Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen Star Trek Beyond I recommend watching the film before you read this article.
Star Trek Beyond hasn’t exactly been a box office smash. Don’t get me wrong—its $340 million global return will probably help the studio break even (and that’s not including Blu Ray sales). But Justin Lin’s film is certainly not the Avengers-caliber hit Paramount was hoping for.
That’s too bad because this was easily my favorite of the rebooted Star Trek films. To be sure, J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness were both great films. But Star Trek Beyond really felt like an episode of the TV show I grew up watching.
That won’t hit the right notes for everybody—I get that. But there’s so much to love about Star Trek Beyond that I feel like I could mount a pretty vigorous defense of the film.
What Star Trek is All About
The introduction might talk about “strange, new worlds,” but to me, Star Trek has always been more interesting when it’s exploring what it means to be a human being. And that’s precisely what Star Trek Beyond does. We’re going to be discussing the nitty gritty of the film, so beware, spoilers ahead.
Captain James T. Kirk and Captain Balthazar Edison, in a way, represent the two sides of Starfleet: exploration and war. That’s a tension that’s always been part of Star Trek: peaceful explorers with deadly weapons. But it’s a very human tension: the (perhaps) cliché battle between our good and bad tendencies as a species.
Balthazar Edison hates the Federation, hates what it represents. He sees the pursuit of peace as an admission of weakness. Captain Kirk sees the strength of sacrifice, of the common good. As Kirk says near the end of the film: “Better to die saving lives than to live with taking them.”
That’s what I’ve always admired about Star Trek. It takes strength to show compassion. It’s difficult to put fear and anger aside. It’s such a Star Trek message at the end of the film: anger can keep you going, but only compassion can move you forward.
Staying in Character
The message is right, that’s for sure. But so too are the characters. Perhaps it’s because we’ve moved beyond the introductory phases of the crew of the Enterprise, but the main characters in Star Trek Beyond have never felt so true to themselves.
I think part of the reason why these characters feel so three-dimensional and comfortable at the same time is because the script finds ways to throw them together in pairings you typically don’t see outside of a TV-episode:
- Kirk and Chekov: These two characters spend a lot of the second act together, and it’s great to see the way they fall into a mentor/apprentice relationship.
- Spock and McCoy: The relationship between Bones and Spock was one of the touchstones of the original series. Putting these two together (over and over again) was a stroke of genius and pays off so well.
- Sulu and Uhura: This is probably the least successful pairing of characters, but I still think it works. Uhura, in particular, is great because it becomes obvious in the second act that she’s kind of the brains of the operation.
The way the film breaks apart the characters makes their inevitable reunion that much more satisfying. And it’s worth saying that one of the major reasons this works is because the cast is so fantastic. Chris Pine does great work as Captain Kirk, Karl Urban is a treat as Dr. McCoy, and Idris Elba is fantastic as Krall (or Captain Edison, if you like). The whole cast is just amazing, and they bring life to all of these legendary characters.
Still Time for a History Lesson
For all the great optimism and character beats, Star Trek Beyond moves at a pretty brisk pace. But even with that, the film nicely ties into the existing Star Trek universe, with many references to Star Trek: Enterprise. Even the USS Franklin is itself an homage to the NX-class Enterprise.
It’s okay if none of that made sense to you—but it’s thrilling for me because it’s a convincing bit of world building. For long time Star Trek fans, any time you can connect the dots to the larger Trek universe, you’re going to get some thrills out of it.
Star Trek Beyond Easter Eggs
Some of those connections include the following:
- Captain Balthazar Edison was a former MACO (seen in Star Trek: Enterprise
- Captain Balthazar also served during a conflict with the Xindi, seen in the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise
- During the film, Spock is seen looking at an image of the prime-timeline USS Enterprise crew (featuring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy)
- The Beastie Boys song, “Sabotage,” gets some airtime, a nod to J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek
- Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy share a birthday drink, much as they did in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
For more Star Trek Beyond Easter eggs, there are no shortage of resources!
It Felt Like Star Trek
The most important element here, to me, is that Star Trek Beyond just feels like Star Trek in a very profound way. If I’m completely and totally honest, both of J.J. Abrams’s films are probably superior as films.
But Star Trek Beyond just feels better. It feels more comfortable. It feels like I’m watching a long lost friend. Truth be told, that’s probably one of the reasons why it didn’t do as well at the Box Office as either of the other Bad Robot Star Trek films.
But it’s one of the reasons I love Star Trek Beyond. Everything I want is there: The Enterprise, strange new worlds, heroic deeds, and enough substance to make me think about what it means to be a human being.
That sounds like Star Trek to me.