Yes, Captain Kirk has a Character Arc

chris-pine-as-captain-kirkI don’t want anyone to miss this great discussion that Dave Wesley mentioned as a response to my earlier post.  He said that we ought to check out the discussion of character arcs in the new reboot of Star Trek

Frankly it’s a great discussion about writing.  Here’s KFM (Rogers) initial premise (SPOILERS):

“Captain James T. Kirk, the protagonist of the movie, does not have the development executive’s beloved “character arc.” He has no arc at all.

He starts as an arrogant sonovabitch, and becomes a slightly more motivated arrogant sonovabitch. He does not learn to sacrifice, he does not learn to work well with others — he takes over the goddam ship. He’s right all the time, he never doubts he’s right, and the only obstacle he occasionally faces is when other people aren’t sharp enough to see how frikkin’ awesome — and right — he is as quickly as they should.”

But read the responses and you’ll see a lot of varied ideas on character arcs.  Me, I think Kirk has a character arc.  (And I actually posted it on the responses to his post)–but in a nutshell:

Yes, he’s a sunovabitch through the whole movie, but he is a listless, aimless SOB at first, and he has to find purpose. He never thought his fighting, his rebelling, his go after the baddies ideas fit in well with tight-shirt Starfleet, ultra PC. And yet, it is a Kirk who transforms Starfleet.

Starfleet needs a person who thinks with his gut, and Kirk jumps into that role.  Both old Spock and Pike serve as catalysts to transform brawler Kirk into Captain Kirk.

I like Pike’s speech to him early in the movie:  “Have you ever felt you could be something more?”

I think this is one of the lines that resonates for the viewer.  Don’t we all wonder who we could be if we had the opportunity?  And the line from Spock’s past:  “You will always be a child of two worlds, fully capable of living in either one. “ And Spock has to make the decision where to be fully, and which side of himself to favor–Human or Vulcan.

The movie is about Destiny, and it screws around with time travel to ask the larger question about whether destiny is fixed or fixable.  I think the movie promotes fixable.

The whole discussion is worth reading, but here’s a great later post:

Both have arcs, and the arcs are definitely related because they are almost mirror images of each other. Even Kirk’s dead father is a mirror image of Spock’s dead mother.

Their arcs also cross each other when Kirk tries to gain control of the starship by picking a fight with Spock. Except this time, he doesn’t try to stage mutiny, but rather talks to Spock to get him to resign his post. Following this fight, Spock realizes that he has emotions and he can’t control them. At the end of the scene, Kirk realizes that if he is to be Captain, he has to stop being impulsive and Spock realizes that he can not be Captain with his spasms of rage, and that he will never be able to ignore his emotions.

The movie is good, but I think there’s a lot to discuss about how the movie moved towards good through the writing of characters we thought we already knew.  And character arc is important.  I don’t think that Abrams achieved his great story by NOT giving Kirk an arc–because Kirk is not static.  Kirk learns.  He learns how to adapt t0 and also transform Starfleet protocol to fit him–thereby creating the James T. Kirk of the TOS that we know, and the Starfleet that surrounds him.

In some ways, we learn a lot about how Kirk and Starfleet function with each other, and in spite of each other.

Star Trek: Playful, Exciting, Character-driven

spaceball-12947135322_30ab2b2c4fStar Trek has come a long way and just when you thought there were no surprises left, they show up.  I’ll admit, the last few Star Trek movies left me cold.  Nemesis bombed because the writer tried to copy too much from ST2 but without any of the heart.  Insurrection was a trite story line.  Abrams’ Star Trek reinvigorizes the franchise by giving us both old and new–it completely satisfies this Trekkie.

If you go, you will get a thrill ride, and you will also be reintroduced slowly to characters you thought you knew. Yes, everyone looks young and the sets look like Apple designed them, but that’s what it means to restart the series.  You will get your money’s worth from this movie.  Most people know these characters even if they aren’t fans–but they are reintroduced to us here in great detail.  And there’s lots in here for fans of the show–little touches that show that the writers know the whole series.

I’ll try to keep out all of the surprises.  But you already know that there is time travel involved, and it shows up at the very beginning.  And because of that, events are altered.  “Our destinies are not what they would have been,” says a young Spock.  This is okay.  Star Trek has thrived on the “might have been” storylines.  The Mirror Universe got a lot of play in nearly every incarnation of Star Trek; Tom Riker was a might-have-been Will Riker; Voyager had the two part episode “Year of Hell” and the Finale which changed and altered timelines.  Even ST: First Contact imagined a Borg-filled Earth.  So, it’s nothing illegal–it just gives the writers room to wiggle.  They got to play a little with the histories–legally –because a villain altered the timeline.

