The new Star Trek movie is out on DVD today and naturally I’ve got to write about it. Do I really need to warn you about spoilers? Also, serious geekitude alert.
When Nero's ship breaks through from the future into the present of the movie's opening scene right in the path of the Federation starship USS Kelvin it's bad news for the Kelvin, her captain, and her executive officer, Lt George Kirk, but apparently not so much for the rest of the galaxy for at least the next 25 years.
The Kelvin is destroyed, but the biggest change in history as result is that one little kid in Iowa grows up without the steadying influence of his loving dad and instead of becoming the youngest and best starship captain in Federation history he becomes...the youngest and best starship captain in Federation history.
Aside from Kirk’s having a juvie record that for all we know he may have had anyway---Kirk the overgrown Boy Scout and academic grind of the first several episodes of the TV series might have been overcompensating for a bad boy past---apparently everybody who should have been born, got born and grew up to be exactly what they would have been anyway, and everybody who was scheduled to die died on schedule. The members of the Kelvin’s crew who bought it in the short battle with Nero probably would have bought it in whatever encounter with whatever new lifeform or new civilization the Kelvin was on its way to seek out before it bumped into that uncharted black hole.
Those who should have survived left less a gap in history than George Kirk.
Meanwhile, the grade school age Leonard McCoy continues on a path that will take him into med school and a bad marriage. The high school age Montgomery Scott begins building his reputation as an engineering prodigy and miracle worker. Sulu, Uhura, and Chekhov get themselves born when and where they’re supposed to and grow up with the same personalities, talents, ambitions, and resumes as they had in the other timeline, with only a few minor changes in character---Sulu is a tad mas macho, Chekhov, uninfluenced by the Beatles and Davy Jones of the Monkees, chooses a different ridiculous hairstyle, and Uhura is allowed a love life. And all of them land on the bridge of the Enterprise together, five years ahead of schedule, but still at the right point in time, at the very beginning of the captaincy of James T. Kirk.
It takes Nero a couple of decades before he gets around to really messing around with "history" as we know it from the TV series.
Then he wipes out Vulcan.
Around six billion people who were alive during the events of the original show and the movies featuring the original cast, including Spock's mother, wink out of existence. Presumably this will have a bigger effect than the premature death of Kirk's father, but all we can know for sure is that the mission depicted in the episode Journey to Babel, if it takes place, will not include this wonderful exchange between Spock and his parents, Sarek and Amanda.
Amanda: And you, Sarek, would you also say thank you to your son?
Sarek: I don’t understand.
Amanda: For saving your life.
Sarek: Spock acted in the only logical manner open to him. One does not thank logic, Amanda.
Amanda: Logic! Logic! I’m sick to death of your logic! Do you want to know how I feel about your logic?
Spock: Emotional, isn’t she?
Sarek: She has always been that way.
Spock: Indeed? Why did you marry her?
Sarek: At the time it seemed the logical thing to do.
Now, obviously I have more invested in Star Trek than is healthy for a reasonable adult. But geek that I am, I am not religious about it. I don't need the new movies to be that faithful to the series. I might even have applauded some changes or variations that I thought improved upon the mythos. I like it that Smallville made Jonathan and Martha Kent younger and that it restored the old friendship between Clark and Lex. I had just about accepted the advancement in Jimmy Olsen's age and I'm not sure I like it that it has turned out that the Jimmy Olsen I knew from the comics is the little brother of the Jimmy Olsen on the series. And the changes the new Batman movies have actually been pretty minor, except for one and that one needs to be written into the comic book's bible---the Joker's make-up and scars are much, much, much scarier and intriguing than the vat of acid story.
But comic books rewrite their origin stories and revise their timelines frequently. Apparently, while I wasn't looking, Star Trek's official history was chiseled in stone by Gene Roddenberry and no one would thinks to change it any more than Moses would have thought to take a blue pencil to the Ten Commandments.
I wouldn't have been bothered if the movie makers had just gone ahead as if they didn't have to worry about the "canon" at all, at least not as bothered as I now am by the implications of the creation of the alternative history.
They could have come up with a reboot that didn’t depend on time travel and alternative histories and I’d have been just as happy. Happier, maybe. Time travel plots give me headaches.
