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Category: Science Fiction

Why Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is So Good

Another “Star Trek” series? Yep! And this is the one we’ve been waiting for. Here’s my review…

I’ve been a “Star Trek” fan since I was a kid, when I watched reruns of the original series. (My mom would often organize dinner with my dad around me watching Kirk, Spock and Bones at 6pm on WPIX.)

I’ve stuck with the entire Trek universe across all of these decades, and I’ve generally enjoyed every iteration.

Born from “Discovery”
“Star Trek: Discovery” has been the main “Trek” property over the past few years. It’s felt heavy at times and has gone through narrative course corrections in each of its seasons.

Honestly, it’s been a bit too dark and stiff for me. Universal destruction is always just around the corner. Yes, the writers keep adding lines about how the crew is family and how much they love each other. Yes, there’s a lot of hugging and tears. But, I just don’t feel it. Not really.

When a younger Starship Enterprise showed up in season 2 with Captain Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, the positive change in energy was dramatic. Sure, it was a gamble giving us another Spock, played by Ethan Peck, but it worked. Plus, we saw Pike’s bold Number One, played by Rebecca Romijn. And instantly, I wanted the storytelling to stay with this younger pre-Kirk Enterprise.

And clearly, I was not alone.

Hit It
Now, we’ve got “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” a new series on Paramount+, which follows the voyages of the Enterprise in the decade before Kirk took over. If you’re a Trekkie, you know that Captain Pike and his crew were introduced in “The Cage,” the first pilot for “Star Trek” way back in 1965. (That footage was eventually repurposed in the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Menagerie.”)

After watching the first two episodes of “Strange New Worlds,” I’m happy to say that this series perfectly captures the energy and fun of the original show.

Yes, fun.
Saving the galaxy used to be fun, right?

There are lots of complementary elements that are helping this new series to hum at warp.

The Strong Cast
Though Pike is now (minor spoiler alert) burdened by knowing his future, Anson Mount continues to give us a compelling Starfleet captain who’s collaborative, funny and also a tad irreverent.

The writers are quickly focusing on exploring the supporting cast. We’ve already got a nice sense of Nurse Chapel played by Jess Bush, and the second episode focuses on Cadet Uhura played by Celia Rose Gooding.

The producers have taken some creative license to update these younger versions of these famous characters, and it’s all for the better. I’m not going to hold the producers to perfectly reflect every detail of the original “Star Trek.”

Better Special Effects
The same goes for the Enterprise. Yes, it’s the same ship, but there are subtle differences on the outside and major enhancements on the bridge. And thanks to modern CGI effects, this ship can really fly. And I cannot tell you (Geek alert!) how much fun it is to watch the Enterprise in action.

The more advanced special effects are a welcome improvement.

Back to the Future
“Strange New Worlds” also benefits from a healthy dose of nostalgia. Sure, there’s a lot of runway for the missions of this previously unexplored crew, but everything feels so familiar and immediately comfortable. The communicators, the tricorders, the transporter beams, and all of those techie sounds… you know all of them!

“Star Trek” series have spent decades trying to differentiate themselves from the original show. “Strange New Worlds” doesn’t need to. These are actually the first chapters of the same Enterprise story.

It’s refreshing that we again get to see the Federation during its peak years, when everything seemed possible.

No More F-Bombs
And I am so happy that this is again TV-PG Star Trek, void of all that unnecessary bad language and occasional F-bombs that have plagued “Discovery” and “Picard.”

“Star Trek” doesn’t need to be so dark and “edgy” to connect with it’s 2022 audience. I think especially these days, we need a reminder that being bright and optimistic is achievable.

I’m looking forward to inviting my 12-year-old son to watch “Strange New Worlds” with me. (He’s not yet connected with “Star Trek” the way he has with Marvel and “Star Wars.”)

Time to Enjoy
No, it’s not groundbreaking “Trek,” but it’s not trying to be. “Strange New Worlds” still succeeds on many levels. It firmly represents “Star Trek’s” core, gives us a great Captain Pike (Thank you, Anson Mount), and most of all… it’s simply refreshing.

And fun.

It’s exactly what we need.

Grogu’s Choice

When Baby Yoda shows up in the middle of “The Book of Boba Fett,” you know the writers have a few more tricks up their sleeves.

“The Book of Boba Fett” has become really interesting. That’s because it’s suddenly drawing heavily on a growing number of beloved characters from a galaxy far, far away.

First, Mando’s back in Chapter 5. And if you’re not paying close attention, you would think that you’re inexplicably watching season 3 of “The Mandalorian.” (Talk about crossover storylines.)

It’s been a real treat to see Din Djarin (played by Pedro Pascal) back in action. The producers don’t stop there. They give us a healthy dose of Grogu-ness too.

But the “Boba Fett” folks aren’t done yet. Oh no.

The Return of Luke Skywalker
Remember the big reveal at the end of “The Mandalorian” season 2? (spoiler alert)

A young Luke Skywalker shows up to save the day. Sure, his face is computer-generated. But he looks okay for a CGI human. Plus we’ve got the voice of the real Mark Hamill.

Many have debated whether digital-Luke was real enough, but that’s not really important if you’re focusing on the big picture.

It was an amazing reveal, and it was perfect for the story. Thank you, Jon Favreau.

But clearly, the writers weren’t done with CGI Luke. They wanted another shot and gathered all of the computer-rendering power this side of the solar system.

And with that force, they now gave us a full episode of “The Mandalorian” (I mean “The Book of Boba Fett”) largely led by young Luke Skywalker!

And it worked! How crazy is that??

