Fan Wankery Takes Star Trek Into Darkness.

Edit: Reposted with a new date so that people can comment on it and stuff.

Note: This post is spoilerific. It will completely ruin any surprises that might exist in the upcoming movie Star Trek Into Darkness. If in fact you decide to continue reading past this point, I’m not going to take any responsibility for your nerd rage at being spoiled.

The entire post will be ROT13ed until the movie’s release date at which point I will unROT13 it but keep the “read more” section intact.

You have been warned. REPEATEDLY WARNED.

If you are still reading, then by now you’re aware that the villain of the new Star Trek movie is in fact not some featureless white dude with generic name John Harrison, but in fact Khan Noonien Singh. Let’s completely ignore the whole problem with a lily white englishman playing a supposedly sikh genetically engineered super soldier and let’s move on to the real problem with the film.

Fan wankery like making the villain actually be Khan, the stupid little references to Wrath of Khan as a deus ex machina ending, and the magical revival of Jim Kirk are all part of a broader problem with the more recent incarnations of Star Trek writers. Specifically they confuse throwing in bits and pieces of pointless minutia from older pieces of Star Trek lore (which I will refer to as Fan Wankery) with things that improve the work itself. We saw this problem most notably in the awful finale of Star Trek: Enterprise, “These Are the Voyages”, where a completely gratuitous and unnecessary insertion of Commander Riker and Counselor Troi (circa season 7 of The Next Generation during the episode “The Pegasus”) as observing the events as part of a holodeck program not only stealing the thunder from the actual cast and characters, but in the process cheapening the entire episode. Yet right until the very end the producers and writers claimed the episode itself was a “Love Letter to the Fans”. Bull-fucking-shit.
While “These are the Voyages” was an unfortunate case of fan wankery, Into Darkness takes it to the point where, in my opinion it ruins what could have been a fantastic Star Trek movie storyline.
At its heart, Into Darkness is a story about whether or not the ideals of the Federation and Starfleet can survive the trauma inflicted upon it by the events in the 2009 Star Trek movie.

As a brief recap: let’s remember that not only did the genocidal Romulan Nero kill George Samuel Kirk well before his time (and thus spawning Jim Kirk’s constant pining for a father figure and daddy issues) but he also went and annihilated one of the founding member planets of the Federation (killing billions and leaving Vulcans on the brink of extinction), destroyed a large number of Starfleet ships (along with what appears to be most of an entire Academy cohort) and nearly followed up with a repeat performance on Earth itself.
In presenting the clash between the idealism of Starfleet (personified brashly by Chris Pine’s version of Captain Kirk) and the collective trauma, overreaction and need for security felt by many people in the Federation (personified here by Admiral Marcus) we get both a great setup for a Star Trek movie, but also a fantastic allegory for the War on Terror.

The Nero Incident is essentially the Federation’s 9/11 to the tenth power. With Klingons breathing down their necks, you can imagine why certain factions of Starfleet would be interested in not simply bending, but flat out breaking the ethical foundations of the Federation in order to keep them safe.

Much like how Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country explored the (then) contemporary issues surrounding man-made natural disasters (Praxis = Cherynobl) and the end to a long hostile relationship between two great powers and how elements within the military might react to the prospect of losing their identity and the familiar (if dangerous) world of mutual antagonism, Into Darkness could have explored (and ultimately and cheesily had our Starfleet heroes affirm) that certain trade offs for security were not worth it. The setup of the movie, the plotline, the parallels including things like suicide bombing as a tactic, the need to build up a new enemy with which to go to war all build into that direction.

Then we’re given a surprise reveal. The faceless bad guy, a super soldier with a grudge on the Federation is none other than Khan Noonien Singh. This reveal is of course meaningless to 90% of the audience. At most the casual movie goer might recall Bill Shatner screaming the name KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN over and over and over again as an internet meme. The reveal is just…well flat. For fans of the show it means something. For everyone else? Okay we’re swapping a generic white guy name for one that sounds more ethnic! Hurray!…and of course this helps to derail the basic premise (which is still part of the movie) that Marcus is a bad guy but the true villain is a guy from the past who is out for revenge after failing to take over the world. Got it?

Why was this even necessary? They could have very well let the film stand on its own (and avoid the unnecessary Wrath of Khan comparisons and even criticisms of stealing scenes) by leaving Cumberbatch’s character the product of a rogue Starfleet officer’s attempt to secure the Federation at all costs. Hell if they wanted to work a Khan reference into it, they could have simply stated that the dude was given genetic enhancements like the ones that set off the Eugenics Wars. (Which in expository fashion could have explained was one of those epochal events in Earth history that helped shape the Federation into the direction it wound up in…you know a “last time we messed with super men and tried to keep ourselves safe, they tried to wipe out all ‘inferior life’ on Earth in exchange….” type line. Corny sure, but works fine without having to resort to wankery).

We know that because of his history as someone who tried to do a genocidal war against ‘inferior’ people, that Khan is an absolute monster. With Khan’s menacing little tirade of course, he becomes the central villain and while he could have also been a victim of overzealous Starfleet officers, well his presentation in the movie just doesn’t allow that amount of nuance.

