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The new Star Trek film now has a name. Star Trek Into Darkness.
So it’s The Empire Strikes Back, then.
I am now (loosely) going to make the case that JJTrek is actually the original Star Wars disguised in a Starfleet uniform. And while this may have added to the “action flick” dynamic of the film, and super-boosted the “golly gee whiz” factor for people who’d never seen Trek before… well, let’s be honest. This was not a traditional Star Trek story. Many have expressed the opinion that it’s a good thing, that this film gave the franchise the shot in the arm that it needed after it languished in the wake of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Not going to argue the point that the film helped or harmed the franchise. That’s a debate for a different post. But let’s stipulate for a moment, that the film helped more than it harmed. My question would be then, Is that a good thing? To make a 40-plus-year-old franchise more popular and appealing by making it look like a completely different franchise?
We know that J.J. Abrams is an admitted Star Wars fan, and his familiarity with Trek is still in relative infancy. Despite the notion that Orci and Kurtzman claim to be big fans, it’s clear that Abrams was channeling George Lucas over Gene Roddenberry when Paramount handed him the keys to the Enterprise.
This is clearly evident in how the story unfolds, the way the characters are presented. Let’s dive in and I’ll show you.
Kirk & Spock = Luke Skywalker
In this version of the story, James T. Kirk is the disillusioned Iowa farm boy with Daddy issues because George Kirk died in the line of duty. Spock is the isolated half-breed who’s misunderstood by his family and teachers, along with the disconnect from his father. Both have to face the fact that home doesn’t have anything for them. Both are alone in their worlds, and this movie puts both of them on the path to their destiny – in this case, to be the super-renowned leaders of the flagship of the fleet.
In the same sense, Luke Skywalker walks in the shadow of his dead Jedi Knight father. He’s alone on Tatooine, misunderstood by his friends (Camie, Fixer, Deak, etc.) and perhaps feared by his family. Luke carries the burden of his destiny without even knowing it, until he gets caught up in events that propel him to heroism.
Those events involve a massive threat to the galaxy – Nero and his red matter bomb, Vader & Tarkin with the Death star – and it’s up to a small group in a single ship, led by a young untested man-boy with no experience, to save the galaxy.
Pike & Spock Prime = Obi-Wan Kenobi
The Hero’s Journey, of course, involves a mentor. Someone to teach him, lead him along the journey from callow youth to hero. And that mentor has to go away, of course. For Kirk, the mentor is Pike. Just like Obi-Wan knew Anakin Skywalker, Chris Pike knew George Kirk, and that sets the bar pretty high for the young James T. to live up to. Pike takes Kirk under his wing, pulling him along to his “rightful” place as the captain of the Enterprise. Let’s forget that whole bit about giving the flagship of Starfleet to a cadet who hasn’t even officially graduated yet.
For Spock, the journey involves his older self. Spock Prime is there to give his insight to his younger self, to lead him into his position at Kirk’s side. Even though Spock isn’t ready either.
In the same way, Obi-Wan brings Luke along on his journey to Hero, putting the boy in a position of authority even though the young man isn’t fully prepared for it. He’s not a full Jedi. He hasn’t earned his stripes in the Rebel Alliance, and yet he ends up leading a trench run and giving orders to Biggs and Wedge.
McCoy = Han Solo
Stay with me, now. This one fits because they’re each the sarcastic “realist” among the respective groups. McCoy with his “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” Solo with his “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” Both of them have a jaundiced eye watching over everything, while holding the heart of gold close to the vest. And they both keep the hero grounded. McCoy has always been Kirk’s conscience. And Solo keeps Luke focused on the reality of their circumstances as they escape from the Death Star.
Nero = Darth Vader
Or really, Nero is a combination of Vader and Tarkin, because no one’s really pulling Nero’s leash. But Nero’s a lot like Vader in that they both were driven to evil by a Really Bad Thing happening to them. Nero loses his world, home to everyone he loves. Anakin loses his mother, who was his whole world.
Take away the whole “Anakin’s a brat” problem that I have with the character. Tragedy defines both Vader and Nero. Their rage and grief drive them to evil.
Scotty = C-3PO
Technologically brilliant. Socially inept. Comic relief. Stranded in the middle of a backwater nowhere with a short companion? Check.
Uhura = Leia (with qualifiers)
OK. This one works only from the standpoint that both franchises have a single lead female character. Uhura was one of the most influential characters to come out of the 60s, showing that blacks could actually achieve success — we’ve all heard Nichelle Nichols talk about her encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in interviews.
Princess Leia was the damsel in distress, but she also kicked her fair share of Imperial butt alongside Han and Luke. She’s a fiercely loyal friend, sharp as a tack (both in intelligence and acid wit). A princess, a Senator. Remember how she stood up to Vader at the beginning of the picture? Identifying herself as a member of the Imperial Senate, not as a princess or any other female-centric modifier.
But the comparison doesn’t quite match 100% in this case because all Uhura did was recognize some Romulan language and abandon her post to run kiss her boyfriend (for luck?). She has spunk, but she doesn’t really do anything to move the story along, except when she needs to be a convenient plot device.
Speaking of The Plot
OK. There’s no damsel in distress, really. No “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” moment. But the rest of the picture parallels Star Wars in its tone and elements. Let’s review:
Isolated farm boys in Iowa and on Vulcan get caught up in the effort to save the galaxy from a Very Bad Guy bent on revenge. Said farm boys join up with a rag-tag group of spacemen in a ship that has more capability than she should (that magic warp drive).
There’s an infiltration into the Narada to save Captain Pike, very much like the descent into cell block AA23, which goes badly and ends in a shootout. Very much like the descent into cell block AA23.
There’s the destruction of a peaceful planet. Do they have weapons? Alderaan didn’t. Maybe Vulcan had a few ceremonial lirpas lying around…
Farm boys end up in charge of the whole operation, flying their magic ship into the heart of the Evil Machine and destroying it from the inside. The Narada, of course, is the Death Star. Spock Prime’s time ship becomes the proton torpedo that goes down the ray-shielded thermal exhaust port.
Vulcan = Alderaan
‘Nuff said, right?
Now, even I recognize that there are going to be times when similar plot elements show up in various different movies. For years, I’ve said that there are no longer original ideas, only original combinations of elements. So it’s no surprise that Star Trek and Star Wars have a passing similarity even without the inclusion of a huge Star Wars fan being in charge of the Trek outing.
The latest Star Trek doesn’t feel like Star Trek. It’s too much roller-coaster and not enough thinking. It plays fast and loose with physics, and it’s a visual effects extravaganza, to be sure. Can you imagine if Paramount had believed in Trek this much back in the days of Khan? The budget? The battle in the Mutara Nebula would have been even more spectacular.
I’m calling it now. Star Trek Into Darkness will be The Empire Strikes Back, going darker in tone. This will be the story where Pike dies. This will be a story where the Enterprise almost buys the farm. Kirk and/or Spock will be confronted with a moment out of the past that changes them — perhaps in a way that pulls them closer together as comrades and friends. It will be a trial by fire for those two.
Khan? Garth? Mitchell? Some new villain? Won’t matter, because in the end, he’s Darth Vader. And the plan will be to crush the Rebellion with one swift stroke.