At the beginning of the improbably named Star Trek Beyond, Captain James T. Kirk expresses his frustration and boredom at how “episodic” (his words, not mine) his life has become during the Enterprise’s five-year mission. This is funny to me, as the rest of the film plays out like an extra-long episode of Star Trek. This, though, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In 2009, I sat in the theater watching a crucial scene in the newly rebooted Star Trek where the younger versions of the iconic Kirk, Spock and Uhuru discuss their realization that they are now living in an alternate timeline, thanks to Eric Bana’s time-traveling Romulan mucking about in the past. This new Star Trek was establishing its own identity. At this moment in the film, my friend leaned over and whispered into my ear, “They beat you, nerd.”
What he meant, of course, is Star Trek is a series with a very focused, dedicated fanbase. These fans, myself included, are often stereotyped, fairly or not, as narrow, pedantic obsessives who find joy in tearing apart plotholes. My friend thought I would be angry that the film did away with the years of stories I’ve spent my whole life watching. I was not angry. Quite the opposite, I was incredibly happy. By splitting the timeline, the new Star Trek gave itself room to grow and find its own identity without being shackled with the baggage of over four decades of numerous movies, television shows and more tie-in material than you can shake a Spock at. Kirk and the rest of the crew of the NCC-1701 were free to create new, original stories in this much beloved franchise without worrying about stepping on any toes. Despite my friend’s implications, I was excited to see what new directions these new films would boldly go.
But instead of exploring a literal universe of unseen worlds and strange civilizations, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness just recycled the plot to Wrath of Khan. Star Trek Beyond at least to tries to tell an original story. And while there are several parts that come across as derivate of previous Trek films (at this point the big bad evil guy with a tragic backstory and a motivation toward revenge for ill-defined reasons is as much a part of Star Trek as the holodeck) it still tells its own, sometimes baffling story. By the end, though, just like those old episodes of the original series, nothing has really changed. Slightly more Redshirts died than usual, our main characters go through their own forgettable mini-arcs and Kirk and his crew head out for a series of more adventures. It’s as if nothing of consequence really happened.