STAR TREK at 55…is NO Star Trek really “better” than BAD Star Trek? (editorial)

Today is “Star Trek Day“…marking 55 years since the first-ever episode of Star Trek was aired on NBC Television back on September 8, 1966.

In celebration of this special day (at least for us Trekkers), ViacomCBS announced a series of panels that will stream live today at 5:30 PM Pacific Time/8:30 PM Eastern Time from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. These panels and a number of related special events will be free to watch on StarTrek.com/Day. The panels will also be available to stream for free in the U.S. on Paramount+ and Paramount+’s Twitch page. After their initial airing, the panels will be available on-demand on Paramount+’s YouTube Channel and on Paramount+.

To go along with this announcement, the studio released this wonderful montage video…

Seriously, how cool was that? I mean, even if you aren’t a fan of the newer CBS Star Trek series, this whole event is pretty impressive. Indeed, that same Skirball Cultural Center will be running an exclusive Star Trek: Exploring Strange New Worlds exhibit for four months beginning in October. During that time, a new animated Star Trek series titled Star Trek: Prodigy will be debuting not only on the subscription-based Paramount+ streaming service but also on the children’s broadcast channel Nickelodeon. This will be the first Star Trek series in 48 years to be targeted specifically at kids (the next generation of Trekkers).

But that’s not all! Next year will see the debut of ANSON MOUNT as Captain Christopher Pike in the brand new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds…a return to episodic Star Trek where storylines won’t stretch over entire seasons featuring ever-escalating risks, challenges, and dangers. Instead (we’re desperately hoping!), it’ll be good old-fashioned Star Trek the way we’ve loved it in the past.

And of course, we’ve got Q, Guinan, and the Borg Queen coming to Star Trek: Picard, and whatever the U.S.S. Discovery is gonna do now that her nacelles detach. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING is coming up roses.) Oh, and we’ve still got two-thirds of a season of Star Trek: Lower Decks coming out each week.

But hey, let’s stop for a moment and take a look back—way, way, waaaaaaaay back in time (with the help of a Guardian named “Carl”) to a year you all might barely remember because it was soooooooo long ago. That year, of course, was…

2016.

No, I’m not kidding. Remember 2016? Back then you could go on vacation, eat at restaurants, see movies in theaters, and buy groceries without risking your health. Tony Stark was still alive in the MCU and nobody had gotten “snapped” into dust yet (Avengers: Infinity War was still nearly two years away!). No one had ever uttered the words “Baby” and “Yoda” back-to-back. Fans couldn’t wait to see how good the last two seasons of Game of Thrones would be. Britain was still part of the European Union, the phrase “fake news” had yet to be invented, and candidate Donald Trump was going to release his tax returns real soon and would also make sure Mexico would pay for a thousand-mile-long wall along our border.

Man, 2016 seems like a million years ago, don’t it?

It was also the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I mention this for two reasons. The first is because that was the first thing I thought of when I read about the Star Trek Day 55th anniversary celebration a couple of weeks ago: “Hey, where was all this hoopla five years ago when it REALLY mattered?” The celebration (if you could call it that) of Star Trek‘s golden anniversary was anemic…almost as though the studio completely forgot about it until the last minute (which they probably did). Magazines seemed to put in more effort than CBS…

And my second thought, which followed closely after my first thought, was all those whacked-out Star Trek fans on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube who scream the following nonsense (or something similar)…

BETTER THERE BE NO STAR TREK AT ALL THAN ALL THIS CRAP THAT CBS IS PEDDLING!!!

Are you kidding me???

The years leading up to 2016 were miserable for us Trekkies. I mean, sure, J.J. Abrams was nice enough to give us three Star Wars movies that took place on board the U.S.S. Enterprise with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest. But Star Trek had been off the television airwaves (or cable waves or satellite waves) for more than a decade! Prior to that, we fans had been spoiled with at least one Star Trek television series (sometimes two) airing each year from 1987 through 2005. There were kids starting college in 2005 who had never known a world without new Star Trek episodes airing each week.

Then…nothing. For nearly a dozen frickin’ years! Is that REALLY what you want, you crazy nay-sayers? Is “NO Trek” really preferable to “BAD Trek?” And is Star Trek ever really “bad”? (Okay, “Spock’s Brain,” “The Infinite Vulcan,” “The Royale,” “Threshold,” “These Are the Voyages”—Star Trek doesn’t always hit home runs.)

