Though some fans refuse to admit it, Star Trek and Star Wars have many things in common. Chief among those parallels is that both franchises underwent a reboot. In 2009, J.J. Abrams‘s Star Trek film paid homage to Gene Roddenberry‘s beloved franchise. At the same time, the film created an alternate reality for new content.
Similarly, in 2014, Lucasfilm ended the Expanded Universe, which incorporated Star Wars stories from all writers who were not George Lucas. While the EU was rebranded as “Star Wars Legends,” the Lucasfilm Story Group put forth a new canon of works.
A reboot is a controversial strategy, usually designed to revive interest in a franchise. It’s difficult to balance the need to attract new fans with the risk of alienating the current, dedicated fan base. This year is Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary, while Star Wars turns 40 years old next year. Since we’re a few years into the new eras of Star Trek and Star Wars, our Fan Contributors are here to weigh in on the impact of the reboots.
The Star Trek Reboot Was a Success
There are plenty of critics of the Star Trek reboot, but the films have had critical and financial success worldwide. Director J.J. Abrams wanted to take Trek in the direction of his favorite science fiction franchise, Star Wars, by injecting it with more fun space battles, witty banter, and lens flares. 2009’s Star Trek was a fun film, with an on-screen divergence from the timeline that made all new Trek movies part of the canon without erasing the previous films. By using time travel paradoxes, the new Trek didn’t have to rely on any of the old canon beyond the characters and basic universe. It’s genius, really, a soft reboot that makes complete sense in the scheme of the series.
There are some inconsistencies and poor writing/directing choices in the new Trek films, but they maintain the show’s original spirit. The most important part of Star Trek has always been its crew, and the cast of the new Trek do an incredible job of resurrecting those characters without doing impressions of their predecessors. Chris Pine‘s younger James T. Kirk is a swaggering ladies’ man, but he brings a boyish sense of humor and wonder to the role. Young Spock still struggles with emotion, and Zachary Quinto does a fine job showing the human and Vulcan sides of the fabulously-eyebrowed Starfleet officer. Each actor does their character justice, and injects something new into the mix.
The 2009 Star Trek film and its sequels may not have the kind of intellectual and political pretext as their predecessors. Yet, they also do not get bogged down in too much seriousness. They’re fun blockbuster films that can introduce a whole new generation to the amazing universe Roddenberry created, which makes them a great success. [Danielle Ryan]
The Star Trek Reboot Was Disappointing
Back in 2009, hearing that a new Star Trek movie was in the works served to give me hope. I admired Kirk in The Original Series, worshiped the performance of Picard in Next Generation, and liked Janeway in Voyager. So when I heard that the film would be a reboot, I saw the fresh creation of Kirk yet again in the offing.
But the film proved to be a disappointment. Sure, the effects were good and the cast well-picked, but the content was mediocre at best. Admittedly, it was designed to replace the original universe, so it had to come up with some way to stand out. But considering that it’s a reboot, why not just start properly? Instead, they had to bring in the original Spock and some super-Romulan ship from the far future.
Forgoing the years of peace between Romulus and the Federation, the Romulans hid for a few decades as they unraveled the mysteries of time travel before destroying a planet. Considering how quickly they went through the Federation fleet, there was no reason to wait around before attacking Earth and Vulcan. Or they could have gone to Romulus, handed over their technology, and invaded the Federation.
Regardless of how you look at it — with a patchy plot and enough lens flare to fill a beginners’ film class — the reboot has not been handled well. Vulcan was blown up out of petty revenge, but young Spock is out on holiday. Kirk had the opportunity to take a look into his own future, but instead destroyed the only remaining fragments of the original timelines. While I would have loved to see a full five years of exploration, I would have been happier to have no reboot instead. [Graham Host]
The Star Wars Reboot Will Save the Series
As Star Wars fans, we are perhaps the most fortunate fans in the world. We’ve had hundreds of books released, now collected under the Legends brand. Now, we have the chance to experience our favorite universe from a new perspective.
The first and most wonderful thing about the new canon is that the Rebel Alliance’s victory feels like a victory. In the EU, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie ran from conflict to conflict, and the Saga began to feel like a “Monster of the Week” series. Galactic affairs escalated to the point that Del Rey invented the Yuuzhan Vong to serve as a credible villain. As a reader, it was easy to feel crisis fatigue by the end of the series.
Conversely, we’ve barely seen our principal heroes in the new canon. While frustrating, it’s a good thing. Han, Luke, and Leia need a break to experience the fruits of a liberated galaxy. Take this exchange from Shattered Empire between A-wing pilot Shara Bey and her commander, L’ulo:
Also, the new timeline is using new characters to explore themes that took longer to develop in the Expanded Universe. In A New Dawn, John Jackson Miller uses Count Vidian to portray the casual cruelty of the Empire. More recently, we’ve seen evidence that Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker’s character in Rogue One) will challenge our preconceived notions of what the Rebellion is capable of. Even Saw’s limited dialogue in the film’s first trailer, delivered to Jyn Erso, hints at the moral gray area he occupies:
“What will you do when they catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?”
The new canon material contains some truly memorable characters. Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren are well-positioned to become as iconic as the classic trio and their dastardly villain. Earlier this month I was at a Red Sox baseball game, where I saw a girl, about 9 or 10. She had her hair done up like Rey’s in three ponytail buns, even though it wasn’t Star Wars night. She just did it because it meant something to her. The fact that she could wear her fandom so openly, and obviously found something to identify with in Rey, is monumental.
Best of all, though, is the renewed sense of mystery. We can watch with joy (or even apprehension) as the new writers of Star Wars incorporate EU concepts into this bright new age. Now if only we could see some karking Bothans already. [Robert Mitchell]
The Star Wars Reboot Alienated Fans
While I understand why Lucasfilm jettisoned the Expanded Universe, I still found it painful. I was a huge fan of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series, which ran from 2008 to 2014. At the same time, I disapproved of the way that the series overwrote the earlier canon material that came before it, from the origins of Darth Maul and Asajj Ventress to the fates of Barriss Offee, Quinlan Vos, and countless others.
Many older fans felt alienated when Lucasfilm shut down the Expanded Universe. Concepts like Mara Jade Skywalker, Rogue Squadron, and the New Jedi Order were why some people became Star Wars fans. But now, they are no longer canon. At the very least, Lucasfilm’s reboot was doomed to disappoint some subset of fans.
Even though I’m disgruntled about the loss of the EU, I’ve found reasons to stay a Star Wars fan. I loved Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and other newcomers to the Saga. I’m especially looking forward to Grand Admiral Thrawn‘s debut in Star Wars Rebels. In a nutshell, Thrawn is the Expanded Universe. Author Timothy Zahn created Thrawn as the villain of his 1991 novel, Heir to the Empire. Moreover, the novel’s popularity convinced Lucasfilm to expand the Expanded Universe. (Read more about Thrawn here.)
Lucasfilm has given Timothy Zahn an unprecedented opportunity: to canonize his iconic character. As Thrawn’s creator, Zahn is the first EU writer who will rewrite his character’s origin story. The result will be Thrawn, a novel that will be published in April 2017. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I’m cautiously optimistic that Zahn’s Thrawn is a sign of greater things to come. [James Akinaka]