The Real Kirk and Spock Would Have Fixed The Time Line

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John Podhoretz shares my discomfort with the manner in which J.J. Abrams wiped out all previous Star Trek canon in making the new Star Trek movie. (Major spoilers here). He compares the movie to City on the Edge  of Forever, one of several Star Trek episodes involving changes to the time line discussed in my review of the movie:

Without the plot discipline that requires a time-travel scenario to leave the past as it was, the whole business just becomes a Rube Goldberg machine, with characters simply jumping backward whenever they want to make the present-day reality more appealing to them. That is suitable for comedies involving time travel, like the two Bill and Ted movies and Back to the Future, but not for science fiction. For science fiction to work, and work memorably, it has to offer a believable reason for every alteration in the nature of reality.

The writer-producer-director J. J. Abrams seems intent on ignoring the need for rules–any rules. On his beautifully made and insanely exasperating science-fiction TV show Lost, people travel forwards and backwards in time whenever it suits the show’s fancy, can occupy the same time and space with their younger selves so that they literally exist in two places at once, and in general, make a hash of any coherent plotline.

Abrams has decided to imitate himself on the big screen. He has now produced and directed a new Star Trek movie, the 11th big-screen feature in the series and a deliberate attempt to relaunch it with a new cast of younger actors playing the Star Trek crew. All the trappings are good. The movie is dynamic and propulsive, and the new cast is terrific. It will surely be a hit.

But it’s a mess, and a disgraceful mess at that. That’s because Abrams and his screenwriters, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, simply discard all fealty to the iron rules of time travel that made “City on the Edge of Forever”–the episode that was one of the key reasons the show so captured the imaginations of its viewers and became the phenomenon it did–such a haunting and memorable hour of television.

A gigantic alien spaceship from the future decides to rewrite history to its liking. That changes the past, but nobody seems all that interested in going back and fixing things, which is what would have happened on the show. Instead, we are asked to accept that a planet well known in Star Trek lore can be destroyed at a cost of six billion lives, and the event is simply accepted. Instead, Abrams and company also devise a deus ex machina in the form of one of the show’s most beloved characters. He won’t do anything to fix things, either, except try to turn young Kirk and young Spock into friends.

I still had a favorable view of the movie and felt that in many ways it remained true to Star Trek as I pointed out in my earlier review. I could easily overlook some minor changes from the past to reboot the series for a new era, and can understand why Abrams wanted to avoid having to follow every element of Star Trek canon, but there was no need for Abrams to change Star Trek as radically as he did. There were people doing Star Trek before Abrams and there will hopefully be people doing it after him.  Abrams wanted to leave himself free to kill off any characters or change the history of the Enterprise but to a certain degree living within the confines of the known Star Trek universe is part of writing Star Trek. Abrams is always free to exercise his creativity in writing other shows.

If Abrams had settled for only minor changes involving the Enterprise crew of the Kirk era, this would still leave people free to write of future generations while sticking to the main history presented in the previous shows. After all, slight changes in Kirk’s Enterprise would not have to have any bearing on a future show done along the lines of  Star Trek: The Next Generation. By making changes as radical as destroying a major planet, any future shows will be forced to choose between the original and the Abrams time line.

While Abrams simplified things for himself, he actually made Star Trek more complicated when looking at all the television shows and movies. Will we wind up with a situation as confusing as the multiple universes of the D.C. comics? Will discussions of Star Trek involving events which differ depending upon the time line make Star Trek appear as convoluted as Lost?

Abrams thought he was being true to Star Trek by using a plot device which was often used on the television shows. Matthew Yglasias accepted this writing, “Handling the desire to ditch elements of the established history through the mechanism of a goofy time travel plot is very much in the spirit of a franchise that’s full of goofy time travel plots.” This goofy time travel plot differed from the typical goofy Star Trek time travel plot by remaining in the altered time line.   As Podhoretz notes, if they were true to the show they would have fixed the time line and saved everyone who died.

As I pointed out in the comments to my earlier review, there are a couple of solutions (which I expect will show up somewhere in fan fiction). They could have the Enterprise and old Spock go into the future to prevent these events. Perhaps they could prevent Romulus from being destroyed, or otherwise intervene to prevent Nero from going back in time.

