The Wayback Machine: From Ten Years Ago: July 20-July 26, 2006

Live from the Gamma Quadrant: The Star Trek movie reboot series strips the utopian core out of Star Trek--and continues the process of turning it into a third-rate "Guardians of the Galaxy" knockoff...

A.X.S.: “Star Trek: Beyond” strips politics from the universe:

The television series and some of the films studiously explored the big moral questions facing a bloc as diverse as the Federation, from the limits on cultural integration right through to how a peace-loving organisation should tackle imperial forces.

The three most recent “Star Trek” films strip out these moral and global questions, and instead focus on how to stop bad guys who want to kill a lot of people. 

From Nero in the 2009 film, Khan and Marcus in “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and all the way through to “Beyond”’s villain, these men are maniacs motivated by vengeance and an infantile appetite for military force.

Unlike real and powerful terrorists on Earth, they do not have ideologies. If “Star Trek” were still doing its job on television today, it would be asking questions about how a federation of planets can stick together when one powerful member becomes cautious of integration and votes to quit (with echoes of Brexit). Or how to tackle groups that, like Islamic State, use religion to justify an ultra-conservative social agenda—and abhorrent violence to impose it. 

At the core of “Beyond” is a vague fight against the political concept of unity. In the 24th century, Vulcans, humans and countless other species live and love side by side. Two men can be together and raise a daughter. We see everyone getting along fine on the multicultural, pluralist starbase Yorktown—a kind of utopia that could be a cleaner, man-made planet version of New York City.

But Krall, the villain of the piece, hates the sight of different peoples being friends. He wants to go to war. “Without struggle you will never know who you truly are,” he booms, in his deep, evil voice. Yet Krall’s distaste for unity lacks an explanation of why he finds racial and cultural harmony so distressing and, therefore, a vision of his own ideology (which would presumably be racist or homophobic or with some other backward flavour). Krall is upset at the sight of the different species getting along—but unlike the real world’s anti-integration ideologues, he doesn’t use words to drive divisions between people. The film misses an opportunity to probe interesting questions and test the idea of liberalism. The film misses an opportunity to do what “Star Trek” does best. 

Those hopeful letter writers from the 1980s may be happy to see their calls for inclusion answered, but they would surely prefer it to be done in a way that keeps alive “Trek”’s tradition of exploring today’s issues. America and the West, like the Federation, are based on liberalism and pluralism—but some people still want to break it and cause havoc. As the attacks on the Orlando nightclub in June showed, the spread of same-sex marriage does not mean that sexual minorities can rest easy. We are badly needing an analysis of how Orlando came to happen, and how the killer came to be. We turn to fiction to explain these motivations to us, and we should certainly expect “Trek” to follow the tradition of science fiction in exploring such a moral maze. In “Beyond”, Krall is one such villain, but it is a shame that he is not allowed to go into such specifics. Instead, he just wants to kill everyone. He’s nothing but a nutter with a nuke. This is “Star Trek”: beyond politics.