Why We Need Stories Like Star Trek: Not Really a Review of Star Trek: Beyond

Uhura, Sulu, and other Enterprise crew members trapped together
The crew of the <em>Star Trek Beyond<em> works together to solve problems
The future is what we can see. The future is what we dream of. The future is the future we write about in our stories, whether they’re film, books, comics, or another medium. We don’t have to look further than our smartphones, tablets, or heck, automatic sliding doors to see the impact of what Star Trek dreamed up, and we said, you know what, that is a good idea. It wasn’t just tech. The utopia of the Federation put on screen by Gene Roddenberry showed a future about the good and possibilities of humanity when we work together. On Star Trek and in the Federation, there was peace among far reaching cultures and types of lifeforms. There wasn’t poverty, hunger, homelessness, abject hate, or many of the other social ills which plague our world today. Roddenberry and the hundreds of other creators who’ve helmed Star Trek have never explained how this vision of the future eliminated and solved those problems, but the vision is there.

When watching Star Trek: Beyond, I couldn’t help but think of our world right now and how we need this type of story. Beyond’s two predecessor films never felt like Star Trek films because they never layered in the pieces of utopia. (Among other flaws.) Popular culture, right now, is full of stories about the one special hero and the dystopian reality. No wonder we’ve found solace in those types of tales. You only have to listen to the latest report on terrorism, US drone strikes, police brutality, Brexit, climate change, or anything out of Donald Trump’s mouth to feel like dystopia has arrived. Can Captain America please come rescue us? Oh, wait, his latest plot turned him into a Nazi. When Stephen Colbert did his best Hunger Games’ Ceaser Flickerman and got kicked off the RNC’s stage, it felt too close to the smell of blood and roses.

Superheroes or that one special hero with a special place in the world fighting against the darkness appeals to an immediate need of our world to be rescued. Socially displaced Brits voted for Brexit because they wanted to be rescued. The appeal of Trump is that he promises to be an avenger for his base, calling out who he’ll destroy. The Luke Cage trailer where a black man with impenetrable skin kept walking through bullets hitting him felt like Black Lives Matter come to bear. We’ll let former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords take on the NRA and gun control or Malala Yousafzai stand up for the education of girls in Afghanistan and all over the world. The rest of us watch, like we do in the theater or when we read a book. You can’t take on an entire social ill without a hero, one with special abilities. We long to be picked for Hogwarts, to be Divergent, find our inner Furiosa, or just be extremely wealthy like Batman. I’m not immune to this as the 20+ superhero comic books I read every month stand in testament. In dystopias, our hope lives with the special one. And I don’t know about you, but most days, I feel pretty ordinary. I can barely make it to work on time, much less fix poverty. These dystopian stories have let the world burn before seeing hope rise from the ashes. But we cannot afford to let our world burn anymore.

If our stories aren’t dreaming of anything but our reality or worse than our reality, how can we make a better future? This is why Star Trek: Beyond felt like a breath of fresh air. It points directly to the fact that we must work together as a community to achieve peace, achieve a utopia, or even complete our 5-year mission.

Krall (the movie’s villain): Unity is not your strength. It is a weakness.
Kirk: I think you’re underestimating humanity.

Star Trek: Beyond movie poster
<em>Star Trek Beyond<em> is an important vision of a different type of future than most recent films
In Star Trek: Beyond, no one has superpowers. Even the Federation’s technology is mostly outmatched by Krall’s. They have no advantage over the villain and his crew, except in cooperation, empathy, diversity of ideas, adding up individual talents, and relying on each other. In scene, after scene, the crew and friends work together to save the Federation and stop the villain. When you think Kirk’s about to do a big thing, Uhura does it instead. Kirk and Spock have a conversation where they acknowledge that they cannot defeat the villain’s big scheme without rescuing the entire Enterprise crew, which consists of more than just the characters with names and opening sequence credits. Even when Spock goes to save Uhura, it’s her who must save him; though neither would’ve gotten out of the situation without each other. Sulu and Chekov can only fly a spaceship of questionable flight ability together. Same with Bones and Spock. Both Kirk and Spock say multiple times that they make a good team, and it’s that which makes them strong. They even extend that empathy and understanding to Krall.

The movie treaded closely to the question of how did the Federation utopia happen and why is Starfleet an exploration into space, not a straight up military force. But it didn’t answer it. If Simon Pegg, Doug Jung, or any of the hundreds of others who’ve taken part in Star Trek’s creation over the years knew that answer, they’d probably be enacting world peace instead.

But we need to see this future. We need to see a utopia. We need to see a purposeful representation of all types of people working together side-by-side to create something great, not just save the day and defeat the villain. The Federation is an idea and an ideal. It’s about bringing together community and building a new type of reality. We can’t leave anyone out or anyone behind. Dystopias always destroy the most vulnerable of humanity and our world. We need 100 movies like Star Trek: Beyond so we can see a brighter future.

The movie’s end features Star Trek’s famous speech, but not just Kirk, the Captain, says all of it like previous iterations. Instead, each member of the main cast takes a line, illustrating that yes, it does take all of us to boldly go where no one has gone before.

4 Replies to “Why We Need Stories Like Star Trek: Not Really a Review of Star Trek: Beyond”

  1. Gosh you’re totally right. I never even realized it, but Star Trek seems fairly unique as a sci-fi/fantasy show in that its main characters are not necessarily superheros, people with special powers (hello, jedi anyone?), etc. I guess in a sense that makes them more relatable but also makes their successes seem more… attainable. Not that there isn’t goodness in admiring someone like Captain America or Luke Skywalker, but I can’t really see myself in them (and I’m not sure I’m supposed to).

    Nice catch with the unity theme correlating with the ending lines spoken by each cast member!

    1. @Bridget – Thanks. Yes, I didn’t mention the Jedi, but they certainly follow into the special heroes category. So special and few in numbers that in Force Awakens, we see them decimated again. It is much easier to identify with characters who are more ordinary, but doing good things. 🙂

  2. Fantastic post. We went to opening night and I thought the move was great. And while I miss Star Trek as the exploration of deeper things, I was happy to see this third installment of the reboot was there to remind us what made Gene’s universe so compelling…and a look into a future I hope that we eventually see. There’s going to be (a lot) of kicking and screaming as we head into that bright horizon, and a lot of Krall’s (and Trumps) to stand up to along the way, but I’m hopeful that the best in us will win out. Thanks for the post!

    1. @Scott – Thanks for the kind remarks. I too am holding out hope that we’ll make it to a future place that reminds us of Gene’s universe. 🙂

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