Rotten Tomatoes reports scores of 38 from the critics (who I don’t care about) and 49 from the audience, both of which are rotten scores. Nemesis is certainly a guilty pleasure, and I get that. Troi porn, a childish android, and the worst toast in the history of weddings are just a few of the examples of why this movie earned such low scores, but it had some good points. Moral philosophy is the foundation upon which Star Trek was built, and at its heart, it was an examination of the nature v. nurture debate. Nevertheless, it didn’t skimp on the action.
The goal of the movie was to recapture the magic of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by giving Picard a fitting nemesis, just as Wrath of Khan gave Kirk his, and by having Picard suffer a loss as did Kirk. Nemesis is no Wrath of Khan, and Shinzon is no Khan, but SPOILER ALERT being Picard’s clone inherently made Shinzon a good match for Picard, and Shinzon’s lifetime of pain resulted in a rage mimicking that of Khan. Data’s death also mimicked Spock’s. I didn’t find this to be lazy plagiarism as it’s sometimes been labeled. There are only seven stories, and this story used the themes that have been proven to appeal to Star Trek fans (and non-fans).
The movie also set up the Picard series in a couple of ways. It set the foundation for Picard’s connection to the Romulans, and Picard resolved Data’s story without cheapening his death in Nemesis.
Sprinkle in the fact that I’m a Star Trek apologist, and I like this movie. You don’t have to.
I can’t tell you why, but I was reading a Cracked article that caught my eye. It was on the difficulties that Disney will have in creating Episode IX. Cracked has lost its step, but it triggered (pun intended) something in me that has inspired this post. I doubt that my argument is particularly novel, so just consider this me throwing my hat into the ring for a particular perspective.
There are a few points I should raise before diving in. You’re free to form your own opinions, and that won’t change mine, so I won’t justify any of these points. I provide them only for context which is necessary to my discussion.
Go to 2:28. Here’s an image of the relevant portion of the J.J. Abrams interview (also pasted at the bottom of this post).
2. The J.J. Abrams Movies.
I liked (not loved) Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Beyond. Star Trek Into Darkness was insulting to every Star Trek: The Original Series (“TOS”) fan, whether or not they realize it. At every point in that script, J.J. was insulting us by mangling the characters and ridiculing our sacred cows. He then had the temerity to justify this by referring to these events as “homages” to the original. (Into Darkness was the only time in my life I genuinely felt nerd rage. Usually, I just roll with it because no one owes me anything, but that was too much.) As for the Force Awakens, I also like (not love) it but felt that the Last Jedi was a below average film. I’d watch the Force Awakens again but not the Last Jedi.
3. Star Wars EU.
I know extremely little about the Star Wars Expanded Universe. If any of my ideas are identical to something in the EU, I wouldn’t know it.
I’ve never seen it, so I have no opinion as to whether it’s good or bad.
What J.J. Is Likely Thinking
There have been countless memes, Facebook posts, and Tweets criticizing legacy Star Trek fans for being hypocrites. The argument goes something like this: “You say you wanted something new, but when J.J. gave it to you, you complained about it. He can’t win with you, so why should he care about you?” This was inspired by the flak J.J. caught from legacy Star Trek fans for the “Abramsverse” (i.e., his version of the Star Trek universe). In the first and third movies, he didn’t rehash any old Star Trek stories, but instead included an origin story and then a largely new story. I haven’t talked to J.J. nor have I seen him address this in any interviews, but I believe that he interpreted that hate as anger at telling a new story.
Why do I believe he holds this opinion? When creating The Force Awakens, he seemed to have decided at that point that the safe bet was to give fans the same story. The Force Awakens is essentially a retelling of a New Hope. As the Cracked article points out, J.J. Abrams is “nothing if not risk-averse.” I’m aware that J.J. received the same criticism from the fans (including me) for Into Darkness despite that being a retelling of one of the classic TOS stories, but based on his approach to the Force Awakens, I suspect that he saw that hate as riding on the coattails of the hate from Star Trek 2009.
