After 50 years of ‘Trek’ and the lackluster reaction to the latest Star Trek film, Star Trek: Beyond, is the Star Trek franchise exhausted, or can the Star Trek universe be saved? The answer to this question requires a look at what Star Trek has been, what it is now and what it can be in the years to come.
For decades, Star Trek forged the way for science fiction on the small screen. It laid the groundwork for much of the science fiction to follow, including Star Wars. Edgy, social commentary was an integral part of the Star Trek tapestry. By using metaphor and indirect allusions, Star Trek was able to break or bypass a number of television taboos.
— Smithsonian Channel (@SmithsonianChan) August 30, 2016
The first interracial kiss ever seen on television was on Star Trek. Some of the earliest discussions of race relations and racial prejudice were also on Star Trek. Star Trek introduced a universe in which a black woman could be a bridge officer, a Russian could take the helm and an alien could be second-in-command.
In many ways, Star Trek: The Next Generation – which was the follow-up to the original series – continued with the same spirit and basic structure that Kirk and crew had used 20 years before. Of course, in the intervening years the original crew of the Enterprise had moved on to the big screen.
Following The Next Generation, a pair of series – Voyager and Deep Space 9 – presented us with a somewhat darker, less optimistic and less moralistic perspective on the Star Trek universe. Although successful, neither of these series achieved the popularity of either the original series or The Next Generation.
But in many people’s opinions the most recent Star Trek television series – Enterprise – strayed a bit too far from hallowed Star Trek canon. The Vulcans were too emotional, the technology on the ships was too advanced – for the prequel it was supposed to be – and the storytelling largely revolved around alien species that were totally unknown to longtime Star Trek fans.
— Star Trek Fan Page (@TrekFanPage_) August 24, 2016
The films put out over the years featured either the crew of the original Enterprise or that of Captain Picard and the Enterprises D through E. Some of these films were quite successful – although hardly blockbusters – but others were relative failures. Certainly, critics deeply disliked the final Next Generation film, Star Trek Nemesis.
After Enterprise went off the air, Star Trek went into years of hiatus in which there were no television series or Star Trek-based movies in production. Even the Star Trek novels began dropping in popularity. It seemed as though people had moved on to edgier, more realistic and less inspiring science fiction.
J.J. Abrams’ resurrection of Star Trek as a rebooted series of films based on the original series characters has been viewed by some as fairly effective. However, even those who praise the Abrams’ films recognize that the first one was far and away the best of the new series. With the failure – and there’s no other way to describe it – of Star Trek: Beyond, Star Trek could easily have again slipped into limbo.
Fortunately, a number of people who worked with Abrams on the new films are currently working on the production of a new television series entitled Star Trek: Discovery. This will be a limited anthology series premiering on CBS All Access next year. This might just be the answer to solving the decline of Star Trek.
— Star Trek (@StarTrek) September 3, 2016
While many of the films have been enjoyable, entertaining and even inspiring, Star Trek‘s natural home seems to be television. The most remarkable Star Trek moments, the best scripts in the best performances seen in the Star Trek universe have all occurred on television.
One of the principal reasons for this is that television allows the characters – and characters are the key to Star Trek – to be explored and fully developed in a way that just can’t be done in film. So the future of Star Trek isn’t nearly as bleak as it might seem right now. If the series succeeds and is followed by others, Star Trek could be as popular 50 years from now as it was 50 years ago.
[Image via Paramount Studios]