Why I'm Not Excited About Star Trek 2

Like pretty much every scifi nerd with disposable income in his pocket, I went to see J.J. Abrams 'Star Trek' in 2009, lured by the siren call of a Trek movie that, for the first time since First Contact in 1994, didn't look like it was designed specifically to suck.  Fifteen years is a long time to wait for a good Trek film, and I was understandably helpless to resist, even in the face of all that damn lens flare.

But a funny thing happened.  I loved the first section, with George Kirk, but as soon as the plot really got rolling with his son my interest started dropping, and largely never picked back up again.

So, there are rumours abounding about Star Trek 2; Roberto Orci has said they have a script waiting for Abrams' final approval, and Zoe Saldana inspired a micro-fury on the Trek blogs when she hoped her Uhura could get to kick some Romulan butt next film.  But I just can't work up any interest in this film, and I think the reason why has to do with what I have always seen as the sort of 'soul' of Star Trek.

When Star Trek was first produced, it featured a female first officer, and the second pilot introduced an African-American woman and a Japanese man as figures of respect and authority.  This was, of course, huge in 1966, just two years before Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated and less than a generation removed from the 'yellow peril' and the horrors of Imperial Japan.  That it later added a Russian man, at the height of the Cold War, spoke to the show's commitment to a sense of a brighter future. And, to varying degrees, those Star Treks that came after the original have tried to continue that tradition.  The Next Generation introduced a blind man first at the helm, then transferred him to Chief of Engineering, and actually spent a whole episode on a legal plot to demonstrate not only why the android Data was himself a person, but why non-personhood extended to thinking machines in general would be tantamount to slavery.  Deep Space 9 had a black captain and a female first officer who had been a terrorist quite recently, and later introduced several genetically enhanced people, showing both the good and ill that such technology could produce.  Even Voyager tried, and though I personally don't feel it succeeded as well as the others, the Doctor continued and expanded on Data's earlier struggles for synthetic personhood, while a female captain and a Native American first officer rounded out the cast, at a time when women were far less than equitably represented amongst the leadership of any industry you care to name, and Native Americans were lucky if they were allowed to show up at all.

But what does J.J. Abrams' Star Trek offer?  A woman answering the phones, a Japanese man who fights with a katana and a Russian puppy-like ensign.  What was revolutionary in 1966 is rather less so in 2009, and that lack of representation rankled me.  Where was the homosexual officer?  Why aren't there any Arabs or Muslims in the future?  Star Trek, to me, is as much about a vision of a more egalitarian future as it is about any specific story, and the total disinterest Abrams' Star Trek demonstrated in showing us any kind of meaningful advancement from where we are now just made it difficult to latch on to.  Of course, African-Americans still have a long way to go to achieve real equality in many parts of the Western world, but just a year later Barack Obama was elected president.  And Stargate SG-1, that notoriously fluffy bit of scifi guilty pleasure, managed to deal much more interestingly with actual ex-Soviet Russians, something you'll hardly be able to fit into the 23rd century. 

Star Trek thrives on its characters, and the characters of this new Star Trek just aren't that interesting.  Most of them are less fleshed out than their 60's predecessors, with the new Sulu even managing to lose a point by going from a European rapier to a Japanese katana for his sword fight scene.  Zachary Quinto's Spock is the only even moderately interesting character in the whole film, but one good character does not a successful film make.  So when it comes time for him to put on those pointed ears again, I think I'll just sit the theatrical run out, and maybe check it out on dvd.


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