Star Trek: The Original Series

When George Lucas reissued Star Wars, many purists said he was desecrating a great piece of art. They argued that Star Wars, as it was originally produced was a unique and static product and that any superficial upgrade of its effects were little more than a gimmick used to sell more VHS tapes.

Perhaps they were right. Lucas retooled some the story, back stepping on established character direction. However in the newly remastered Star Trek, there is no similar change in story or character. The series has received new computer generated special effects, sound effects, music, and backgrounds. Click here for an example of how some of the effects were upgraded.

Arguments Opposed to Remastering

Some argue that like Star Wars, the original Star Trek series is a tome of its era and therefore, the 1960’s effects are part of that experience. Change those effects, and Star Trek as a cultural text becomes lost in time as a confused hybrid of the mid-20th and early 21st centuries. People have countered the argument that “this is what Roddenberry would have done with modern digital technology,”  by saying that most of the props and designs in Star Trek would look far more updated and reminiscent of Enterprise, further washing away the message of the 1960’s.

Star Trek and the 1960’s

But what important message does the 1960’s have that we need to remember? This was a turbulent time in America’s history. This was a turning point for the country. Civil rights, war, and corruption all played heavily into the national consciousness and Star Trek drips with those issues. Like all art and media, Star Trek represented the people’s hopes, fears, and interests.

The first remastered episode aired was Balance of Terror. This episode brings up several social issues that were of important in the 1960’s. One issue was that of racism. In this episode a bridge officer named Lieutenant Stiles bears great animosity towards Romulans. Many of his ancestors died in the war against them. It is revealed that Vulcans and Romulans share a near-identical appearance, and immediately Stiles turns on Spock, the ship’s Vulcan science officer. Though he has no rational or credible reason to believe that Spock has any loyalty to the Romulans, Stiles antagonizes Spock with accusations of being a traitor and collaborator. Stiles’ racism and prejudice towards Spock is reminiscent of that seen towards minority groups in the 1960’s.

Another social issue is the idea of a Cold War. Balance of Terror deals with the long rivalry and enmity between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. These two powers are separated by a de-militarized “Neutral Zone” and know little about the other side. This is reminiscent of the Iron Curtain of the American-Russian Cold War. Both sides know that the cost of war would be immense and yet the Enterprise and a Romulan vessel engage in a conflagration which could easily flare into full-fledged war. Both sides fear what the other represents and neither side truly understands the other. In the end they discover that the art of war is itself a common bond and the Romulan commander dies lamenting that in another time, he could have been friends with Captain Kirk.

Star Trek and the 21st Century

In the 1960’s, Star Trek was an important window into the psyche of America. Forty years later, it still is. Racism, war, and uncertainty still plague Americans and people all over the world. Star Trek’s overarching message of hope and progress is still relevant.

The remastered effects of the original series don’t contrast with the rest of the show the way they do in Star Wars. They tie in seamlessly, presenting an updated look on what is still clearly a 1960’s idea. Just as the reissued Star Wars could be considered a cultural text of the 1990’s, where making everything new and extreme was the fashion, this remastered Star Trek series is a text of this decade. Instead of updating for the sake of sales, they have updated Star Trek to remind us of its legacy and its message: that progress equates to the pursuit of knowledge and respect for all mankind, and that these are ends unto themselves.

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