Where No Plot Has Gone Before: Why the New Star Trek Movie Doesn’t Need a Villain

Since the instant the lights came up in Earth-based movie theatres back in May of 2009, trekkies, trekkers, and normal people alike (I consider myself all three) began speculating as what elements might make up a sequel to the Abrams/Orci/Kurtzman/Lindelof mega-hit. Will it revisit old characters? Will Shatner be in it? Will there be a new Khan? What about the Klingons? What if Owen Wilson played Gary Mitchell? Or Owen Wilson as Khan? Will Hayden Christensen play Charlie from “Charlie X?” What about everyone else? Should they use a new villain or an old villain? Will we get to know the crew better? Where’s Nurse Chapel? Okay, what about Owen Wilson as the voice of the first tribble in Starfleet?

And as fun as these questions are, they are still the wrong questions. The right question is this: what will the interesting science fiction premise be?

At the beginning of the justly derided Star Trek: Insurrection, Captain Picard briefly complains that the Enterprise no longer seems to be on a mission of exploration, but rather constantly running intergalactic chores for the Federation. I always took this as one of those meta-fictional moments where Picard the character had become self-aware and was like, “Get me out of this terrible movie! Let me get back to meeting interesting aliens and solving ethical dilemmas without pointing a gun at somebody!” I am certainly not the first to point out the inconsistencies in tone between the more contemporary Star Trek films and the various TV programs from which they derive. Red Letter Media’s tongue-in-cheek Plinkett reviews constantly illustrate the fact that things that happen in the TNG films would never happen on the TV show. The summation of this premise is this: Trek TV is more classy and thoughtful than many Trek films.

But the 2009 Star Trek movie fixed this, right? Well, not really. At its core Trek ’09 has the same basic plot conflict as Nemesis. Despite being a much better film in almost every single way, the premise still boils down to fairly uninteresting baddie with a doomsday device that’s going to destroy Earth. Looked at from this angle, the climax of every single Trek film from Generations until now all have the same elements of the big climax of the James Bond film, GoldenEye. You’ve got usually two to three guys fighting on some kind of raised platform either outdoors or inside of a spaceship that is sort of big so it seems like it’s outside and they can jump around a lot.

In Generations there was a missile that needed to be stopped, in First Contact a spaceship was going to be blown up, and in Insurrection, Nemesis and Star Trek a planet was going to be destroyed. From a unique science fiction angle, GoldenEye is actually a more interesting movie because the doomsday weapon was going to knockout all electronics in a specific target zone. There was actually a little bit of science fiction social commentary going on with the GoldenEye satellite. Are we too reliant upon our technology? Is a weapon that destroys our technology more dangerous than a big bomb? And while this is not a remotely complex metaphor or plot concept, it is more thoughtful than “red matter.”

Anyway, many people will tell you this is neither here nor there because apparently everyone agrees Star Trek was a solid action movie. This is probably true. But honestly, who cares? As a kid I didn’t get into Star Trek for all the badass action. If that were the case, I’d be a fan of violent movies, which I’m not. Now, I’m guessing most Star Trek fans are with me when I say that the Star Trek movie that is most in the spirit of ALL the TV shows is The Voyage Home. This movie has a fun science fiction premise and is totally something the shows would want to do, but couldn’t because the scope of it is too large. And what’s the best part of The Voyage Home? There’s no bad guy. Even The Wrath of Khan, arguably the best Trek movie has an interesting science fiction premise with the Genesis Device. Without the scientists on Regula I, the entire plot of Wrath doesn’t happen. The interesting science fiction premise drives this movie. And yes, I know the movie is really about Khan, Kirk, and Spock, but it’s not super transparent about it. Star Trek (2009), while very fun to watch, doesn’t even bother with originality.

Now, I’m not saying these guys don’t have it in them or that it’s a lost cause. Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman are famously fans of the whole Star Trek thing. They probably know that what has made Star Trek great in the past is good science fiction writing. The 1960s Star Trek had top SF writers doing scripts for the show. Names like Theodore Sturgeon, George Clayton Johnson, Harlan Ellison, Dorothy Fontana and more! The Next Generation actually accepted spec scripts while it was on the air, and a hot young writer named Ronald D. Moore found his way into the industry from selling one of his scripts to Trek. An established writer named Nicholas Meyer helped save Wrath and also contributed story elements to three subsequent Trek films. All of these writers had good ideas, and weren’t necessarily looking to make a crowd pleaser; they were looking to tell a story.

Again, I don’t think the creative team behind the new era of Star Trek are hacks or anything like that. It’s just in almost every single interview; they discuss or mention things about the possible villain for the movie. It’s as if they and many fans can’t conceive of a science fiction plot without a villain. Who is the villain in “City on the Edge of Forever?” What about the TNG episode “Darmok?” Or the DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars?” How about the Voyager episode “Blink of an Eye?” Hell, if we’re talking about a character piece; who is the villain in “Amok Time?”

As of this moment, though the new film is supposed to be filming this summer, nobody seems to know anything about the script. Further, it’s not even clear if J.J. Abrams is returning to direct. All the cast members seem to have just as many opinions as the fans. Zoe Saldana wants Uhura to “kick some ass.” Simon Pegg wants Nick Frost to play Harry Mudd. None of this should matter. What should matter is an awesome and original science fictional premise. You made a crowd pleaser last time guys, give us something more thoughtful this time.

In short, give us Star Trek.

Ryan Britt is a regular blogger for Tor.com. He has also written commentary about science fiction for Clarkesworld Magazine. His other writing has appeared with Nerve.com, Opium Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn. He thinks the current Star Trek people seem like nice guys and are free to contact him for story ideas.


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