Seeing “Wrath of Khan” again, and remembering the feelings it kindled in me, made me realize what a comedown I was in store for as a fan. These young characters whom I cheered in this film would not survive the next one. My old friends would not be allowed to grow as real people do. I could not help reflecting how sad it was for Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, Saavik and David that we would never see adventures in which they were the heroes. (I’m talking about in the course of televised and movie Trek, here. I’m aware that they all have had their moments in licensed fiction. I wrote some of those moments!)
What I wanted, what I expected, in 1982 was to see Star Trek both live and grow. To see Kirk continue to age, and teach me how to age, while finding purpose in his life. To see Saavik and David become mature adults. To see Sulu, Chekov and Uhura promoted, instead of stuck in jobs fit for junior officers. I wanted to see more.
Star Trek – The Next Generation was not that. It was set 78 years later so that its creators could rule out the need to have to address what happened to the original characters. It was something called “Star Trek,” but it was not a continuation of the original crew’s adventures. It was a reboot, and it was a reboot so hog-tied by what came before that, despite its amazing popularity, it never knew what the hell it really was as a show.
To be fair, Star Trek – The Motion Picture introduced new, younger, characters, in Decker and Ilia; and they were definitely slated to headline a new TV series—there were a couple dozen scripts and story treatments for it, and sets had been built. Like David, Decker was a younger man with a tie to Kirk’s past and a conflicted relationship with the Captain. Like Saavik, Ilia was an unpredictable alien. But neither of these characters had quite the emotional tie, or quite the sense of continuity for the fans, as would have Kirk’s son and Spock’s adopted daughter.
“The Voyage Home” ended the possibility of a series in which Kirk and Spock saw their children grow up and take over. “Search for Spock” killed David, yes, and contained the Pon farr scene in which Saavik may have become pregnant. I always frankly hated that theory. It smacked to me of middle class morality, which science fiction is not supposed to be about. They had sex, so she had to be his lover and wife now, not his adopted daughter, and she had to be pregnant, because no one ever has sex without getting pregnant. The Pocket Books novels have taken the suggestion to its logical conclusion—marrying Spock and Saavik off.
Really, there was more than one Saavik, when all was said and done. Nimoy’s vision of Saavik was as a straight Vulcan—emotionless, cold. Harve Bennett’s vision of Saavik, as detailed in his original outline for “Search for Spock,” was that she was in love with Jim Kirk. Nicholas Meyer admitted this attraction—it’s shown in the elevator scene in “Wrath of Khan”—but felt that she would naturally transfer her affections to the younger, more age-appropriate David. (According to Merritt Butrick, speaking in 1985, Harve considered David “a thankless role,” and, indeed, did not include him in the original premise for “Search for Spock.”) And Meyer thought it was logical that Saavik would become a xenophobic traitor to the Federation, before Kirstie Alley turned down Star Trek VI and original Saavik contender Kim Cattrall was brought in to create the character Valeris. Harve advanced the pregnancy idea. Nimoy was not comfortable with it.
All-Vulcan, star-struck fan girl cum Vulcan madonna, half-Romulan traitor. All these could have been Saavik.
I preferred Vonda McIntyre’s fourth, more alien, more science fiction take on the character.
Saavik loved Spock as a father and teacher, loved David as a sexual partner, loved Peter as a kid brother, admired Kirk as a hero. She had sex with Spock because it was the only way to save his life, and sexual taboos are not rooted in logic. And, after all, Spock’s body, though alive when she had sex with it, did not contain his Katra, thus she did not have sex with Spock.
It was “The Voyage Home” that rendered the point moot. Saavik was a fifth (or eighth) wheel in the fun-fest adventure that took the Bird of Prey back to 1986, where Kirk harvested two humpback whales and brought them back to the 23rd Century, so they could answer the mysterious Probe that was destroying Earth. He then got busted to Captain and got back the Enterprise, giving casual and more nostalgic fans what they wanted—the potential for more Star Trek episodes that looked just like 1969—and dashing the hopes of those of us who wanted to watch a living thing grow.
It was a fun film, but it disappointed the hell out of me. It also made no sense. Fugitives who had been involved in an intergalactic incident with the Klingon Empire, the destruction of a planet and two Starfleet vessels, who had broken laws, disobeyed orders, stolen government property, assaulted government agents—were allowed to take a three-month vacation and then return home under their own power in a stolen, enemy vessel? It not only made no sense, it made it look as though the Federation was so poor that the only things they had that flew were antiques and stolen ships. Not to mention that the leader of this band of rogues had just lost his son—whose name is not mentioned at all as his father romances a cetacean biologist and clowns around in San Francisco. (It is mentioned before they leave—by Saavik, who puts forth the absurd claim that she has not, in three months, had a moment to talk to Kirk about the death of his son, a man they both loved.)
“The Voyage Home” sent a very clear message—you can go home again. And that’s about the best you can ask for.
