“This is the legacy of Star Trek,” screenwriter Orci says. “Captain Kirk was a sort of stand-in for John F. Kennedy. Civil rights were represented by Lt. Uhura. The Cold War was represented by having a Russian crew member, Chekov. You had the first interracial kiss. Star Trek had this tradition of reflecting the time that it’s in. That’s a tall order, man. We felt that after the first movie, which was an origin story, we had the responsibility to make Star Trek into what it’s always been — a reflection of what’s happening right now. And what’s happening right now? War. Terrorism. Our need for vengeance and retribution. Does that violate our values? We’re just bringing these themes up as questions. We’re not making any answers. But Star Trek would be a failure if it wasn’t reflecting the world we already know.”
Georgetown University professor Linda Wetzel, who teaches a course called “Philosophy & Star Trek,” says those types of moral quandaries were always at the heart of Roddenberry’s creation.
“ Star Trek is very conceptual,” Wetzel says. “It’s not a space western. Maybe it started out that way, but it became very speculative. That’s what philosophy is all about — exploring possibilities. Take time travel. Star Trek has lots of time travel episodes. Some are perfectly coherent and they thought the ramifications of the idea through. Others, they just had a lot of fun with and logical consistency went by the way. There are also free will issues. When Captain Picard was taken over by the Borg [in the more recent TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation], he did terrible things. But when he stopped being Borg, everyone forgave him, because he wasn’t responsible. He had no free will. What does it take for someone to be morally responsible? The question is whether you are doing what you want to do, or you are being made to do it by someone else. There are many Star Trek episodes that tackle these kinds of questions.”
Star Trek Into Darkness, too, ventures into story corners that forces the characters to make split-second decisions that, in hindsight, may seem questionable. Against the odds, the movie delivers on every conceivable front — the latest example of Abrams rising to the challenge of a high-pressure project and exceeding expectations.
Abrams, who has accepted the daunting task of directing the next Star Wars movie (due in 2015), says he tends to do his best work when all eyes are trained on him.
“The opportunity to direct Mission Impossible III was such an incredible dream come true,” he says. “Tom Cruise offered me that job when no one else ever would. As much pressure as there was, making that movie with him was so much fun. Star Trek was a different challenge because of its history and its huge fan base. But I was in such good company with my writers and my cast that the potential and creativity overrode any pressure.
“Now moving into Star Wars, I’m working with people like [producer] Kathleen Kennedy and [screenwriters] Larry Kasdan and Michael Arndt and Simon Kinberg. They provide me with incredible comfort and support, knowing that we’re all embarking on this very cool, creative thing. Sure, there’s going to be pressure. But there has been pressure in every TV show and film I’ve been involved in. One way to look at it is pressure; another way is to look at it is excitement.”