I watched a couple episodes of the original Star Trek with Nolan last night, including Court Martial.
He’s not a big Star Trek fan. He prefers Battlestar Galactica — he calls it "gangster," which is teenager for "good" — and Firefly, but he watched it with me anyway.
Though he’s thankfully grown up in a world where it’s not out of the
ordinary for a woman to be a prosecutor, or a non-white man to be a
judge, I explained to him that it was a very big deal in 1967, and that allowed him appreciate the show on a new level.
Something we both noticed, though, that made us laugh and reaffirmed Nolan’s opinion that the original Star Trek "just looks kind of silly": according to Court Martial, the three buttons a captain always needs to have easily accessible when he’s sitting in command are: Yellow Alert, Red Alert, and Eject Pod.
We saw some other things that made us laugh and cringe, but people who fall over white barriers and crush plants shouldn’t cast stones at white paper labels on the captain’s chair, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.
After he went to sleep, I watched Arena. Though it was one of my favorites when I was a kid, I haven’t watched the entire episode for such a long time — I think it must be at least 15 years — that I’d completely forgotten about the entire first half of the episode, when they’re getting shelled by the Gorn at Cestus III, which was surprisingly violent and exciting. All I remembered was Kirk running around Vasquez Rocks while he fought the scary guy in the rubber suit, which was awesome and awesomer.
I’d also forgotten about Spock’s suggestion that maybe the Gorn were protecting themselves when they attacked the human outpost on Cestus III, and Kirk’s initial refusal to consider it. It was pretty brave to put the idea out that someone you automatically assume has evil intentions may have a very good reason — from their perspective — to think the same thing about you. A big part of American mythology is that we’re always the Good Guys who are incapable of doing anything evil or wrong, and I thought it was daring to suggest — on network television in 1967, no less — that maybe it’s not that simple.
Even though Star Trek frequently looks silly and cheesy, I think it says a lot about the writing and the stories that audiences have not just overlooked that, but embraced it, for the last 40 years. I’ve seen movies that spent more on special effects for one shot than Star Trek
spent in an entire season’s worth, but I didn’t care about the
characters, and the story didn’t stay with me for one minute after it
was over. We know it’s just a guy in a silly rubber suit, but when Kirk empathizes with him and doesn’t kill him, it’s still a powerful moment, and the message it sends about compassion and empathy is a powerful one that’s just as relevant now as it was then.