The Trek movie franchise is dead, again.
The last time I was really excited about a Star Trek movie, it was Generations. I had missed The Voyage Home in the theaters, being only 12 years old, So The Final Frontier was my first theatrical Trek, which completely underwhelmed. I dutifully trekked out to watch Undiscovered Country, but had no real interest because TNG had already been on TV for a few years and completely replaced and redirected my Trek fandom. (Worf’s grandfather was a nice cameo, but that was about it). Generations, though, was the Big Thing. It was going to be everything I ever wanted – old Trek, new Trek, Kirk and Picard. Even the absence of Nimoy and Kelley didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. While I was watching it, I kept trying to convince myself how awesome it was. But at the end, even the (admittedly, magnificently executed) set-piece sacrifice of the Enterprise-D just felt like a tired retread of what Trek had done before.
Afterwards, I watched the new movies just as dutifully, but more out of obligation than anticipation. First Contact just turned me off entirely, packing too much Borg retcon and comparing poorly to Deep Space Nine, which was doing exciting and insane things. Poor Worf just looked bored and eager to get back to the station. I didn’t even bother watching Nemesis, predicting (correctly) that it would be a retread of Khan; and they didn’t even give us a primal yell moment. I ended up watching Nemesis on a plane and didn’t feel like I missed anything.
I keep using the word retread for a reason. The next batch of Trek movies set in the Abramsverse felt like they were trying too hard to make Star Trek into Star Wars. Couple that with the massive retcon underway with Enterprise, and it felt like there was just no real Trek left. And of course, they did a retread of a retread, with Kirk and Spock and Khan all over again, which just felt like an insult.
Beyond changed that. It was comfortable in its own skin, it was fun, it felt like Trek. But it was too late. And because Hollywood is expensive, and actors have contracts, and movies have to compete with other ones, the long march to finally getting a good Trek movie was just unsustainable. There will be no Trek 4:
As of now, Star Trek Discovery is apparently delivering action-packed Star Trek-worthy thrills on CBS All Access while Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville is going the topical sci-fi and talk > action interstellar adventure route over at Fox. Not only is the Bad Robot Star Trek franchise not the only (or biggest) Star Wars-type series in town, it’s not even the only major Star Trek option for fans and general consumers. And with Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth apparently refusing a pay cut (from contracts foolishly negotiated before Star Trek Beyond opened), Paramount had little choice but to walk away from a movie likely to cost as much as Transformers but earn about as much as Bumblebee.
And I am really, 100% positively, absolutely okay with this. Chris Pine has better things to do than to play Kirk, and that’s fine. Quinto’s Spock was cool, but Spock is like Superman – more of an archetype than tied to any one actor. And the “new” Enterprise could never really compare to the old one, especially when we get to see her again in all her modern television glory at last.
If not for Beyond, I’d be saying good riddance to the Star Trek movies. Instead, I am saying Rest in Peace. Star Trek is best when it has time to develop its characters, craft its message, and take its time. Star Trek is about exploring the human condition, with space as a proxy, in the best tradition of science fiction. It never wore the mantle of blockbuster thriller all that well.
Star Trek belongs on television. With Discovery, the upcoming Picard show, and even Orville out there – the ethos of Trek is alive and well, on the small screen. The next generation of Trek is back home.