The Luke scenes in Chapter 6 were amazingly real. In some of the action sequences, it felt like the Lucasfilm animators were really having fun with their achievement.

Our New Padawan
We also see Luke training Grogu. What a pair! I love that the episode takes its time with this. (That’s an advantage a series can offer.)

And then the big cliffhanger comes….
(Yes, spoiler alert)

Luke gives Grogu the choice of accepting one of two gifts… Yoda’s light saber or the little beskar-armored shirt the Madalorian dropped off. Of course Grogu’s choice will define his destiny.

Cut to black… roll credits.

Wow.

Much Strength this Series Reveals
The first few episodes of “The Book of Boba Fett” are slower by comparison. I think it’s partially because of so much time spent on the back story (which is arguably needed).

And Boba Fett’s character (played by Temuera Morrison) still feels a bit two dimensional. (It doesn’t help that he’s barely been in the past couple episodes.) But we’ll see how he evolves as his story pushes forward.

“The Book of Boba Fett” is getting stronger as it benefits from a growing and integrated Star Wars’ universe that draws from the best of the original core as well as crossover characters from “The Mandalorian.”

Beyond Mando, we’ve had the pleasure of reuniting with Jedi Ahsoka, sheriff Cobb Vanth, the Mandalorian Armorer and mechanic Peli Motto.

Streaming Joy
Sure, we can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of “The Book of Boba Fett.” That said, I am not disappointed. Not one bit.

As a life-long “Star Wars” fan who remembers being blown away when I saw Episode IV in in the movie theater and also as a father of an eleven-year-old son who enjoys “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett” as much as I do, I am psyched that “Star Wars” is alive and well on Disney+.

Watching these episodes with my family has been a peak experience.

More please.

The Pain of having to Wait after a Cliffhanger

To quote the original “Lost in Space” franchise, “Oh, the pain… the pain”… of having to endure the wait for a show’s next season.

Cliffhangers are the norm in movie and TV storytelling these days. It’s not unusual to get to the credits of anything without a significant hanging thread compelling you to get to the next episode as fast as possible.

My family and I just watched the third (and final) season premiere of Netflix’s “Lost in Space.” And of course, our 11-year-old son was pleading at the end of the episode that we blow through his bedtime to watch the second episode. (As there are only 8, I held the line to extend the joy over these upcoming viewing weeks.)

Keeping Track of the Jupiter 2’s Course
This fun, non-stop sci-fi series has been constructed on an endless number of cliffhangers, and it’s been especially challenging as a viewer to wait between seasons to see what happens. It’s helpful that Netflix automatically served up a recap of season 2 to kick things off. The writers enjoy dropping breadcrumbs, and you really need to keep track of developing plot points across the seasons.

Yes, it’s been hard to handle the long pause between the second and third seasons of “Lost in Space.” It’s been almost 2 years! (Yes, there were Covid-19 production delays.) But the producers have committed to get the fans to the finish line. (I can’t yet speak to the characters’ success on that important question.)

Danger
You’d think that properly ending any story is an essential technique. But of course, viewership numbers can sometimes kill off a series prematurely and leave the cliffhanger… hanging.

It’s not bad storytelling. Its economics. But ultimately, it actually is bad storytelling.

For a time, I wondered if the new “Dune” would fall into this category.

Why do Movies have Cliffhangers to Sequels that aren’t Greenlit?
The writers and producers of “Dune” wisely chose to tackle just the first half of the book (unlike the 1984 flick, which tried to cram it all in).

The start of “Dune” even includes a title graphic that say “Part One.” And yes, the movie ends on a cliffhanger, although it plays more like a chapter ending. It’s arguably the film’s weakest element. But you accept it, because there’s going to be a part two… right?

Well, after I watched it with my son on the day of its premiere in October, I immediately did some Googling to see when the sequel was coming out, and I was shocked with what I found.

It’s not that they hadn’t shot the sequel yet. It’s that the sequel hadn’t even been greenlit! They were waiting to see how successful the first film is.

I get the economics, but come on!

How Good is Half of “Dune?”
Okay, so they did green-light the sequel a few days later. (The sequel will be released in October 2023.)

But imagine if the box office wasn’t so kind to “Dune.” We would only have gotten half a story.

As it turned out, “Dune” was a big success. And my son and I liked it too.

It’s a perfect family film if you’re regulars in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, there’s lots of action and PG-13-level violence. But If your kids can handle “The Avengers,” “Dune” shouldn’t be a problem. “Dune” is more mature in its storytelling style and more serious in tone. And I think it’s a great next step for a young sci-fi fan.

The Economics can Ruin a Movie Fan’s Day
I can’t dispute economics, but it would have been so much better from a viewer’s perspective if both movies were made back to back, like the second and third installments of “The Matrix” series. (Can’t wait for the fourth one, even though it’s been 18 years!)

Hey, what about a three or four-part “Dune” miniseries for HBO Max? (Yes, again that means covering all of the content.)

Ultimately, If you’re going to tell one story, I feel you’ve got to commit to telling the whole story! Waiting for box office numbers can tragically lead to movies without an ending and very cranky fans.

Patience
On the other hand, maybe you’ve just got to have some faith that things are going to work out the way they should. I’m sure director Dennis Villeneuve had faith that he’d get his shot to direct his “Dune” sequel.”

And remember when the pilot of the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot came out in 2003 with a huge cliffhanger? The actual ground-breaking sci-fi series didn’t show up until 2005. So having to wait is not without precedent.

And then there’s “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” We had to wait another three years to find out Han’s fate.

But in this age of countless streaming options and a glut of great content to watch, fans can be fickle.

If there’s a cliffhanger, please don’t make us wait too long for what comes next.

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