Lesson: Surprise. Don’t be bound by continuity or preconceived notions.
If it was difficult for the 007 producers to innovate James Bond after twenty formulaic films, imagine the insane task J.J. Abrams and company had in front of them when deciding to reboot Star Trek. The franchise had collectively produced five television series across thirty separate TV seasons and 726 episodes, in addition to ten feature films and a vast amount of literature. And all of it, for the most part, had attempted to exist within one unified continuity, a continuity so dense and complicated that telling new stories had become a significant challenge.
So what did Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman decide to do? They chose to send Spock and some bitter Romulans back in time to blow the whole damn thing up.
And it. Was. Genius.
One cannot describe in words the giddy joy of watching Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. It felt unbelievable to watch this insane, audacious story play out, to see the Star Trek universe we know and love changed into something fresh, original, and utterly unpredictable. The core plot device – Nero travels back in time and begins meddling with history – is such a simple idea, yet its ramifications are complex and multifaceted, allowing Abrams to achieve something that Star Trek had not grasped in years: The element of surprise.
With the wonderful young cast Abrams assembled playing each part to perfection, it felt profoundly disorientating to see recognizable versions of Kirk, Scott, McCoy, and the other classic characters thrust into a situation where we could not be sure, even for a second, of their fate. With continuity swept away in a massive black hole, these characters were dynamic again, their story relevant and engrossing once more. Abrams captured much of what makes Star Trek special – the optimistic vision of the future, mankind’s symbiotic relationship with technology, strategy-based warfare, etc. – but he also expanded the boundaries of the franchise by leaps and bounds. This was Star Trek, but different. And it was absolutely invigorating.
No reboot has ever created an atmosphere of stimulating unpredictability quite as well as Star Trek, but all of them would do well to learn by the film’s example. The main reason for a reboot is to offer the audience a fresh take on something that has grown mundane, and to do so by turning the ordinary into the height of excitement seems like the best-case scenario. Don’t be afraid of angering fans, either. For the most part, Star Trek was warmly embraced by even hardcore Trek nerds, and it expanded the franchise’s audience far past the typical fan-base. The film proved that when crafting a reboot, surprise can be the most valuable tool.
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