I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron the other night and while it was an epic tale full of camaraderie, action, and some laughs, and while I immensely enjoyed it, I came away feeling like I had seen just another movie. I knew that at home I had a half-finished Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode waiting for me. I wanted to get home to finish it.
And I started thinking. Why don't I like Marvel films and why don't I like Doctor Who as much as I feel I should? Being a part of the Marvel fandom or the Doctor Who fandom or the Sherlock fandom or the Supernatural fandom is all the rage right now. And I do enjoy Marvel films and I do enjoy Doctor Who. So why am I gravitating more and more towards Star Trek?
And I think I've begun to figure it out. I've begun to figure out why I consider Star Trek so infinitely superior as opposed to the better made, currently popular movies and television shows.
It's because Star Trek is about hope for the future.
The Marvel movies (which are superhero tales, for those unfamiliar with Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc. etc. etc.) and Doctor Who rely on the plot that humans and earth will continue to mess things up, or things will continue to mess humans and earth up. Humans and earth need help getting out of these sticky situations and that's where the superheroes or the time-traveling Doctor come in.
In Star Trek, there is hope for a mostly peaceful future. The Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, and the Dominion may spark some contention, but that's realistic. There has always been war and there always will be war. But war always ends, too. In Marvel films and Doctor Who, however, there is a new threat to earth every week and the only people capable of saving earth are the superheroes or the time-traveling aliens.
Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry's vision that humans can choose to become better people and, in that way, save the earth themselves, instead of relying on superhumans.
Star Trek is about searching for betterment, searching for knowledge, searching for equality. Star Trek shows us that a better future exists, if people would just choose it. Instead of waiting around for a group of sueprhumans or an alien to come save earth, Star Trek shows that any and all humans can make an impact, not just the sidekicks and companions, specially chosen by the superhumans and alien.
Nearly every Star Trek episode contains some moral or social lesson to learn. In The Original Series there are many, many episodes that cleverly disguise these lessons in the guise of science fiction. It is easy to figure out the metaphor and apply the lesson to terrestrial life.
"It gave me a set of values...to be an ethical person was to behave as these men did, as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy did; they wrestled with issues and they had enormous empathy for other people, for people who thought differently than they did." -Ronald D. Moore, writer for Star Trek.
Star Trek has a strong moral compass, many of the characters have integrity and know what's right; they struggle with right and wrong and they face the consequences of wrong actions. In many modern movies, such as Avenegers: Age of Ultron, the characters don't face the consequences of their actions. One of my pet peeves in movies is when the characters destroy a city in a car chase (see National Treasure 2) or in a giant battle (see the two Avengers films) and then NEVER stay around to clean up the mess! Who is paying for all of the damage the characters caused? When consequences are addressed, it is usually in one or two sentences and the main characters usually do not face any ramifications or any regret or guilt. In Star Trek, consequences are addressed. Characters face regret and guilt and they grow from it and become better people.
Perhaps this makes Star Trek less exciting than some shows. Perhaps to some it is boring, it is too "intelligent." (Fun fact: the first Star Trek pilot "The Cage" was deemed "too intelligent" by the people reviewing it and Gene Roddenberry had to go back and do another pilot. The only character who got transferred from the first to the second pilot was a certain alien by the name of Spock.) Special effects (especially for The Original Series and the first few seasons of The Next Generation) are certainly cheesy and definitely not as high tech as stuff today (although, personally, I prefer older special effects to newer special effects because more of it was real—it wasn't all computer generated). But Star Trek discusses important topics. And Star Trek has fantastic plots. And Star Trek has wonderfully real characters who change and grow; you really get to know them (for example, I can name twenty Deep Space Nine character who could be classified as "main." Even before I started rewatching Deep Space Nine, I could remember each and every one of these characters because they were so memorable and well-done). And Star Trek has great humor. And Star Trek does have epic space battles (again, I mention Deep Space Nine, when they enter the Dominion War).
This is why I love Star Trek. The plots, the characters, the humor, the action, the relationships, the philosophy, the ethics. All these elements are perfectly balanced. That is what makes Star Trek such an incredible, incredible show. That is why fans have gathered for forty years at conventions to discuss
Trek, buy and sell Trek, dress Trek, and see Trek actors. That is why Star Trek has lasted nearly fifty years (next year is anniversary year!).
That is why Star Trek is my favorite television show.