As some of you may already know, this week I saw the movie Star Trek Beyond. I posted a spoiler-free review of the movie here. In this post, I’m going to discuss some of the things I loved (and didn’t) about this new Star Trek experience — so spoilers away!
About Love for a Ship
In many ways, I see Star Trek Beyond as being a love story about starships. First, there’s the destruction of the Enterprise, in all its big, beautiful, movie-budget glory. As heartbreaking as it is to see such an iconic starship torn apart by enemy ships in a space battle, then crashing on a planet, literally on fire — it’s also amazing to watch. The special effects in this movie make the scene extremely memorable. (And hey, doesn’t Star Trek just love to tear up the Enterprise and build a new one?)
Up to this point, Captain Kirk has been feeling a little tired. He has applied for a vice admiralship, which would take him planetside. Life aboard the Enterprise has started feeling too routine for him, and he’s getting older. However, the experience of losing this ship — his home for so long — seems to spark something in him. Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
After this, the Enterprise crew comes across another alien on the run from the bad guys: Jaylah, who has been trying to fix up a starship of her own. It’s a crashed Starfleet ship called the Franklin, which Jaylah calls her home throughout the film — even after they fix it up and take it into battle. I loved seeing Scotty and the crew helping Jaylah get it up and running, and there’s a great scene that involves them diving the starship off a cliff in hopes of getting it up and out of atmo.
I guess a lot of space opera sci-fi revolves around a ship and its crew, and Star Trek has been no exception. In Beyond, the love of a ship — and how it can become home — is an awesome theme.
Clever Action Scenes
If there’s one thing Star Trek Beyond does well, it’s action scenes. That’s because in addition to your typical space battle shootout and hand-to-hand combat sequences, you also get some surprises that involve thought as much as action. There’s destroying an enemy swarm with music, dropping the Franklin straight off a cliff (with the crew inside) to get it flying, and using hologram technology to make a dozen Kirks (on a motorcycle) flash around enemies to disorient them… to name some of the best ones.
Star Trek Beyond shows the crew of the Enterprise stranded on an alien planet, which is a great set-up that feels very Star Trek TV show to me. The crew is separated, so you have Sulu and Uhura dealing with the enemy Krall, Kirk and Chekhov looking for other survivors, Scotty meeting Jaylah and helping fix up the Franklin, and Bones helping an injured Spock.
This splitting up of the characters makes for some great personality moments. Easily the most fun scenes involve Bones and Spock, who are opposites in many ways. While Bones is a wisecracking doctor, Spock is a cerebral officer ruled by logic. Bones has to take care of injured Spock, and along the way they find time to talk about Spock potentially leaving Starfleet, as well as his girlfriend issues with Uhura.
I love that Beyond takes at least a little time to dig into character relationships through fun conversations, since many other actions films gloss over that.
Maybe my favorite storyline in Star Trek Beyond is Jaylah’s. An alien whose people were taken by Krall — her father was killed in front of her — Jaylah is living aboard the crashed Franklin, trying to repair it so she can escape the planet. She is completely by herself when she meets Scotty — and glad for his help.
There are a ton of things that make her interesting. She has tech prowess, a penchant for loud music, fighting skills, and a pretty harrowing backstory. She uses hologram technology to hide the Franklin from prying eyes (even though it’s crashed on the top of a cliff). It’s a cool bit of tech that she also uses to help Kirk distract the enemy long enough for Scotty and Chekhov to beam survivors of the Enterprise aboard the Franklin.
But despite her dreams of escape and bravery when she has to fight, she doesn’t like the idea of traipsing into the enemy camp. She believes it’s a suicide mission, and it takes some convincing to make her believe that her new friends won’t abandon her out there.
It’s a great storyline for a kickass new character. I also love that she’s a realistic woman who needs help, not saving. Her story is about becoming part of a crew, and what that means. It’s awesome that she’s not eye candy or anyone’s love interest (as Carol Marcus was in the last movie Into Darkness). At the end of the movie, she is welcomed into Starfleet. Even though she says she doesn’t look forward to wearing the silly uniform, I’m hoping she’ll stick around for the next Star Trek movie.
Sulu’s Sexual Orientation
There’s been a little uproar lately over the fact that in Star Trek Beyond, helsman Hikaru Sulu is revealed to be gay. Current Sulu actor John Cho has stated he likes that the film doesn’t make a big deal out of the fact. Meanwhile, it sounds like the original Sulu actor George Takei would have preferred for him not to be, although as a gay actor he appreciates LGBT characters being represented in any case.
I’d have to say I agree with Takei here. In Beyond, the scene that shows Sulu’s homosexuality is very brief — the Enterprise crew is on leave, and you see Sulu putting his arm around another man as they walk away with their daughter — so it feels like it was intended as more of a statement than a thoughtful representation of a gay character. I would have preferred for them to introduce a new character who is gay, rather than make Sulu gay. Alternatively, it would have been interesting to see Sulu’s relationship with his partner more developed, rather than it being such a throwaway “surprise!” moment in the film. I hope that makes sense, and I look forward to seeing more LGBT representation — perhaps more in depth, too — in future Star Trek shows and films!
Leonard Nimoy’s Passing
The original and most iconic Spock actor, Leonard Nimoy, passed away last year. Star Trek Beyond honors him by having Zachary Quinto’s Spock find out that his older self, Ambassador Spock, has died. (If you haven’t seen the other new Star Trek movies, time travel fun makes it possible for an older version of Spock to coexist with the younger version who is currently working with Kirk on the Enterprise.)
The film brings this up at least twice that I recall, and it’s clear that young Spock is, in a sense, grieving for his older self. But this death also inspires young Spock to live out his life as his older self did — as a Vulcan ambassador preserving his culture, since his planet and most of his people were wiped out. Though he ultimately decides to continue serving aboard the Enterprise alongside Kirk, the film did a nice job of honoring Nimoy by making this a subplot, however small it may have been.
The film’s credits also honor both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekhov and passed away earlier this summer.
The Villain Krall
Idris Elba plays the villain in this film, Krall. At first he seems to be an alien, who is looking for an artifact that has fallen into the hands of Kirk and the Enterprise crew. It turns out this artifact is part of a bio-weapon that Krall intends to use in an attack against the Federation.
The big twist is that Krall is actually human: Balthazar Edison, the commander of the crashed Franklin, who felt abandoned by everyone after his ship was lost. Discovering local technology that allowed him to drain others’ life forces to fuel his own, he became bent on destroying the Federation. There are tones of racism here, as he talks about how humans once fought the aliens who are now considered allies in the Federation. Unlike the crew of the Enterprise, he doesn’t believe that such unity makes you stronger.
I like his backstory, and there are other Star Trek tales of commanders gone crazy. Edison is an example of a commander who became “lost in space” and went mad, which is what Kirk is trying to avoid by leaving life aboard a starship.
Still, I thought Krall’s story was weak mainly for its coincidental connection to Kirk and the Enterprise. Kirk is given the alien artifact as a gift from another race, so it feels like an accident. Otherwise, Krall has no interest in Kirk or the Enterprise. A little more insight into why Edison is prolonging his life and that alien technology would have helped the story, too.
Overall, I was much more interested in the story of Jaylah becoming part of the Enterprise crew for the mission, the relationships between the other characters, and the idea of being “lost in space” that the story expressed.
For anyone else who has seen Star Trek Beyond, I’d definitely be interested to hear what you think of the movie! I’d say it’s the best of the three new Star Trek movies, and I might have to see it again before it leaves theaters… =)