Maybe cinema isn’t the way to go. Maybe big screen movies aren’t <always> the end all be all.
Sure, I just enjoyed the latest Dr. Strange movie. We made it a family outing– with my wife, my dad, my aunt, and my cousin. And I really enjoyed taking my college students to see the latest Batman movie at the local theater. There’s something wonderful about the shared experience. And something even more wonderful about that theater buttered popcorn.
But maybe…just maybe…some beloved franchises are meant to thrive on the small screen.
I’m saying this because I’m just loving the new Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. It’s all about the crew of the Enterprise, focusing on untold past stories, that are all set in the far future, of course.
Captain Pike was supposed to be the star of the first Star Trek TV show. That didn’t quite click with the powers-that-be, during the Golden Age of Television, so there was a redo. The new version, with Kirk and Spock and the gang, found a foothold on NBC for a time and in the hearts of fans for … forever. But instead of just dismissing the original concepts and characters as a “nice try”, they became part of the mythology. Ravenous fans have wanted long wanted to enjoy the early adventures Enterprise.
In 1996, Marvel and Paramount collaborated to create a comic line that was meant to focus on Paramount properties like Mission Impossible and Star Trek. For seventeen issues, Star Trek: The Early Voyages told tales of Captain Pike, Number One, Lt. Colt and Dr. Boyce. Like many break-ups, this break up was sudden and left the heroes in peril on an unfinished adventure.
A decade or so later, John Byrne would return to these characters, especially the early career of Number One in IDWs Star Trek: Crew.
Captain Pike and his posse have appeared in quite a few books too. I read one of them, back in the day, and there was such a sense of “if only”, but tempered with a “this will never happen”.
Oh, and there have even been action figures of Captain Pike produced.
The new Paramount+ series is a lot of fun. I’m three episodes in, and I find myself eager to watch the next one. But there’s a bigger story here. In today’s pop culture landscape, it seems like so much is so often fueled by fan toxicity and hyper critical analysis. Of course, many times the property owners seem to be less invested than fans, or have less respect for a property than the fans. That’s not so great either.
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It was forty years ago that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It debuted on June 4th, but I saw it on my birthday, June 5th. What a great birthday present that was! In many ways, it was the best episode of the whole series. Nicolas Meyer and his team showed the world how it was done, and in some ways, for classic Trek, Paramount has been trying to replicate that trick for the past forty years. One could argue they’ve come close once or twice, but they’ve never matched it and certainly never topped it.
We, of a certain generation, have been conditioned to think that cinematic outings give our passions legitimacy and authenticity. But it’s time to rethink that.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the perfect example. It’s great fun on the small screen. It doesn’t have to be a movie. Oh sure, it’s updated in many ways to reflect the new realities of the same old world. That’s wonderful. But like the Star Wars creators, they’ve been able to capture a little bit of that lightning-in-the-bottle with television episodes. Will they still chase after big movies? I certainly think so. But for now, it’s glorious to be able to enjoy Star Trek and to be surrounded by other fans who are generally happy too.
But in the case of say, Star Wars, the recent cinematic missteps took all the fun out of it. And when fans got so angry, that just made it worse for me.
Vanity Fair’s Anthony Breznican published a deep dive into Disney’s plans for continuing the small screen/streamer success of Star Wars in the most recent issue. This article is complete with some great Annie Leibovitz photos. (Wouldn’t you know it? It’s right when I let my VF subscription lapse.) You can read it all here. But this part in particular is very telling:
“What’s unique about Star Wars is that we’re one story, basically,” says Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. “George was always dealing with episodes. Ironically, he was serializing his storytelling. He was influenced by Flash Gordon and cliff-hangers on Saturdays at movie theaters. All of that informed what the DNA of Star Wars is, which is why I think it’s just organic that we made the transition into television.”
The transition was not an obvious pivot for an empire built on movies. When she took over Lucasfilm in 2012, Kennedy’s primary goal was to rejuvenate Star Wars with a new era of films, after a trilogy of prequels that underwhelmed many fans. Few producers were better poised to do that, given her legacy of crowd-pleasers ranging from E.T. to Back to the Future and The Sixth Sense. By the end of 2015, Han, Leia, and Luke were back on the big screen in J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens, which introduced the desert scavenger Rey, the redemption-seeking storm trooper Finn, the X-wing hotshot Poe Dameron, and the brooding Sith wannabe Kylo Ren. Rian Johnson’s sequel, 2017’s The Last Jedi, continued the Skywalker saga, as it came to be known, but veered sharply from Abrams’s vision and seemed to close off some central story lines. Abrams U-turned back when he returned for 2019’s final chapter, The Rise of Skywalker, taking over Episode IX late in development. The movies all earned billions, but the zigzagging narrative was conspicuous.
So, you know what? It’s wonderful to shift gears and enjoy quality television shows of these fan-favorite franchises.
And maybe we all just step up our popcorn game at home, and everything will be alright.