(Warning: Contains spoilers for “Star Trek” as well as some plot details for “Star Trek: Beyond”)
If you’re interested in seeing “Star Trek: Beyond” this weekend but have never seen an Enterprise adventure before, don’t despair. The third film in the rebooted franchise keeps the callbacks to J.J. Abrams‘ pair of “Trek” films to a minimum. Still, while this new adventure is easy to jump into, it’s also much more enjoyable if you know what’s going on with the new “Trek” timeline and what about the 60s TV series has been changed with this new movie series.
First, a quick history lesson. When development on the reboot began in 2006, “Trek” was at its lowest ebb. The most recent film, “Star Trek: Nemesis,” bombed at the box office. A year prior, the show “Star Trek: Enterprise” was cancelled after just four seasons, ending with a finale that was universally panned. For the first time since 1987, there were no new “Trek” movies or episodes being developed, and years of declining quality left interest in the franchise at an all-time low. Enter J.J. Abrams.
In a move that surprised many, Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman decided that the new film would not only take the series back to the start of Kirk’s command of the Enterprise, but would also treat the 60s TV series and subsequent films as a separate timeline that impacts the story. The rebooted universe would become known as the Kelvin Timeline, named after the starship that James Kirk’s father, George, served on as first officer.
In the 2009 “Star Trek,” the timeline is created thanks to Nero, a Romulan captain seeking revenge on the Federation for failing to save his home planet from destruction. Ambassador Spock (played by original cast member Leonard Nimoy) is able to prevent further destruction, but in the process creates a black hole that sucks him and Nero into an alternate reality.
In that reality, Nero’s quest to destroy the Federation leads to major changes for both Kirk and Spock. In the original timeline, Kirk joins Starfleet after spending his whole childhood watching his father serve the Federation. But in the new timeline, Nero kills Kirk’s father while Kirk is still an infant, resulting in the future captain becoming a reckless, brawling rebel without a cause who only joins Starfleet when dared to do so by his father’s former commanding officer.
Spock, meanwhile, suffers an even greater loss. As revenge against Spock’s prime counterpart, Nero destroys his home planet in the alternate timeline. When the two Spocks later meet, the prime Spock apologizes for interfering in Kelvin Spock’s timeline, causing him to lose out on all the experience he would have gained from being on Vulcan. On the other hand, the Kelvin timeline has also giving Quinto’s Spock something the original did not enjoy: a romantic relationship with Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, whose first name was finally revealed in the reboot.
These three major changes are all referenced in “Star Trek: Beyond.” Having never had an undying passion for joining Starfleet from childhood, being in charge of the Enterprise still feels a little off to Kirk at the start of the film. As McCoy puts it in an early talk, “You joined to see if you could live up to [your father]. Now you’re wondering what it means to be Jim.”
Spock, meanwhile, is going through a lot of personal turmoil that becomes difficult to handle even for his disciplined Vulcan mind. His relationship with Uhura is on the rocks; and upon the Enterprise’s arrival at the space station Yorktown, he receives some shocking news: Ambassador Spock has passed away.
Yes, Nimoy’s passing in February 2015 is worked into this film’s story, with Kelvin Spock having a bit of an existential crisis upon hearing the news of his own death. This, combined with a potential breakup with Uhura, leads Spock to wonder if logic dictates that his skills would be most useful on the Enterprise, or if he should consider leaving to help his fellow Vulcans rebuild their society on a new home planet.
The Kelvin Timeline has been rather controversial among Trekkies, as has Abrams’ impact on the franchise. Some Trekkies feel that Abrams, who has admitted that he was far more attached to “Star Wars” than “Trek” growing up, used an approach that diminished the substance “Trek” is known for in favor of summer blockbuster flash-and-bang. The plots of the Abrams’ films have been picked apart by Trekkies, with some feeling that the rebooted Kirk’s rise to the captain’s chair is undeserved.
But this much is clear: for all its flaws, the Kelvin Timeline has restored “Star Trek” to pop culture prominence. The new film’s world premiere kicked off this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and fans are eagerly anticipated next year’s brand new “Trek” TV series produced by Bryan Fuller. 50 years after its debut, “Star Trek” has found new life, as its themes of exploration and hope in the face of despair resonate as deeply today as they ever have.
Check out our pick for the greatest “Star Trek” characters ever below.