wonder. Eric Newport tells why.7 The rights holders took Star Trek into the past, not the future. He said that seven years ago. Nothing has improved since. He doesn’t think so, and neither do fans.
Worse, the rights holders killed off six billion people without blinking an eye. They did this in the context of someone diving into the past to take revenge for a fearful slight. But shouldn’t the Temporal Accord have stopped that? Roberto Orci, one of the head writers, talked about this a year ahead of Star Trek XI. He said quantum mechanics lets the original timeline stay in place while, in another universe, the timeline changes.8 Seriously. Quantum mechanics.
This reviewer never heard from any real quantum mechanic. But if quantum mechanics can allow this result, no one can test that. How can anyone expect people to respect science, when scientists pass off untestable guesses as fact?
More to the point, Mr. Orci’s interviewer pressed him repeatedly on new characters with the same names. Mr. Orci did not give a single straight answer. In so failing, Mr. Orci insulted the intelligence of his fan base, and their memories of what they loved. Only a desperate addict would buy his wares ever again. Then again, since when did dope pushers, or their suppliers, respect their user-addicts?
Why not look to the future?
Things didn’t have to turn out this way. Eric Newport lamented, seven years ago, this focus on the past. He wanted a tale of the future of the United Federation of Planets, and the Galaxy.
Move ahead another 100 years into the 25th century. Tell a different story; one about Federation politics. Make the main character the President of the Federation.
By then, Newport suggested, warp drive would be so fast, one could span all four Quadrants instead of one. So the story would be how to live in a “shrinking galaxy,” when one can’t reach the next one.9
That comes close. But it doesn’t address the problem. The problem is: the world still won’t work. The Federation has just fought its costliest war to date. How can its economy absorb that punishment? This leads to the real way to look to the future: tell the story of getting to that future. And tell it in a way with which people can identify.
What they can’t repair
One cannot repair all the faults in Star Trek and still make sense of the canon. The very existence of extraterrestrial civilizations suggest either convergent evolution or multiple relocations. And so many different belief systems can never stay consistent with a single, common monotheistic system. (The Hindus might argue that point, but Christians, Jews, and Muslims will not.) The only polytheistic system that could be real, is the Prophets of Bajor. They have their basis, in this story world, in the Wormhole Entities. Again, a Terran would likely call the Wormhole Asgard, and the Prophets the Aesir.
Nor can any series abandon the technologies that have brought this world to the end of Deep Space Nine. (Voyager ended two years later.) One can probably accept the Alcubierre micro-wormhole-induction drive as the “warp drive.” Gene Roddenberry’s team named “phasers” after an actual principle in theoretical physics. Transporters and replicators have no engineering basis. Yet.
What they can repair
But a good writing team can repair the economy, and lack of true liberty, in the Star Trek world. Liberty need not stay “a thing of the past.” The future of Star Trek can be the future of liberty. Or instead, the rediscovery of liberty.
To do that, they must look back to a formative development in Earth’s past, and retell it in the future.
A new revolution for liberty
That past development is the American Revolution. America’s War for Independence did make revolution. For the first time since ancient Athens, people would govern themselves. Federation citizens do not govern themselves. The Articles of Federation do not provide for such. They exactly parallel the United Nations Charter, and that document does not provide for self-governance.10
Federation citizens do have better protections under civil and criminal law than Klingon or Cardassian subjects have. Federation citizens also enjoy more generous allowances from their government than anyone else. But allowances and legal protections, do not equate to self-governance or self-determination of the individual.
Now consider the conditions in the Alpha Quadrant as Deep Space Nine ends. The Federation has fought, and barely won, the costliest war in its history. That war destroyed half of Star Fleet. Only a few capital ships, like USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E, remain. Earth once again bears the scar of an external attack. The only real bright spot is that Star Fleet “re-acquired” USS Voyager NCC-74656. That ship is still on her way and will finally return two years later.
On the other hand, the end of the Dominion War makes the Gamma Quadrant hospitable again. Odo, one of The Hundred, has rejoined The Great Link at last. Under his influence, The Dominion might become less “domineering.” So no doubt the Klingons, the Cardassians, and even several Federation worlds will send colony wagons through the Wormhole. (The Ferengi will send some of their trade ships through, too. That should prove interesting.)
In eighteen or twenty years, the Federation will have several colonies in Gamma space. But how will the Federation treat them?
Townsend Acts redux
By now anyone should recognize the Earth history analogue of those conditions. Change Dominion War to Seven Years’ War, or French-Indian War. The Federation would then occupy the same place as Great Britain after that war. Having broken their economy to fight it, now the Crown had to pay for it. So Parliament passed the Townsend Acts, or the “Intolerable Acts.”
In this scenario, the Federation Council would do the same. Anyone can predict the cry that would sound from one end of the Gamma Quadrant to the other:
No taxation without representation!
Before too long, the Boston Tea Party—and Massacre—would repeat themselves. Soon afterward, another event would repeat itself: the Battle of Lexington.
The two series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, left many characters alive to choose sides in the war to come. The Gamma Quadrant Revolution would test, and change, the loyalties of all of them. Likewise, many characters in the feature films Generations through Nemesis would face loyalty crises. Indeed some have already faced them—in Insurrection.
So Star Fleet could not count on the loyalties of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his senior officers. (The new android, B4, would carry the memories of the now-defunct Data. So he would inherit Data’s attitudes.) Neither could Star Fleet count on the loyalties of the Voyagers, or the veterans of Terok Nor (Deep Space Nine).
The former Captain Kathryn Janeway has become a Rear Admiral in Nemesis. She would likely be a Vice-Admiral sixteen years after returning to the Alpha Quadrant. But what would Star Fleet do with her talents? She would teach them how to fight the Borg. But Star Fleet might take less interest in the long-term survival doctrines she developed. Furthermore, she studied human history extensively. She would recognize the Townsend Acts. And they would rankle.
