What is Star Trek? I have been fascinated to see this question playing out in the media and fandom every since JJ Abrams rebooted the series. Over the last couple of years I've begun to suspect something about how people (in general, not everybody) are defining Star Trek: in the light of the tedious Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Why do I say that? Because the latest words from Simon Pegg (a man who apparently breathes internet napalm, setting fires every time he opens his mouth) has gotten people upset about the direction of Star Trek Beyond, and I can only understand this upsetment if people think all Star Trek is Star Trek: The Next Generation:
"They had a script for Star Trek that wasn't really working for them. I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little too Star Trek-y."
That was Orci's script. But what does 'a little too Star Trek-y' mean?
"Avengers Assemble, which is a pretty nerdy, comic-book, supposedly niche thing, made $1.5 billion dollars. Star Trek: Into Darkness made half a billion, which is still brilliant. But it means that, according to the studio, there's still $1 billion worth of box office that don't go and see Star Trek. And they want to know why.
People don't see it being a fun, brightly coloured, Saturday night entertainment like the Avengers. [So they want to] make a western or a thriller or a heist movie, then populate that with Star Trek characters so it's more inclusive to an audience that might be a little bit reticent."
I read that last bit and I say to myself... oh, they just want to make it like the original Star Trek TV show. A show that was pitched as Wagon Train To The Stars, a space western. A show that had episodes where Kirk and Spock found themselves on a planet ruled by 1930s mafioso, a show where the spirit of Jack the Ripper took over Scotty and a show where one of the greatest episodes is a submarine battle story. They had episodes that were courtroom dramas and episodes that were love stories. To me that is Star Trek - a bunch of different genres and story types into which the Trek characters are inserted. What's more, most of the best episodes of Star Trek are, to me, fun. And brightly colo(u)red - one of the best things about watching Trek on Blu is the popping, bright colors of the series, which the network pushed to the limits to make the most of brand-new color TVs.
Taken with Pegg's recent thoughts about geekdom and pop culture, I find this sort of... encouraging? I'd love to see a big screen Trek that feels like a Western or a heist movie. The opening of Search for Spock has that element, and The Enterprise Incident, where Kirk goes undercover as a Romulan to steal a cloaking device, is just a big spy/heist story. I would watch a movie that is like Specter of the Gun, where a weird alien godthing makes the crew reenact the gunfight at the OK Corrall. I'd watch a movie that is like Arena, where Kirk is forced to fight a lizard man. There has been this retconning of Trek, in the shadow of Next Generation, where people think the show is staid and sort of serious and scholarly and dull. It wasn't - at least the real show wasn't.
I don't know - on the surface everything Paramount wants sounds like it's in line with the original series. And if Pegg can work to make that pop, fun story have meaning and thematic weight - well, this could still be one of the best Trek movies yet.