JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek is driven forwards by a time travel loop – allowing destiny to be altered and a new edge to the original continuity.
The back story begins in what we are apparently to accept as standard, canonical Trek continuity. From there, the vengeful Romulan Nero passes through a black hole and arrives in this new movie’s universe – or, as we are specifically told, into the past of the same universe. And it is at this moment that, as Doc Brown would have it, time skews off at a tangent. A new timeline is formed, and this timeline is the one on which this particular movie hangs.
The moment of divergence for this new timeline is, rather conveniently, the day that James Tiberius Kirk is born. The events of the day, in which the time travelling Romulans play a major part, are shown to be incredibly significant in Kirk’s future.
Literally, this is the beginning. Audiences to this revised Trek quite literally get to pick up the very end of a new thread and start tracking the weave from there.
Somewhere in the middle of the film, the time loop trickery is addressed in dialogue. Knowing that their destinies have been altered, the characters make explicit mention of how their lives are now going to take very different paths to those they would otherwise have followed..
There’s a reason why this reboot succeeds, and it’s embodied by James Tiberius Kirk. The Star Trek universe desperately needs Kirk, and everything that he represents. It needs his wild abandon, his reckless dynamism, his pulsing virility.
Without him, and his kind, it became moribund, and fell out of favour. By resurrecting him, JJ Abrams has revived and revitalised Star Trek,.
The triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy were the cornerstone of this universe and while we grew fond of the likes of Picard, Data and even Trip Tucker, no-one ever truly eclipsed them. Why would you choose to make a Trek movie without those three, if you could?. All you have to do is cast the right people – which is what Abram’s did.
So is the film faithful to the old guard? In many cases it is as faithful as you could reasonably expect – although the script does rewrite history. Thanks to the alternate timeline, the heroes’ destinies are irrevocably changed. Year zero. Clean slate. And seeing those accumulated centuries of established continuity crumble into dust doesn’t feel like a betrayal – it feels like a liberation. From now on, we really are boldly going where no man has gone before. Anything could happen – and sometimes does (you won’t believe what Spock and Uhura get up to…).
There’s another reason this film is a triumph- it has passion. This is a film full of people who hurt, and it’s capable of hurting you . This Enterprise crew disagree with one another. They fight. They say “bullshit!” They scream their heads off when chased by CGI monsters, and when confronted by a visitor from the future, they enquire, “Do they still have sandwiches there?” They’re vital and funny and therefore we recognise them as people, real people, just like us.
There will be those who say the movie isn’t faithful to the original Star Trek but so be it. What has been created is a new format that will enthral children and adults alike – and will ensure that Star Trek will live long and prosper, where it could so easily have ebbed away.