But it's thinking like I'm about to demonstrate that explains why the creators of the new Trek felt they had to come up with a time travel plot that leaves all the characters' characters intact while fudging the continuity between this movie and all the rest of the Star Trek franchise except Enterprise.
Start with this.
Ok. Vulcan is gone.
Vulcan is gone? Does that mean that the events in one of the best episodes of the original series, Amok Time, take place on the new Vulcan colony Sarek and Spock Prime help found? Do they take place at all? Did Spock's fiancee survive the death of Vulcan?
And now that Kirk has become captain of the Enterprise five or so years earlier than he did in the first universe, when does he have time to meet and bed Carol Marcus? If they didn't meet at all, that means David Marcus wasn't born, and if David wasn't born, Carol couldn't complete the Genesis project, and without Genesis, Spock can't be reborn on the Genesis planet. And if Spock isn't reborn than he can't be around to negotiate the truce with Romulus or to be on his way to save Romulus from the supernova, so Nero can't blame him for the death of his wife and civilization and won't chase him into the black hole and if he doesn't chase Spock into the black hole then he won't have changed history so Kirk would have met Carol Marcus so David would have been born so...et cetera et cetera et cetera.
Meanwhile, what about Khan? The Botany Bay is still floating around out there, but Kirk is now on a different career path. Is he going to find the Botany Bay five years earlier? Will the historian who falls in love with Khan be a member of the Enterprise crew by that point? If she's not, Khan's main motive for revenge is gone, so is he still angry enough at what happens to Ceti Alpha V that he will want to chase Kirk 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round Perdition's flames and hurt him and go on hurting him? Will the space battle that kills Spock happen? If it doesn’t, then Spock doesn't need to be reborn so he can be on his way to save Romulus so...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
But the time travel plots gives the new series of films a permanent Get Out of the Official Canon free card.
Whatever the filmmakers want to do, including killing off one of the main characters, they can do, because when fans of the series squawk, the answer is at the ready:
"That was the way it was, before Nero changed the history. In fact, it's still the way it is, in the other universe or one of the other universes created every time a character makes a choice."
As I said, minor changes in the canon are fine with me as long as the characters are consistent and the stories they’re put in are good. After all, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is “canonical” but who needs laughing Vulcans?
The new movie tells a good Star Trek story.
It’s the what happens next part that’s giving me the headache.
There is now a universe, or many universes, in which Nero destroys Vulcan, and one, or many, in which he doesn't. But the young Spock would have to be awfully zen to simply accept that and awfully cold-blooded, even for a Vulcan, to console himself for the death of his mother and six billion of his fellow Vulcans with the thought, Well, at least they're alive in other universes.
He has a powerful incentive to change history, and why wouldn't he act on it? After all, he has a hundred and twenty nine year head start on solving the problem his old self apparently solved in a matter of weeks, how to save Romulus, and in saving Romulus he'll save Vulcan and his mother, because Nero won't have a reason to want to kill him, won't chase him into the black hole, won't show up in the "present" to drill that hole into Vulcan's core.
But then Spock won't know he needs to hurry it up on the plan to save Romulus, which means that he might not get there in time, again, and...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Or try this one out. We know Spock and Kirk are going to invent time travel. Once they do, why won't Spock travel back in time to the point where Nero arrived in the "present" and help George Kirk destroy Nero's ship instead of merely incapacitating it? Or if he doesn't feel like going that far back, why wouldn't he go back to the point where the Federation fleet takes off for Vulcan and warn them they're flying into a trap? Given what one lone starship was able to do to Nero's ship twenty-five years earlier, it would figure that a squadron of starships with a generation's worth of technological upgrades, warned and armed with shields up, could make pretty short work of Nero's ship before he could drill through the topsoil on Vulcan.
But if Spock saves Vulcan at that point, how much of the original series' timeline will he restore? He will have altered "his" timeline, but that won't bring things back to the way they should be, it will create yet another universe or universes and...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Captain's Log, Supplemental: I figure no one's reading this post except the most faithful of faithful readers, and only the geekiest of you have read to the end, and if you're that geeky then you want more. You can find that more over at Jaquander's place. He liked the movie, a lot, but the time travel bugged him too. Other things bugged him as well. But he answers my question about Carol Marcus.