How Beyond Celebrates Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

"50 years in and the franchise truly has lived long and prospered"

The 2009 JJ Abrams directed Star Trek reboot was my introduction to the franchise. Sure, I had seen bits and pieces of the Original Series and TNG but I hadn’t paid much attention to it and I was oblivious to the intricacies of the characters and galaxy at large. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a Star Wars fan and I guess that is what drew me to the rebooted Trek series in the first place, the fact that at its core it had more of an essence of Star Wars than Star Trek. Nether-the-less I grew attached to the characters and galaxy and decided to start at the beginning and watch the Original Series, and later The Next Generation, and soon became a diehard passionate fan of the entire franchise. Despite now being a fan of the classic more intelligent versions of Star Trek I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness for what it was, the series was now action heavy and I couldn’t turn away from the series that introduced me to the franchise at large. However earlier this year as we grew closer to Star Trek Beyond I become more and more disinterested in the movie, I started watching Deep Space Nine, the trailers for the movie were pretty bad and all my focus on Star Trek was on the recently announced Star Trek Discovery which promises a return to the televisual storytelling I fell in love with. I went to see Star Trek Beyond with low expectations and it became my favourite blockbuster of the year not only because it delivered on the action of the previous Kelvin timeline films but because it also managed to conjure the magic and feel of the classic Trek that I had become accustomed to over the last seven years. It was – to use Star Trek terminology – the best of both worlds.

First of all, on a basic level, Beyond is full of call backs and references to the Original Series like Kirk saying that he’s ripped his shirt again and that “things have started to feel a little episodic”, the mention of a giant green space hand (which you can see during the end credits) and music cues which sound eerily similar to themes from classic episodes ‘Amok Time’ and ‘Shore Leave’. The entire film feels like a very large budget episode of Star Trek which is encompassed in the moment Scotty picks up a rock that he is going to use as a weapon only for it to look like it weighs nothing at all and made from polystyrene. At least I hope that was purposefully bad mise-en-scene and a cheeky call back to the lacklustre props of the original show rather than they still can’t make props seem real 50 years later.

It’s not just the Original Series that is referenced either with Kirk and McCoy’s birthday chat coming straight out of The Wrath of Khan. Beyond homages ‘Wrath of Khan’ the correct way with these small moments and shared themes rather than characters and story like Into Darkness. A theme shared with WOK and the original movies series is Kirk retiring from the Captain’s chair only to rediscover his desire for adventure and exploration. Beyond does it differently however by linking it to the other JJ Abrams films by keeping it about Kirk’s father’s legacy, how actions define someone and that Pike’s words about daring Kirk to do better than his father from the 2009 film are still a driving force behind the character and the film series. I’m excited to see how this theme further develops in the next film which will co-star Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s father; I’m hoping for a ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ type scenario in which Kirk has to send his father back through time to die on the USS Kelvin to set the timeline right.

While Into Darkness took a bit too much from ‘Wrath of Khan’, Beyond is inspired perfectly by the equivalent third film in the original movie series: The Search of Spock (which I’m a big fan of). The narratives are completely different but both feature the Enterprise being destroyed and the crew landing on a forested planet. Altamid from Beyond does remind me of the Genesis Planet from WOK and SFS. There are similarities and links to other Star Trek properties too with the Saucer Section of the Enterprise crashing through trees being similar to a scene in Star Trek Generations and Simon Pegg has confirmed Commodore Paris is a relation to Tom Paris from Star Trek Voyager, probably his grandmother.

Star Trek has always underlined it’s grandiose sci-fi ideas with exploration of ideals and social commentary and Beyond continues that trend featuring a relevant 21st Century message. For all its fist fights and CGI explosions Star Trek Beyond is about peace and unity triumphing over someone set on the opposite. Krall is essentially a terrorist, someone who used to be on our side only to develop extremist views and act on them using a WMD on a diverse city. Beyond is undoubtedly anti-war and returns us to when Star Trek was about exploration and solidarity, a key theme just as relevant today as it was half a century ago.

My favourite thing about Star Trek Beyond and it’s relation to the legacy of Star Trek might be the reference to the war with the Xindi. This is a reference to the series Star Trek Enterprise and mentioning this makes perfect sense for the story. Enterprise, while a decent show, is probably the least well received of the Star Trek shows and referencing the show means that the film will tie in and mention events of Star Trek past that make sense and that there is no internal agenda; the film could have reached and tried to tie into something from a more well known show like the Original Series or TNG but it didn’t and I’m happy about that. Beyond not only knows the Star Trek universe but knows it’s place in the Star Trek universe.

Finally, the reveal of  the photo of the original cast from The Undiscovered Country is a superb moment in the film feeling earned, not forced and a way to honour the legacy of Star Trek including Leonard Nimoy who had recently passed away. Beyond is similar to The Undiscovered Country in a lot of ways, both films telling their own tales while filled with homages without patting themselves on the back too much. The Undiscovered Country (my personal favourite Star Trek film) celebrated the 25th anniversary of Star Trek and marks the end of ‘classic Trek’ while Star Trek Beyond marks the 50th anniversary. However the major difference is that Beyond is not an end at all despite its retrospective aspects, in fact it signals the future, a continuation of Star Trek taking the franchise boldly to where it has never been before. 50 years in and the franchise truly has lived long and prospered.

What did you think of Star Trek Beyond? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about Star Trek on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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