Better I think if the Khan reference had been just that, a reference, and the character remained one of those poor saps who got roped into being a bad guy, is out for revenge against those who wronged him, without him having been a genocidal dictator in the past….the added ambiguity would have bettered that plot element. (Also the misdirection/reveal has an unfortunate overlap with how Iron Man 3 treats the Mandarin. I mean, yes, it’s likely to be a brief mention, but the fact that the movies are released basically a week apart in the US is going to make people bring that comparison more to mind)

Then there’s the additional fan wankery from everything from magical Khan blood reviving Kirk who takes a lethal dose of radiation doing the same thing Spock does in Wrath of Khan to the completely unnecessary appearance of Nimoy’s Spock Prime and you get the feeling that maybe Abrams wasn’t as confident in his story telling ability to retain the interest of Star Trek’s fanbase and decided he needed to pepper the story with fan wankery. It’s complete hog wash and completely unnecessary.

In the end the movie’s still probably going to do well at the box office, and the non-fan reviews (and even some of the fan reviews…*sigh*) have been pretty positive. But I think as the movie ages, we’ll start seeing the story that could have been. A Star Trek reinvented in 2009 that could have continued to address issues relevant to our modern societal concerns being completely undermined by the stupid nods to the past. What was the point of doing a full on reboot if pieces of the movie just end up seeming like bad fanfic?

There’s some question as to whether this will be Abram’s last Star Trek film. I don’t know if the fan wankery was a lack of confidence or simply Abrams thinking he was being clever along with the writing team, but while proclaiming to have started fresh, all they’ve done is burn away the good will from the 2009 movie and keep themselves firmly rooted in the old cliches and stupid in references that often make the series difficult for newcomers to the franchise. And that’s a damned, crying shame….

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26 thoughts on “Fan Wankery Takes Star Trek Into Darkness.

  1. I am including this sentence as a buffer, lest spoilers leak over into the Gifts of Gab section, however temporarily.

    XUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNA

    The problem with simple ciphers like rot13 is that your brain eventually starts translating them automatically after some familiarity.

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  2. My opinion of the Star Trek reboot is that it was very, very ….. OK.

    I’m going to see the current one the minute that … someone else wants to see it. Or maybe if I have some free time and there’s nothing more interesting playing.

    That anyone has stronger opinions on the subject bemuses me.

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    • In terms of a better experience, I’m kind of thinking that the recent theater experience of the remastered Best of Both Worlds at theaters might actually be a superior storytelling experience. Even if it doesn’t have all the flash bang wizardry, well, that’s still one of the best damned episodes of television ever produced.

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  3. You get the feeling that maybe Abrams wasn’t as confident in his story telling ability to retain the interest of Star Trek’s fanbase and decided he needed to pepper the story with fan wankery. It’s complete hog wash and completely unnecessary.

    I kinda think this is JJ’s actual schtick.

    That’s what Lost really was: dribbled bits of maybe-might-turn-out-to-be McGuffins peppered around to see what could interest fans who are into the “shiny details!” nerdery of interacting with their media.

    You know: “I spotted this incredibly arcane detail by watching the HD recording of the show at 1/10th speed all the way through and look, there’s a Dharma Initiative logo on the shark!” (which turns out to mean nothing, whatsoever, to the storyline).

    He’s not a great writer. He’s got a decent eye for action when he tones down his desire to throw too many unnecessary details in the mix. From a mindless-fun-standpoint, he makes movies that are more entertaining than Michael Bay.

    But he thinks of nerdery as ultimately expressed by OCD, so he caters to obsessive detail oriented types of nerds.

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    • I think in this case, it’s actually not so much Abrams pulling a particular schtick, but his inability to rein in Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof. Or perhaps you’re right in that those three took advantage of Abrams’ OCD obsessiveness to play out their fanboy bullshit fantasies involving Khan and Kirk.

      It’s still a pity, because the underlying story has promise. It’s merely a good movie, when it could have been a truly great one. The performances are top notch. Fan wankery ruins it.

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  4. I’m not sure I would call it “fan wankery.” Fundamentally changing the identity and backstory of Khan is pretty much completely ignoring both the original series and Wrath of Khan. It’s stupid – if you’re going to create a new bad guy, why not just give him/her/it a new name? Doing it the way Abrams is doing it is more likely IMO to piss off fans than give them wank fodder.

    And I won’t even get into the completely offensive whitewashing….

    I think of fan wankery perhaps more along the lines of BBC’s Sherlock. There are a lot of nods to the original stories, from quotes to names of minor characters, to other details (for instance, the name of the coffee place where Watson and Stamford get their coffee in a A Study in Pink) – small things that Conan Doyle fans would recognize, but a casual viewer wouldn’t notice.

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    • I think you’re more or less spot on here, but I referred to it as fan wankery because it’s misplaced attempts at trying to do fan service and instead doing it completely wrong. I intentionally compared it to These Are the Voyages rather than say the nice little homages to later Trek events you found during the last season of Enterprise, or the little touches of continuity you saw in TNG referencing The Original Series because well, it’s a terrible example of how to do fan service.