A second possibility, if they want to avoid further time travel, would be to launch an undercover operation on Romulus at the time of the movie and kill Nero’s ancestors.

Yet another possibility would be for Spock to go take a shower, and when he comes out be on Vulcan talking about the illogical dream he just had.

Comparisons to how time travel is also being used in Lost are inevitable. The comparisons are not as significant as above as Abrams isn’t actually involved with the current plotting of Lost, but it is still hard to ignore the comparison as we head into the season finale. On Lost, Jack is trying to prevent the event which caused Oceanic Flight 815 to crash on the island. We will find out what happens on Wednesday, but I have a feeling that, after being led to believe that what happened cannot be changed, Jack just might be successful.

We have been told that the finale of Lost will be a real game changer. Imagine if the episode ends with Oceanic Flight 815 arriving safely in Los Angeles and never crashing on the island. The main characters wouldn’t even know each other despite all the ways in which their lives turned out to be interconnected. This would really leave fans guessing as to where the show is going in the final season. They can easily get themselves out of  such a change next season  by having Ben or someone else change the time line yet again. I suspect the writers of Lost are capable of throwing something like this at us for the summer, or perhaps something even more bizarre.

It is one thing for Lost to play around with time lines which change back and forth, but fans expect more internal consistency to Star Trek.  On Star Trek the goal has always been to repair the time line and make sure things are as they were  intended to be.

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15 Comments

  1. 1
    Keith says:

    Well said, if they make a sequel it has to be about fixing the timeline 

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I don’t think they will fix the time line. The reason for changing the time line is so that Abrams will be free to do anything. From his perspective this is good as he can have drama over whether a character will be killed, and he is not tied to virtually anything from the original shows. He made a point of emphasizing this both by having Spock outright say things have changed for everyone from their previous path and by making such a drastic change in the ST universe.

    Abrams intentionally set this up so that he can do whatever he wants in future movies. This freedom is helpful to Abrams in making movies, and perhaps we have to accept this as the cost of getting new movies. It is bad for ST in the long run, assuming that there will be more Star Trek in the future beyond Abrams’ movies.

    I wouldn’t mind having two versions of the Kirk Enterprise (original and Abrams) if he had limited his changes to that era. I wish he hadn’t made such a drastic change which affects not only new versions of TOS but all versions of ST.

  3. 3
    Lucaswis says:

    Michio Kaku explains time travel as only being possible backwards imagining time is a river and travel back would be through a whirlpool of sorts.  And and changes would just create a fork in the river and yes old and young Spohk can live together.  But why did old Spohk just stay on the frozen planet and not contact the Federation or his Planet?  He could of had a chance at living inside of an alternate timeline (a fork in the river) with his younger self and his entire Planet… This is why time travel movies will struggle to be perfect.  Too hard to stay interesting and mainstream while holding to physics principles and common sense.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    I assume that old Spock didn’t know the planet would be destroyed until it happened. That still doesn’t explain why he stayed on his own, but if he knew of the plans he would have had more reason to try to contact Star Fleet.

    Until someone actually travels in time this is all speculative. Star Trek takes many liberties in many areas of science. For them to have their own rules for time travel is less of a problem than many of the other scientific errors. It is valid to discuss time travel in ST based upon ST’s rules for time travel even if many physicists have a different view.

  5. 5
    Fritz says:

    I just saw the flick.

    Very enjoyable.  Fine.

    However, the things that annoyed me were not the time travel issues.  They were basic tactical issues.  OK — and one bio issue.

    1.  Bio issue.  I don’t buy the extra-big creature on the damn ice field.  I don’t think the energy balance is going to work.

    2.  Tactics.  A really bad-ass spaceship is heading to Earth after having clobbered Vulcan and Spock is going to have the Enterprise go wandering off in a different direction?  Um, no.

    3.  Tactics.  If you can beam 2 guys onto the enemy ship (and how did they manage that?) why don’t you keep beaming more fighters in until you are stopped?  And start with more than 2.

    4.  Security.  Your Joe Random Starship Captain is going to have the sooper-sekrit defense codes?  I do not think so.

    5.  Chain of command.  Captain, acting captains, and whoever else has the helm running off of the bridge.   Don’t people get court-martialed for stuff like that?

