Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Where's Star Trek: Rebels?

As my son was zooming his Hot Wheels mini JJ-USS Enterprise around the lounge, hoping to blow my USS Vengeance out of the sky, my wife raised a very good point. 

"He loves ships and the whole space thing," she observed, "and he does like watching Star Wars Rebels - how come there's no Star Trek for kids? Surely they're missing a trick and an audience?"

That's a very good point indeed, especially when it comes from a someone who has no serious love for the franchise. Flashback; the only non-live action Star Trek in 50 years was the 1973 animated series and while it's a good diversion, these days it's classic fans who are the most likely to buy it on DVD and laud some of its exemplary stories. Either that or take berate the brilliance that was the personal forcefield belt. 

Star Wars on the other hand has certainly cornered the market not only producing excellent animated shows such as The Clone Wars (twice) and Rebels in recent years but let's not forget Droids and Ewoks back in the 80's. Plus there were the more child friendly(!) Ewok movies and that "amazing" Christmas special. So why not Star Trek? What has stopped a 50 year old franchise from branching out and potentially extending its lifetime even further. Even in recent years Doctor Who has realised the opportunity within the younger audience. While kids will watch the show, Russell T Davies brought in The Sarah Jane Chronicles to appeal to a younger generation and, I suspect, prep them to watch Doctor Who when they get older. As a footnote here, '60's retro series Thunderbirds has been rebooted in CG and already I can see what the bulk of my son's Christmas presents will consist of and I'm hooked on it for Saturday morning viewing. It's a good example where that rebooting has succeeded in capturing fans of the original and finding a new, adventurous and young audience.

However Star Trek has always aimed for a slightly highbrow audience intending a branch of sci-fi that provokes discussion and is cleverly multi-layered which, no offence intended, has made it less accessible to children. Yes I and many others will have watched it in our formative years but I wouldn't think we're in any for or majority. There wasn't a ton of action, it wasn't all explosions and space battles and there was a fair bit of talking. 

Looking back and thanks to some input from Dennis Koch on Twitter, I recalled that there were forays into material for a younger audience - certainly the comics of the 80's and 90's were looking to expand the ranks of fandom. Likewise there were the 100+ action figures in the Playmates range that many of us still have mint, styro-chipped and vacuum-sealed for future generations, there were books about the main characters at the academy, the Corps of Engineers books, handheld computer games, Galoob figures (yeah, they were great...), Micro Machine starships, I could probably go on but there was, indeed one thing missing, perhaps the hook that needed to be there to secure a more successful merchandising/revenue stream for the future - a TV show.

Think about it. Kids and adults watched Star Trek, kids and adults watched Star Wars but the later pulled out something that meant the younger generation were hooked even more and wanted X Lego set or Y action figure because there was a show which was "exclusively" theirs. At a push there were the Kre-O sets for Into Darkness and we'll be seeing a Mega Bloks USS Enterprise from The Original Series on the shelves of your local toystore in 2016 BUT Star Trek has never hit that mark and while there have been numerous lines or toys, books or games which could attract that market. They've not had an alternative visual gateway which could have then led them on to the experience of the main Star Trek series.

I am in no way suggesting we dumb Star Trek down, nor am I suggesting that The original Series or Deep Space Nine are inaccessible for younger fans but there needs to be something which is more encapsulating so it's not just the "geeky" kid in the class who watches it. in fact we could even speculate that The Worf Chronicles is perfect for a younger audience if we slap an inexperienced, rookie crew in with the angry Klingon captain(!) and some horrific comedy character - or Neelix.

So is it time to change? As with the JJ movies that have dragged Star Trek more firmly into the 21st Century is it now time to draw in that younger audience because it might well secure a better future for a franchise that, at the moment, is relying purely on a third motion picture in its 50th anniversary year. It could easily be set in the JJ-verse, it could be live or animated I don't think it really matters but it does need to aim for that demographic because there has to be something to ensure the longevity of the franchise. Star Wars is managing to do that through its multiple projects but Star Trek still seems blinkered or maybe it really doesn't appeal that strongly or want to appeal to that younger generation. Before you mention it, yes I have thought about the ever increasing comic book/graphic novel range but they seem more focused on the older viewer and collector especially with cash tie-ins such as The Planet of the Apes, Doctor Who and most recently Green Lantern. Even more singular titles have revisited old concepts such as The Tholian Webs. No guessing what that was about which is going to interest more invested fans than perhaps younger, newer ones.

Of course such a conversation also kicks off other possibilities. With some clever scripting there could be characters dropped into Star Trek Beyond (or taken from) that would lead into said children's spin-off and launch a whole new strand of the franchise. Interest in the movie is certainly starting to gather momentum with visual confirmation of Idris Elba's involvement by his appearance in the launch video to win a walk on role in the third installment (has it really come to this?!). Nice twist on that video guys just adding Idris in there but I can't forgive the break-dancing. Seriously, is there no better time to grab that hot iron and expand the universe as we're seeing DC and Marvel do with their superhero franchises?

I might be going crackers here but Star Trek has always remained, at least on the screen, 100% pure to a single vision, one crew and a seven (not always) season run with no variation outside the lines. The reboot did blur those lines and I would like to think that adding a more juvenile-aimed show could really smudge those boundaries for all time. There needs to be a good head in charge to give it the edge and feel of Star Trek that some recent spin-off elements have tragically diluted. Certainly a spin-off wouldn't do the merchandising department any long as it's done right and doesn't turn out to be a Bucky O'Hare that is and not allow it all to end up in the 99p bin after six months.

It is after all about getting it right and if there's one thing Star Trek hasn't been good at it's consistency. The last 50 years - and the last 15 for definite have been rocky, uneven affairs that have distanced fans and potentially begun to cut off that younger audience. Taking the bull by the horns and exploring new avenues just as the rebooted films have done could be the key to unlocking some new potential and who knows, we might not be looking forward to a Sulu series in a couple of years but a Sulu movie. I could see an animated version doing well and the options would be limitless. Heck, I'd even go as far as saying George Takei would be onboard immediately to voice.

Whatever happens, the next 12 months will be critical to the future of Star Trek and it's existence for another 50 years. I just hope that it's going to keep the vision focused and cater for all potential parties.

Have I got it right? Does Star Trek need to explore other media avenues to remain a strong player in the sci-fi market? Let me know below!

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