Is Star Trek a Dying Franchise?

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We’ve seen a lot of new Star Trek iterations recently, but all seem distant from the brilliance that defined earlier franchise works. Can Star Trek head towards greatness again, or is it all downhill from here?

As a lifetime fan of Star Trek, I’ve followed every iteration of the franchise, from the original series that ran from 1966 to 1969, through to Star Trek Discovery, which recently finished its first season (we ranked all the episodes go us).

In 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation brought the franchise back after an 18 year hiatus (aka worst 18 years ever). It spawned three spin-offs: Deep Space Nine, which was set on a space station near a wormhole; Voyager, which focused on a Federation star ship stranded in a distant uncharted region of space known as the Delta Quadrant; and finally Enterprise, a prequel series centred around the first starship Enterprise.

In 2005, Enterprise came to an end. The franchise was burnt out in the eyes of man . Then just four years later JJ Abrams did a soft reboot using time travel to create a new timeline. We have since had two sequels.

So, with two new films in the pipeline and Discovery on the air, why is the franchise struggling?

Nobody wants Star Trek to go backwards.

Image result for star trek khan
Ricardo Moltoban on the left was recast with Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness – Bitchmedia.org

Ever since Voyager and Deep Space Nine concluded, each new iteration of Star Trek has been set in the past. Remember how much people loved the Star Wars prequels? Many of the same problems can be found here.

When you’re working in the past, the audience will automatically want to see how the stories being told fit in with what came before. When they don’t fit with the existing continuity, people get frustrated. Why does the tech look more advanced in the past? Why has Khan’s ethnicity changed? Why do Klingons look like an entirely separate race from the ones we’d seen previously?

These issues are sometimes explained over time, but even then the explanation may come too late if the audience has already jumped ship. On top of that the stakes feel lower because we’ve already seen that things work out. Writers can try and cheat this in various ways, e.g. alterations to the timeline, but ultimately this just feels like a problem you could fix by not setting setting things in the past.

What happened to Gene’s vision?

Legendary creator Gene Roddenberry – StarTrekSentinel.com

Gene Roddenberry was the creative mind behind Star Trek. He saw a future in which humans had evolved to a point where we had put aside our differences and become the best possible versions of ourselves. He projected the issues and problems of today onto other alien races, making them the analogy.

The problem is that from a narrative perspective, this is just plain boring. Conflict breeds tension and if everyone gets along all the time there’s no fun to be had. It’s also worth noting that diversity is still very much a part of Star Trek Discovery. I think what people really want is just the diversity component and stories that make people think.

Star Trek action sci-fi adventure or philosophy of space.

star trek enterprise
The Enterprise from Star Trek Enterprise mid-battle. Source: Paramount.

Maybe it can be a bit of both. The problem here is that stuffy executives are convinced that Trek has to be an action adventure in space and it needs to be set around the time of Spock and Kirk because those two defined the franchise for a generation.

They seem to believe that this is the only way to tap into a larger market. They expect the established fanbase to check it out provided they toss a few nuggets from Trek lore their way and tap into that rich nostalgia goodness.

Unfortunately, this approach seems to be failing fast. Discovery had a very divisive first season and Star Trek Beyond more or less bombed at the box office. Simon Pegg, who wrote the screenplay for that, blamed it on poor marketing, though I suspect it had more to do with the missteps of its predecessor.

As much as I did enjoy the film, I’d be much more interested in a return to intelligent sci-fi. With Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, I’ve got sci-fi space action covered.

Can Star Trek be saved?

picard star trek
In the words of Picard, “Make it happen”. Source: Paramount.

Of course it can and here’s how. Discovery will need to run for at least three seasons to be seen as respectable. They need to move the focus away from Michael Burnham and go for more of an ensemble cast. They should have done this from the start but it’s not too late. Make the stories in Season 2 more personal so that we build the characters up. Take the Discovery away from known space. Let’s get back to exploring the unknown.

Moving forward, a fourth film to restore the Prime timeline from the ’90s would be an excellent idea. Let’s move away from the film formula of having a megalomaniac often with his own crew trying to destroy the Enterprise.

Finally, the next time we get a new Star Trek series, let’s either go full reboot Battlestar Galactica style or set the series in the future and not the past. Cut away the baggage and explore the unknown.

Star Trek has plenty of options when it comes to reinventing itself and boldly going where no sci-fi series has gone before.

To keep our quest for good sci-fi alive, here’s our rant about Altered Carbon.

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