    6.  Space defenses.  Hey — what a concept.  Earth and Vulcan sure could use them.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    There are certainly tons of holes in the plot–which we generally ignore and enjoy the movie. Besides the issues I’ve already mentioned in posts, 6 bothered me the most. (I’m already accustomed to the idea of beaming a small number often with the captain, and then ignoring the potential abilities of a transporter, or of virtually anyone winding up at the helm). It is certainly hard to believe that a ship could send down such a drill and nobody on the planet is trying to destroy it.

  7. 7
    Dr. Kevin Ong, M.D. says:

    says The Real Kirk and Spock would have fixed the Star Trek timeline http://tr.im/moRX (Spoilers!)

  8. 8
    Kevin Ong, Dr. says:

    says The Real Kirk and Spock would have fixed the Star Trek timeline http://tr.im/moRX (Spoilers!)

  9. 9
    Robert says:

    There was no space defence for the 2 planets because, (pardon my memory), the Star Fleet was stretched thin by its own mission to make contact (peacefully or otherwise) with new space traveling civilisations. The only defences that were emplaced where there were wars going on, or at the borders.

  10. 10
    Robert says:

    For point 2, Spock wanted to go off into different area as that would be the staging ground of the Fleet to counter-attack. However, the Spock at the point in time, either blinded by his anger of having to lose his world and his mum or was thinking too rigid to believe that Enterprise was capable of taking down the enemy ship (of course, with the future Spock’s ship).

    Point 3. The interference generator for beaming was not on, presumably, there was no threat detected by the enemy ship (Enterprise was hiding in the clouds and as pointed out in Point 6, there was no other space defence. Most of neighboring ship got wiped out when they warped to Valcan with their shields down and got destroyed anyway.) Another possibility was that the generator was destroyed in when Kirk sky dived down to the drill at Valcan. The generator was placed at the drill. The enemy ship may not have the parts to replace the generator. And apparently, the enemy ship had no shields, and I presumed that the enemy ship relied heavily on active weaponery and the generator to prevent boarding attempts. They didn’t beam more than 2 people into the ship as it was supposed to be a stealth mission with primary objectives to rescue the captain and stop Nero.

  11. 11
    Rex says:

    The notion of things continuing as they “should” be is the basis of the Prime Directive. Wouldn’t restoring the time line be as important as leaving pre-warp civilizations to develop unaltered by the influence of Federation personnel?

  12. 12
    Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed the movie but did not like the inability or unwillingness to fix a wrong in the timeline.

    J. J. Abrams should have skipped the time travel and kept most of the core story and implant some other threat, instead of time traveling drillers from Romulus.

    Also i for one do not accept the old Spock from the movie, as the true timeline Spock and instead prefer to think of him as some other timeline’s spock because the real one would have done more to save Vulcan.

  13. 13
    Tony says:

    I agree.  If Abrams wanted complete freedom to write whatever he wants, then he shouldn’t  make a movie based on an existing franchise.  It seems like wants to hijack Roddenberry’s fan base to bump up his numbers. Either write Star Trek as Star Trek, or create your own franchise.
    If he does a new movie, it should restore the timeline.

  14. 14
    RD Flores says:

    I really hate that Hollywood is taking so many good series and destroying them to make new ones. The take an American hero icon Mr. Phelps and have him go bad of Tom Cruise can be the hero.  Now Star Trek.  They need to fix the time line.  Why do they have to destroy everything that Star Trek fans have come to love in order to make these new actor the heros.  There is still a lot of room to do what they want with the original time line.  There are also major problems with not fixing the time line.
    1. In STE, they revealed the guardians of the time line.  Where are they?
    2. As soon as the time line reaches the point where they go back in time to destroy Vulcan, their planet is not destroyed this time, or if it is, it won’t be Spock’s fault, so they don’t go back and the time line will correct itself.

  15. 15
    Ron Chusid says:

    I can certainly see why they wouldn’t want to be totally tied to everything that happened in Star Trek in the past and face the most rabid fans who raise obscure points from a single episode to bash what they do. This doesn’t mean they had to totally change the time line with matters such as destroying Vulcan. When I first heard of the plans for a new time line I expected them to stick to all the basics of Star Trek but have a different time line to fall back on for minor deviations, not to make such a radical change.

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