Since the dawn of Trek-fandom, there’s been a preponderance of conversation in various media (from fanzines to podcasts, to panels at conventions to online articles) detailing all the ways an iteration of Star Trek both does and does not achieve its Star Trekkieness. This weekend, as Star Trek Beyond arrives, most fans are both holding their breath hopefully, but also, sharpening their Klingon bat’leths in case it’s not totally up to snuff. So, if you’re a hardcore fan like me, I do need to prep you for some stuff that could potentially ruin this for you, particularly if you’re bringing in certain kinds of space-baggage. Without spoiling the plot at all, here’s a guide to maximizing your unbridled enjoyment of Star Trek Beyond.
What constitutes a good Star Trek movie is tricky. It has to both feel like a cool episode of one of the TV shows, but also be epic enough to feel cinematic The themes have to be broad, but the plot-points must be specific. Plus, we need to have like nine million shout-outs to everything that has come before so that we believe that this truly is Star Trek.
The current rebooted franchise (canonically taking place in in an alternate dimension to all previous Star Trek) had its work cut out for it, following up the dour previous effort: 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Could a big-budget Star Trek film be smart again? Could it be fun?
The answer for director Justin Lin, and writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, seems to be to split the various differences in Star Trek Beyond, but to err on the side of nerdy, goofy fun, rather than, serious, mainstream thrills. Whereas Into Darkness had Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) ripping people’s faces off, Beyond sports more traditional Trek-perils in the form of science fiction terrors like spacey-bio weapons, and hive-mind starships. Sure, there’s still some punching and kicking in the vein of one of Lin’s Fast and the Furious movies, but the intent of the violence reminds you more of Shatner taking people down in the 60s show than it does of Vin Diesel.
Still, here a few things you should try not to think about when you’re watching this movie.
Pre-Kelvin Timeline Continuity
The film makes some very strong attempts to connect to the canonical Trek timeline from everything that happened before everything was changed by Nero and Old Spock time-traveling in the 2009 movie. This means there are tons of references to - believe it or not - the 2001-2005 TV series Star Trek: Enterprise. Personally, I appreciated the tribute to all of this stuff. But, if you think about how it all matches up too hard, you’re going to freak out.
Technical Stuff With the Starship Enterprise
You already know from the trailers that the starship Enterprise is destroyed. But how is it taken down? Do these new baddies have some really cool work-around with the famous Star Trek shields? Can we blame the “interference” from the nebula? Shhhh be quiet. I’m trying to figure out how Captain Kirk is going to get his mojo back.
Spock Being Emotional
This is a big one: some fans criticize the Zachary Quinto version of Spock as being too un-Spock-like in all of his appearances. Here’s all I’ve got to say: just let it go. His Spock is basically a different person that Nimoy’s Spock, and if you decide that going into this movie, you’ll have less to complain about. (Ditto for literally all the other classic characters, honestly.)
What Starships Can and Can’t Do in Atmospheres
If the idea of Enterprise being built on Earth pissed you off in the first J.J. Abrams movie, or if you didn’t like the Enterprise flying around the clouds in Into Darkness, you’re going to hate what they do with the U.S.S. Franklin in this movie. But for real: just get that anger out now. It will be cooler and more fun if you do.
While I’m at it: don’t worry about beaming. Beaming has never made sense in Star Trek. Why do they need to beam at certain times and not at…oh nevermind.
They’re confusing. Just focus on him being charming, brave and funny. Also, don’t worry about the motorcycle.
The Pop-Aesthetic Influences from the Other Two Films
You’re going to hear some Beastie Boys in this movie. It’s just a thing you’re either going to like or not. I liked it, a lot. If you don’t, I sympathize, but you know, maybe pretend you’re a little younger? Like, I don’t know, 12? Yeah, now it’s awesome.
The Big Twist
Okay, there’s a fairly large twist in the film, which informs, in part, why literally everything is happening. Here’s the deal: it’s a cool idea on paper, and its executed fairly well. BUT, even I had a hard time explaining every single detail as to the hows and whys in terms of the machinations of Idris Elba’s villainous Krall. Here’s the narrative-goggles I recommend putting on for this one: just think of this like a really well-funded episode of the original series. Not even a really good episode either; like a big-budget version of “The Tholian Web.” Sure, it’s a third-season half-baked classic Star Trek episode, but, hey, it’s still pretty cool.
As a Trek fan, the biggest break you can give Star Trek Beyond is to recognize how much it is trying to have fun while making you happy at the same time. Even if you don’t love it (I did!) I’d implore you to recognize that this movie wasn’t trying to be much more than what it was: a cool Star Trek story that felt classic and new at the same time, but was easy to handle for people who’d never seen any of the shows or the movies. The aliens are numerous and goofy-looking, the crew is charming and brave, and above all, the movie is extremely upbeat.
In many ways, Star Trek Beyond is like this excellent fan-made mash-up video featuring Keisha’s “Tick-Tock” set to various “party” scenes from the classic 1960’s Star Trek TV show. Beyond is its own thing, but it’s also a Star Trek movie that knows it’s a remix. Which, in a sense, is the smartest move a Star Trek film has made in a very long time.