IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Fellows > Athena Andreadis
Reflections on the New Star Trek
Athena Andreadis   May 13, 2009   Centauri Dreams  

I assume that anyone not in a silently running nuclear submarine has seen Star Trek reboot (henceforth ST||, for parallel timeline) by now, so I won’t be coy about spoilers.

My first impression was positive: I felt that it captures and renews the essence of its source without servility or campiness. It’s playful, energetic and based on a reasonably clever conceit. It eschews the tiresome snarkiness and angst of contemporary SF, retaining instead the original ST’s brightness and optimism. It’s an alternative universe fanfiction, in the best sense. Last but not least, Uhura is a bit less of a prop and Spock a bit less of a prig, of which more anon.

Alas, after the euphoria subsided, several problems became obvious besides the standard-issue bogus science – which includes the dreaded, dreadful red matter and (yet again!) a leaky black hole horizon. I think that I, like many of the old(er) cognoscenti, was so relieved that ST|| is not the disaster it might have been that I was willing to overlook a lot of asteroid debris.

The original Star Trek generally opted for civility and diplomacy, employing violence only as a last resort. However, today’s Hollywood, along with several other segments of US society, seems to have firmly convinced itself that negotiation is not for real men. As people increasingly become beleaguered cubicle drones and deracinated couch potatoes, their tastes have reverted to the primitive: men and women are reduced to no more than the presumed primary attributes of their genitals. Besides, ST||’s almost exclusively male cast is in the high-testosterone age bracket. As a result, ST|| adopts the standard stance: maximum force as the first and only response to conflict. Even the nominally restrained Vulcans are bullies in this re-imagining.

My other quibbles were that the villain is a stale, boring cross between an orc and a Matrix goth and his evil drill might as well be called the Death Star; the new Kirk is even more annoying than the old one and the director must be aware of this, since he denies him the lone eligible woman’s favors; Spock Prime’s expositions and exhortations flagrantly violate the prime directive of Show, Don’t Tell, diminishing the Kirk-Spock friendship in the process; and the fist- and sword-fights look silly when the characters have phaser guns.

For me, the greatest loss was that of Vulcan, because this turn of events precludes the opportunity to explore that culture in depth. The last ST series, Enterprise, became truly fascinating when it started delving into that aspect. The decisions to destroy Vulcan and to make the Federation more prone to shoot from the hip make ST|| less unique, less nuanced, less adult, closer to the usual conventional action flick geared to pre-adolescent boys of all ages. Destroying Vulcan was also probably a way to make this Spock’s feelings be permanently closer to the surface — but I hope that they will at least allow him a wider emotional palette than just anger. Certainly the embrace on the transporter pad gives him borderline snacho status.

Which brings me to ST||’s women, all two of them. Amanda meets the classic fate of every good mother in Hollywood: a death that gives her son an excuse to go on convenient rampages. Uhura fares marginally better, at least on paper. She’s a gifted linguist and assertive despite her tutu – er, uniform. Even so, she is still carefully excluded from all the action, whereas each of her male peers is given at least one major scene of derring-do.

ST|| is an odd-numbered film in the series, so I’ll give it a long space tether. However, if Uhura degenerates into the Angel in the House or if the certain-to-come sequels become more generic, I will put ST|| permanently in the same category as Star Wars. Those who have read my essay on Star Wars know how dire a fate this is. And though my wrath may not equal that of Khan, if enough of my ilk get disaffected we may abandon all the old lumbering dinosaurs and manage to relaunch the real McCoy — the Firefly-class starship Serenity, with its true love of endless skies and its persistent aim to misbehave.

Athena Andreadis served as a fellow of the IEET from 2007 to 2009, and is an Associate Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek.


I went into the film, with high yet nervous hopes. I came away with the following conclusions. The bad guy was under utilised, Spock Prime broke his own advice to Kirk by appearing in plain view in front of young Spock, and the movie was great. Exactly who were you expecting them to negotiate with? The future of Star Trek has been changed, and changed for the better. Uhura will become more of a factor as Spock struggles to become more Vulcan and pushes her away. We may learn more about Vulcan society now that they are an endangered species. Stop whining. Oh yeah… long live Firefly.

Who’s whining, white man?  I had a blast!

I agree that the now-rare Vulcans may undergo a cultural realignment (or at least gain a higher profile in the sequels).  For sure, their men will have to go into heat more often—for the good of the species, naturally!  As for Spock vis-a-vis Uhura, I hope they don’t re-tread the irritating Nurse Chapel plot device.  Not only will it sink their box office take, it’s also illogical: after all, he needs to beget enough babies to do his part in keeping his paternal species biologically viable.  Hmmm… scenarios start swirling… a fertile line of thought, in more than one sense! (*laughs*)

Uh… my only issue with your article is about the whole not willing to negotiate thing. They were never really in a position to negotiate and Nero wasn’t ever planning on it either. That would be like you negotiating with a hungry mountain lion in the wilderness. Its just not going to happen. If you notice Cpt Pike did offer up negotiations to be held offworld with the Romulan leaders. But obviously that wasn’t going to manage itself. You also have Kirk later in the film offering Nero the opportunity of peace. Which obviously didn’t go the same. Just because they didn’t spend 20 min trying to find a way to negotiate doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. They were obviously facing a drastic threat that wasn’t going to work with negotiations.

