The Past Is Raw Material

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Last column I wrote about my love for Star Trek: Lower Decks, considering it a capstone to Star Trek. I felt there was no where for Star Trek to go after this, as it was both parody, home, and extrapolation – somewhat like a more serious Venture Brothers. The announcement of yet another Trek series set at an the (in)famous Starfleet Academy didn’t interest me unless, as I joked, it was more in the vein of college comedies like Animal House.

That statement led to some friends and I to an actual serious discussion about how yet another Star Trek show (which, again, I should note I’m usually tired of) might work out. We started asking what it would be like to see more focus different species and cultures in the Academy, really digging into the meandering if interesting Trek lore. In short, we did what Star Trek: Lower Decks had done, just in a different part of the setting.

Also, it will surprise absolutely no one who knows me that it made me further analyze the state of media.

I looked at our brainstorming and at Lower Decks, both taking established ideas and digging deep into them. Both involved mining current material I would consider stale and often overdone, and finding new takes. Both in a way treated something beloved – and rightfully so even if I have felt it’s overdone – and using it as raw material.

As much as I love original media and want to see new things, perhaps there is some virtue in treating creative works that might be stale, stagnant, or that have lost attention and reusing them. Treat them not as something to be devoted to, nor sit on a shelf, nor make endless sequels about – with all the rampant continuity modification. Treat it as something to be recycled.

I’ve written before about the shockingly good He-Man CGI reboot at Netflix which did exactly this to fantastic effect. We’ve seen the same thing with She-Ra– which perhaps suggests that many a toyetic cartoon is worthy of recycling. Something can be beloved and reused.

(Now I don’t expect an actual Star Trek total reboot, Paramount more seems to be trying to rewrite it incrementally. But I digress).

I think this “recycling” works because by taking something you love, analyzing it, and breaking it down you find what’s really good about it. Once you find that core, you can then build it back up again into something amazing – and perhaps better than the original, or at least more relevant.

Perhaps such thoughts are less relevant in the current media environment, of cinematic universes and suddenly-canceled brilliance. It’s also less relevant in an age of political and climate chaos. But perhaps if we can find the heart of something forgotten or overdone, maybe we’ll find something out about ourselves as well.

Steven Savage