But seriously (and I’m talking to the grumpy cynics out there), would you rather have NO Star Trek at all? Before you answer, consider this…

A good portion of the fans who complain about the new Trek series think they know how to fix the problem, and it’s simple: “Just give us Star Trek the way it used to be—the way we like it. Stop making so many changes to everything.”

But is it REALLY that simple…?

To answer that question, let’s look first at Deep Space Nine. For much of the first season, DS9 struggled to find its identity. Many of the scripts were simply TNG-like stories except that, instead of seeking out encounters with alien races or strange space entities, those characters and entities and anomalies came to the station. First season episodes like “The Storyteller,” “If Wishes Were Horses,” and (shudder) “Move Along Home” all could easily have been Next Gen episodes. There was even a Q episode and a Lwaxan Troi episode. None of them really worked because DS9 was not TNG. But as the show progressed forward and started exploring its own unique aspects, DS9 began moving in new directions that Star Trek hadn’t gone before: politics, religion and spirituality, family, long-term interstellar war, highly serialized stories, and expanded secondary casts.

Voyager started off TRYING to be different (a crew made up of two groups of former enemies, limited resources like torpedoes and fuel, a totally unknown region of space), but it quickly settled into the “same old thing” of also being very similar to TNG. The two crews quickly merged and buried the Hackett (ouch!), torpedoes and fuel and shuttles suddenly weren’t a source of scarcity, and adversaries like the Kazon and Vidiians kept popping up repeatedly (like Klingons and Romulans in the Alpha Quadrant), even though the Voyager was heading away from those areas of space. It took a few seasons for Star Trek: Voyager to develop its own identity separate from just being another TNG—delving into the Borg and what it means to be a sentient hologram and actually prioritizing the main mission to get home.

Enterprise likewise began with “the same only different”—and this time “different” meant calling phasers “phase pistols,” “polarizing the hull plating” rather than raising shields, treating patients with strange space animals, grappling hooks instead of tractor beams, and using shuttlepods instead of transporters. Oh, and let’s not forget oiling each other up…er, decontaminating after each away mission. But really, Enterprise quickly became just more of the same old TNG-type stories (only set 200 years earlier) and didn’t really get interesting until the third and mainly fourth season when the stories went in very new and unique directions for a Star Trek series.

In other words, just doing “the Star Trek that we already know and love” isn’t always the answer. It can become tedious, boring, and uninspired. And sometimes taking a risk (“Risk…risk is our business!”) with a new Star Trek TV series is what allows the show to evolve and improve and bring fans a richer diversity.

And it’s not just Star TREK. Let’s look at Star WARS

If you still think there’s a magic formula of just giving fans more of what they loved before—only with new characters—remember when The Force Awakens came out. Many fans complained that it was just A New Hope redone—only with a female Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 now a rolling basketball, Han Solo back to being a wandering scoundrel (but much older), Dark Vader now an angry teenager witha different mask, the Galactic Empire rebranded as The First Order, and a new and improved Death Star now with an inverted name and the size of a planet instead of just a moon. Fans didn’t consider the sequel film particularly fresh or original…another strike for “Do it just the way you did it before.”

Imagine if fans had demanded “Better NO Star Wars than BAD Star Wars!” and Disney/Lucasfilm had listened.

In the end, what did work was a TV show that few people ever expected to be such a hit. It was a “small” story with no light sabers (until the end of season two), no Skywalkers (until the end of season two), no Millennium Falcon or Star Destroyers or Rebels or Empire, minimal TIE fighters and Stormtroopers, and a main character who wasn’t even a hero so much as a bounty hunter. Oh, and he travels around with a baby version of Yoda while he fights his way out of trouble.

Yes, I’m talking about The Mandalorian—a Star Wars television series reimagined as a cross between a sci-fi Western and the 1970s Japanese samurai epic Lone Wolf and Cub. Based on everything I just wrote, would ANY fan have predicted that we’d all be on the edge of our seats waiting for season three??? Of course not…because it was such a complete break from everything we liked before.

On the other hand, Solo, a movie that sounded like a surefire hit (“When Han Met Chewy”) and gave fans LOTS of what we knew and loved was, at best, meh. My point is simply that both fans and studio executives don’t always know what will resonate and what won’t. They and we might THINK we know, but really, we don’t.

