SPOILERS AHEAD: The new "Star Trek" movies with J.J. Abrams at the helm have turned into commercial successes, but some long-time Trekkies aren't thrilled with the direction the franchise is taking. Check out the Reddit responses to Wil Wheaton's take on Abrams to get an idea of the discussion.
I, for one, am a bit in love with the reboots. Sure, I was suspicious at first. I enjoyed the 2009 "Star Trek" well enough, and thought it clever how it totally wiped out the timeline from the original series and gave itself a new universe to play in for the subsequent films. But it was seeing "Star Trek Into Darkness" yesterday that truly turned me into a fan of the new films. I'm going to tell you why.
My history of Trekkin'
First, let me establish my fandom. My "Star Trek" cred goes way, way back. My mother used to watch reruns with me when I was a baby. Somewhere in elementary school, I got totally hooked on the original series, to the point where I was saving my allowance to buy shiny gold insignias, spending hours poring over blueprints for the Enterprise, and building props out of Legos. I had it so bad that I went to see "Star Trek V" five times in the theater. Perhaps that's not one of my shining moments of fandom.
My family went to see "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" in the theater back in 1982. I still remember the horrible nightmare I had about the worm creature that Khan slipped into Chekov's ear. I didn't have any nightmares after seeing "Star Trek Into Darkness," but I did have a sense of elation about the Trek life that I haven't had in a while.
Accepting the new crew
It all starts with the cast. The new actors, for the most part, manage to share strong physical resemblances with the original actors, which makes it easier to accept them. Benedict Cumberbatch may not look anything like Ricardo Montalban, but his vicious ruthlessness does the character proud.
The film is stuffed to the gills with references geared for fans like me. Hey, there's Mudd's trader ship! Oh look, a tribble! There's an NX-01 starship model! McCoy mentions attending Gorn babies' birthing! Scotty's getting drunk! I'm such a sucker for this sort of attention.
The parallels to "Wrath of Khan" are also heaped liberally throughout the script, though with some twists. This time, it's Kirk getting cooked by radiation while Spock gets to yell, "Khaaaaaaaan!" The sheer cheesiness of that moment made me laugh in the theater, but what was the original "Star Trek" if not super-cheesy?
Some fans have complained about the whole Spock-in-a-relationship-with-Uhura thing, but I'm on that bandwagon, too. I was always rooting for him to get a girlfriend in the original series. Vulcans do end up getting married, and they have to start somewhere, so why not show it? The new warp drive, I'm not so sure about. Is it just me, or does it look like blue fairy dust?
A failure to philosophize
One criticism seems to be floating above the others. It's that "Star Trek Into Darkness" dumps the series' undercurrent of philosophy in exchange for big booms, dramatic fistfights, and lots of firepower. This is true. One thing "Star Trek" almost always did was give a lesson, whether it was moral, ethical, or political. Often, that lesson was doled out with a heavy hand (save the whales, anyone?).
You would have to comb through "Into Darkness" to find the philosophical lesson. Maybe there's a statement about the dangers of genetic engineering. Maybe there's something about how it's always a good idea to keep a dead tribble around, just in case.
I believe the original series helped to set my own moral compass as a child. All that talk and action about the good of the many, doing the right thing, loyalty, and accepting different cultures really made an impact on me. I don't think kids seeing "Into Darkness" are going to get the same sort of feelings I did as a 10-year-old sitting in front of the tube TV after school, hanging on every line of dialogue.
Still, I can't help but believe there must be a way to balance the action and the philosophy. "Wrath of Khan" did it. These new movies can still aspire to reach that level. That's why I'm so looking forward to the next one. After all, another lesson "Star Trek" taught me is optimism. I have a lot of hope for the future of the franchise.