Star Trek: How a Universe was Destroyed
December 2019: An Update
I originally published this article in March of 2014. Things have changed since then; new movies have been made, new series have been created. As a result, I wanted to go back into this article, update things, clean up the text and the narrative a bit, and see where I could improve upon the article. I hope I have succeeded!
Series / Movie
1966 - 1969
1973 - 1974
Wrath of Khan
Search for Spock
1987 - 1994
1993 - 1999
Deep Space Nine
1995 - 2001
2001 - 2005
* Star Trek (Kelvin Timeline)
* Into Darkness
2017 - present
2018 - present
A Brief History of Time
Thursday September 8, 1966.
This is the day that the first episode of Star Trek (called "Where no Man Has Gone Before") aired. This was not the birth of Star Trek, however. As early as 1964, Gene Roddenberry was drafting proposals for his "Wagon Train to the Stars" sci-fi universe. Star Trek has a stilted beginning. Its ratings were initially high, but dropped significantly by the end of the first season. The network (NBC) announced it was going to cancel the show after the second season. But an unusual event took place: a woman by the name of Bjo Trimble organized a letter writing campaign which caused the network to pause and rethink this choice. Star Trek endured for another season.
But it seems that the powers that be have been trying to kill Star Trek from its inception. When NBC was forced to keep Star Trek on the air after its second season, they moved it to a non-prime time slot known as the "Friday Night Death Slot" — this angered Roddenberry enough that he stopped being its producer; a man named Fred Freiberger was producer for Star Trek's third and final season. Even the fans could not keep NBC from killing it after the third season.
Paramount Studios purchased the broadcast syndication rights for Star Trek. Throughout the early 1970s, Star Trek's fame and popularity grew. A short-lived (let's be honest here — badly produced) Animated Series would run for two seasons in 1973 and 1974.
Five years later, the feature film series would begin: a total of six films with the original cast would be created. Four other films would feature the cast of The Next Generation; three more set in the original series time frame (but in an alternate timeline, known as the Kelvin Timeline) with a new cast.
- Star Trek had seven television series (eight, if you count Short Treks) and another is coming in 2020 (Star Trek: Picard).
- Thirteen feature films have been made; there is another film coming out soon (Star Trek 4, a part of the alternate timeline). Every few weeks you can even see news of the often rumored Quinton Tarantino rated-R Star Trek movie (although, to be honest, if you think that will ever happen, you are not really paying attention).
- Other products include novels, comic books, magazines, video games, role-playing games, board games, card games, and so on.
All forms of media have been borne of this franchise. Star Trek is, without a doubt, one of the most enduring (and beloved) science fiction universes of all time. Despite all of this, I can tell you that the Star Trek Universe has been systematically destroyed.
If you are a fan of Star Trek and have read anything about its history, then I do not need to tell you anything else about the earliest years with NBC. For those of you that have not read of such things, let me simply tell you that from the outset Star Trek was seen as an intrusion into the network's line-up.
- They wanted to remove the character of Spock because he was an alien who looked too alien.
- They put Star Trek into time slots actively attempting to kill the show. Twice.
- They cut the per-episode budget each season.
- A proposed follow-on series called Phase II was planned but cancelled in mid development.
- After the box-office successes of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind the Phase II material was reworked into Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
It is at this point that we see a glimmer of hope for Star Trek. Paramount considered The Motion Picture to be a failure, but saw it do well enough that it could be worked into a successful feature franchise. With the release of The Wrath of Khan, it was as if the executives at Paramount and its affiliates has said a collective "we are sorry" for all they had done to the property. The idea of future films, future television series... all of this bloomed with the joy of possibility. But with the release of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, we got our first glimpse of betrayal.
And the one that would betray us? Leonard Nimoy.
The Romulan Star Empire
It is with a sad heart and a heavy soul that I have to call out one of my favorite actors as the first villain of Star Trek's demise. I would have not known the full extent of his betrayal had it not been for a book he wrote: . I Am Spock
Back a long time ago, Leonard Nimoy wrote a book called . In this book, he discusses many aspects of playing an iconic character on television, what it was to attempt to have an acting career post Star Trek, and so on. He spends a lot of time trying to convince the reader (or perhaps himself) he and Spock are not the same person. Sure. I get it. Spock is fictional; Leonard Nimoy is real. I Am Not Spock
In the book I Am Spock, Mr. Nimoy has aged, wizened, and mellowed a bit. He realizes that separating him from Spock is a fruitless endeavor. People see him and they immediately want to hold up their hand, fingers separated, and say "live long and prosper." We all know that many of the things we remember most about Spock are things he created, such as the Vulcan nerve pinch. He realizes that the history of the series will connect him to Spock and the series forever. We love Star Trek; we love Spock. He is Spock.
