Monday, June 20, 2016

Anton Yelchin - An Open Letter to All Star Trek Fans

Sad, tragic news in the Star Trek universe. Beloved actor, Anton Yelchin, who is best known to Trekkers as Pavel Chekov in the reboot movie series, died after a freak car accident over the weekend. He was 27 years old. Far too young to be gone.

I will admit that I do not watch a lot of movies these days. I have two young children, a full time job, and several interests that all compete for my time. I sadly only knew Mr. Yelchin's work through the Star Trek movies. When the reboot movie was announced, many fans were wondering if the new actors would be able to adequately handle such iconic characters that are so well known in pop culture. I will say that as Chekov, Yelchin had the energy and enthusiasm that Walter Koenig brought to the role. He nailed it. I truly enjoyed the work that he did in the two movies, and I am looking forward to the third, albeit now with a twang of bitter-sweetness that is to be expected knowing that you are watching one of his final performances.

Now, I will not do a tribute to Anton in this post. As I said, my knowledge of his work is quite limited, so I will simply say that of what I saw of his work, I enjoyed. Instead, I wish to address this as an open letter to what I believe (and hope) is a small portion of Star Trek fans, and hopefully will help all fans of Anton Yelchin's work find some healing. This might seem like a lecture from your dad, and so be it. Sometimes we need to hear these things, no matter how old we are.

Trekkies have become an interesting bunch of fans. I would argue that Trekkies were the first superfans, helping turn this low ratings science fiction show into one of the most successful, recognizable, and influential franchises of all time. That does not mean that we are all the same. As the Trek universe grew and expanded, definite camps became established. We have the die-hard Originals, who claim that nothing in Star Trek would be possible without Kirk, Spock, and company. The Next Geners took Trek to a level of popularity that has yet to be duplicated. The Niners like to stand a little to the side, where many of the black sheep of families stand, raising their arms in triumph as they call DS9 the most interesting and diverse of the series. The Voyagers rally behind Janeway and her journey home from the Delta quadrant, and we even have the Enterprisers who stand with the prequel series and chastise the rest of us for not being fully behind their beloved series. We have fans of the reboot movies, and fans of the animated series, and of course, plenty of us mingle within all camps because we love all things Trek. 

We do disagree in our large, fan-based family. I remember the shock I felt at my first convention when fans actually booed the character of Wesley Crusher. There are heated debates over key issues, such as who is the best captain, whether Star Trek II, IV, or First Contact was the best movie of all time (feel free to throw in the 2009 Trek if you like), best series, best episode, worst series, worst movie, etc. We talk about the flaws in each other's favourites, and find joy in the good-natured discussion. I have my favourites and my lists of things I find cringe-worthy (I'm looking at you, Edo!), but I remember the one thing that binds us all: IDIC. Yes, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. There is room in all of Star Trek for all kinds of fans. In my opinion, true fans are the ones that respect this. True, we can disagree from things that are trivial (which movie was worse, 1 or 5) to much more socially relevant topics (petitioning for a gay captain on the new Trek series). At the end of the day, the true fans find themselves willing to agree to disagree and treat each other to a round of Romulan Ale afterwards. 

So it was very disappointing to me to see people who I can only describe as pseudo-fans that were celebrating the death of this talented, young actor, Anton Yelchin. I am confident that these malcontents are a very small, yet obnoxiously loud minority of fans, but I would like to address their utter lack of civility and respect. I am perfectly fine when a fan does not like the new Trek movies. I get it! A reboot will never please all the die-hard fans. And the JJ Abrams films are definitely far from perfect. Yes, for some, his vision was too different from what they were accustomed to, and that will earn a backlash, but let us think this through for a moment. To take a dislike for a film, no matter how intense, and turn it into a sub-human trollish glee over the death of a young man is not becoming of a person, let alone a fan of a franchise that promotes the betterment of the human species. It is so very wrong for people to herald this as "the death of JJ Abram's Star Trek" as if it is a blessing of some sort. As I sift through the Twitter feeds, the Facebook posts, and the Instagram messages, I can tell that there is a lot of grief over the accidental passing of a young star. I feel for the family of this young man. I feel for the fans of this talented actor. I feel for Walter Koenig who now has the dubious distinction of being the only original Star Trek actor to outlive his reboot counterpart. I feel bad because this young man had his life snuffed out because of an accident. 

