In “The Enterprise Incident,” an episode in the original Star Trek series that aired in September 1968, Kirk & Co. enter the neutral zone between Federation and Romulan space without permission. They are captured and, after a struggle, Kirk is presumed dead – then brought back to life as Romulan. The episode proves how spooky it is for fans to see the fearless leader of a ship transformed as a different race altogether.
JJ Abrams’ directing Star Wars: Episode VII creates a similar awkward moment. He may be able to save that operatic saga from the dark, cartoonish canyons of Jar Jar Binks, but it’s to the disillusionment of newly forged Star Trek fans. I have and always will be invested in both franchises, intensely so, but to put the same man in charge of both violates an unseen firewall that many sci-fi die-hards place between the two.
Some background: In 2009, JJ Abrams accomplished what many thought impossible: a rousing reboot the Star Trek franchise with a sexy, edgy, funny and compelling new vibe. As a rabid, loyal Trekkie (I hate the term “Trekker” and will never use it) dating back to my black-and-white TV and the original series, I was thrilled that a director of his stature believed in the series enough to, quite literally, resurrect it from certain extinction.
The second film, “Into Darkness” was a god-awful mess—but that’s not the point of this story.
From the original series to TNG to the movie series, Star Trek has reflected the best and the worst of humanity, always allowing the characters’s flaws and strengths, joys and sorrows, to define them as they do us. There’s something about those flaws’ immortality that makes Star Trek compelling, even convincing, as they explore our future galaxies. For that reason alone it feels more real, more current, than Star Wars ever did. In their own ways both are operatic in themes and importance, though, and I appreciate and connect with each of the series.
But Abrams accepting both directing gigs is like Coke and Pepsi being acquired by one company – they both serve the same type of customer, but have rabidly different cultures and intricate, divided loyalties. Science Fiction lives and dies by the vision of its helmers – see William Shatner’s pathetic Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as evidence – and this feels like a forbidden merger of opposing entities.
Star Wars needed a fresh eye. Is Abrams suited for the job? Most definitely. Will it be to the detriment of Star Trek? “Into Darkness,” which violated both grammar and movie-making decency, may have been awful—but we have a new director for the third in the series, who promises a return to storytelling.
We’ll have to see – but that unspoken firewall has now been breached forever. ❏
(writer’s note: for some related reading check out: “JJ Abrams needs to pick a side,” by Richard Berry)