November 23rd, 2008

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Gratuitous Continuity Notes

It has come to my attention that some people think the new Trek movie is incompatible with Trek canon. Allegedly J.J. Abrams was taken aback to discover that Simon Pegg knew about continuity and even cared about it.


Of course the movies have NEVER been sticklers for continuity. The first film radically revised the costumes, the models, and even the Klingon make-up, not because the narrative involved these things having changed, but intending that this would be taken as how they had always looked had the TV series had a movie budget. To top it off, the story ends with Human society absorbing a god-like being (V’ger transmits all it has learned, including instructions for uploading your consciousness into transcendent machine intelligences, before it vanishes). This is the end of the Trek: the human race will surely transcend in short order, leaving starships behind like abandoned toys.

Even if you want to interpret the new uniforms as just being a rebranding exercise within Starfleet, they scuppered this by implying in dialogue that the movie followed on more or less immediately after the five-year mission. Ignoring this line, the movie looks more like it was set twenty years or so after the TV series, which would make the actors relatively young (being only ten years older), thus cleverly representing the improved medicine of the future. They missed a trick there.

The second through sixth movies even more blatantly take place in a different timeline. You want evidence? The new uniforms use a rank structure, department divisions, and insignia entirely different from the previous movie and the TV series. Technologically they seem to have downgraded: There are bunk beds in the officers’ quarters and CRTs on the bridge, and it seems phasers no longer have a stun setting. Faced with the incomprehensibly abstract adventures of a post-V’ger hyperculture, Paramount have stepped sideways into a more-primitive timeline where adventures still involve fisticuffs.

Curiously enough, the Next Generation series is more like an immediate sequel to the original series than either of the movies timelines. They say it is set 85 years in the future of the movies era but if you had to guess from the styling and the way technology works, they are set at most a few years after the original series.

I could go on but this rant is too long already. In the end I think it is easier all round if we view the various contiguous chunks of Trek stories as defining separate continuities, much as different treatments of DC’s Batman and Superman can co-exist on the networks and even the newsstands. The new film may well be enjoyable, mindless, explody fun and could even kick off a new space opera franchise. My insignificant webcomics can continue in their own not-quite-canonical timeline.