Why J.J. Is Wrong
Based on his direction for the Force Awakens, J.J. probably is having a hard time reconciling the criticism with Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Beyond with the criticism of Into Darkness. He apparently doesn’t see the connection that all three movies have, which is actually the source of legacy fan anger. The reason people reacted so poorly to Star Trek and the Force Awakens isn’t because he was telling a new story; it was that he completely wiped out everything that we loved so much from the past. In the case of Star Trek 2009, the entire timeline was erased, and not because he wanted to tell a time-travel story. J.J. wanted to wipe out this universe and its characters that he hated so much and rebrand them to his liking. It’s going to be tough, in general, to make legacy fans happy when you tell them that everything they loved so much never happened and doesn’t matter. Only the sycophants will enjoy it as much.
Flash forward to the Force Awakens. Everything the Ewoks (and I guess the rebels too) accomplished didn’t matter, because in the end the Empire survived, just with a different name. That happy ending from Return of the Jedi was an illusion, which means the next time you watch Return of the Jedi, you should do so with a heavy heart knowing that tyranny and global destruction is just a few years away. Hell, Rian Johnson even screwed this up going from the Force Awakens to the Last Jedi. The profoundness of Rey extending Luke’s lightsaber to him was completely undone when he tossed it away. That joke wasn’t worth what it (un)did to the new trilogy.
Now let’s go off on a slight tangent. The same thing happened with Ghostbusters. Sure, it’s easy to slap a label of “misogynist” on a critic of that movie (as many of you did with the Last Jedi). That way, one can simply dismiss the critics as bad people and give themselves an excuse to ignore the critics’ pesky logic. But notice that those same critics are very excited about the new Ghostbusters movie that coming out in 2020. They’re excited even though they have no idea whether the main characters are going to be male or female; black or white; or Jew, gentile, or atheist. That’s because, as far as I can tell, only a statistically insignificant number of people care about that sort of thing. The internet, and the psychological need to look at train wrecks, gives those people more attention than they merit. Most people just want a good movie, but if the franchise is important to them, they want such stories to hold that franchise’s legacy intact. (That said, it’s always bothered my that Ghostbusters II basically undid the happy ending of Ghostbusters, so Rian Johnson was by no means the first filmmaker to make this mistake.)
J.J. Could Have Had It Both Ways
It didn’t have to be like this. I’m not a creative writer (as you can probably tell), so don’t hold me to the details, but let’s see if I can fix this.
Let’s start with Star Trek. Kirk’s origin story was never fully told in Star Trek canon prior to that movie, but there are some rough details we know. You didn’t need to change the timeline in order to provide such an origin story. If they had just told Kirk’s origin story within the prime universe, perhaps including stories that were mentioned in TOS (or better yet, dealing with their aftermath), they could have given 100% respect to canon while still telling a new story that everyone has been asking for. The movie could still end with the crew as we know it coming together. Star Trek Discovery, which I love, is doing something similar, so while it has its critics, it’s quite popular. There’s no hypocrisy here. Star Trek fans really do want new stories, just not at the expense of old ones. For long-time readers of my blog (all two of you), you may know of an exception to this rule that I endorse. For the record, Star Trek Into Darkness shouldn’t have been about (spoiler alert!) Khan; it should have been about Sybok. There’s nothing wrong with retelling a story if you’re getting it right this time.
For Star Wars, I would have made the new trilogy about the rise of the new Sith Order. Imagine that there’s no “New Order,” which means the Empire was indeed defeated, leaving the catharsis of the original trilogy’s ending intact. In the years since Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker starts a new Jedi Order, and his nephew, Kylo, is one of the padawans. Kylo is approached by Darth Plagueis either as a Sith ghost or as a reincarnated Sith. (Both can be reconciled with the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis.) Plagueis corrupts Kylo and takes him on as an apprentice. Notice that so far, a lot of this story is exactly what we have without undoing the value of the original trilogy. Kylo kills Plagueis, who then creates a new Sith Order from among Luke’s other padawans, abandoning the Rule of Two (i.e., “Only two there are. No more; no less. A master and an apprentice.”) Kylo considers the Rule of Two misguided, blaming it for centuries of Jedi domination of the Sith. Kylo believes that he’s found a way to manage the selfishness inherent to the Sith, which could make a Sith Order work. Now you have a new story, which is absolutely a Star Wars story, but respects canon 100%. While I expect most fans would enjoy this, I can accept the possibility that this story may not appeal to the masses. My point, however, is that I just provided an outline for a potentially enjoyable Star Wars trilogy that’s both novel in its approach and consistent with canon. That’s what the critics want, and the new fans would have enjoyed it just as much. Everyone wins.