So when I read that people are celebrating his death, my blood gets boiling. I see life as being something special, almost sacred. If I did not enjoy Mr. Abram's vision of my beloved Star Trek, I have a simple solution: I don't watch it! I will choose to spend my money on things that are more worth my time. How pathetic my life must be if I feel the need to vent on social media my disgust of a movie to the point where I will rejoice over the accidental death of a 27 year old actor? Let's forget that his cast mates are hurting, that his family is hurting, that his fans are hurting, that good people who value basic life are hurting. Let's forget the idea that without this film series you seem to loath so much, Star Trek's 50th anniversary may be little more than a footnote with little chance of having a new TV series on the horizon. Let's focus on what you who celebrate Yelchin's death claim is something you love. You apparently love Star Trek. You love a TV show that spawned many sequels, films, novels, comics, games, etc. You treat the passing of this young man as a triumph over some sort of heinous crime against humanity. You raise your entitled fists in the air and claim victory against the Big Bad Reboot franchise as if somehow the gods of sci-fi have personally dealt a blow on your behalf. You personify everything that people have made fun of Trekkies for during the whole half a century that we have existed: socially awkward dweebs who have no true sense of reality. This attitude spits on the graves of Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Majel Barret, Michael Piller, and every other talented person who contributed to this wonderful franchise that you claim to love. You embarrass yourselves with this childishness. To quote William Shatner, "Get a life!". 

For the rest of the fans, the true fans of Roddenberry's creation, I give you a comforting hug. When so many talented artists have contributed to 50 years of something that has left a deep, positive mark on our culture, there will be many that we look back fondly on and shed a small tear for their passing. Anton Yelchin is the newest name on that list. We will remember him with fondness as we watch Chekhov's antics on the big screen one last time. We will heave a sigh of regret when we see his dedication (not announced, but I would be shocked if JJ didn't fit it in somehow). We will talk about him at the conventions and in chat rooms. And then we will move on. That is what we do. When Gene passed, we moved on. When Michael Piller passed, we moved on. As the actors who have played Sarek, McCoy, Scotty, Spock, Rand, Chapel, Mudd, Dathon, Boothby, Pike, and so many others have passed away, we move on. As we note the passing of composers, designers, and makeup artists that have passed away, we move on. We remember their work with fondness, knowing that through their contributions in Trek they have achieved a small degree of immortality. 

To Anton Yelchin, I say thank you. Thank you for breathing life into a beloved character, for sharing your talents with the world, and for being a part of something great.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fatherhood in Star Trek

It’s June, and Father’s Day quickly approaches. Ever since I can remember being an adult, I had wanted to be a father. The best example I had growing up was my own father, who while not perfect, was perfect for me. As a child, I also watched a lot of television, and as I look back, I realized that there were not a whole lot of great father examples on TV. Sure there was Cliff Huxable on the Cosby Show, but recent allegations and revelations have tarnished that memory. TV dads were often buffoons, numbskulls, lazy, or neglectful. Those that were dutiful towards their family were often nerdy or awkward. The good TV fathers were few and far between. For every Charles Ingals there were at least a half dozen Al Bundys and Homer Simpsons. I hoped to find the good role models on the TV set.

Star Trek, of course, is my go to show (hence the blog). Again, it was difficult at times to see fathers. On the original series, we see the strained relationship between Spock and his father Sarek. In the Next Generation, we see glimpses of devoted fathers on the Enterprise, but usually as background characters. TNG established that families would be exploring the final frontier together, but the main male characters were mostly childless. Worf had his son, Alexander, but was unaware of his existence until K’Ehleyr sprung him on us. While Worf did his best as a single parent, Alexander was not a central part of the show. Data had an episode where he became a father, and as touching as the episode was, it was only one. We met some of the crews’ fathers, but again there were flaws. Worf’s adoptive father was a bit overwhelming, Data’s was doting but tragically dies, Wesley’s was only seen in a vision (also being deceased), and Riker’s relationship with his dear old dad was strained at best. Even later shows were low on father figures. Voyager had Tom Paris as both a father and a son. His relationship with his father was challenging, and he was only a father for a few moments on the last episode (unless the count the time that he and Janeway became lizards, but let’s just forget that one). Enterprise, as far as I could tell, had no fathers.

Deep Space Nine included the greatest variety of fathers, and it was this show that allowed me to see fatherhood on many levels. Yes, there were some stereotypes. Rom was a bumbling but well-intentioned father to Nog. Dukat was the complicated father who did not always know how to treat his half-Bajoran, hald-Cardassian daughter, but ultimately loved her. Bashir’s father was willing to do anything for his son Jules, ranging from the illegal to the accountable. Kira was haunted by her past with her father, while Odo had a tense relationship by the closest person he had to a father. We even had the more traditional working father in a stable relationship with Miles O’Brien. I loved the scenes with him and his family, from rushing home for dinner to bringing his baby to work, it was nice to see a regular, everyday dad. O’Brien reminded me more of my father in this regards than any other Trek dad.

