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Finally, Actual Star Trek (Spoilers)

Pictured: (L-R) Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura, Melissa Navia as Ortegas, Ethan Peck as Spock, Bruce Horak as Hemmer, Anson Mount as Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Una, Jess Bush as Chapel, Christina Chong as La’an and Baby Olusanmokun as M’Benga in the official key art of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: James Dimmock/Paramount+ ©2022 ViacomCBS. All Rights Reserved.

[Spoiler Alert!] I have been a Trekkie since I was a child, having watched the Original Series shortly after it entered syndication in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. It was a Saturday evening tradition at my grandparent’s house (along with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour and Land of the Giants). But I haven’t always liked everything made in the franchise, and lately it has been less than enjoyable for me. But I have renewed faith with Strange New Worlds.

Okay, I’m A Curmudgeon

I will admit that I am a little picky in my consumption of Star Trek (unlike Star Wars, where I’ll watch everything, even if it’s not great). Obviously, I like the Original Series (TOS). While I know I will face some ridicule, I freely admit I like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but that’s the only odd-numbered movie from the Original Series cast I like. Other than that movie, I’m generally an even-numbered guy. I do like Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I’m not a fan of the movies. The trope of “let’s blow up the Enterprise so we can introduce a much cooler (read: flashier) version” was getting tiresome.

I stopped watching both Deep Space Nine and Voyager after the first season. They just didn’t feel like Star Trek to me. The former was too much like “Motel 6 in Space”. The latter was one where I cringed at the idea they might drag it out way too long, and Gilligan would never get off that damn island.

The rebooted JJ Abrams Star Trek started adequately, and then seemed to go downhill rapidly from there. I have yet to see the latest instalment, and after what he did to Star Wars, I don’t want to. I have mixed feelings on Abrams as a creator, particularly when it comes to established franchises. Could I do better? Honestly, I think maybe I could.

Enterprise was okay, although I have yet to finish all of it. I did not like Discovery, and have only seen the first season. The first season of Picard wasn’t bad, but I gave up on season 2 after watching the premier. Sorry, but we already did “the road not taken” in a very good single episode of Next Generation. Seriously, find something original. I tried to give Prodigy a shot, but I’m clearly not the audience.

But I have Faith

Two recent Star Trek series give me some faith that the keepers of the franchise still get what it’s all about. Star Trek: Lower Decks is funny, entertaining, but still Star Trek. It’s most recent season did take a somewhat more serious tone, but not enough to take it away from its basic premise. The key for Lower Decks is that it is not afraid to poke some fun at the franchise. What it doesn’t do is try to deconstruct it, or reconstruct it. It’s self-deprecating, but not in a mean way, and it’s still ultimately Star Trek.

But the most exciting for me is Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Get get to see Christopher Pike before The Cage, before he goes to Thalos IV. He knows his destiny, and the season 1 finale was a brilliant look at what happens if he tries to avoid it. It was also an amazing turn at an alternate timeline The Balance of Terror, where the key elements are the same, but the outcome is very different.

What works for me is that the show is primarily focused on “the planet of the week” approach. Certainly, there’s more of an on-going story, and we are seeing characters develop and grow. But I believe that you can still watch episodes out of order and be entertained by the story. The stories themselves are reasonably deep, without trying to be overwrought or heavy-handed. And the key thing, something that is important to me, is that the Enterprise is a character again.

The Role of the Enterprise

Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.

An important element of the Original Series, and the movies the cast made, was the Enterprise herself. This was something that Abrams didn’t get: she isn’t just the crew’s ride. There is something special about Enterprise. Sure, she’s just one of a large number of Constitution-class heavy cruisers initially, and a Galaxy-class in ST:TNG. But there’s an intangible that makes her more desirable to virtually anyone in Star Fleet. Everyone who aspires to the centre seat wants to command Enterprise.

Enterprise isn’t any faster than ships of her class. She doesn’t carry better or more exotic weapons, or have better defensive systems. She features the same sensor suite, the same crew capacity, and the mission duration. But there’s something about her that makes Enterprise special.

But as the movies progressed, the role Enterprise changed. It started after she was destroyed in The Search for Spock. That was the first time the self-destruct sequence was allowed to run to completion. In essence, she was sacrificed to save the crew (which lead to the far-more entertaining The Voyage Home, which was still very much Star Trek, even though Enterprise was absent). From that point on, though, Enterprise seemed less important. Taking another Constitution II class ship and renaming her Enterprise just wasn’t the same.

Her re-emergence in ST:TNG as a Galaxy-class vessel made her special again. And she was as much a character again as the rest of the crew. Again, she was one of several Galaxy-glass ships. But there was something about her that made her different. But the cycle started again. Sure, I get that the model used for the TV series wasn’t camera-ready for projection on the big screen. That doesn’t mean they had to destroy her (again) and make a fancy, shmancy new ship. But that is part of a different discussion about Star Trek and its highly inconsistent production.

Star Trek Is Back For Me

Between Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks, Star Trek is back in my mind. I have zero interest in Discovery or Prodigy, and it’s time to let Jean Luc rest and tend to his grapes. He’s earned it.

These shows are the Star Trek I want. Okay, some fans want something bigger, broader, or deeper. I get that, and I expect that the keepers of the franchise will keep trying to create for those fans. But that’s not the Star Trek I want.