Star Trek Reboot: The Perfect First Installment
With the 55th anniversary of the launch of the Star Trek franchise, it had me thinking about one of the most important questions that harkens back to the original series. Over the years, we’ve seen origin stories for The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise on television. The comics and novels presented different versions of the Enterprise crew’s first mission together, from Vonda McIntyre’s novel Enterprise: The First Adventure and the DC Comics tale “All Those Years Ago…”, among others. But just how did the crew get together?
By the mid-2000s, the franchise had pretty much died out. Enterprise suffered a premature cancellation, and Star Trek: Nemesis bombed at the box office. The overglut of Star Trek had reached the point where fans were tired and ready for something else. Other series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and the highly acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica, were giving the fans what they wanted: an alternative. It seemed that, except for the comics and novels and endless reruns and DVDs, the future of the Star Trek franchise was on life support. If it was to survive, it needed a shot in the arm, and badly.
Enter Jeffrey Jacob Abrams. The writer and producer of Regarding Henry and Forever Young, and the creator of Felicity, Lost, and Alias had only one directorial credit to his name, in Mission: Impossible III. What could he bring to the failing Star Trek franchise?
What he gave us was the perfect combination of a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, and an origin story all in one. When a Romulan invasion force travels from the future to the past in search of Ambassador Spock, they are determined to destroy anything and everything in its path until they accomplish their goal. Years later, with the launch of the new USS Enterprise, led by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the crew determines the cause behind the Romulans’ attack, leading to the rise of a headstrong young cadet named James T. Kirk to take control and find his destiny.
The most important part of this new version of Star Trek was also the most difficult: the casting. Would the audience accept a new cast in the roles that had been made famous for the first twenty-five years of the franchise? Abrams couldn’t just bring in anyone to fill those shoes. They had to be pitch perfect. Chris Pine couldn’t just simply be a replacement for William Shatner; he had to make Kirk his own. Zachary Quinto, fresh from his work on the series Heroes, was the perfect choice to take over as the new Spock. The other supporting cast members – Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and the late and sorely missed Anton Yelchin – could take over for Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig as Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov, and we could accept them as good replacements.
But for me, the casting of Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard McCoy was the key selling point for the film. Urban totally nails down everything that DeForest Kelley gave to the role, right down to Bones’ crabbiness that made him a beloved member of the Star Trek family for all those years. And given that Urban has had a successful career outside of the franchise, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Red to the Amazon original series The Boys, his portrayal of Bones solidly won this longtime fan over.
The prologue itself has just as much punch to it, in that we are introduced to the USS Kelvin, for which the term “Kelvin Timeline” was introduced to refer to this branch of Star Trek and its corresponding films, comics, video games, and novels over the past decade. And we are also introduced to a young actor who would make his film debut and go on to greater fame, in the years that followed, as Thor. Of course, I’m talking about Chris Hemsworth, who would have made an equally good successor as Captain Kirk in his own right.
And of course, we cannot forget the return of Leonard Nimoy to the franchise. His return to Spock since 1991, when he’d appeared in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and the Next Generation two-parter “Unification”, was warmly received by longtime fans and a welcome boost to the story itself. His portrayal as the elder Spock pushes the story forward with a plot twist that is eventually realized in a pivotal moment by both Pine’s Kirk and by the new cast altogether that opened the doors for future possibilities.
Of course, the new film was met with skepticism and even harsh criticism from some longtime fans who felt that the optimism of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision was replaced with action, glitz, and an overall reliance on annoying lens flares. And other people savagely trashed the film, going so far as to cry out, “Abrams raped my childhood!” Absurd claims indeed.
Say what you will about the 2009 Star Trek. It proved to be both critically and commercially successful at the box office, earning over $257 million in the United States alone, becoming the most financially successful film in the franchise. The Blu-ray release would prove equally successful, further exploring the development of the film and offering further glimpses into the story itself, including the birth of Spock and a subplot including the Klingons that was ultimately excised from the film. For me, the final product is just right as it is, in terms of length and story.
A lifelong Star Trek fan since the age of six, Bill Williams has written and reviewed numerous Star Trek novels, videos, and products since 2001 for TrekWeb.com. He has also contributed material to the 2006 publication Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion from Simon & Schuster, and has written and published several independent books. He currently contributes articles for CapedWonder.com and maintains a writer’s page on Facebook.