Of course, there is Captain Benjamin Sisko. While many people celebrated the fact that he was the first lead in a Trek series that was a person of color, I thought it was more exciting that he was the first captain to be an involved father. His relationship with his son, Jake, was one of the best facets to his character. It was no surprise that the relationship between the actors that played Ben and Jake was as close as father and son could be, because their chemistry as characters was true and realistic. This is not to say that their relationship was perfect, but it was very typical of many father-son relationships. They did a lot of things together, like camping, fishing, and solar sailing. They shared common interests in baseball and cooking. Both had to grow as time progressed. Jake made decisions that Ben didn’t like, starting with not going into Starfleet. Ben had to learn to let Jake make those decisions. When Jake decides to remain on the station when the Dominion take it over, Ben is furious but admits that Jake is a man who is capable of making his own decisions. Jake had difficulties with his father being a Bajoran holy figure, mostly because he was worried that he would lose his father after having lost his mother at a young age. The tables were turned in the episode “The Reckoning” when it was Jake that was at risk of dying due to the Bajoran religion.  

Underlining this relationship was the sad fact that Ben was raising his son alone. Being a single working parent is difficult, let alone when the parent is not only a commander of a space station but a religious icon to an alien species. In spite of this the Siskos were close. Their shared loss of wife and mother bound them together. This can be best seen in the episode “The Visitor” where Jake proves the extent he is willing to go to save his father, not just for Ben’s sake but for Jake as well. This episode allows us to glimpse into the future, and it is delightful to see Ben pressuring his now adult son about giving him grandchildren. We continually see how important the relationship between these two is, to the point where Jake is willing to sacrifice his own life to restore what the relationship that once was. Jake did this not just to save his father, but to give his younger self the chance to continue growing up with his father.

Throughout the seven seasons of Deep Space Nine, Ben and Jake represented what many may consider to be an idealistic, or perhaps realistic, father-son relationship. They share frustrations with each other, involve themselves in each other’s lives, and become one of the best relationships on the show. It wasn’t overbearing, but it was present. So, with this Father’s Day approaching, I give a tip of the hat to Ben Sisko, one of television’s greatest, and definitely underappreciated, fathers.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Episode Review - The High Ground (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 3)

Episode Overview – The Enterprise is called to provide assistance to the planet Rutia IV, where the government is heavily threatened by internal terrorism. The terrorists have begun using a new form of experimental transporter technology with deadly consequences. Soon, Dr. Crusher is kidnapped and becomes personally involved.

Episode Score – 6/10. The episode is solid but not revolutionary (pardon the pun). Its main message: terrorism is bad. Not very revelatory. Many of the writers and producers of the show were not fans of it. I do think that it is a good vehicle to give Dr. Crusher’s character a bit of depth.

Relevance – 0 points. This story is a stand-alone episode that really does not connect much to other episodes. It is worthwhile to watch it, but if you are streamlining your episode viewing to only watching key episodes, then this one is likely not to make the final cut.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity scores a point as everyone does what they are expected to do. This ranges from the continued personal attachment between Picard and Beverly to Worf always managing to go down first in a fire fight. Universe continuity gets a check from me as it is typical for the Federation to provide medical aid while attempting to stay out of an internal conflict. Storyline continuity scores a point as nothing that happens goes against what has been previously established.

Character Development – 2 points. As far as character development goes, this is a big time Dr. Crusher episode. I have always liked how Beverly has a true caregiver’s heart, and she easily makes connections with the people around her. This is tested as she forms a bond with her captors, especially Finn, the terrorist leader. Picard, Wes, and Riker also get some good moments, but this is pretty much a Beverly Crusher episode. 

Social Commentary – 2 points. I am writing this review in 2016, over 25 years after this episode first aired. I also am writing this on the day that 50 people were killed in Orlando Florida, in what is believed to have been done by a domestic terrorist. At the time of its original airing, Ireland and the UK would not allow the episode to be shown due to IRA terrorism and how the episode could be interpreted as being sympathetic to terrorist activities. I wonder how this episode would be received today by people watching it for the first time. With radical terrorist groups getting a lot of media attention today, the concept of using terrorism to achieve political change is very relevant, as is the notion of humanizing the terrorists. What I am not sure is as relevant is the idea that terrorism should be glorified, as some may claim happens to an extent in this episode. While I am not wanting to use the case of Finn and his followers as an analogy to such horrific groups such as ISIS, I do think we can learn some valuable lessons from this episode as we try to reach out to those who feel disenfranchised in our society.

Cool Factor – 1 point. I think the dimensional shift inverters are pretty cool, and it would have been nice to see something more come from this.

Rank – Lieutenant (14 points). Overall an average episode. I like how Beverly gets the spotlight and a chance to shine. Gates McFadden shows some good acting chops here. Like many early TNG episodes, this one is pretty much self-contained. For those that are only wanting to watch what are considered essential episodes, I would recommend it only for the die-hard Doctor Crusher fans.