And in many ways, that’s what happened with Star Trek: Discovery and the other CBS Trek series. The studio tried out some things, saw what was working and what wasn’t, and tried to course-correct. Discovery‘s first season was a mess—and even CBS realized that—making numerous adjustments that improved season two and lather-rinse-repeating for season three. Short Treks experimented further. Picard was, for many fans, a vast improvement over Discovery, although still far from Borg perfection. Lower Decks was a completely different experiment—not only embracing (rather than reinventing) 55 years of Star Trek canon but actually lampooning it. Some fans (like me) have enjoyed this, others not so much.

And hey, if you don’t like any of the above, that’s okay too, because CBS isn’t done experimenting yet! In addition to the eagerly awaited Star Trek: Strange New Worlds going back to Trek’s episodic, one-story-per-episode roots, there’s also Star Trek: Prodigy, which will have an opening title sequence that looks like this…

Will Prodigy work? Who knows? But at least the studio isn’t giving up. They are trying new things and, in so doing, building up an ever-expanding library of Star Trek offerings for fans of all ages, genders, and tastes.

So would it be better to have “no Trek” than having to live with “bad” Trek? I say thee nay!!! Because “no Trek” means just that…whereas all of these experiments allow for the studio and writers and producers to learn and grow and improve the franchise. TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise all had to crawl before they could go to warp. They each struggled through their early seasons, leaning from mistakes, trying new things, and evolving into the Star Trek we love.

And of course, Star Trek needs to keep up with Star Wars, right??? Disney is trying EVERYTHING! After The Mandalorian, they returned to CG animation with The Bad Batch, an amazing sequel to the long-running and equally excellent Clone Wars 3D cartoon. Then in the next two years, we’ll have the Japanese-produced Star Wars: Visions, then The Book of Boba Fett spin-off series, then Andor (a prequel to the movie Rogue One), the eagerly-awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series with EWAN MacGREGOR, and the live-action spin-off series Ahsoka with ROSARIO DAWSON. Beyond that, there will be Rangers of the New Republic, The Acolyte, and Lando. Plus we’ve got the next major Star Wars feature film, Rogue Squadron, now in production!

Can you imagine NO new Star Trek while all of this is happening across the street??? Star Trek would quickly die off and fade into limbo—loved and remembered only by fewer and fewer aging fans while Star Wars lives longer and prospers so much more. We can’t have that!

So all I am saying, on this 55th anniversary, is give Trek a chance. Because “no Trek” should NEVER be an option for fans!

Happy Star Trek Day.

31 thoughts on “STAR TREK at 55…is NO Star Trek really “better” than BAD Star Trek? (editorial)”

  1. These event videos always do an excellent job showing that CBS/Paramount does “get” the heart of Trek, even if it sometimes gets a bit lost in the execution.

  2. Star Trek has run its course.

    Star Wars has gone as far as it can go.

    Both have quickly died off and faded into limbo because of the studios and fans mishandling both franchises.

    It’s time to retire both and proceed forward. There are other science fiction worlds out there to explore and enjoy.

  3. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed STD. We’ll see where season 4 goes. STP was a huge disappointment, we’ll see where season 2 goes. LOVE STLD and loved all the new movies aside from the last 15 minutes of STiD. I’m hoping they don’t just give us more of the same in SNW. I think they’ve got the message, we’ll see. Prodigy looks interesting even if not developed for an old Trek fan like me. I for one am glad we have all this new Trek, even though not all of it is good.

  4. I partially agree with your posting. Where I agree is that ‘no trek’ is not an option based on the history of various Trek shows. And I’m loath to execute “General Order 24” on a new trek series out of hand. And it does take a season or so for new shows to settle down.

    But there’s a point where a Trek show deviates so far from the fundamental vision of Trek that it becomes ‘no trek’ for me – Discovery went into that black hole and I watched reruns instead. And when I took up your challenge to watch the end of the last Discovery season I found that too much time had passed and the show now assumed that I knew the characters etc. So it would take an awful lot to pull it back out of the viewing event horizon for me especially given Picard and Strange New Worlds.

    So what is Star Trek to me? First it has to have depth. Watching week after week of Flash Gordon vs Ming the Merciless has no attraction at this point in my life. Second, the show has to ask important questions such as the abuse of power, how to deal with ethical dilemmas, the impact of prejudice and other weighty topics.

    Then I’ll add the value of humor. Whether it be the affectionate teasing of McCoy & Spock and of course DS9’s Quark, there needs to be some light moments as well. If a show takes itself too seriously, I find it hard to take that show seriously.