Chakotay would have a worse crisis. He, and several former crew members of Voyager, would be all the Maquis had left to it. His mates might remember—bitterly. And after a repeat Boston Massacre, they would see parallels. Chakotay and his old comrades might even be aboard one of those colony wagons soon after their return. If so, they would make a more recent parallel—to the despicable Federation-Cardassian Armistice.
The crew of “Deep Space Nine,” or “Terok Nor,” lost Captain Benjamin Sisko. He took Gul Dukat and his possessive Pah Wraith with him to Jötunheimr. So the Aesir rescued him and brought him permanently to Asgard. From there he will not return.11
But the Niners remember him, and what he stood for. They will never imagine he could stomach the changes in Federation policy.
Kira Nerys might also have gotten aboard the colony wagon to “New Bajor” in the Gamma Quadrant. She would, of course, resign from Star Fleet to do it. And she would readily see: the Federation would be not much better than the Cardassians. So of course she would prepare to fight, and lead the fight.
Buddies, Hosts, and Symbionts
Consider, then, some of the other former Niners. Julian Bashir is a misfit, and represents a peculiar class of misfits. He also knows other misfits, and might conceive a plan to break them out of institution. Miles E. O’Brien might well rally to his side, for one reason above all: they are buddies.
Ezri Dax would by now have eighteen more years of experience with Joining. She would surely go through at least one Zhin’tara ritual.12 That would teach her one thing above all else. The Daxes have always led the least conventional lives of all Trill, host or symbiont.
Diplomacy at the high levels during this period would defy prediction. Imagine Kira, now commanding the Gamma Army, reaching out to her old friend Odo, now a Founder. Imagine Julian Bashir working in earnest to break the Jem’Hadar of their crippling—and genetic—drug addiction. Now imagine Ezri Dax traveling to Kronos to discuss terms with two old friends. Worf, son of Mogh, Ambassador of the Federation, is one. Martok, Chancellor of the Klingon Empire, is the other.
Setting this drama eighteen or even twenty years after Deep Space Nine ends, solves the cast-age problem. It also lets enough time pass for a Gamma Revolutionary War to break out, then play out. (The original American Revolution lasted seven years—eight if one counts from Lexington.)
But a philosophical problem remains. The writers and rights holders of Star Trek simply do not appreciate American history or American exceptionalism. They do not even know what it means to be an American. If they did, they would never have created that travesty of nineteenth-century America they called the Ferengi.
So someone would likely have to buy the franchise from the present rights holders. Those holders might soon have to sell. They have one new series on its way: Discovery. But that will show only on a “stream” with a for-pay subscription. That’s a recipe for failure.13
However such a series can come about, it could resolve most, if not all, the problems with Star Trek today. It would surely hold interest, better than mindless action-adventure. Concepts like liberty, justice, and honor would have great meaning and greater exposition. The victors would free themselves from more than the hard tyranny of “Sections Thirty-one” and the like. They would also cast off the soft tyranny of “replicators” and the communist economy. The society they would build would avoid the Ferengi’s vicious burlesque of trade, and the Federation’s stultifying academic rule.
Far more important than creating better fiction, is making a better life. Star Trek had great potential for good—and, sadly, evil. Recognizing a bad lesson is the first step toward un-learning it.
Why emphasize the errors in Star Trek?
Why emphasize the errors in Star Trek? After all, “it’s only fiction.” But fiction can be a powerful lever to move a society toward truth, or error. Science fiction can exert more power still. Herbert George Wells used the genre to devastating effect. Gene Roddenberry and his successors are the H. G. Wellses of today.
How can they succeed so well? First, believable characters carry any story. Events don’t carry good literature. Characters reacting to those events, do.
Heaven in space
Second: everyone wants to escape from the world they live and work in. Everyone wants to believe in a version of heaven. What better version than a “heaven” they can reach by physical means?
Did not the first King of Babel (probably Nimrod the Hunter) promise that? “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven!” (Genesis 11:4.) Gene Roddenberry promised the next-best thing: building ships that could sail the heavenly seas.
No, space flight is not inherently sacrilegious.14 But many people the world over, now believe in a vision of the future that cannot work. Furthermore, this vision has many faulty premises. And it steers us away from waiting for the real Heaven, and the God Who made Heaven and Earth. It also steers us away from what made America truly great.
In any case, to correct an error, one must recognize it. Then one can propose a way to correct it.
7Newport E, “The Third Generation of Star Trek: Lost in Nostalgia,” Kethinov’s Reviews, 10 May 2009
8Pascale A., “Bob Orci Explains How the New Star Trek Movie Fits with Trek Canon (and Real Science), TrekMovie.com, 11 December 2008.
9See “By Any Other Name” in the original series. This marked the first and only time anyone suggested flying to another galaxy.
10The Federation Council, like the UN Security Council, serves as a legislature. But ordinary citizens do not choose its members. At best the Federation Council functions like the old United States Senate before Amendment XVII. At worst it functions like the British House of Lords in the era of the American Revolution.
11“What We Leave Behind” in Deep Space Nine
12See “Facets” in Deep Space Nine for a description and enactment.
13The problem is not the subscription streaming concept per se, but the limited subscription pass. They plan to use the CBS All Access service. Users have turned in less-than-stellar reviews of that service. The rights holders would do better to put their show on Hulu Plus, the Epix stream, or even Amazon Prime. Instead they ask users to take out a stream subscription for this and few other titles. No one will stand for that.
14In Conquest of Space, a commanding general comes to believe just that as he commands a crewed mission to Mars.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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