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.

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