Warning: Spoilers for Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. Minor spoiler for Star Trek: Beyond.
So, having finally seen Star Trek: Beyond, it puts me in a mood to do a critique of the universe created in the new Star Trek movies. Now, as a Trekkie since childhood, I have opinions about the new movies. While I can appreciate them as entertaining movies, they are not Star Trek movies. Beyond felt more like Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was the closest to a Star Trek movie so far. That should say something about what I feel about these movies.
But I don’t want to go into the issues making it Star Trek, merely the issues I have with it as a cohesive, understandable world as a whole. And, not to get too bogged down in details, let’s look at the biggest problem with the new movies in a world-building sense: Starfleet.
Starfleet is really the core of the Star Trek universe in any timeline or series. The ships are Federation ships manned by Starfleet officers. Its values are that of exploration, cooperation, and understanding between species. While it may appear to run similar to a military ship, Starfleet is not an outright military organization (though it is a defense force and has been at war in various iterations). Screw up Starfleet and you screw up the entire world.
They screwed up Starfleet.
To be more precise, they made Starfleet idiots, which for a science organization is pretty bad. Why do I say they’re idiots? Pretty much everything related to Kirk.
JJ Abrams’s universe, or the Kelvin Timeline for Trekkies, is not a pure reboot the way Ghostbusters was. It is actually an alternate timeline of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). Nero’s time-traveling attack on the USS Kelvin altered the course of James T. Kirk’s life, the most obvious of which appears to be a later enlistment into Starfleet Academy.
This created a major problem for Abrams. To at least carry the name Star Trek based on TOS, he needed to have the entire crew together, but he’s already presented Kirk, McCoy, and Uhura as being cadets at the same time, with Spock an Academy instructor, which would place him as more experienced and a much higher rank than the others. It is unclear if Chekov and Sulu were also part of the cadet crew or were already graduated, but it can be assumed that they are either of equal rank or outranking Kirk as a soon-to-be graduating cadet. So how can he plausibly get Kirk as Captain of the USS Enterprise with this timeline?
He made Starfleet stupid. Please, whatever you do, don’t make someone or an organization act stupidly simply to carry forward the plot. It devalues the world.
Starfleet makes a graduating cadet Captain! Let me say that again. A graduating cadet is made Captain. Not of a small ship doing menial jobs, but of one of the most advanced ships in the fleet. And several of its senior offices are also graduating cadets. Deep Space Nine did an amazing episode (Valiant) showing what would happen if a technologically advanced ship was given to a group of cadets. It didn’t end well. Neither does Kirk.
After an indeterminate amount of time, Kirk’s lack of experience and respect for Starfleet’s Prime Directive gets him demoted. The first smart move Starfleet had in the Kelvin Timeline, which is quickly ruined as Admiral Marcus allows Kirk to go on a revenge mission in which he ignores protocol; fires crewmembers for disagreeing with him about ignoring protocol; and then puts a bridge ensign in charge of engineering, instead of perhaps the next ranking member of the engineering crew.
Then, after almost getting the Enterprise destroyed, not only is he given the newly retrofitted Enterprise again, but he is given the choice five-year exploration mission. This is crucial to create a sense of TOS, but it is utterly foolish for the Kelvin Timeline.
Kirk was demoted at the beginning of Star Trek Into Darkness for not following the Prime Directive with a primitive civilization, and at the end Starfleet gives him a mission which will be filled with first contacts and exploring new civilizations.
This brings us to Beyond. At this time we learn Kirk has applied for a Vice Admiral position and is ultimately offered it. Let’s put this into numbers. After three years at the Academy and what can be generously be called four years as Captain (a year of which his ship was being repaired), Kirk is being offered a position as Vice Admiral. Three years before he was demoted for inexperience and now he was being promoted. Why?
Because the plot needs it.
All these unrealistic situations are happening because the plot needs it, and that is where the movies have failed to build a cohesive world. That is the saddest part of this critique, because there are such rich and immense universes in the Star Trek franchise for it to build off of.
Don’t make their mistake. Don’t sacrifice your world for the sake of the plot.