But that’s the premise.  The cool part of the movie is not what they changed, but what stayed the same.  We get to see some fine actors inhabit these characters and manage to put a bit of the former actor’s style into it.  You watch Chris Pine–slowly he becomes a bit of William Shatner; Quinto is a fantastic Spock.  I swear I can hear Kelley in this new McCoy!  Uhura shows her inner Nichols in a turbo-lift.  Sulu, Chekhov and Scotty all have their moments of channeling as well.  But the writers also let the actors play—play with these histories and parts.

The plot allows each character to be introduced separately. This is a brilliant maneuver.  instead of just dumping them all on the stage at once, we get to know each character in their context.  We meet Kirk and Spock as children, Uhura in a bar, McCoy on a shuttlecraft, Scotty in a Starfleet Outpost, Sulu as a pilot and in a fight, and Chekhov in a funny homage to ST4.

I wish Wolverine would have been this good.  This had just as much action as Wolvie, but ST had a unified plot, and well-developed characters we thought we knew completely.  In the same way Wolvie failed–by being a prequel with no surprises at all–Abrams managed to give us a bit of parallelism in the lives of these characters and the ones we already know.  And there are so many great and interesting surprises–what ifs–that are allowed to play out.

This is what revision should be.  The series was great, but Myth can revise a story and get to its essence, even if the details have somewhat changed.  I can accept both Roddenberry’s original and Abrams’ version–because this isn’t an arbitrary version.  It fits in with the timeline because Nero changed the timeline.  I’m cool with that.  Just as I’m cool with Janeway’s original arrival back on Earth, and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (a fan favorite).

And J.J. Abrams, a big high-five to you and the writers from a long-time fan!  When I was seven, I took my photo with the wax figure of Mr. Spock, my dad on the other side of Spock.  I don’t have a costume–but I was once Spock at Halloween.  I don’t know Klingon, nor do I collect the series, or any of the paraphenalia, but I loved the stories, and I recognize Star Trek as American Mythos.  You’ve done a great job at bringing that to the surface.  Well done.  Do a sequel.

What Will You Do with this Symbiont You’ve Been Given?

jadzia_dax-002Recently saw a rerun of Deep Space Nine where Jadzia Dax is reviewing a possible Trill initiate. Just to clarify: Trills have the opportunity to join with a symbiotic species which will live through many hosts. Imagine a worm that lives off you, but also provides you with the lifetimes of all its previous hosts and the knowledge it’s accumulated. There are millions of Trills, but only a few thousand of these symbiants, so there’s quite a competition for them. It’s an honor to be joined. The host’s personality and the symbiant’s personality alters when they are joined, and they become a new person. “The two become one.” But because the symbiant has lived such a long time, its personality is pretty strong as an influence, and Trills try to choose for a host a pretty strong personality who has defined themselves before joining—not someone who has no personality or desires–someone who offers nothing to the symbiant, nor to society, but who just wants to live off the symbiant (ironic).

In “Playing God” in Season Two, Jadzia finds herself reviewing a potential host. The problem is that he is eager to get the nod from her, but not to add much to a symbiant’s life. He has no passions, no plans for his life. He is living his father’s dream–not his own.

I thought about this. Here was a man who was not doing anything with his life. He was hoping that the symbiant would give him a life….

How many times do we do that in a relationship? We cancel out ourselves to make sure there is room for someone else. We stop living because we want to be “joined” with someone. We’d do anything to be “joined” including becoming what they want…. and yet we forget that we could add to the mix too.

People are fascinating. We are attracted to them because they are fascinating. Even the most “serving” personality has thoughts and dreams that happen to no one else. We all can hear the death knell on a relationship when one person tries to eliminate what makes them “them” in order to get “joined.” And we all hear wedding bells when two strong interesting individuals get together–as two strong people, bringing something to the relationship.

So, what will you do with this life you have been given? And what will you contribute to your joining? How will you contribute to the world? What are your passions? Do this, find this, before you get “joined”—-you will contribute a lot to your joining–whether it’s a marriage, a workplace, a family, a faith.

Hmmm. We forget that sometimes–we Christians. God is not here to hollow out his creation and make them clones of Jesus. He needs something to work with. That’s why you gotta be the best Trill you can be as a host for such a cool symbiant. (Oh my, I’ve surely crossed a line—Jesus as Symbiant….) But I think it works. I’ve met too many Christian young adults who are empty vessels–no personality–save worry about not doing the right thing—who are hiding who they are and I think they get this message from well-meaning folks and colleges. Hey, good men and women, God doesn’t want “you” to be a robot, a device that he manipulates, downloads His thoughts and desires—he enjoys a cool person to talk with, to “join” with.

Give him one. The more interesting, the better.