With all the talk about bringing back a Star Trek series for its 50th anniversary, I find myself regularly reminding people that—yo—Star Trek is 50 years old! Why bring it back?
This might not be a big deal for your average franchise, in which it’s nothing to simply modernize the cast and setting, and carry on. But Star Trek is science fiction, its universe based strongly on the popular attitudes about science, technology and the future as envisioned in the 1960s. We’ve learned a lot about science and technology since then, which completely upends the universe envisioned by Star Trek.
Which makes Star Trek‘s impact on modern audiences the equivalent of Buck Rogers’ impact on the audiences of my age, back in 1980.
Buck Rogers was the hero of a comic strip written and drawn by Philip Francis Nowlan, back in 1928. It, too, was an embodiment of the popular attitudes toward science, technology and the future, and it was hugely popular in its day. It soon inspired movie serials starring ex-Olympiate athlete Larry “Buster” Crabbe, which ran for years in cinema.
In 1970, when television was growing in dominance and stations were looking for “filler content” to put on in non-prime-time slots, old movies and movie shorts became popular fodder for daytime television, especially on channels aimed at kids. Alongside movies like The Bowery Boys and shorts of The Three Stooges, the Buck Rogers serials would air on a regular basis.
But America had already put a man on the Moon. Star Trek, in fact, was already on television. And against the more modern Star Trek and the reality of the Apollo program, Buck Rogers in 1970 may have been a shot of nostalgia to our parents and grandparents… but to us kids, it was a kitschy bunch of hilarity.
The renewed interest in sci-fi nostalgia reared its ugly head in 1979, after a fairly popular movie called Star Wars had prompted every studio to search for sci-fi material to throw onto the bandwagon. Universal Studios had already developed Battlestar Galactica, and using many of the same production houses, brought back their old hero Buck for a new TV series.
But despite the just decent production work, Buck Rogers didn’t catch with audiences: The mix of cheesy characters, childish humor, aliens in name only, and the hackneyed mad-monarchy-taking-over-the-world zeitgeist, the show held no attraction to modern audiences. A series that had been invented fifty years previous had completely outlived its relevance, and it died a quiet death in two seasons.
Fast forward to 2017, when Paramount plans to release a new Star Trek series, which will take advantage of some of the things that made Star Trek such a phenom in the 1960s—don’t bet on any of the political or social controversy, or much time spent examining science and technology and its impact on our lives, that made Star Trek famous; modern audiences just aren’t interested in that.
What’s left, you ask? Klingons, phasers, transporters and primary-colored uniforms. Romantic notions like cruising through space as easily as a naval vessel cruises the Mediterranean Sea, showing our intelligence and superiority to lesser alien species that all seem to share our problems. These are notions that people could readily accept in the 1960s; but today, they are quaint concepts that have been outdistanced by present knowledge. Multitudes of humanoid aliens and sailing the vastness of space on matter-antimatter power are no longer the future we expect to be waiting for us.
And as Paramount will want to make the show even more palatable to modern audiences, they’ll mine all the popular TV tropes for their show, including YAs and romances, back-stabbing secrets, pointless rivalries, mysterious pasts, addictions, spies and hidden agendas. (You know: The stuff that makes today’s television so compelling.) The resulting mix would be a travesty of galactic proportions, making the new show look archaic and ridiculous, and prompting derision from modern audiences.
As much as I loved the science fiction phenomenon that is Star Trek, I can see that it’s time to retire the Federation and its citizens once and for all. The last two movies have proven that attempting to update the franchise has taken the Star Trek right out of it, and left it a shadow of its former self, trying desperately to mine its past glory. After 50 years, any new Trek-based TV show will be Buck Rogers all over again: A show behind its own time, a disappointment to both audiences and Paramount.
Trek shouldn’t be forced to perform well past its prime, so someone else can sell toys and stuffed aliens. Better to create a brand new franchise for the 21st century, and let Star Trek retire (I would add “gracefully,” but it’s too late for that).