For Ghostbusters, they should do exactly what they’re planning to do: Continue the original story. I’ll leave it at that.
I have a degree in physics. I’ve studied rocket science. This isn’t rocket science. This is about familiarity, but not story-based familiarity. The familiarity comes from the setting. Give us new characters, using the old characters to pass the torch if possible. Give us new stories, but within the same exact universe so that the old stories still matter. Unnecessarily wrecking our childhood is the crime. The new characters and stories should still make the kids happy without pissing off the ones that are telling them to get off their lawns.
As opening night for Star Trek into Darkness (also my birthday) approaches, I wanted to make sure I reserve the opportunity to say, “I told you so,” even though there’s little chance that opportunity will actually present itself. My cousin, John (aka, @kesseljunkie) and I are big fans of the much-maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (“TFF”). As a movie, it has its share of problems, but as most of you will agree with that statement, I won’t bother to justify it. Where I will take you to task, however, is with the character of Sybok.
Just a Little Misunderstood
As one of the six or so humans on the planet that actually read the novelization of TFF (John being one of the others), I have a deeper appreciation for the character of Sybok. Sybok was not just some lunatic. His reasons for accepting emotion spring from his mother’s views, which were seen as heretical by most of Vulcan. As geeks that are stereotypically considered outcasts for our interests, this is a character that we should have all embraced. Unfortunately, Sybok’s backstory was never fully developed by the film. This is understandable, as a book always has more room to do so than a movie, but it was a missed opportunity to say the least. While we didn’t necessarily have to agree with Sybok, we should have had a ton more sympathy for him, but unless you read the book (or are a completely delusional Star Trek apologist unable to criticize the franchise at all), you probably weren’t left with the same impression as I.
A Perfect Antagonist
The destruction of Vulcan gave us the opportunity to revisit and reimagine Sybok. This is a Vulcan who embraces his emotion, and his people were all but wiped out because of Star Fleet’s failure to protect the planet. Sure, that’s an unfair criticism in light of the advanced technology of the attacking ship, but people who do bad things, especially when motivated by anger, generally don’t have the firmest grip on logic. In fact, that’s the whole point of Sybok’s character. He has all the advantages of being a superhuman Vulcan without the logic to restrain his selfish impulses. There’s a lot of potential for a good story if a cataclysmic event pushed him over the edge.
Could I Be Right?
The trailers and actors’ interviews have hinted at reasons Sybok could be the villain. Cumberbatch jumps from a great height and exhibits exceptional strength by throwing around a large piece of metal during a fight. (Vulcans are stronger than humans.) Cumberbatch has referred to his character as a terrorist, but one that thinks he’s doing the right thing by Star Fleet. (This is right in line with the way Sybok thinks and acts.) Sure, Sybok wasn’t a Star Fleet agent in the other timeline, but with the destruction of Vulcan, and with few friends among the survivors, perhaps Sybok was recruited for a task for which he was quite suited: Getting revenge on the Romulans. We know the Klingons interacted with Nero from the last movie, and we know they play a role here. Perhaps they’re siding with Sybok, who’s changed his mind about what he has to do.
John pointed out to me that the scene from the trailer where Kirk and Spock are performing the “live long and prosper” salute through a pane of glass (mimicking their last actions in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan) in fact could be Spock and “JohnHarrison.” It’s clearly Spock, but the other sleeve is charcoal in color, which is the color shirt Cumberbatch is wearing while standing behind the pane of glass. The voice over then says, “Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family?” Was that line spoken to Kirk, whose family hasn’t played a significant role in the reboot, or Spock, who is Sybok’s family?
Does all of this mean that John Harrison must actually be Sybok? Of course not. He could easily (probably?) be an augment, or perhaps even the Khan (which would be a tremendous shame). Gary Mitchell seems unlikely at this point, but still a possibility. All I’m saying is that Sybok would be a reasonable choice based on everything we’ve seen, and in this author’s humble opinion, would be the best choice. It would throw off everyone, and it would open the door to a proper telling of the character’s backstory.