Star Trek is far more that Spock, however. Star Trek is also the USS ENTERPRISE; it is also James Kirk, Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, Nyota Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott, Pavel Chekov, Christine Chapel, Janice Rand... and many others. Star Trek is also the United Federation of Planets, The Klingon Empire, The Romulan Star Empire, The Tholian Hegmony, The Gorn Holdings, and more. Each of the items listed has a history. Each element of Star Trek has depth and reason.
Each element, like Spock, is beloved and should be honored.
The original script for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock has a scene where the Klingon villains steal a Romulan Bird of Prey in order to acquire a ship with a cloaking device so they can carry out their stealth mission. Leonard Nimoy — according to his book I Am Spock — made an executive decision: remove the scene, assume that the Klingons already have cloaking technology, and pretend that the ship is Klingon is design.
This set the stage to destroy everything about the Romulans that made them unique and distinctive.
The Klingons, as depicted prior to this movie:
- A proud warrior race
- Believe in victory through strength
- Direct and calculating
- Ships of the Klingon Empire have a distinctive look
The Romulans, as depicted prior to this movie:
- A secretive, enigmatic race
- Believe in honor and sacrifice
- Subtle and use subterfuge
- Ships of the Romulan Star Empire have a distinctive look
Once this film came out, the Romulan Star Empire stopped having a distinctive identity. Everything that made Klingon who they were remained Klingon in nature. Everything that made Romulans who they were became Klingon in nature. Like some kind of Borg Collective, this set the stage for everything written about the Klingons after.
- Need a brutish warrior? Get a Klingon.
- Need an honorable warrior? Get a Klingon.
- Need a brutish looking warship? Get a Klingon.
- Need a stealthy-cloaked ship? Get a Klingon.
Romulans were all but written out of Star Trek canon and remained absent in The Next Generation for its first season. They showed up in the last episode in a plot that can be summarized as "just letting you know we still exist."
One small choice, and the Romulans were destroyed.
The series has tried to revamp them a few times. The Next Generation had several storylines where it looked like a Romulan character might get some repeat screen time. The most impressive was the daughter of Tasha Yar. But then they would just flush this potential away without explanation.
Deep Space Nine used them. Voyager did to. The first movie in the reboot uses them and completely missed the point of the Romulan Empire.
I mean: completely missed the point.
Every time they show up, it feels like they are tacked on with all the enthusiasm of receiving yet another tie for Father's Day. The one thing that was done correctly was the newer designs of Romulan ships. The D'deridex class is absolutely gorgeous.
But as I said above: there is depth in every element of Star Trek. A cool ship is not enough to make the Romulans. It was enough, however, to initialize the series of events that would lead to their destruction.
What Leonard Nimoy did was an accident, however. He was trying to make a good movie and made an executive decision that had consequences he was likely unaware of. What Richard Keith Berman did, however, is unforgivable.
No Experience Necessary
Rick Berman was selected by Gene Roddenberry to help create The Next Generation. Once Roddenberry's health prevented him from having much to do with Star Trek's production, Rick Berman took over as the executive producer. Anything and everything that happened in the universe that is Star Trek from 1987 to the reboot by J. J. Abrams has Rick Berman's fingerprints all over it.
He is credited with co-creating Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. He was the lead producer and has story credit on Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis.
Throughout his run, Rick Berman was the man primarily responsible for Star Trek ceasing to be bold, or original (see: Oliver Glen's review of Nemesis). He was notorious for hiring writers and directors who would brag that they had never watched Star Trek.
Let me say that again: Richard Keith Berman, executive producer of Star Trek, regularly hired writers and directors who would publicly brag that they had never watched a single episode of Star Trek.
These authors would do interviews where they would state that, because they had never watched Star Trek, they were not biased and would not be drawn into its history.
Imagine this scenario: Disney announces the new Star Wars movie and notes in its press release that the author has never watched Star Wars in any form.
How do you think the fans would react? Can you feel the love that would emanate from the adoring fan-base? Neither can I. With writers that do not have a vested interest in the history of the Star Trek universe, the domino that was tipped over by Leonard Nimoy was able to cascade through the Star Trek universe slowly dismantling it piece by piece.
Do I think Rick Berman is a bad man who tried to kill Star Trek? No.
I think Rick Berman did his best. I just think that he lacked a fundamental understanding of the Star Trek universe. Feel free to tell me I am off my rocker here. I mean, this guy was at the center of the storm that is Star Trek and had a view of the universe I can only dream about. Who am I, you might ask, to say he had a lack of understanding? I am a fan. I am nobody. But I have a vested interest in Star Trek and best I can tell, this man spent many years taking a beautifully unique look at the future and turning into something that can only be described as generic.
When the franchise was to be rebooted, I was happy.
Until I saw what J. J. Abrams did.
Star Trek is to be rebooted.
I got this news and was happy.
Star Trek's first film will be the story of James Tiberius Kirk's rise to Starship Captain.
I got this news and was thrilled.
