An Open Letter to J.J. Abrams: Advice from a Trekkie

An Editorial

The upcoming “Star Trek” sequel is set to begin filming this month, and is due out May 17, 2013. To say that there is a lot of online buzz about it would be a severe understatement… one of the biggest things Trekkies are trying to do is make stabs at the movie’s plot. However, at this point all that is known is that all of the cast of 2009’s Star Trek will be back, that they will have no more cameos from the first series, and that British actor Benedict Cumberbatch is to be cast as the villain. Almost as a tease, it was recently announced that an upcoming Star Trek comic book could provide hints about the plot.

But I’m not here to speculate. I’m here because I want the new movie to be the best Star Trek movie it possibly can. I want to come out of the theater thinking this was the best Star Trek movie ever. I don’t want to walk out disappointed.

I’ve been a Trekkie my whole life. I grew up with The Next Generation. I used to watch Deep Space Nine and Voyager marathons on Spike TV and what have you as a teenager. Our house has Star Trek movies I, II, III, IV, and VI. What’s more, both of my parents (and especially my dad) are huge Trekkies, too. So, I think I have a good idea on what could make Star Trek 2 work.

I may be spitting in the wind here, but I’m putting some suggestions out there on what I think J.J. Abrams and company should do.

1. Don’t make it a Khan movie.

"You better be careful about what you say next, Cat Flag."

Yes, I know Khan is Star Trek’s most popular villain. Yes, I know there is a nice symmetry to the second movie of the new franchise having the same villain as the second movie of the first franchise. And yes, I know a lot of fans are hoping to see Khan appear.

I’m worried, though, about the Law of Unintended Messages. Think back to 2008/2009, when the success of Abrams’ Trek reboot was far from certain. Millions of Trekkies, myself included, were a bit put off that Hollywood had the gall to just reboot Star Trek like they reboot everything else. One of the key ways Viacom’s PR machine sold the movie was by promising new, original stories that would not be constrained by generations of continuity.

If the new Star Trek 2 is a retread of the old Star Trek 2, then it will show that this promise was a lie, that Star Trek is just the latest Hollywood desperate cash grab, and that the franchise is creatively bankrupt.

2. If you have to make it a Khan movie, make it original.

That said, I understand that pressure from fans and studio executives alike can be hard to fight, especially if the idea spreads that including Khan is necessary to make the movie profitable.

However, there is another way out of this creativity-blocking corner: make it an original Khan movie.

Remember this movie?

Think about the challenge Christopher Nolan and company faced: EVERYBODY knew the Joker story. It was the most retreaded and retold Batman story ever. It was the plot of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, after all. So what did Nolan do? He threw out the classic Joker story and made up a completely new one. And it worked!

That’s what Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman need to do. It’s not that hard to do, actually; my younger brother came up with an original Khan-based plot that involves Klingons and a self-aware supercomputer, and I think it would make an awesome movie.

3. Focus on the B-team.

The first movie was, at the end of the day, all about Kirk and Spock. This was fine, indeed it was necessary, but I felt some of the Star Trek B-team were left rather undeveloped because of this. Simon Pegg’s Scotty has an ocean of untapped potential; Uhura’s surprise relationship with Spock is something that could be explored more deeply; and I’d like to see more from Chekov and Sulu. We now have a good idea about what Chris Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock are all about, but some of the other characters have stories in them waiting to be told. It would help give the new franchise a level of depth and complexity it currently lacks. And speaking of depth…

4. Don’t dumb it down.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from fellow Trekkies about Abrams-Trek as opposed to Roddenberry-Trek, besides how the new Enterprise’s dimensions make no sense, is how the new Star Trek is dumbed down for the masses. Let’s face it, 2009’s Star Trek was not so much a Star Trek movie as it was an action movie with Star Trek characters. I don’t deny this. But I’m totally fine with it.

Why? Well, Trekkies all remember when Gene Roddenberry first tried to put Star Trek on the air. His first pilot was rejected for being too intellectual for the audience, and the networks forced him to go back to the drawing board. His second try, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, ended with Kirk in a fistfight with the bad guy, and that’s what got the show put on the air. After Star Trek had time to establish itself, Roddenberry was able to bring back the intellectual stuff and make Star Trek the nerd paradise we all know and love.

To me, the Star Trek reboot story so far mirrors the beginnings of Star Trek itself. Paramount needed butts in those movie theater seats, so they made an action movie. But now Star Trek is on the path to profitability again, and J.J. Abrams needs to start pushing the envelope of making Star Trek smart again.

Obviously, this would seem like a risky move, but playing it safe has been what has kept Hollywood churning out uninteresting and unoriginal sequels and remakes for the past two or three years. There are plenty of people, like me, who want something more satisfying. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 was not satisfying. One of the big reasons Hollywood keeps movies at the lowest common denominator, besides not wanting to take any risks with appealing to the largest domestic audience possible, is that they are also trying to appeal to a global audience. Not everyone gets American sensibilities and humor, but everyone gets boobs and explosions. But you can’t argue this with Star Trek, which has had global appeal for decades. Last but not least, a more intellectual Star Trek movie would reassure us that Star Trek is in the right hands.

5. Get the details right

If there is one thing that sets nerds apart from other types of fans, it’s that nerds are big on details. Truth is, if the Marvel movies have been any indication, nerds just melt when you throw in nerdy in-jokes and hidden Easter eggs that longtime fans will get while going right over the heads of ordinary moviegoers. Maybe you can have a scene where some guy in the background is trying to sell Tribbles, or put a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in Captain Kirk’s quarters. Details like that will show to nerds that you do care about us, while not taking away from the actual plot, which as I said above, needs to be original.

So that’s my piece: five tips on what I think would make the best Star Trek sequel, if I were in charge of it, which I’m not. What do you think? Do you have ideas of your own about the next Star Trek movie? Let me know in the comments!

Information mainly from Screen Rant.