All that being said, I doubt it’s Sybok, but if it is, the IMAX Airbus theater in Chantilly, VA is going to have at least two geeks standing up during the big reveal, shouting, “Nailed it! We told you so!” (8:55pm showing on May 17 if you’re interested.)
But probably not, and that makes me a little sad.
Side Note: Why Not Khan?
For those not wanting to read the IO9 article to which I linked, let me explain quickly why Cumberbatch shouldn’t play Khan (besides the obvious concern of “been there, done that … twice already”). Back in the old days when Star Trek was less about bells and whistles and more about story and the big three, almost every episode was a kick in the gonads of racism. What could possibly be more ironic and insulting to the “superior race” crowd than a “master race” led by a “darkie.” An Hispanic actor playing an Indian superman? Perfect. The Nazi’s were turning in their graves. Casting a white guy to play that role misses a lot of the point Roddenberry was trying to make. By itself, it won’t ruin the film or the Khan character, but it would make the character a little less meaningful.
Last night, my cousin John and I had our monthly (or so) outing at Buffalo Wing Factory. As always, we talk about all things both political and nerdical. Of all the things we discussed, there was one point made that was wholly mine, rather than a consensus between our two views. It’s not that John hadn’t heard the argument before and accepted it in the context of Star Trek, but I took it to a larger level.
For all it’s bells and whistles, all of the new iterations of Star Trek will never (apparently) have what the Original Series had: character development. At first, this seems like a ridiculous argument, but I’m serious. It’s not that TNG, DS9, and the rest don’t have character development; the problem is that they spread that development too thinly across too many characters.
The Triumverate of Nerd
TOS had three characters: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everyone else was secondary. Can any of the newer series or movies say that? No, they can’t. They’ve all moved from being about “the main characters” to being about “the ensemble,” and the result is that none of the characters mean anywhere’s near as much as the original three. As I’ve pointed out before, we know the year that O’Brien’s mother-in-law was born. That’s a bit crazy. If you’re filling in that level of detail about the most minor of characters, you’re not spending time on who matters most. Granted, TOS lasted less years than any of the other series, so inevitably we would have known more about the minor characters as future seasons were released, but it still would have been about the big three.
It’s Not Just Star Trek
I pointed out to John, a rabid Star Wars fan (seriously, check out his blog), that this isn’t just Star Trek. The original Star Wars trilogy was about Luke, Leia, and Han. Is Obi-Won Kenobi getting too important? Cut the bastard in half … or into thin air. Whatever. Same with Yoda. Bring them back as ghosts occasionally, but get them out of the action.
The Star Wars prequels became about the ensemble. While it should have been about Anakin, Obi-Won, and Padme, it wasn’t. Mace Windu, Yoda, and a freaking astromech droid were just as important. They got a ton of action independent of the main characters.
A Larger Trend
I haven’t done any serious math here, but this appears to be a larger trend, especially in light of the success of comic book movies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows screenwriters to tell a different set of good stories. It’s also no longer “progressive” to just stick a minority on screen, make her a secretary, tell everyone she’s good at math, and rarely let her speak words other than, “I’m frightened.” I can understand a need to continue our social evolution, but it has its drawbacks with respect to the development of characters with whom the audience can relate. If we had the Avengers but didn’t have the benefit of two Iron Man movies, a Captain America movie, a Thor movie, and two Hulk movies, you wouldn’t care as much for those characters as you did (unless you had decades of development through reading their comics, which I do not have).
And this is why Picard will never have shit on original Kirk. Get over it and get off my lawn, you rotten kids.
P.S. Opening day for Star Trek into Darkness is my birthday. Great gift, though it would be better if Cumberbatch were playing Sybok.
Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you or would you like to break some more furniture?
Human bonding rituals often involve a great deal of talking, and dancing, and crying.
This vessel…I give… she takes. She won’t permit me my life. I’ve got to live hers.
[In a gravely, reptilian voice] Hsssssssss!
If you’re going to get nasty, I’m going to leave.
Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.
Sir, there’s a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.
I have never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to any question.
Another dream that failed. There’s nothing sadder.
We’re not here to conduct a field experiment in human biology.
There’s nothing disgusting about it. It’s just another life form, that’s all. You get used to those things.
