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Tag: Science Fiction

Feeling Burned by Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3?

After watching the season finale, this Trekkie’s got some thoughts to share about the latest season of “Discovery.” Here’s my review:

You can’t blame “Star Trek: Discovery” for not trying. Season 3 attempted to envision a universe 930 years into the future, tackled big social themes and finally decided to give a little more screen time to its supporting cast of regulars.

This CBS All Access series originally insisted that is was not your parent’s “Star Trek.” It tried to be darker, edgier and bolder. Characters used four letter words, though not very convincingly (and far more awkwardly than in “Star Trek: Picard”).

The writers spent much of season 3 trying to return into the fold. There were multiple references and story devices from the old “Star Trek” manual. And in the end, we found ourselves right back where we started, with the same closing music as the original series.

This return continues a long overdue course correction. It was so obvious that there was no real need to separate itself from its heritage when we saw how the best episodes from season 2 focused on Captain Pike from the original Enterprise.

And you can’t say “Discovery’s” season 3 wasn’t earnest. No way. There was so much hugging and crying. Crying and hugging. I lost track how many times “I love you” was in the script. The writers were clearly working hard to finally evolve this crew into a “Star Trek” family.

And “Star Trek” at its core has always been about family. I just don’t know that I needed the “Discovery” writers constantly telling me that.

Warning Signs
As the credits rolled at the end of season 3’s finale, I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t pumped. But I didn’t feel burned either. Season 3 was… fine. For me, “Star Trek” is always better than no “Star Trek.” But I can’t deny I’m still a wee disappointed.

It’s not that season 3 was bad. It just couldn’t quite elevate itself beyond its own unremarkable storytelling.

The writers put a huge effort into building a diverse and inclusive set of relationships. In fact, in many ways, that’s really what season 3 was about. The Burn and (minor spoiler) rebuilding the Federation was just something for this group of Trek characters to focus on. And that’s all great.

But then, the writers ran out of steam (Dilithium?) when it came time to come up with some cutting-edge science fiction storytelling worthy of the “Star Trek” universe.

Why So Far?
Moving the story 930 years forward is a huge leap. Unfortunately, this future doesn’t look all that different. Sure, personal transporters are cool and organic tech is nice, but I would expect something more dramatic a millennia out. And that requires more writing muscle… not special effects.

Yes, I understand that the writers needed to warp Discovery into a new era that was not burdened by existing Trek canon where the Discovery doesn’t exist. (A downside of creating a prequel series.) But a hundred years forward past Picard is all they really needed to do.

Back to the Future
And it’s ironic that the writers ultimately created a new “Star Trek” future that in many ways had gone back in time.

They were pulling on the same storytelling threads as the creators of “Star Trek: Enterprise” when space was truly the final frontier… again.

Missed Opportunities
I’m happy to allow a series some leeway in plot development as long as the writers stick their landing by the end. Over the course of 13 episodes, I feel that season 3 was not entirely successful. (Spoilers ahead.)

Tilly
“Discovery” has painfully stuck with this character and promised some future payoff. I understand that Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is evolving, but after three seasons, it’s not fast enough. When Tilly finally got her big chance and sat in the captain’s chair, she essentially blew it. Later, her moment of redemption wasn’t all that satisfying.

The Mirror Universe
You know there’s a problem when “Discovery’s” best episodes focus around the linked alternate universe. But by now, this Trek storytelling device is feeling a bit tired. Even though it was the main reason that Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) had anything to do in season 3, watching the alternate versions of our other characters as two-dimensional opposites grew boring. Sure, Georgiou evolved, but her own universe wasn’t able to.

The Source of the Burn
Really? I expect we’ll see some therapy sessions in season 4 for someone.

The Discovery’s Big Brain
Remember when Discovery’s computer acquired 100,000 years of data from the alien sphere in season 2? The only influence from that upgrade was when the computer pointed Discovery to meet up with Carl. There’s a lot of untapped plot potential that the writers ignored.

Carl
Again… Really? You can’t recycle a classic Trek plot device like that and simply rewrite it as Carl. A ‘Q’ character would have been better.

The Bad Guys
A 1960’s biker gang with a really big ship. Is that what capitalism eventually evolved into? Osyraa (Janet Kidder) needed more screen time to develop beyond her two-dimensional antagonist.

Saru
Captain Saru (Doug Jones) sits at the center of the heart of “Star Trek: Discovery.” His humanity, even in Kelpien form, shines bright. He’s the perfect Federation captain on paper.

