When Star Wars was first time released in the theatres, it was a smash hit. Part of the reason to this was that it offered hope and reminded that there is more to life than bitter stories and grim visages. American Graffiti did this too, perhaps even more so that Lucas thought. Similarly, Star Trek came out at a time when America was still working out its heftier social issues. After the Second World War it was not uncommon to see hatred blazing here and there, but in Star Trek people could work together for a better tomorrow, despite their flaws.
After Star Wars and the fall of New Hollywood, science fiction, exploitation and high fantasy became entertainment to the masses as Hollywood itself began to produce what used to be regarded as low-budget, low-brow movies. For someone who has lived in post-Star Wars all of his life, it is hard to understand the impact it did. SF was essentially relegated to a lower tier of film making and all space adventures and such were meant for kids. After Star Wars, and to this day, science fiction and its fantasy brethren are mass entertainment to the point of long time fans of certain stories demanding that the stories should cater to them. After all, they’ve been consumers of a media for whole of their life.
I’m not sure when science fiction began losing its light in the mainstream media. Perhaps it was the 1990’s eXtreme that did it. The first time I began to notice it was when the 2004 Battlestar Galactica hit the scene. Certainly it is a series that demands its high acclaim, at least early on, but the show seemed to lack hope of sorts. Rather than hopeful like its originator, the remake series was grim and dirty. A friend quoted it to be Science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.
This was around the same time I noticed the lack of hope was with the revival of Terminator franchise. The future couldn’t be stopped. The doomsday will come, it just got postponed. You can’t change your fate. Whoever decided to undo the core message that Terminator 2 had essentially shot himself to the leg. The Terminator franchise has more potential to it than just exploring the same old story of mad computer sending cyborgs to past to kill someone. One of these stories could’ve been what happened during the Future Wars, before it was prevented. How Kyle Reese fought in it and how he was ultimately chosen to go back to the past. There is no negative validation in telling a story that, in-universe, was unmade.
This sort of thing has continued with the zombie boom, especially with The Walking Dead. It’s not a secret that there is a sort of wanting for a modern man to be set free of society and all of its demands. In a world where everything just breaks down and we can become our own masters of sorts again, things are easier and more straightforward. Or at least that’s how some have argued for me. It’s a poor argument, much like the argument for returning to a rural simplicity to live with nature. Mankind created tools to simplify our lives and to get rid off mundane tasks that would take hours to complete. Hell, this has gone to the point of libraries suffering due to the Internet offering all the knowledge it can hold, knowledge that we all know is more often biased than not.
Star Trek more often than not offered the lighter side of things. Or in case of Voyager, the crazy ass side. Deep Space Nine may be the most morbid of the current shows we have, but even that hold hope for humanity. Dr. Bashir was an insufferable character, who grew up to be something better. This is a good example how show writers took upon themselves to make the series superior by organically allowing the characters to grow to a better direction, whereas in Voyager everything was left to rot.
The Roddernberry Box was a rule set that put limitations on the writers during The Next Generation era. One of the main rules was that the main cast of characters couldn’t have conflicts with each other as humanity had supposedly grown out of this. No grieving, death has been accepted a cold fact of life by all. It’s not a pleasant box to work in, especially if you’re doing drama, but it did wonders to Star Trek, especially in hindsight. Here we have, holier than tho people who get taken down a peg or two by force mightier than them, enslaving part of their people for their own collective purpose. By the end of the series, these stiff and poorly written characters had grown to accept their faults and yet striving for something better. In Deep Space Nine we see Benjamin Sisko, a single father and a man who’ve lost his wife in a new frontier, struggling against his own ghosts and wants for the future. Ultimately Sisko moves on with his life, just as everyone else does around him.
Star Trek Discovery, for all intents and purposes, is Star Trek in name only. In an interview Sonequa Martin-Green described the series as bigger, rawer and grittier. Pretty much all the leaks on the Internet are talking about the series another reboot to the franchise and is more in-line with J.J. Abrams nuTrek/Kelvin timeline movies, as the series was done under a license that allowed creation of a parallel Star Trek product. All the descriptions we’ve gotten thus far from any and all sites does make STD look like a generic modern science fiction than Star Trek. Nobody thinks Star Trek should be raw and gritty. Not by a long shot. That’s for Galactica or Blade Runner.
Traveling to the Moon gave humanity hope as a whole. Star Trek tapped to this same core. Space travel has always given us a chance to look beyond ourselves as we are know, towards a better future. If we want to make it. Star Trek recognized people’s differences, yet celebrated them and allowed each person to become something better. You could become something if you worked for it, you’ve given all the chances. The world depicted is utopia for a reason, though not even in a post-scarcity world things would go like that. People still would like to trade, money would be necessary. There would always be people better than you. Nevertheless, there was hope that things would get better, if we would go for it. Not by taking people down, but by allowing them to flourish.
Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure myself. By all means, there seems to be a wanting demand for stories of grim survival. However, I can’t place this haunting need for something with more lighter side of humanity.