The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Spoiler Alert: My Take on the New Sar Trek

May 9, 2009

It’s not going to get on anyone’s list of top ten IR movies, that’s for sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m disappointed, exactly… more like a little shell-shocked.

Lawyers, Guns and Money doesn’t have a peekaboo function, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else, so my reactions from seeing the film only once so far are hidden safely below the fold.

Foreign policy subtext – decidedly post-Global War on Terror. The original Federation always was presented as a metaphor for liberal internationalism ala Western Hemispheric U.S. hegemony; during the Cold War this meant as opposed to a totaliarian Klingon empire (read, U.S.S.R. / “Islamofascism”); the spin-off series’ kept this up to some extent with various other collectivist threats to secular humanism, the scientific progress valorized by space exploration pitted against the forces that would pull humanity back into the Dark Ages. But in this new variation Starfleet is explicitly described in UN-esque terms, as a “humanitarian, peacekeeping armada,” and the only enemy in sight is someone angry at the absence of (human?) security for his own people.

Battle scenes – awesome. The producers have learned a lot from Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars about how to make ships look as if they can actually maneuver in space / how to think about what space environments can actually do to human bodies (if not what black holes can do to flimsy starships).

Suspension of disbelief – required. Anyone familiar with Star Trek will immediately recognize the multitude of chronological errors, gaps, and inconsistencies in character development. (Like how Chekov isn’t supposed to show up until the second season of the classic series. Or how Spock was supposed to be serving under Pike during this period, not writing simulations at Starfleet academy.) Of course, the screenwriters explain much of this away through a plot twist in the end.

Even so, they can’t rely on that for everything. Since when, for example, do pregnant family members travel on starships with their husbands? I’ll tell you since when – since Galaxy class starships were introduced in the 24th century. Not early on, 35 years before the classic series. And how about the fact that Spock, while capable of love affairs, would never ever ever have one with a student, simply for ethical reasons?

Ultimately, the movie has been created not to satisfy the curiosity of older Star Trek fans but to rebrand the Trek universe to appeal to a 21st century crowd – one with a greater insistence on glamorous battle-scenes, a more human-security focused foreign policy imaginary, a post-feminist gender sensibility, and little pickiness about getting (fictional) facts straight. This is what makes it cinematically brilliant, but also why a few of us may leave theaters slightly shell-shocked this month.

+ posts

Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.