But his evolved and balanced perspective isn’t ultimately suited for this future frontier. Not as captain of the Discovery. It’s a bittersweet conclusion.

The Good News
So, I wouldn’t be a Trekkie if I didn’t prove how geeky I am by nitpicking. Sure, season 3 could have been better, but it still had a lot going for it. The special effects were great, although I would have appreciated a few more closeups of the new starships.

It benefited from a generally strong cast. (I really liked the addition of Book’s character played by David Ajala.)

Of course, Sonequa Martin-Green is the star of the ensemble. Her Michael Burnham has often created more problems than she’s solved, but her passion and sense of purpose and drive to do what’s right has continued to power this entire series forward. Martin-Green provides almost limitless emotional and physical energy in this regard.

As it turns out, breaking the rules in the 31st century is seemingly okay as our new Prime Directive. It’s an odd conclusion that doesn’t quite fit with what the writers have otherwise been trying to accomplish. But it continues to fuel Burnham’s success. So, in what has become a season-ending Discovery ritual, it’s time to switch up the captain’s chair again.

Let’s Fly?
I’m happy that “Discovery” is embracing his own heritage.

And I’m always pleased to be watching more “Star Trek” after all of these decades. It hasn’t gotten old. In fact, its familiarity is more comforting than ever, especially in today’s unstable reality.

There’s also something to be said for watching science fiction and not feeling depressed as a result. You can count on “Star Trek: Discovery” for maintaining its sense of Trek-infused optimism.

I don’t think season 3 is the best of the series. (I prefer season 2.) It’s certainly not the boldest. But “Discovery’s” imperfections ultimately didn’t prevent me from still enjoying the ride.

Oh… and that last line in the season finale…
“Let’s fly.”

Really?
(Just go with it.)

Locutus, Is that You?

“Star Trek: Picard” is going back to the future by drawing heavily on its past. But not how you’d think.

Nobody escapes the ravages of time without stacking up some serious scars along the way. It doesn’t matter which future ‘enlightened’ century you’re from.

That’s the major premise of “Star Trek: Picard.” And after watching seven episodes of the first season, it’s entirely clear what’s going on here. And I’ve increasingly enjoyed what the writers are doing.

Core Damage
Forget the story… Good Romulans. Bad Romulans. Data’s daughters. Abandoned Borg. Federation conspiracy. That’s not really what’s important.

This new “Star Trek” series is essentially about broken people, just trying to hold it together. Trying to figure out how to play the cards they’ve been dealt. Trying to make the right choices.

And as for Picard, we don’t get the great captain we once knew. Oh no… Since the last time we saw him, he’s made a few bad decisions (for the right reasons).

So, now the great Jean-Luc is having a tough time getting out of bed in the morning, and I’ve got to admit, I was interested in what the heck had happened!

I think it’s a great premise for this new series on CBS All Access, as opposed to more standard-fare plots that focus on new alien species each week.

Reunion
Yes, something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. But, all is not bad. We are still in the same hopeful galaxy that all Trekies have grown up in.

“Star Trek: Picard” also gives us a chance to reconnect with some of our favorite “Star Trek” characters… Seven of Nine as well as Riker and Troi.

Everyone here has their own demons to deal with. And as we already care deeply about these characters, how they’re coping is especially interesting. But even when our heroes from back in the day are down, they’re not out. Come on… this is still “Star Trek,” right?

Unfortunately, the reunions are short-lived as the larger plot focuses on the newer characters. Nevertheless, as a viewer, it still feels like enjoying a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day.

“Shields Up!”
“Nepenthe” (episode 7) with Riker and Troi was an especially healing experience to watch.

No, the band’s not getting back together, but seeing that they actually could after all of these years is an affirmation to Trekies, who have remained committed to the core of “Star Trek” (just substitute the dinner table for the old Enterprise ready room).

Honk if You Like the Borg
This enduring emotional connection is a solid reminder why “Star Trek” is not “Star Wars.” It’s the journey that matters, not the next light-saber sequence. That’s what “Picard” really focuses on. Traveling through life can often be the most challenging journey of all.

(Minor spoiler alert)
In one moment mid-season, a former Borg spots Picard rushing through a hallway and calls out hopefully, “Locutus, Is that you?!”

You can detect a hint of desperation in his voice.

Yes, even the Borg (some of them) are having a rough go of it here. They’re not the bad guys anymore.

I smiled. Not because it was funny, but because it was so unexpected. Yet so perfect.