Why am I bitching? Star Trek lives, after all. But, you see, it’s not the one I wanted. That one lasted for two years after “Wrath of Khan,” in my imagination, and probably those of a few others. And then it took a detour, but still thrived in our minds after “Search for Spock.” There were still possibilities, as Spock would point out. David could be resurrected by the Genesis effect. Saavik was innocent of any charges and could return to service. Kirk could turn his son’s death into a reason for a new career, and Spock could learn to be himself all over again.
Instead, after a fun romp in Star Trek IV, we got a bad movie, an okay movie, and a bunch of series that, for all their claims to embody the spirit of the original, are disconnected from it. It’s for that reason that I prefer the JJ Abrams-verse to Next Gen and its ilk. I’d rather see something that lets Kirk and the others live. And, if there are to be new members of the family, I’d like to see how they connect with the old.
The new should evolve from the old. The young should be taught by their elders. History is relevant partially because it is a continuum, and we can see the changes happening. Had my supposition been true, had “Plan B” been a TV series starring Shatner, Alley and Butrick, I think it might have run for some years and then Star Trek would have been over. It might even have fallen into the trap of being a mediocre, 80s “action” series.
And, honestly, a dark part of me thinks that’s what should have happened. Instead, Star Trek has dominated the field of SF TV and movies. Originality has been thrown to the four winds. Most fans’ idea of what science fiction is is something that fits into an hour of prime time.
And that’s not growth.
Nor is what happened to Star Trek in the 1980s unique. My son Ethan pointed out that Star Wars fans who reject The Last Jedi are exactly the type of fan that the later classic Trek films were catering to—the ones who don’t want change and growth, but just want to keep revisiting their childhoods. I think it’s a powerful point.
Wow. This one was bitter. Why? I think because I realized on re-viewing “Wrath of Khan” how devastated I was by David’s death, and Saavik’s relegation to the one-shot character refuse heap. It was like a rejection. Like being told that my generation wasn’t wanted. And it came at a time that I was coming up in fandom, the first of a new generation of Trek fans, and felt somewhat unwelcome there. The death and worse-than-death of my new friends held a powerful symbolism for me but didn’t seem to mean much to a lot of other fans.
Both imdb.com and this fansite (http://www.warpedfactor.com/2015/03/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-star.html) report that Harve Bennett’s original draft of “Search for Spock” had Saavik dying in David’s place, and that it was Nimoy who decided David should die instead. I haven’t seen such a draft. I own a copy of the original premise, which, again doesn’t include David or the Klingons at all and doesn’t have a hostage dying. But, ultimately, I guess Kruge’s comment sums it up for David and Saavik. “Kill one of the hostages. It does not matter which.” Indeed it did not. Saavik was clearly problematic for Nimoy, who did not want her to be a Romulan and did not want her to have Spock’s child. So any emotional through lines for her were gone. David was disgraced as a scientist and implied as responsible for the deaths of his colleagues, Khan’s people and the crew of the Grissom. Neither of these characters were going anywhere.
Harve Bennett is sadly gone, and, while he was living, I never discussed his Trek films with him. We talked about other things when we did talk. I would love to have emailed him to comment on this piece. But I would say that he saw the handwriting on the wall—Trek was a big-money property now, and the focus was going to be on its core characters. It no longer needed the younger generation he had created, so he was willing to write them out. I don’t think that meant he wasn’t interested in carrying Trek forward, however. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted a new cast to play Kirk, Spock and company, and he tried to make Star Trek VI exactly the film that did what JJ Abrams later did in 2009—launch the new cast with appearances by the old. He felt betrayed that fans started a letter-writing campaign to prevent him doing so—that he said in an open letter to fandom. He also felt resentful that, 20 years later, Paramount turned around and essentially made the film he had proposed, but without his involvement. That he said to me in person, back in 2010.
I agree with him that a new Trek closely tied to the old was the way to move forward. I think that’s why I am one of the ones who did enjoy “The Last Jedi.” Star Wars is doing it right. I wish I could say the same for some of its fans.
So, do I have anything hopeful to say about all of this? Is there a moral takeaway? I think it’s that, when the older generation pushes away the younger, resents their presence, is embittered by the idea that it is being replaced before it is ready to give up the trappings of success and status, then stagnation sets in. Ugliness pervades. The creative and spiritual ground is barren all around.
This is why, for decades now, churches have lost members, and their participating members—the 15% who do the work—have gotten older and older; because a younger generation was turned off by the attitudes of the older. Science fiction conventions are beginning to have the same problem. I’m seeing pleas by older committee members (my age, and that’s older than people!) for young people to come and join their ranks. In both cases, I’ve asked the older generations, do you make them welcome? Do you listen to them? Do you give credence to their ideas and an audience to their voices?
At the same time, when a younger generation is convinced that it has all the answers, that its elders’ world was different and the lessons they learned just don’t apply anymore, well, that discord promotes ugliness, stagnation, and ultimate decay as well.
But when the older generation embraces the younger, takes joy in the fact of their advent, exhilarates in the evidence of their growth and success, and is emotionally fulfilled by the knowledge that their work will continue, thus making them immortal, then something beautiful can happen.
Something like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Something like a thriving church, or a living SF convention.
Something like a happy family.