    There’s one more thing that plays in my view and it’s exemplified by the mess that is Discovery’s Klingons. I did not mind the change from TOS to TNG in both appearance and character especially when “explained” by we don’t talk about that from Worf. It made sense to mess with canon in that case. The change in TNG led to great episodes and so the change was justified. Discovery? Nope.

    My judgement on Trek’s 55th birthday. Picard – engage. Strange New Worlds – “let’s see what’s out there”. Cartoons? Not my thing. Discovery? Too bad.

    1. I agree %100. Discovery ruining the klingons instantly put the series outside canon for me. They could have called them anything but klingon and the show wouldn’t have been near as divisive.

    2. VERY well said, Jerry! I agree with much of this! DSC just flew so far out the airlock, it was long gone and lost on my Wife and I immediately. Yeah, what they called “Klingons”. SO MUCH NOPE!! Sigh. In another post I compared their thought process to Spock’s Brain… “CANON AND CANON! WHAT IS CANON?!” and so they just deleted it. Call it something else… OTHER THAN Star Trek. That’s my 55 cents. 😉 I’m also looking forward to “Strange New Worlds”. So far, everything else, “MEH!” 😛

        1. I’ve watched excerpts of LD, and did watch that first full episode they released. I also read “Spoiler-Filled” reviews, as I do with DSC and Picard. I admit, that I did chuckle a few times at that first LD episode, but over all, I’d rate it a 4 out of 10. Barely watchable. Not horrible, but just not that great. Certainly NOT worth paying extra money per month for… so, “No Trek” is still better than BAD Trek. Holding out hope for Strange New Worlds. It’s going to have a high hurdle to jump, if it’s going to qualify as being worth extra $$ per month just to watch.

          1. Yeah, I felt that “Encounter at Farpoint” was only mediocre at best, maybe a 4 out of 10. So I never bothered watching the rest of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After all, if the first episode doesn’t do it for me, the rest probably won’t either.

            I am, of course, kidding. But you get the point. 🙂

  5. In the words of Captain Picard, I’m going to disagree with you provisionally. Based on the audience scores from Rotten Tomatoes, online comments, online videos, and the sentiment of many Star Trek fans, Bad Star Trek is unacceptable. Discovery & the reboot films hit a new low for many old & new Star Trek fans. While Star Trek 2009 was promising, the later films in the series treated the material like a bad parody. That left a bad taste in many fans mouth. But all the new stuff isn’t bad. The majority of Trek fans like Star Trek Lower Decks and Star Trek Picard. Both Star Trek Prodigy and Star Trek Strange New Worlds look very, very promising.

    Can you blame the fans? Considering the disparity and continuity errors between the series, it’s amazing that between TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT, Lower Decks, & Picard, the writers and producers manage to weave a strong interconnecting narrative. Discovery is a trainwreck in terms of acting, sets, plot, etc. Deep Space Nine & Voyager did a much better job of differing with storyline while keeping sets, costumes, acting, & other elements consistent. I also get it that some fans did like Discovery. I admit there are elements of cool in it. Speaking for myself and fans like me who didn’t like all the inconsistencies, wooden acting, lack of visual continuity, and the abandonment of cannon, I felt like they could have done better. I really feel like the fan films have trounced CBS in maintaining the consistency.

    I feel like fans really wanted the next next generation of Star Trek, DS9: The Next Generation, Star Trek Excelsior, Star Trek TOS (Post TMP) adventures, Starfleet Academy, Section 31, or Axanar as a TV series.

    So I agree provisionally that having Star Trek vs having none is preferrable. But the lows of the reboot films and Discovery was not and is not unacceptable. Quantity is never an indicator of quality. I think that the devil is in the details. With that said, I do appreciate your article and your viewpoints. I appreciate that. Happy Star Trek Day, Jonathan!

  6. Picard was ok. Discovery just isn’t Trek. It needs to figure out its pace and direction, and move into an entirely different universe (like Renegades was forced to). Thankfully the post 2008 films are technically in a different universe. I could live with it all if they’d remove it from canon. That is where it really hurts. So long as the new era stuff is considered canon it ruins the best of Trek.

