There are times I can admit I’m wrong and I’m happy to say I was wrong about the future of Star Trek. For a while, after watching one of my favorite shows die a slow death, I figured the franchise was done. Even when it was given a film reboot, I expected a cheap cash-grab to cap it off before the thing flat-lined. Needless to say, I’m actually kind of surprised that Star Trek is back on its feet in time for its 50th anniversary. It’s probably one of the few times a reboot has actually successfully relaunched a franchise. And it’s especially surprising given the guy who pulled it off.
Anyone who has followed this blog over the last few years will likely remember that I’ve taken a few quick shots at JJ Abrams and his ideas of storytelling. I’m not against mystery plots in speculative fiction worlds, I’ve written two so far myself, but the way he goes about it is less like telling a well crafted story and more about telling a story, leaving out half the details, and then telling you that was the point. He’s basically three flops away from being the next M Night Shyamalan.
But, I’ve got to give him credit for this: he did manage to revitalize Star Trek and it was looking like that wasn’t going to happen for a while. After Star Trek: Enterprise suffered an ignoble death at the hands of UPN and Nemesis gave the movies a shot to the kidneys, there really wasn’t a lot of reason to hope for the future of Trek. The 2009 reboot, in a lot of ways, was a Hail Mary to keep the property running. Need evidence? The 11 years since Enterprise went off the air has been the longest time without a Trek show on TV since the gap between TOS and TNG. And what made TNG possible? The Star Trek movies did damn well in the 80s too.
So for all the things I disagree with Abrams on, I have to admit that he gave the franchise a shot of life it needed at a fairly dark time. Now, Star Trek news is all over the place and people are actually excited about the property again. Star Trek Beyond is getting pretty solid reviews despite the turbulence involved in getting it together. There’s a new show coming to air in 2017, Star Trek: Discovery, and a lot of fan communities are getting excited about it – even new viewers, which is something the franchise hadn’t had for years before Abrams’ movie. And recently, as of this writing, the internet is buzzing again with news about Discovery’s showrunner, Bryan Fuller, giving us an insight into what he plans to do with the series next year.
Oh, and Fuller also might have accidentally confirmed why CBS sued Axanar.
To Boldly Go Where No Fan Can Go
For months, after the sudden and surprising lawsuit leveled against the production studio behind Axanar, people have been putting in their two cents on just why they would get sued. Some have argued it was because they raised over a million dollars in crowdfunding. This is definitely a good argument, and some people within the fan-film community have said that Axanar basically spoiled everything by going too far. But CBS and Paramount’s new guidelines actually condone crowdfunding (though no where near a million dollars). So then the question would be, is it because so many old cast and crew members were involved? Once again, probably a valid argument, and people are being banned from doing so in the future. But this would ignore the fact that cast and crew have been involved in these things for decades and that a simple non-compete clause could have prevented it.
It all just leads to a lot of questions without answers, because for every point of contention you could raise you find that CBS and Paramount were just fine with it until Axanar. One could argue that it was a matter of degrees, but then if no profit is being made and no contracts are being violated, why would those degrees matter? The only explanation that makes sense, and the one that lingered the longest without any direct evidence, was that Axanar proved to be a threat to the official productions. But, as I argued the last time, Axanar wasn’t even really in the same genre as Abrams’ movies – one being clearly portrayed as a more serious war oriented movie and the other being an action adventure space romp. Even Abrams agreed that there shouldn’t be a lawsuit against the production.
Then Discovery came along, Bryan Fuller started talking about what it was going to be, and a lot of people had their “Eureka” moment.
You see, in the short time since we have had some actual information on what Discovery was going to be about, a few things had become readily clear. First, this was going to be a prequel that was going to take place before the original Star Trek but after Enterprise. Second, it was going to explore part of the Star Trek timeline that had been talked about often but never directly explored. And third, it was going to be told in the style of Bryan Fuller, a guy known for being a lot more edgy than previous Trek showrunners, with his biggest claim to fame being a show about a cannibal who was readily seen cutting up human corpses.
