Star Trek: You Can't Get Here From There
by Terence Chua
Here's the thing: JJ Abrams' Star Trek a good
movie. It is
even, I dare say, a great movie - moves along at a great pace, well
directed, has amazing special effects, nail-biting suspense, nice
dialogue and characterisation (well, as much as you can get in a summer
blockbuster), and even attempts to drop in the right Easter Eggs to
So don't think I didn't enjoy it, because I
did and very much so. Rest assured that this movie is worth watching,
wish the franchise the best of luck and look forward to more movies.
But to really, really enjoy it, as a long-time Star Trek
fanboy, you got to do one thing. You have to throw out any idea that
this might be, as the writers and director has claimed, that this
somehow is an alternate universe explainable by changes in time travel.
Because you can't. If you can ignore it, it's brilliant. If you can't,
then... not so much.
Trust me, I tried to make it
work in my head. Some know me as a Doctor Who
fan, but long before that, I was a Star Trek fan.
I had the costume, I ran the local fan club, I've written fanfic, I was
one of the few Trek chronologists on USENET and
can still converse freely about Trek
tech and about YATIs (Yet Another Trek Inconsistency). I am, in short,
much more of a sad, pathetic Trekkie nerd beyond what you can possibly
So trust me when I tell you that, as I was watching
and enjoying the Abrams movie, somewhere in the back of my mind there
was a dialogue going on desperately trying to reconcile what I was
seeing and absorbing with the concept that this was an alternate
universe that still fit within the overall Trek
canon. It's a
game that continuity freaks like me play, and I've done it before. But
there comes a time in any examination and attempt at reconciliation
where fanwanking just can't cut it anymore and you have to throw your
hands up and say that it can't fit.
The basic conceit that the
writers tried to fob off on fans was that this movie wasn't really a
reboot, but that it could actually be explained by some quantum
gobbledegook timey wimey stuff. That this is an alternate timeline
caused by the intrusion of Nero's ship into the past, so killing George
S. Kirk, Snr., the changes in the personal histories of Spock, et al.
are all down to some kind of butterfly effect crap. But it doesn't
work, because it is so obvious from the get go that Nero's entrance
into the past is not the point of divergence.
Let's go back a bit, to "Yesterday's Enterprise". There we see how
ripple effects work in the Trek universe. The Enterprise-C
travels into the future, so is unable to fulfill its role in history
and the effects ripple forward to the present day, resulting in a
completely changed Enterprise-D. Let's go back
to "City on the Edge of Forever" where McCoy's changing history in 1930
Chicago ripples forward to the 23rd Century, or First Contact,
where the Borg sphere going back in time changes history in the 24th
Century. Point being, historical changes ripple forward, not back.
At the time Nero's ship enters the past, the USS Kelvin
is already problematic because the tech looks different, the uniforms
look different, Winona Kirk shouldn't really be on board ship
(civilians don't become standard issue until the 24th Century, and
George Kirk doesn't seem to have the pull to change the rules here).
And you can't meta-wank it away by saying that this is just production
issues (i.e. it was always supposed to look this modern but TOS
production values meant that we didn't see it that way) because that
explanation went out with Trials and Tribble-lations,
which based gags precisely on the fact that things looked so different
One more piece of evidence is that the USS Kelvin
uses Stardates as equivalent to Anno Domini,
which was never the case in any of the other screen versions of Trek.
Also, changes in history don't explain why Delta Vega (a planetoid with
an abandoned dilithium cracking station where Kirk tried to maroon Gary
Mitchell, which appeared in the third episode - and second pilot - of
TOS, "Where No Man Has Gone Before") is suddenly moved from its
location at the edge of the Galaxy to Vulcan's system, close enough for
Old!Spock to view his homeworld's destruction (and yet strangely
remained unaffected by the gravitational consequences, but that's
another rant). Yes, I tried justifying this by saying maybe they just
named it that way, but that's pretty weak, given that it was obvious
that the writers stuck it in as an Easter Egg, and there's no real
logic to the naming convention unless Vulcan is in the Vega system,
which it ain't - Roddenberry established it firmly in the Eridani A
So the universe that Nero (and subsequently Old!Spock) find themselves
in is already substantially different from the
original universe before Nero makes his over-dramatic entrance. It's
not an alternate universe - it's a parallel
one (if you appreciate the distinction). An alternate universe has a
clear point of divergence. A parallel universe developed independently
and any points of congruence are mere coincidence.
yes, TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT are still there, they still happened, nothing
was rewritten, but not because quantum mechanics allows the original
timeline to merrily progress onward, but because it's a whole different
universe altogether. Nero and Old!Spock travelled to the past of
another universe, not their own. So Old!Spock and Young!Spock are not
the same person at all, they're just alternate universe counterparts.
To wit, this is "Spock of Two Worlds", or Trek Earth-2 (or Earth-1 if
you really want to be pedantic, with TOS being Earth-2).
actually, makes Nero even more bugfuck, because he's basically
revenging himself on a universe which has absolutely nothing to do with
the one where his Romulus was destroyed.
Oh, and to complicate matters, Old!Spock might not even be
from the original universe because his ship gives the Stardate
it was built as 2387! That way lies even more madness.
I'm not naive. I can understand that, ultimately, the writers didn't
want to admit this because they thought it might negatively impact the
urge for fanboys to go watch the movie, like the backlash that resulted
from the Battlestar Galactica reboot, even though
in the end
it was amazing. But it sticks in my craw a bit because it's not really
being honest. But that's just me, and I know I'm just being a nerd
about it all.
But there is one thing to be noted, though. One thing missing from this
that would have made it truly Star Trek.
While the movie is a rollicking adventure, and works very well on that
level, Star Trek was almost always about something
quite apart from the action. Even if it was as heavy handed as a
parable about prejudice ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"), or as
insubstantial as a Christ metaphor ("The Alternative Factor"), or as
repetitive as god-like aliens, insane computers or societies based on
Old Earth cultures, it was about something more than just the action in
the episode, some kind of theme or humanistic message. And there's
really nothing behind the movie like that. Something they need to think
about before they can convince me that this is the same kind of Star
Trek I grew up with.
So do watch it, do enjoy it. Just keep in mind this is a re-imagining,
and you'll do just fine.
© 2009 Terence Chua
Terence Chua lives in a secret volanco base somewhere in the Pacific, where he watches dozens of TV shows and movies, often simultaneously, while reading comic books and playing video games. During the day, he fights crime.
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