Reboots and Sequels and Characters

Star Wars and Star Trek and new characters with old names

My copy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens came in Tuesday. Of course I re-watched it immediately — it is a great movie. I had seen it twice in the theater, the first time with my older sister, the second with my younger sister. I can’t remember the last movie I liked so much I went and saw it in the theater a second time. A large portion of what I like about the movie is the chemistry between the characters, especially Rey and Finn. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega did an excellent job with those two.

I wish I could write characters like Rey and Finn.

Rewatching The Force Awakens made me think a lot about the two big SF franchises I have enjoyed for a long, long time: Star Wars and Star Trek. The two are so dramatically different: Star Wars is mythic fantasy with a SF paint job, and Star Trek is a drama with a SF paint job. I’m not dissing either of them by saying that. I like them both, and every story idea sounds terrible when you reduce it down to a glib sentence. “Giant monsters beat each other up while humans watch helplessly” sounds terrible, but Godzilla (the 2014 one) is a good movie.

The Star Trek I like is The Original Series and The Next Generation. When Deep Space Nine veered off into military science fiction, it kind of lost me, and I never got into Voyager or Enterprise. The 2009 Star Trek reboot and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness left me with mixed feelings. For example, the introduction of the ‘transwarp beaming’ was not only unnecessary to the conflict but also made the whole idea of exploring the galaxy via starship (which is kind of important to the Star Trek milieu) obsolete, and Khan’s magic death-reversing blood was the pure, distilled quintessence of cheap.

The largest part of the problem I had with the reboot is that it felt a lot more like the crew of the new Enterprise were a bunch of entirely new characters who just coincidentally had the same names as the crew from The Original Series. I get that they wanted to tell new stories with interplay between new character types, but why didn’t they just boldly go and put in some entirely new characters?

You know, like they did with Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

The Force Awakens is not a reboot, but that’s one of its strengths, particularly with regards to its characters. The new gang — Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren — are able to stand on their own as new characters, without all the baggage of trying to be a ‘different take’ on Luke and Leia and Han and all. Rey is Rey; she might parallel the young Luke of A New Hope (or the young Anakin of The Phantom Menace) but she is her own character.

(My pet theory about Rey is that she is not Luke Skywalker’s daughter but Anakin Skywalker’s clone. She’s definitely a Skywalker in some way: this is Star Wars, after all. This theory also helps explain how Rey got to be so dang good at using the Force, and why Luke & friends weren’t there for her growing up. This also works with her paralleling Kylo Ren: as Kylo aspires to be Darth Vader, Rey is — at least in a genetic sense — Anakin Skywalker. I doubt they’ll go with this, though.)

Luke, Leia, and Han are back in The Force Awakens, but they really came across as older, as if they really had aged three decades since we saw them last. They evidenced growth. So had the entire Star Wars universe: the galaxy of The Force Awakens is a more-or-less logical progression of the galaxy we left at the end of The Return of the Jedi.

(It was a wise choice to clean the Star Wars slate by relegating virtually all of the ‘Expanded Universe’ material to ‘Legends’ — that is to say, making it non-canonical. Star Wars needed a new story and wedging a new story into all that would have been more trouble than it was worth. Empty your cup, as is said, that it can be filled.)

That’s what they should have done with Star Trek. Rather than giving all these new characters the same names as the old characters, give them their own names and let them be their own characters. The actors they hired — Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana — are good actors. They could have sold everyone on entirely new characters if they had been given the chance. Bring in some of the old faces so they can hand off the adventures to the new. This is exactly what was done with Star Trek: The Next Generation. We didn’t have a new Kirk, we had a Picard. Some of the old favorites — McCoy, Spock, Scotty — stopped in for a bit, but the main characters in The Next Generation were new.

I found the 2009 Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness to be rather blah when I first saw them. Maybe I am being unfair, getting hung up on relatively minor things while ignoring what the new take has brought to the table. I am planning on watching them again — hopefully with a more objective eye — before I see Star Trek Beyond in July. And I am definitely looking forward to Episode VIII (or whatever they end up calling it) of Star Wars when it comes out in…when does it come out? Let me Google that real quick…

December 2017? Ugh, this is going to be a long wait. Maybe I can spend the time working on some of my own stories, with my own characters. The last couple days I’ve been toying with an idea about colonizing Venus via zeppelin habitats…

Or maybe I can get distracted by stuff like this:

Sigh.

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