Star Trek's first film will include a villain from the Romulan Star Empire.
You might imagine that when I got the news of this I would be happy. Read the entry above on what Leonard Nimoy did to Star Trek. If you cannot tell from this writing that I am — was, and will every be — a fan of the original Romulan Star Empire, then you are not paying attention.
I was not happy; I was confused.
You see, as a fan of Star Trek, I knew that the Romulan Star Empire had been in a war with the Federation a long time before Kirk had joined Starfleet. As a result of that war, the Neutral Zone had been created. It was not until a year or so into Kirk's five-year mission with the Enterprise that anyone would come into contact with another Romulan.
According to the Star Trek Chronology:, several things happened in the following years:
- 2156 - 2160 — Earth Romulan War
- 2161 — Founding of the United Federation of Planets
- 2233 — James Tiberius Kirk is born
- 2266 — First contact with Romulans since the war ("Balance of Terror")
Granted, some of these years have varied throughout the properties lifetime. But one thing that has remained constant is that nobody had encountered a Romulan in almost a century since the Earth-Romulan War; and that encounter was well after James Kirk took command of the Enterprise.
It would seem this film would divert immediately from Star Trek canon. But how far does this reboot go? The series Enterprise played fast and loose with the timeline of Star Trek, and not in a good way. Would this film be doing the same sort of bizarre historical retcon job Enterprise did?
I did not know. But it was new. It was Trek. I decided this was not necessarily bad. This could be a good thing. I can roll with this. Moving on.
Star Trek's first film will include Leonard Nimoy as Spock.
OK. I was skeptical. But I wanted to give the film a shot. The film comes. I watch it. I was entertained, but was left feeling like this was a Star Trek parody, not a Star Trek reboot. For example:
In 1999, a film called Galaxy Quest was released. This Star Trek parody went beyond being just a parody of the show and movies, to being a parody of the cast of Star Trek and a few other classic sci-fi shows.
- Tim Allen's Jason Nesmith character is spot on William Shatner minus the ability to make fun of himself.
- Alan Rickman's Alexander Dane character is spot on Leonard Nimoy minus the follow-up career.
- Sigourney Weaver's Gwen DeMarco character is an amalgam of Nichelle Nichols and a host of female actresses throughout the male-dominated sci-fi industry of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Consider Zienia Merton and Catherine Schell of Space 1999; June Lockhart of Lost in Space; or Yvette Mimieux of The Black Hole.
- and so on...
In this film, there is an iconic scene where the actors have to navigate through a portion of the ship that has a series of deadly crusher-like obstacles that seem to serve no purpose other than to be a series of deadly crusher-like obstacles. Gwen DeMarco notes that there is no reason for these things to exist; the episode in which they were introduced, she states, was a stupid episode.
In Star Trek's reboot, we get a scene where Kirk and Scotty somehow beam themselves from a planet onto the Enterprise while it is moving away from them at Warp 3 (please read this article to see why this was a dumb thing to write into the film). They arrive on the ship in a space that serves no purpose other than to be an homage to the parody described above.
Kirk arrives in this odd space aboard the ship; he is alright but he cannot find Scotty. Scotty it seems has been transported into a large water tube within that space that wraps around the area aimlessly threatening to drown him until Kirk finds a valve that (for some reason) release a few thousand gallons of water onto the deck...
No matter how many times I go over this paragraph, I cannot truly describe just how stupid this scene is. It serves no plot purpose. It has, in fact, less impact on the story being told in Star Trek than the crusher-thingies had in Galaxy Quest. And that is saying something.
This is one example of how the movie failed to capture the feel of Roddenberry's dream. But this is not all. Old Spock as a recurring character handing over important future information to young Spock; the fact that it would appear Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, and Chekov all joined Starfleet at about the same time. The story has to be a multiple-time-travel arc in which a strangely heavily-armed Romulan mining ship from the far future comes back to the age of Kirk to outgun Federation warships. The entire plot rests on the idea that everyone at every level of Starfleet is a moron.
This assumption carried over into the second film... and the third. And with that, let us hope this reboot stops (it will not... Star Trek 4 has already been announced).
Any more Star Trek films in this vein would be criminal.
Yes. The Star Trek franchise is dead. I wish they would let it rest in peace. But they plan to milk this undead juggernaut until it cannot walk anymore.
As far as I can tell, it was pushed by Leonard Nimoy; it was fatally wounded by Rick Berman; it was slain by J. J. Abrams.
In a perfect world, the franchise would remain in its grave for at least a decade. In the meantime, they could limit the output of the franchise to books, comics, games, and the like. Perhaps after a sufficient grieving period, someone who could treat this franchise with the respect it has earned and deserves could step up to the plate.
But like I said, they will not let that happen. They will go on misusing this beautiful creation as a cash cow. Still, I have Star Fleet Battles, the various Star Trek Role Playing Games, and a lifetime of memories to keep me happy.