However much love for the Firefly shout out.

Kyle (and MysticStrummer), what makes you think I was referring exclusively to the Federation side?  I said _the film_ opts for the maximum force mode, not the good guys. My point was a more general one—that the universe of the reboot is overall less civil and more bellicose than its predecessor.  This theme is in keeping with today’s unsettled global political climate but it also propagates the formative American myth of redemptive violence so eloquently described by Walter Wink.

I agree that there are some foes that you cannot negotiate with (the creature of Alien, the hostile Terminator models and Firefly’s Reavers come instantly to mind).  In real life, of course, we sometimes have to negotiate with such foes, unless we can contain them or neutralize the repercussions of their actions.  Which is another reason why finding more habitable planets besides our original one might be a very good thing!

One of the things I’ve always liked about ST is that alien cultures had some real depth to them.  Their values, their arts, their heroes (like Surak and Kahless) all added to the overall fabric of ST.  So the loss of Vulcan, the second most important planet in the ST Universe, was very painful.

With the next movies in the series, I wonder if Vulcan might not become the Twin Towers of the Federation:  something that, in its absence, somehow becomes more visible.  Eight years later, the NYC skyline still looks wrong to many people, and I can imagine that an empty orbit around the Vulcan sun might seem equally wrong to the Federation citizens.  I wonder if JJ Abrams might not try to explore the theme of the loss of Vulcan, and the impact this has on the rest of the Federation, as the series continues.

John, I wholeheartedly agree.  Seeing Alderaan in A New Hope felt abstract—we’d never met these people or their culture, we don’t even know what the planet looks like.  Vulcan and its people, on the other hand, had featured prominently in all the Star Trek incarnations.  They were part of the tribe.

Your more general point about cultures having depth in Star Trek is equally valid.  From Vulcan to Qo’noS to Bajor, the series writers strove to flesh these worlds out.  This treatment is akin to the Le Guin SF writing trope, which is neither space opera nor cyberpunk but “anthropological”—a particularly rich and satisfying vein, in my view.

I enjoyed watching it for what it is, ie an action flick set in a sci-fi setting. The Star Trek universe, like many, is not a likely representative depiction of the future, so it is best when it presents us with reflections on our contemporary concerns. I guess, as you say Athena, that currently that means war and show of force, sadly.
So, it was nice as an action flick, but indeed it is no Firefly/Serenity, which despite its flaws kept getting ever better - like all Joss Whedon shows, he had to work out the bugs and get us hooked, but his universe and stories and characters kept growing.

I was shocked and saddened at the loss of Vulcan but I quickly realized that it was a great opportunity for the writers of future Star Trek 2.0 films and novels to explore the evolution of Spock in the context of Vulcans being an endangered species (and their damaged relationship with Romulans)

I was disappointment with the last Star Trek: The Next Generation film, ‘‘Nemesis’‘, so I will always be convinced that a film adaptation of Diane Duane’s ST:TNG novel ‘‘The Devil’s Heart’’ (with a few changes to reflect the fact this is their last mission) could have been the greatest Star Trek film of all. If you read and enjoy the book, you will understand. 😉

That being said, I’m surprised Athena Andreadis or some other IEET Fellow hasn’t reviewed the FOX science fiction TV series FRINGE in light of it’s treatment of the fringe science of transhumanism, it’s tongue-in-cheek references to the Star Trek 2.0 film, and the fact that it may be an homage to the original Star Trek series episode ‘‘Mirror, Mirror’‘, which introduced the Mirror Universe and the goateed evil Spock…

Ooops! The great Star Trek: The Next Generation novel ‘‘The Devil’s Heart’’ was written by Carmen Carter (not Diane Duane).

Hervé, I’ve said elsewhere that Serenity is perhaps the best space opera film ever made.

Anonymous, I have such working hours these days (let alone the blog essays!) that I watch almost no TV. Your description sounds intriguing! Now I’m curious

Wow.. Never knew this article featured here too? Still, enuff said about J. J. Abrams and his thoughtless Jingoistic update to the ST franchise, (my rants against this dumb ass movie are out there in cyber space somewheres?)

So back to the genuine - Joss Whedon. Any Firefly fans out there? This series was never aired on UK TV and it was cancelled in the US by Fox 2002 after only eleven episodes, why? Yes, I know the answer, but why?

Serenity (the movie) is one of my “top ten all time”.. and the Firefly series is just “Shiny”.

Now if the GOP only realised the true potential here for promoting this style of “retrospective future” perhaps they could sponsor a Fox revival?

Post? Have you seen this? Does it re-run in the Mid-west?

But seriously, its all about some masterful scripting, characterisation, and ethics man. Great stuff!

You know…every Star Trek movie seems to have this kind of response. Mixed reception. The new one being held to the same high standards is kind of a “welcome to the club”.

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