Star Trek Beyond

Directed by Justin Lin

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban

Rated PG-13

View the trailer here.

“What’s the difference [between Star Trek and Star Wars]?” Amy asks Penny in The Big Bang Theory, as the girlfriends of a couple of fanboys try to sort out why these modern mythologies matter so much to their boyfriends.  “There’s absolutely no difference,” Penny replies.  It’s a puzzling question coming from Amy, who’s a science nerd herself and the sort of person you’d think would also be a fan.  And it’s a wrong answer from Penny, of course.  Star Trek is a speculative look at the future of the human race in interstellar space, and was made for adults.  Star Wars is what George Lucas made when he couldn’t get the film rights to Flash Gordon, and as such is a space fantasy with an emphasis on action and battles, made for the kid in all of us.

Trek fans, I hear, are a tad upset that J.J. Abrams, who directed the first two of the current series and produced this one, is supposedly turning Star Trek into Star Wars.  Since Abrams directed Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens and is set to produce the next entry in each series, it’s possible he doesn’t know the difference between the two, either.

My take: I watched Star Trek in the ’60s when I was a kid; even then, I could tell it was far better than Lost in Space.  Never got into any of the subsequent Trek TV series, but I caught all the movies, even those of the Next Generation series, because I like SF.  Have seen all of the Star Wars flicks.  And so forth.  And while it’s true that Star Trek Beyond is an action flick with big space battles, that doesn’t make it a Luke Skywalker adventure.

For one thing, the current Star Trek series is doing a more than serviceable job of recreating the original crew with an enjoyable cast—especially Simon Pegg as Scotty, Zack Quinto as Spock, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura—as well as the ongoing irritated banter between Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban).  The human element—or half-human, in Spock’s case—is still not only prominent, but recognizable to longtime fans of the series as involving these particular people.

For another, Star Trek Beyond involves the familiar elements of human interaction with alien life forms both friendly and unfriendly, intrigues, matters of trust, dangerous technologies, the Federation’s sense of its own history (with the discovery of a famous long-lost derelict ship), and a villain with a stick up his butt.  And while the space battles, involving hordes of alien fighter craft that swarm like flocks of starlings, involve enough CGI to make your eyes itch, and the sonic weapon the good guys ultimately devise to defeat the aliens struck me as a sneaky steal from 1996’s Mars Attacks!, the movie still manages to capture the feel of one of the old TV episodes, enhanced with (of course) a bigger budget. 

If you’re a casual Trek fan like me, or if you like SF or action movies, Star Trek Beyond is a go.  If you’re a truly rabid fanboy ready to quibble about every little thing, try to keep it to yourself.

Lyndon Joslin