Aphelion Issue 232, Volume 22
September 2018
 
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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 long-time fans.

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 imagine.

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 even further, 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 back then.

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 system.

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.

So basically 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).

Which, 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.

But 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 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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