Suddenly, a lot of people started to connect the dots and see that maybe, just maybe, Axanar was a threat to the shows and not the movies. The more serious, even grim, tone was going to probably be provided by Fuller. It also couldn’t be ignored that the two were both presented as prequels closer to The Original Series than to Enterprise. The only question left was just what event was Discovery going to cover, and Bryan Fuller answered in a way that came off cryptic to casual fans but was clear as day to the Trekkie hoards.
To most people, just getting into the history of the Star Trek universe, that wouldn’t really be a huge signal. But to others? The fact the Romulan war is “close” means that it has to be an event of similar importance and likely content. The problem, really, is that there are very few events that happened between Enterprise and The Original Series which had any “discussion”. And, in fact, there were so few events worth talking about that even the interview above came down to “does it involve the Battle of Axanar?”
To be fair to Fuller, he said that they weren’t going to be doing anything involving the Battle of Axanar. And I’m really excited to see what he does on the writing front, because they’re talking about making it a serialized story. But the fact remains that whatever he’s dealing with, given the slim pickings made available when you ignore the Romulan war, is going to be shockingly similar in content to what Axanar was doing. And, due to a couple musical cues and some designs seen in the teaser trailer for Discovery, a lot of people were thinking Discovery is going to be about an open conflict with these guys.
So what CBS is potentially offering is an armed conflict directed by someone known more for his grim tones. This wouldn’t be a problem under most circumstances, but Axanar did fantastic for a fan production and even its 20 minute short film, which was mostly a proof of concept, gave a fantastic show of the crew’s skills. And that, there, was the final nail in the coffin. With the subject matters seeming to be so damn close, CBS couldn’t really afford to be outdone by a fan production. The effects of Axanar, despite being handled by an independent studio, were highly professional and exciting.
A lot of people would look at that and say that they don’t really see why CBS would be threatened, because clearly CBS could do the same. But it’s also hard to ignore that, as we learn the potential content of the show, the timing of their actions also add some validity to this theory. Axanar’s initial fundraiser started in July of 2014 without a peep from CBS or Paramount. It did fantastic. Then, it did it again in 2015 for a second round of funding to bump it over that million mark. CBS then announced that they were going to do a new Star Trek show in November of 2015. Then, in December 2015, 17 months after Axanar’s first fundraiser, but only one month after DIscovery’s announcement, CBS finally sued!
You can’t tell me a studio worried about the fundraising took that damn long to respond. In fact, had Axanar not run into a couple production problems, their original plan was to begin shooting in October 2015. This means Axanar, barring the problems that slowed them down, almost had enough time to raise funds and shoot in the time it took CBS and Paramount to respond. And it’s not like it was low on the radar, it raised over a million dollars. George Takei even advertised this thing to the rest of the world on social media. The original Prelude to Axanar was even aired at Comic-Con!
Instead, they didn’t say a single word on the subject until almost a year and a half after the ball started rolling and a full 4 months after they broke the million dollar mark. They didn’t say one word, even a cease and desist, until long after the community was already hyped. And they didn’t say one word until a month after they announced a show that we now know to be set in the same time period. To say it shows some insecurity right now would be an understatement.
But why am I so sure they were insecure? For as impressive as a million sounds, it’s pretty small for a feature film. All Axanar Productions really had was talent, passion, and drive. They put $80,000 into a 20 minute proof of concept. But in 4 months, Prelude to Axanar went from funded to being aired in San Diego Comic Con as one of the slickest Trek fan-films of all time. That success led to them raising the million dollars down the line. But a full two years after Axanar first hit the scene, CBS got their chance to step up and show the world what they had to offer. With 8 months of development behind them and who knows how much money a major network could muster, they stepped up with this…
You tell me if they had a reason to be insecure.