In September 1966, NBC unenthusiastically began broadcasting a “too-cerebral” science fiction series created by former LAPD speechwriter Gene Roddenberry and championed by, among few others, producer Lucille Ball.
“Star Trek,” the original series (referred to by fans as TOS) lasted three seasons on the network, during which its adventures of the starship Enterprise’s crew broke new ground in both serious speculative fiction (the occasional Tribble infestation excepted) and sociopolitical commentary on American television. A rabid but relatively small fandom could only keep the stories of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy’s half-alien science officer Spock and their then-uniquely diverse associates in the United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet on the air for so long.
As the 1970s ticked by, though, more and more people became addicted to TOS reruns. That led to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1979 and 12 more feature films counting this week’s release, “Star Trek Beyond,” not to mention one animated and six additional television series set in various quadrants and eras of the Trek universe, including a new one scheduled to hit CBS platforms in January of next year.
“Beyond,” then, is in the position of representing all that Trek stands for on its golden anniversary. The third film in the rebooted iteration that placed younger versions of the Enterprise crew in an altered timeline from the TOS shows and first seven movies, it sees “Fast & Furious” franchise maestro Justin Lin taking the directorial com from “Star Trek” (2009) and “Into Darkness’ “ J.J. Abrams, who served as a “Beyond” producer while he directed (oh, the betrayal) “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (A fourth installment, which promises the return of Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s father, was announced this week.)
Brimming with affection for Trek traditions and touched by tragedy, “Beyond” stars Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Dr. “Bones” McCoy, Simon Pegg as engineer Scotty, Zoe Saldana as communications officer Uhura, John Cho as helmsman Sulu, the late Anton Yelchin as navigator Chekov, Idris Elba as the Enterprise-destroying villain Krall and Sofia Boutella (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) as Jaylah, an alien who helps the Federation survivors on Krall’s planet.
In the accompanying series of articles, we’ll look at various aspects of “Beyond” and what they mean, half a century after Trek began its first five-year mission.
Contact Bob Strauss at firstname.lastname@example.org or @bscritic on Twitter.