Since it’s on my mind, let me give a belated commentary on the latest “Star Trek” movie, a fine piece of work. Specifically, I want to address why I think the writing worked so well. (This is, of course, in addition to the well-done visuals, acting, and overall directing.)
The script of this “Star Trek” movie is a throwback to ancient mythology. Being presumably already familiar with the name James T. Kirk and Spock, or at least, having heard enough buzz to care, the viewer is presented with a creation myth: the birth of a Hero. Specifically, the birth of James Tiberius Kirk on the first, and last, day that his father takes command of a starship, destroyed by a vessel from the future that sparks a parallel timeline like an official piece of fan fiction: same characters, different story, only with a multi-million dollar budget and big-name directing. It’s also a rather brilliant setup for a franchise reboot.
So, with a distinct “the more things change, the more things stay the same” vibe, the characters wind up where they’re “supposed” to be, but in different ways. We also see an early display of emotion from a young Spock when his world’s equivalent of Draco Malfoy insults his mother, his father’s marriage to her, and identifies her occupation as the world’s oldest profession. (Let the record show that I believe this would test even the coldest of children.) Less childish was Spock’s acceptance to Vulcan’s science academy being accompanied by a compliment at Spock having exceeded expectations despite his disadvantage.
Spock inquires as politely as he can, “What disadvantage?” The reply is, “Your mother.” Not, “Your half-human heritage that gives you a lesser propensity to control your emotions like a real Vulcan,” but rather, “your mother.” Spock consequently declined the “honor” and chose to study elsewhere. Never have I heard, “Live long and prosper,” spoken with such dripping sarcasm. I found this not only refreshing, but quite funny.
Kirk’s supposed failings foreshadow his successes: hacking an “unwinnable” simulation designed to instill a fear of death and failure and to ensure that candidates for command perform coolly under fire in spite of that fear, therefore refusing to acknowledge either fear or failure; obtaining aid from future Enterprise Chief Medical Officer, Leonard McCoy, a fellow Academy student, to get on the Enterprise in spite of his disciplinary hearing not being over and therefore being officially grounded; and coveting the captain’s chair to the point that nothing else is acceptable to him.
In true heroic fashion, Kirk is aided by a slowly growing ensemble of supporting characters, never relinquishes his human failings (indeed, getting the young Spock to acknowledge and accept Spock’s own half-human, half-Vulcan failings, thus “defeating himself” in preparation for defeating his enemy), and is the beneficiary of some unlikely yet not wholly unbelievable assistance, increasing the sense that this is a man with a destiny that shall not be denied.
Thus, we have a franchise rebooted by a new creation myth, complete with a science fiction-approved parallel universe triggered by time travel, complete with an Old Spock to give Leonard Nimoy something to do while he’s still around, giving New Spock and New Star Trek a tangible link to the past, as well as helping both the audience and the characters avoid some logical pitfalls in favor of allowing the tale to continue. Thus, New Spock is quietly, without openly admitting it, trusting his gut even before the credits roll. Now that’s progress.
Star Trek was like one of those ancient monuments raised by pharaohs marking the southern edge of their realm, declaring that (and I paraphrase), “Whoever defends this border and expands upon it is an heir to my throne; whoever does not, I don’t know you.” By creating heroic origin myths, the men and women behind this movie paid homage to what had come before them while providing a retelling of the original tale.
Now, they are ready to expand upon the legend itself.