Star Trek 11: The Obama Factor

After years of inactivity, Star Trek has been re-energized by J.J. Abrams, and supposedly transformed in such a way that connects it to its roots while making it relevant again.
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When I was a kid, I was old enough to appreciate the original Star Trek TV series only after it hit syndication. Like most fans, I became way too familiar with each of the original series' episodes (sometimes shown twice a day), and like a lot of my friends, I was caught-up in the hoopla of its bland movie re-launch. Until this point in my Star Trek indoctrination, my emotionless devotion was more a product of habit than passion. But just a couple years later, I finally was converted, becoming a true fan after viewing Kirk & Co.'s The Wrath Of Khan about eight times. During my self-inflicted brainwashing, I even concluded that this film was much better than Star Wars (which caused many unnecessarily heated debates at parties). I geekishly gauged life as those periods between new Trek movies until the late '80s/early '90s when I became addicted to Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as its first two theatrical adventures. Unlike some of the franchise's more devout followers, I never attended conventions (let alone dressed-up for them), and I never studied the Klingon language nor felt comfortable around anyone who had. I just tuned-in weekly for the series' depiction of a future teeming with unlimited potential, where virtually anything was possible through dedication, hard work, loyalty and camaraderie--you know, the stuff our parents taught us.

Anyway, with only the best of intentions, Rick Berman and those guiding Star Trek's journey killed that future by trying to hip it up, replacing Gene Roddenberry's bright vision with a dark militarism. With each successive spin-off, Star Trek's original optimism became hidden better than any cloaking device could achieve due to its serialized, seemingly endless conflicts. As clever and talented as its caretakers were, once Patrick Stewart's and Brent Spiner's Next Generation tent folded--and we have to give this ensemble and its writers/producers major kudos for maintaining its unparalleled level of artistic integrity in sci-fi television--all things Enterprise finally succumbed to plotlines and acting chops that were no longer engaging, just time-consuming. Revealing dialog was replaced by "realistic" disagreements that sometimes screeched more obnoxiously than sibling spats. Still, in order to keep up with the mythos, millions of us watched Deep Space Nine and Voyager until the totally implausible series Enterprise came along, after which the franchise's remaining fans finally were burned-out on what was now pure soap opera with an occasional flash of brilliance. What made this more upsetting was that the powers that be always had the ability to re-Roddenberry the property and keep that once loyal fan base's interest. But Star Trek's followers mostly moved on to boundary-pushing upstarts such as Babylon 5 and Farscape--these newer entities boldly going where no one had gone before in sci-fi. By the time the magnificent Battlestar Galactica reboot kicked-in, it was game over for the Treks, including the movies that had degenerated into the coffin-sealing Nemesis debacle.

Now, after years of inactivity, Star Trek has been re-energized by Paramount and director J.J. Abrams (son of TV-movie producer Gerald Abrams), and supposedly transformed in such a way that jump starts the property by connecting it to its roots while making it relevant again. The latter was always the charm of the original TV series, its episodes rich in political statements, reactions to Cold War sentiments, and social injustices. Arriving next year, this new Star Trek movie will reintroduce the franchise's initial themes of "hope" and "unity," its mission playing into the message of "change" that Barack Obama champions (and, with any luck, will be enacting as our next president). Abrams, a reportedly unapologetic Obama supporter, is quoted in Entertainment Weekly as saying, "I think a movie that shows people of various races working together and surviving hundreds of years from now is not a bad message to put was important to me that optimism be cool again." And though his name has not been uttered despite all of the blurbs we've read about this new Trek endeavor--like Zachary Quinto's shaving his eyebrows for the "Spock" role, Leonard Nimoy's appearance, and the great William Shatner "snubbed"/"not snubbed" confusion--Gene Roddenberry, most likely, would be proud of Abrams' restoration of his positive premise. In a post-9/11 world, it can be difficult not to be cynical and contemptuous of anything that even hints of "Kumbaya." Yet that's the world most of us would like to live in, evidenced in our desire for change for the better and our enthusiasm when it comes to the presidential candidates that espouse it. I'm hoping this Star Trek is all that it intends to be because I would love to visit again something that I once took for granted and missed dearly once it was gone...our amazing future.