John Ostrander: Not Quite a Trekkie

by John Ostrander

st50thanni-spockIt’s the 50th Anniversary of the cultural phenomenon known as Star Trek. I go back that far (and somewhat farther); I saw The Original Series when it was Originally Run. I can say I was a fan from the beginning; I hated when it was cancelled, I was happy when I learned they were going to make a movie, I was horribly disappointed when I saw that movie, and I had my faith renewed when The Wrath of Khan came out and so on and so on.

However, I can’t say I was ever a Trekkie. (Yes, I know that for many, the correct term is “Trekker”; I’m sympathetic but the general public is more familiar with the designation “Trekkie” so that’s what I’m using.) I was and am a fan, especially of some of the movies, but not with the intensity that many feel. William Shatner (the original Captain Kirk) could get pretty hammy. Leonard Nimoy, however, as Spock was always “fascinating”.

I admired the show perhaps more than loved it although some episodes still stick in my mind. In particular, I remember “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. IMDB summarizes the plot as follows: “The Enterprise encounters two duo-chromatic and mutually belligerent aliens who put the ship in the middle of their old conflict.” The visual was simple and stunning – one alien was black on the left side of their body and white on the other half while the other alien was a mirror image – white on the left, black on the right. Their hatred and desire to destroy one another was a stunning metaphor for racial hatred that remains true today.

I learned from Star Trek how you could work social commentary into pop culture. That’s something I’ve tried to emulate in my own work.

I think I’ve seen every Star Trek film that has come out at least once, my favorites being The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home. I’ve also watched all the films since the re-boot with the new cast and, while I’ve enjoyed them a lot, I do have a bone or two to pick.

Spoiler Alert: plot details follow from the last two ST movies.

The conceit of the reboot is that this is a new timeline and events will be changed but various incidents get repeated in some form. In Into Darkness, we get a new version of Khan, the quintessential Kirk foe from The Wrath of Khan and there is a version of the emotional climax where one of the principal characters dies to save the ship and his crewmates. In the original, it’s Spock and in the new version it’s Kirk. (Kirk gets better fast.)

In The Search for Spock, they blow up the Enterprise. In the newest ST film, Beyond, they destroy the Enterprise. The original crew gets a new Enterprise at the end of The Voyage Home in what is a terrific emotional pay-off. The current crew gets a new Enterprise at the end of the current movie just because. We all saw that coming, right?

Here’s my problem – the new movies didn’t earn their emotional payoffs. The filmmakers are trading on the associations we have from the original versions. In The Wrath of Khan, we had no idea if Spock was ever going to return. In Into Darkness, it’s pretty much a given that Kirk will be fine by the final credits.

In The Search for Spock, it was a big thing when they destroyed the Enterprise. We had formed an attachment with it from the TV episodes and the two previous films. I was actually more upset at the death of the Enterprise than I was with the death of Spock. In Beyond, we don’t have that same attachment. They haven’t given us time to form it. They’re counting on the emotional resonance that we have for the Enterprise from all the other shows and films we’ve seen.

The films aren’t the only ones guilty of this. I think the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation was destroyed two or three times. Guys, you can only go to that well so many times before it becomes a cheap manipulative trick. I think you’ve gotten there. One of the things I liked about the reboot was that we had the “original” Enterprise back. Now that’s all shot to hell and what for?

Hmm. I’m sounding a bit of Trekkie/Trekker, aren’t I?

I will say that I’ve watched episodes from every Star Trek show that’s been aired and will probably see the new one now being filmed. Thing is – I haven’t watched all the episodes of any of prior Star Trek series. To be honest, I preferred Babylon 5 to Deep Space Nine. As much as I likedThe Next Generation, I infinitely prefer Firefly. In general, I like Star Wars better than Star Trek. Really, in the end I am at heart a Doctor Who fan (although lately I feel the show runner, Steven Moffat, has been testing that).

However, I don’t say that one show is “better” than the other. These are all just my own personal preferences. They have nothing to do with the innate qualities of Star Trek.

Well, except maybe “Spock’s Brain”.

So I salute Star Trek as it rolls into its 50th Anniversary. May it, and it’s fans, live long and. . .

How did that go again?

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. In addition to writing a zillion great Suicide Squad comic book stories, he also is the creator of Amanda Waller. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix.