Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Captain's Log: Trek v. Wars, premiere v. trailer, and the Day We Became One Planet

             illustration from UFOP: Star Base 118

As the premiere of The Force Awakens approached, there were a surprising number of Star Wars v. Star Trek debates in the media (for instance, here and here)--so much so that the business-oriented wire service Reuters noticed.

 While fans of each saga can be... fanatical about their favorite, in truth many if not most of them will eventually see both. Paramount apparently saw it that way when they announced that a trailer for Star Trek Beyond will be seen at showings of The Force Awakens.

Though Trek fans were there first in most expressions of fandom, it's hard not to view with awe the dedication of some Star Wars fans. They began lining up to see the new film some 10 days before it opened in Hollywood. Though it was in part a promotional gimmick, this Mashable  story makes it clear that it was also a community expression.

Some participants had done the same thing for previous films--officially as part of this promotion since the first prequel film in 1999, but at least a few who'd lined up at this theatre as children for the original Star Wars (now Episode 4) in 1977. For them, the experience of being together with other fans--including friends they made at similar events for the prequel films--is an important part of Star Wars.

 The premiere itself was huge--taking up three theatres and several Hollywood city blocks--and the advance bookings themselves made The Force Awakens a major hit. Media reports of responses by the first audiences were also highly positive.

 Among his many media interviews, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams did this one with the Los Angeles Times, inevitably commenting on the difference between the Stars he's been part of. This is what he said: "At the heart of “Star Wars” is the idea of the Force. It’s this spiritual thing – it’s almost antithetical to science-fiction. And “Star Trek” is such a science-fiction story."

Abrams speaks eloquently and movingly of the essence of Star Wars. And "spiritual" is a strange word, open to many interpretations. But could it be that he never really got the essence of Star Trek? His comment suggests that possibility.

 Abrams as the director of The Force Awakens must realize that its story and its buzz and its preordained success is based at least partly--and perhaps, at this point before the movie has been widely seen, primarily-- on the fact that the beloved stars of the original Star Wars are in it.

 But apparently as the producer of Star Trek Beyond, he did not see that a movie released deliberately during Star Trek's 50th anniversary year might benefit from tangible ties to its storied past, especially in casting. Granted that Harrison Ford is a huge movie star apart from Star Wars, and Star Trek has no actor of that wattage, not even Sir Patrick. But the crews of Star Trek and TNG are beloved international icons. If some had been included, might we be seeing lines of Star Trek fans camping out for the 50th anniversary film premiere this summer?

On the day of the new Star Wars movie premiere in Hollywood, somebody "leaked" the first Star Trek Beyond trailer, "forcing" Paramount to release it. Some s/f and entertainment sites (like Cinema Blend) were all agog, but fans logging onto Trek Movie were divided, as they were (though a little less so) at Trek Core and (a little more so) at Trek Today.

 Some complained about "Star Fast and Trek Furious." Some of the disappointment was poignant, as the fan who commented: "I'm nearly 25 years old, and I've been a life long Trek fan. My parents were divorced growing up and Trek was something for me and my father to bond over. Now when he and I watch the new films, we just feel sadness and shame."

 As many noted, the trailer emphasized action, and only a rudimentary idea of what could be a complex story was suggested. Most of those who liked it or defended it did so because it looks like an exciting action movie that updates Star Trek, while many (though not all) of those who reacted in the negative said it didn't feel like Star Trek. One comment at Trek Core for instance: "There is nothing of the contemplative, exploratory, intellectual, dreamy, optimistic, humanistic, or political Trek in this trailer. It's being marketed as Fast and Furious in Starfleet uniforms. The characters may be moderately recognizable, but the essence of Trek is dead in this one."

 Apart from those who were definitively disappointed and those who were excited were others who pleaded to suspend judgment of an entire film on the basis of a first trailer.

 Okay. I'll go with that.

 But I will say this. The response of many fans affirms that there is something more than "science-fiction" action entertainment that they value about Star Trek....That there is an essence, a soul of Star Trek, which is as deeply important to these stories as the Force is to Star Wars.

Update: Co-writer and actor Simon Pegg responded to the response to the Trek trailer, saying he was puzzled by the trailer and a bit disappointed. He suggested the movie has more substance than that, and director Justin Lin suggested at least one question about the nature of the Federation that the movie deals with, through the antagonist, while adding some 21st century terrorism-inspired asymmetrical warfare to the alternate universe 23rd.

The Day We Became One Planet 

 It seems the world is catching up to Star Trek technology, with Trek being mentioned when anything develops that looks vaguely like tractor beams or the tricorder, or the TNG communicator pin. But in an even more essential way, the world has unexpectedly behaved as if it is finally growing into the Star Trek future.

 It happened on Saturday, December 14, 2015 in Paris, when delegates of nearly 200 nations passed by acclamation an agreement on addressing the global climate crisis.

 It's taken a quarter of a century from the first United Nations attempt to do so, but the words of the delegates, of national leaders who attended the first day of the conference in force, and of the media covering the event--all emphasized this agreement was made for the future of the planet.

 “History will remember this day,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the pact was sealed by thunderous applause. “The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people.”

 It is the first time that the planet Earth united on behalf of the planet Earth.

 There were no huge apparent changes--nations still dealt with internal and international politics, bombs still fell, terrorism still exists, as does hunger and disease. The challenges remain of addressing climate crisis effects already on the way, and this pact alone may well not be enough to save civilization. But it was a kind of paradigm shift, towards the united Earth that gets its act together at home, and works together to go into space (as some experts say must happen if humanity is to explore what's beyond), determined not to make the same mistakes of invading in the guise of exploring.

 George Takei has said that Gene Roddenberry's vision was of the Enterprise as a Starship Earth, representing the diversity on the planet, working together. That's part of it. But the term "Spaceship Earth," just becoming widely known in the Star Trek 1960s, had another meaning.

 As coined by Buckminster Fuller (designer of the geodesic dome, a U.S. Navy vet and a sailor), "spaceship Earth" was a specific metaphor. Earth, like a ship at sea, has limited resources and must use them intelligently, or all aboard will perish. Gene Roddenberry, a sailor himself as well as a flyer, knew the practicality of that metaphor.

 Just a few days ago, leaders of the world's nations acted on that fact, and the language they used made it clear. The planet is in peril, not by an alien invader, but as a result of what humanity has done--at first unknowingly, and then unheedingly. Now the nations of Earth have begun to unite for the sake of future generations, the future itself, and the planet Earth.

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