      And let’s not even get into the whitewashing. I deliberately stayed out of that (as noted) because it’s another offensive and completely unneeded bit of wankery on behalf of Abrams and co.

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    • I disagree with ‘ Shaqnzragnyyl punatvat gur vqragvgl naq onpxfgbel bs Xuna vf cerggl zhpu pbzcyrgryl vtabevat obgu gur bevtvany frevrf naq Jengu bs Xuna. ‘ I thought that it was incredible. The clues were there, but I didn’t realize what was going on for several mintues. It also fed into the number of the film, please recall, and the change in history was an extremely logical outcome of the – well, change in history. And please note that there were several things distributed through the movie – that certain merchant’s ship, that problematically-reproducing pet, and so on.

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  5. I hate to get all fan nerdy and stuff… but I’m not real crazy about rebooting Star Trek. Rebooting BSG was a fine idea because 1) all the original really consisted of was one series that lasted a few years (plus a single season, IIRC, of BSG ’80), and 2) said series was almost painfully embarrassing to watch, and 3) the concept had a lot of promise in the right hands.

    Canon has always been a huge deal in the ST universe. Tightly controlled in the series and movies to be consistent and books also had to be consistent to the TV and movies although not necessarily with each other. Also a book couldn’t establish canon; the shows and movies could ignore books. Five live action series, a cartoon, hundreds of books and comics…

    … and now this. Vulcan destroyed, Spock and Uhura are best friends with benefits, etc. The only way I can watch the new movies is by telling myself it’s in an alternate timeline. And I don’t know if I’m up for a whole new and improved Star Trek universe. For better or worse it is what it is. This is like some kind of incredibly elaborate fanfic.

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    • Here’s the other thing, right?

      If you want to carve out a portion of your own in the Star Trek universe, it really isn’t that hard to do.

      The same Ronald D. Moore who had to reboot BSG to tell a new story basically got to do more or less what he wanted to do on a spinoff series of Star Trek (Deep Space Nine)that didn’t mess with continuity or invent stupid fan fiction bullshit like Orzi and co. have. And indeed that spinoff is considered by many to be the most consistent and engaging series of the franchise.

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  6. The re-boot was beyond brain dead for so many reasons it is hard to believe anyone but a failing middle school student wrote that terrible of a script!

    Lets see, the ‘evil’ aliens go back in time to destroy the very people that tried to save their world because they failed to save their people – not they had anything at all to do with the destruction; only that they tried and failed. Yet, these same ‘time traveling’ aliens fail to use said time travel to … wait for it … save their own planet, which they do have easily done by doing back in time and warning everyone! Oh, yeah, right – time travel is only for dumb people who fail to remember they can correct the mistake before it happens.

    Lets see, Spock has a wood fire burning on an ice world and worse, is in an ice cave with a huge burning fire; and lets not forget the monstrous creature on this ice world (ignore no vegetation that other animals could maybe eat to support such huge predators) and how this huge predator throws away a really huge meal it just killed so it can then go after Kirk who would be a very tiny morsel.

    Kirk and the engineer teleport on to the Enterprise with one ending up in a vast ‘clear’ pipe system flushing some clear liquid (water?) around for no apparent reason and this huge pumping system just happen to have a large door to ‘open’ allowing both a person who is trapped there and the liquid to empty into the ship.

    The alien’s have a swamp-like pool of water in their ship and it is elevated a number of floors up in a huge “semi” open multi-floor complex – good ship design there – water is so light and well, swamp like pools are important to have in space ships that are high in the ship (relative to the ship’s gravity which makes no sense since people, as well as the water would could fall large distances – besides electronics loves water all around.

    All alien people that are crewmembers blindly follow their captains even if their world is destroyed because they … well, they just do.

    The Federation always gives critical super secret defense codes to all captains because the enemy needs to capture and torture said captains so the victim can suffer a great deal before giving up the super secret information.

    Make the orginal show seem logical.

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  7. Well I for one thought the Harry Mudd callout was worth the price of admission though the Wrath of Khan callouts went waaay over the top in my opinion.

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  8. Nob, any chance of putting this into plaintext? It’s a bit irritating having to decrypt half of the comments, and losing the names of the commenters in the process?

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  9. “Lets see, the ‘evil’ aliens go back in time to destroy the very people that tried to save their world because they failed to save their people – not they had anything at all to do with the destruction; only that they tried and failed. Yet, these same ‘time traveling’ aliens fail to use said time travel to … wait for it … save their own planet, which they do have easily done by doing back in time and warning everyone! Oh, yeah, right – time travel is only for dumb people who fail to remember they can correct the mistake before it happens.”

    It’s something that people have pointed out before – in the Star Trek universe, time travel with well within the capabilities of (extremely elite) individuals, let alone governments. It makes me understand the reason for the a Time Corps.

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  10. Nob, thanks for cleaning up the ROT-13 (I figure by now that if you’re reading stuff like this, you already saw the movie).

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