Women are more easily and more deeply terrified, generating more sheer horror than the male of the species.
Too much of anything, … even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.
I’m trying to thank you, you pointy-eared hobgoblin!
You mustn’t stop me. You’re my lover, and I have to kill you.
I am incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which I love so deeply– life in every form– from fetus to developed being.
Witch! Witch! They’ll burn ya!
I’m not Herbert.
Bonus quote for when you walk in on others having sex: You’re a traitor from a race of traitors. Disloyal to the core. Rotten! Like the rest of your subhuman race. And you’ve got the gall… to make love to that girl!
Now, Star Trek and Star Wars fans have yet another reason to be competitive with one another.
I know, including Gaila from the latest Star Trek movie is cheating. It’s not an Original Series picture, and the fact that it’s from an alternate timeline involving the original crew is no excuse. I don’t care, and neither do you.
STE is a much-maligned series in the Star Trek franchise. Though I can understand why relatively new Star Trek fans didn’t like it, I never quite understood why fans of TOS didn’t. Sure there were problems with the writing; the temporal cold war was annoying and never truly resolved, and they never should have forced the Borg and Ferengi into the storylines. However, for those who’ve been with Star Trek from the beginning, we’ve seen it as a morality play first, and bells and whistles second. The futuristic setting was interesting and important. It was interesting to see where humans were going and important because it told us that somehow, despite the threat of nuclear annihilation, we were going to make it. Nevertheless, the reason we were going to make it was because of our social evolution, not our technological evolution. Greater technology, by itself, simply gives us the means to destroy ourselves. We have to rise above our instincts and insecurities to make it to the 22nd century. Story was what mattered.
So, how did we go from cross burnings to not batting an eyelash when we meet an energy-based being? We can certainly see the first part of that evolution by looking at how our real-world societies have (and haven’t) evolved since the 60s. We can also see how we’ve evolved from the Original Series to the Star Trek: The Next Generation (“TNG“) era, a time at which diversity was so extensive that we threw up our hands and surrendered to it psychologically-speaking. What’s missing is our future. By “our,” I mean those of us living in the 21st century, and those that will live in the 22nd century. What can we and our descendants expect? Star Trek: First Contact gave us a hint. First contact with the Vulcans “unit[ed] humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible, when they realize they’re not alone in the universe.” Deanna Troi, Star Trek: First Contact. That’s great, but it’s also a bit idealistic. Even if humanity no longer hated itself, could we really expect that to mean the end of bigotry instantaneously? STE answered that question, and that’s why I loved it. It told a part of the story we needed to see, both in terms of our social evolution and technical evolution. The jump from TOS to TNG wasn’t nearly as fascinating to me as the jump from right now to TOS, because that’s what will affect people I actually know, including me.
Two of the best episodes in all of Trek history were Demons and Terra Prime, a two-part series starting Peter Weller (a.k.a., Robocop) as a xenophobic human. He united black and white, male and female, gay and straight, and faithful and atheist against a common foe: Anyone who wasn’t human. It demonstrated that humans are as bigoted as their circumstances dictate. By that, I mean that whoever is most different at the time is the target of our bigotry. Sure, looking at green-blooded, pointy-earned clones of Satan, we’d probably lose focus on how we hate each other, but that focus had to go somewhere, and sure enough it did. Humans developed great resentment towards Vulcans. Of course, there wasn’t much outright hostility, but then again bigotry nowadays doesn’t often result in physical violence, but that doesn’t make the bigotry any less real. Also, humans were getting something out of their relationship with Vulcans, so that helped to mollify that resentment.
Or so my theory goes.
Still there was a story to tell there. You may agree or disagree with my point of view, and you may have preferred a different direction for Star Trek canon. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we’re analyzing social issues, which is what made Star Trek one of the most important series in the history of television. That analysis is the mission of the Star Trek franchise. Whatever legitimate concerns you might have for the quality of the writing, with Star Trek: Enterprise, mission accomplished.
Unless, of course, phase cannons weren’t glamorous enough for you.
I apologize, but for the second day in a row, I’ve turned my geek-related blog into a political commentary. I can’t help it. These are two politicians I can really get behind. I refuse to stay silent when the very balance of our universe is at stake.