At no point in my life have I ever called myself a fan of Star Trek. My parents were never into it, and I found Star Warsbefore the USS Enterprise. As I grew up and studied history more, I would have happily read more about the historical ship on which the science fiction one is based than the other way around. What I am trying to say without actually coming out and saying it is that I think Star Trek is boring. Wait, I guess I did say it. Oh, well. Such are the vagaries of personal taste. Still, I did watch the movies. I believe I saw all the films associated with Star Trek: The Next Generation, though I cannot say any of them had any impact on me. If anyone drew me into a discussion on the topic (against my better judgement), I would simply say that I was team Kirk (William Shatner) all the way! Picard always seemed too . . . calm. Sure, that is what I will say, calm. Anyway, being firmly entrenched in the Star Wars camp, I was sure nothing good could come from the competition until I saw Star Trek (2009).
Ever wonder how the classic Star Trek characters came to be? No? Well, Star Trek aims to tell you, even if you are a big fan of the cultural icon already and knew these stories from the bits of ephemera dropped in the television shows or fan fictions. When the USS Kelvin is called upon to investigate a lightning storm in space, it turns out to be the emergence of a giant Romulan mining vessel commanded by a determined Nero (Eric Bana). He is after Spock (Leonard Nimoy) because he blames the older version of the famous Vulcan for the destruction of his home world in the somewhat distant future. Nero’s ship arrives from a black hole, and it dwarfs the Kelvin in every conceivable manner. After a short, one-sided battle, the Kelvin’s captain, Robau (Faran Tahir) agrees to go aboard Nero’s ship to negotiate, leaving George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) in charge of the vessel. This is all a ruse, however, and Nero murders Captain Robau and opens fire once more on the Kelvin. Also aboard the smaller vessel is George’s wife Winona (Jennifer Morrison), and she is about to give birth to the one and only James Tiberius Kirk. I use the whole name here because while George orders the abandonment of the ship, he has a discussion with his wife over the baby’s name as he pilots the Kelvin to ram Nero’s hulk in order to cover the others’ escape. Hence, our favorite Star Trek captain grows up without a father, which apparently leads him into being a juvenile delinquent. During this part, we also get to see how the half human, half Vulcan Spock grows up on his home world, dealing with an apparently racist set of compatriots who see him as all human, which seems to be a problem. Their opportunity to meet eventually comes, with a grown-up Spock (Zachary Quinto) turning down an opportunity to enter the Vulcan Science Academy to join Star Fleet. As for the, well, older anyway Kirk’s (Chris Pine) calling to the galactic peace keeping force, it comes following a barroom brawl while drunkenly hitting on Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) reminding him how disappointed his father would be in his son. Captain Pike issues a challenge, telling the young man to beat his dad to the command chair of a Federation vessel. On his first day on the way to the academy, he meets the medical officer who will become another part of the core crew, Leonard “Bones” McCoy. He progresses well through his first three years, albeit cheating on the famous Kobayashi Maru test, until the Federation one day learns of an anomaly on Vulcan. It matches with the disturbance faced long ago by the Kelvin, and because the rest of the fleet is off somewhere else in the galaxy, they call upon the raw Star Fleet Academy cadets to man newly produced ships and head to the distant planet to help. Kirk, though, is initially left off because of the scrutiny garnered from his academic dishonesty, that is until Bones finds a way to get him onto the famous USS Enterprise then being commanded by Captain Pike. Spock and Uhura are there, too, as well as the equally recognizable Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho). Because Kirk has inside knowledge on what is about to happen, he is able to make it the bridge to warn Pike of the trap. Still, as before, Pike goes aboard Nero’s ship, leaving Spock in charge of the Enterprise and promoting Kirk to first officer. This is to be a momentous decision because in the aftermath of Nero destroying Vulcan and Spock watching his mother, Amanda Grayson (Winona Ryder), die before his eyes, Kirk and Spock disagree as to what to do next. So contentious is this spat that Spock decides to strand Kirk on a nearby planet where he happens to encounter the Spock from the future. Nearby, too, is the lone Federation outpost where Scotty (Simon Pegg) is serving, who just so happens to know how to beam a person aboard a vessel traveling at warp speed. Armed with some inside knowledge from future Spock, Kirk is able to get back aboard the Enterprise and convince current Spock that he is too emotionally compromised for command. In turn, they are able to catch up with Nero’s ship as it attacks Earth. Kirk and Spock board the enemy ship to save Pike, Spock uses some of the red matter responsible for creating black holes and destroying Vulcan to dispose of Nero’s ship, and the day is saved. Commendations are given all around, and all the principal people are assigned to the Enterprise.
Phew! There is so much going on in Star Trek that it is hard to contain it all in one synopsis of the plot. Those of you who are familiar with the film will know that there are things that I left out, but one can only do so much without being tedious. Still, despite the breathless action, there are some aspects I can appreciate as a Catholic. For starters, I like the mission of the Star Fleet. Far bigger Trekkies than myself will be able to give a more complete rendering of the so-called “Prime Directive,” but basically Star Fleet is a peacekeeping and humanitarian force. At least that is what they say they are dedicated to in the film. The way it all plays out might suggest otherwise, though Kirk does offer to save Nero as his ship is about to be destroyed in yet another black hole. What is more interesting, though, is the way Spock works through his emotions. Vulcans are a race of people who have supposedly transcended feelings for the cold calculous of logic. They see humans as flawed because us earthlings have not achieved the same aloofness. God created us with all the emotions for a purpose. Even anger, the one Spock seems to have the hardest time controlling, can be put to good use. When Jesus first comes to Jerusalem and sees the peddlers around the Temple area, his righteous indignation in driving them from the premises serves as a purifying act. The movie speaks to the need to put aside logic at times and to do what feels right. This is a lesson Spock learns from Kirk, though one the former is reticent to learn. The Kobayashi Maru test is designed by Spock in order for cadets to have the experience of fear, which to him is another emotion that needs to be conquered. Kirk does not like no-win situations, and cannot see how fear can be simulated anyway, particularly in a test that they are destined to fail anyway. Kirk contends that fear is something that can only be faced in real life situations, and only then transcended. Christianity does not teach people necessarily to go looking for the things that frighten you, but not to run from them either. That is what Spock seems to be doing with his emotions, and as we see in the film when you do so they can re-emerge is some unhelpful ways.
One of the problems with Star Trek is that it is another time travel film. It also changes the time line of the entire franchise. Do I care about any of this? Not really. The less you think about these aspects of the story, the better. Instead, watch it as a fun space adventure. It is one of those movies that does not hold up to logic, despite one of its main characters dedication to it.