Star Trek: Lower Decks- Thoughts on the History and Future of Star Trek

Star Trek: Lower Decks premiered and the reviews, at least part of them, are exactly what I expected.  Some people hate it.  Of course, no series, old or new, is universally adored, but when a new Trek series airs the hate is notable because of the predictability of why people hate it. They hate it because it didn’t live up to every bit of hype.  They hate it because TOS, or TNG, or DISCO is better. They hate it because “some social justice warriors are forcing an agenda on us by casting a woman or minority in a lead role”. They hate it because the new series is going to “kill Star Trek”.  Or they hate it because it’s not “real” Star Trek (whatever that means).  People want Star Trek the way they want it, and any change somehow threatens the continued existence of the thing they love so dearly and how dare the makers (and owners) of the franchise think otherwise.

I get it.  People take comfort in what is familiar, especially in uncertain times such as these.  Why else would I have just watched The Measure of a Man for, at least, the twentieth time? What’s new can be scary. Change is not easy, but it is necessary and inevitable.

Star Trek, as a franchise, has come to be defined by change.  It has changed both in format and content.  And it has not only survived but continues to thrive.  It survived the move from TV to the big screen (the first TV show to make such a move).  It survived the move from broadcast network to syndication (and back) to paid streaming service.  It has survived sequels and prequels and simultaneous airing of different series.  It has survived turning from live action to animation.  It has survived the switch from an episodic to a more serialized format.  It has survived the historical norm of a 26-episode season to a shorter, more highly polished production that releases only when it’s ready to go.  It has survived being Pollyannaish to being more realistic, morally complex, and “gritty”. It has survived the death of its biggest stars, writers and producers.  It has survived even the death of its creator.

I’ve heard more than one fan say the only “real” Star Trek is TOS and maybe the TOS movies, TNG and anything after that isn’t Star Trek. Some have said that Deep Space Nine is the mark of when Star Trek ended, and a pale imitation took its place.  One could even argue that the only “real” Star Trek is the first pilot, The Cage, and everything fromWhere No Man Has Gone Before on is derivative. If the only Star Trek that was ever made was TOS, it would still have been a groundbreaking show for many reasons, but where would Star Trek itself be today? Yes, TOS would still have its fans, but they would be either fans from the original airing (or early syndication) or the most die-hard of sci-fi buffs.  How many 10-year-olds, today, would be willing to sit through an episode of TOS, or even early TNG for that matter, without first being exposed to more contemporary Trek?  If Star Trek had not changed over the past 50 plus years we would not still be watching new episodes of Star Trek today.

I’m not saying that you must love all Star Trek or love none of it.  There are series that where a letdown for me and there were clunkers of episodes even in the best of the series (*cough* Shades of Gray).  But this doesn’t change the fact that The City on Edge of Forever,TOS First Pilot”>Far Beyond the Stars are amazing pieces of television, and high-water marks for science fiction. Every series, episode, and character is someone’s favorite (yes, even Spock’s Brain). And they’re not erring in their assessment. Star Trek is an adaptable format which appeals to a wide variety of people for any number of reasons.

So, what of Lower Decks?  Honestly, it’s too soon to tell.  Seriously.  Just hold up a second. It’s way too soon to pass any considered judgement. We have seen literally 24 minutes of this new series, which has taken Star Trek into an entirely new direction.  Animated Trek may not be new, but an animated comedy aimed at adults is something I never saw coming.  Time will tell, and I wish them well.  But if it’s already clear to you that Lower Decks is the death of the franchise, or the worst thing to happen to the Star Trek universe, you are absolutely entitled to that opinion.  And I have good news.  All these changes that have each, according to at least some segment of the fan base, “ruined Star Trek forever”, have made Star Trek as ubiquitous as a media franchise can be.  All Trek from TOS on is still out there, easy to find and inexpensive to view (if you’re looking to take comfort in something familiar).  So whether or not Star Trek: Lower Decks gains my appreciation on its own, I am already appreciative of the job it’s doing to help keep old Star Trek out there – making it possible for new Star Trek in the future.

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