It’s an insignificant moment in the larger story, but it’s a gem, because it successfully taps into the deep culture of Star Trek, built across decades.

The series may have started off a little slowly, but it’s this attention to the many details from past “Star Trek” series that’s making “Picard” particularly delightful.

Family
If you’re a Trekie, and you haven’t tried “Star Trek: Picard,” you really should. In so many ways, it’s successfully returned to the core of what makes “Star Trek” great.

It’s always been about family.

One Father’s Journey to Introduce “Star Wars” to his Son

If you’re a parent trying to figure out when’s the right time to expose your kids to the Dark Side of the Force, here’s my story as a parent and a “Star Wars” fan…

I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day my son was born. And please grant me this nerdy pleasure… My boy and I watched “Star Wars” together this past weekend in our family room.

He’s nine years old, and I know that many younger kids have watched all of the movies already, including the newer ones. And it’s not like I haven’t tried a couple of times before. In fact, I did technically screen some of “A New Hope” with him two years back. But he didn’t really like it.

Thank you, Harry Potter
He simply wasn’t ready. I think it’s because of the plot’s suspense and the Dolby-infused mayhem of blasters and light sabers. But mostly, it was the suspense. At the time, he was still enjoying Lego movies and “Ice Age” flicks.

But then, he caught the Harry Potter reading bug, and he tore through all of the books. And when he found out there were movies, of course he wanted to watch them. To date, we’ve gotten through the first five. And as much as there was plenty of intensity and suspense in those flicks, he already knew the stories. So, I think it was a wonderful way to comfortably ease him into consuming more serious storytelling. And I hoped it would be a bridge…

If at First You Don’t Succeed…
We sometimes have ‘family movie night’ at home, and I’ve recently begun suggesting “Star Wars” again, but he still wasn’t interested.

Then, last Saturday, it was my turn to choose a movie. (We rotate between the three of us.) Without any big set up, my son and I sat down on the couch. Usually, he wants to know what we’re going to watch, but not this time…

I powered up our Apple TV and scrolled down to the “Star Wars” thumbnail grouping.
(I’ve previously purchase the first six movies.)

He saw what I was doing, and he didn’t object. I kept going…

I hovered over “The Empire Strikes Back,” since we technically had already seen “A New Hope.” But my boy helpfully suggested that we play “A New Hope” since he barely remembered it.
(Whoa! Was this actually happening?)

What’s the Right Order?
Before I could tap ‘play,’ he noticed “A New Hope” wasn’t listed first, and then we got into the discussion of order…

I explained the whole two/one/three trilogy thing, and I could tell he was trying to understand why anyone would make a series of movies out of order. After thinking about it a bit more, he asked if we could simply start at the beginning with Episode 1.

I looked at him, and knew I that needed to make the call. I explained that I wanted him to watch the movies in the order that I had watched them as I was growing up. He took another beat and happily said, “Okay.”

We were on!
Cue the John Williams soundtrack…

The Question of Luke’s Father
What can I say… It was glorious. The two of us were finally watching and enjoying “Star Wars” together.
(My wife took a rain check on this particular screening.)

He really liked “A New Hope.” When it was over, he proclaimed that R2-D2 was his favorite character, because he was such a “cool robot.” (He had laughed at all of the little droid’s antics.) Then he quickly chose Obi-Wan Kenobi as his second favorite character. (It’s hard to ignore the amazing Alec Guinness.)

Then my boy said, “I bet Luke’s father is in the first three movies.”
He waited for my response.

Wow. I and many others had a lukewarm response to Episodes 1-3. But this pop-up focus group of one fourth grader immediately identified the strong desire to know the back story.

I smiled at my son.
“Is Luke’s father in the first three movies?
Yes, I think it’s a good bet that he is…”
(Cue the famous breathing sound effect.)

Parenting 101
It’s a long journey to “The Rise of Skywalker,” and as much as I’d like to take my boy to watch it on the big screen, he likely won’t be through the other movies yet. Plus, there’s a reason why this new trilogy is rated PG-13. The films are intense.

My wife has sometimes had to remind me that as a parent, I should observe the cues from our son to better understand when he’s ready to experience something new.

What’s the right age to start watching “Star Wars?”
Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. As a parent, you’re supposed to make that call.

Should I have been pushing “Star Wars” for the past two years? Probably not. As a father, I’m admittedly sometimes still just a Padawan.
(At some level, aren’t we all students in the art of parenting?)

But now that he’s ready for a galaxy far, far away… I can’t hide my own
child-like glee.

The Force is with him.

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