    1. My Wife and I watched that FIRST episode of DSC that was aired on regular TV. We both LOVE Trek, and were COMPLETELY unimpressed. It was SO DIFFERENT as to not even have the slightest Trek vibe! Other than pilfering a few sound effects from several other Trek shows (I am an AUDIO guy, so I noticed it immediately!) it bore NO resemblance to the Trek we knew and loved. I followed some online reviews & “spoilers”… which all solidly reaffirmed my decision to NOT waste the money on another “cable channel” for a show we didn’t much like. It is as though their thought process went something like Spock’s Brain…. “CANON AND CANON!! WHAT IS CANON?!” and just utterly disregarded it. Utterly. 🙁 Picard, unfortunately, has also taken some wrong turns… but that’s another post for another time. Not happy with that one, either. 🙁 Looking forward to “Strange new Worlds”, though!!!

  7. I suspect this comment won’t be posted, but that’s OK… I can’t just let it slip by without saying SOMETHING. Was the Trump-bashing necessary? Seriously? Compared to what’s happening NOW??? OK, that’s it. Back to the topic…

    Is NO Trek better than BAD TREK? That depends… on how BAD “Bad Trek” really is! If it’s to the point that it doesn’t even RESEMBLE Trek, I’d say that’s as good as “no Trek”… which is how I feel about what’s been going on, lately. I’m very hopeful for “Strange New Worlds”, though.

    Live long & prosper.

    1. What made you think it was “bashing,” Willie? During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump did, in fact, promise to release his taxes at some point “soon” and also that he (as president) would build a “beautiful” wall and that Mexico would pay for it. That’s not bashing; it’s simply what happened in 2016.

  8. We live in exciting times. I might not like all the new Star Trek, but there is plenty to like for everyone. And we can even make our own!

    On another note, isn’t it odd that there aren’t clips from the Kelvin movies in the montage? I thought that with the merger the legal issues that prevented their use were over (and indeed a Kelvin reference was recently done in discovery).

      1. True, but the first ten movies are pretty much an extension of TOS and TNG.

        Also important to consider: before the merger the IP was split between TV and Cinema, so the movies are all in the same basket, copyrigh-wise.

        1. Not anymore, though. But I was simply saying that it wasn’t simply JJ Trek that was missing from the montage. No movie footage was featured, leaving me to conclude they wanted to focus on the small screen versions of Star Trek.

  9. Great article/blog or whatever we’re supposed to call them. 🙂

    For me, I think it’s brilliant that all these different variants of Star Trek are coming out – or ‘boldy going’. And who would have thought that the human race would have so many different opinions about it? I mean is it like we’re all unique individuals or something? I happen to like new ideas so the 3rd series of Disco, for example, was really quite good as long as I suspend disbelief (and as a scientist/engineer I have to do that or find pretty all mainstream SF ridiculous 🙂 And, to be fair, too much realism is incredibly dull).

    My own gripe, which felt unique to me, was the loss of episodes that stand alone so I really hope ST SNW is a massive success. I’m not averse to a series arc, but you should get a feeling of some sort of closure/resolution at the end of an episode. But that’s me, and my pre-streaming service, dyed in the wool, old school viewing opinions kicking in.

    Incidentally, I did like Lower Decks. Ironically, we’ve given Amazon Prime (where it streams in the UK) a rest in our household for some Disney so it might be a while until I see season 2. What I found jarring, and may have put people off, is that in the first episode the characters seemed to be talking a mile a minute. After that, they sort of slowed down a bit or I kind of mentally changed gear to keep up, I can’t work out which. But the stories were fun and the jokes were great, one of my personal favourites: those guys on the Enterprise, they seem to get in trouble every week! (or words to that effect).

    Anyway, apologies for rambling on. The nay sayers can avoid this new era, that’s their choice, but I say long may it continue. If I find something truly awful, it’s simple, I won’t watch it. But I won’t try and ruin it for everyone else.

    P.S. My son and I happened to like Solo. We went into the cinema with such low expectations that we were pleasantly surprised. But, as for Rise of Skywalker, I keep hoping I’ll wake up one day and find out it never happened…

  10. While I agree that no Trek is not better than bad Trek, hopefully we never have to live with no Trek again because that was so difficult, I miss the time when I could honestly say that the worst Trek episode was better than anything else on TV. Either Trek writers have slipped a long way just to put something out or other writers have caught up to the Trek of the TNG/DS9/VOY era.
    *
    I have to comment on the DS9 cast photo you used above…that is my all time favourite and has been my screensaver for many, many years. Trektastic pick!!
    *
    Since the announcement of the actress for the Borg Queen I have a renewed interest in Picard. Also, like many others, holding out great hope for SNW. But I will keep watching the “bad” Trek too, at least for a while, to support the franchise I love.

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