Quantum of Solace was a pretty bad sequel. By way of consolation, I caught the trailer for Star Trek on my way in. Ross Douthat has the goods, and I’ll admit I was pretty thrilled to see Kirk and Co. back in action. After highlighting a few controversial spoilers, Douthat also suggests the franchise is in need of a major reboot instead of a minor face-lift. I’m in total agreement.
For starters, I’d recommend giving Starfleet an extensive institutional overhaul. I’m not a serious Trek fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I love good sci-fi, and I’ve always felt the Federation’s approach to exploration and space combat was vaguely ridiculous. Despite its humane, post-materialist ideology, the Federation is surrounded by several hostile powers (the Klingons, Romulans, Borg etc). But you wouldn’t know this from Starfleet, whose institutional character is best described as a more effete version of NASA. The best Star Trek movies overcame this tendency by downplaying diplomacy and exploration in favor of a decidedly militaristic approach, which lent an air of plausibility and tension to the proceedings. It’s also worth noting that one of the better Next Generation episodes forced Picard and Co. to act like military officers by introducing a parallel universe where the Federation was at war with the Klingons.
I understand the Federation’s ideology stresses non-interventionism and conflict avoidance, but I’ve always thought Starfleet’s quasi-pacifism was somewhat detached from its broader socio-political context. I don’t think the Enterprise needs to be re-imagined as a latter-day Imperial Star Destroyer, but a little military discipline, fewer trips to the ship’s bloody guidance counselor, and the occasional violent confrontation would go a long way towards restoring the franchise to my good graces.
UPDATE: A friend writes in:
The Federation wasn’t “surrounded” by hostile powers – the Klingons were an ally in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the Romulans and the Federation signed an uneasy truce (hostile yes, but not much of a credible every-episode threat). The Borg were indeed a threat but they were from the Delta quadrant (on the other side of the galaxy).
I agree on the particulars, but I don’t think this refutes my larger point. The fact remains that the Federation is faced with several potentially hostile alien powers. Given these circumstances, I think it makes sense to re-envision Starfleet’s modus operandi. I’m not arguing that the franchise should immediately jettison its focus on science, exploration, and diplomacy. I just think these missions should take place against a military backdrop.