Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Discovery Makes A Bad Original Series Movie Better

Star Trek: Discovery may still be divisive among longtime fans, but the CBS All Access prequel series makes one of the lesser Star Trek films a more enjoyable watch. Set a decade before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series, Discovery chronicles the adventures of the titular starship and Michael Burnham, the embattled Starfleet officer and adoptive sister of franchise stalwart Spock.

Discovery's polarizing first season chronicled a war with the Klingons that left many fans uncertain, but the show would find firmer footing in season 2 with a storyline that introduced Captain Christopher Pike and Spock, and ended with Discovery hurled hundreds of years into the future. The secretive nature of Discovery's mission and technology meant everyone involved in the vessel's disappearance was required to claim it was destroyed rather than displaced in time.

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Beyond the obvious questions about Discovery's ultimate fate, the ship's disappearance has already had a tangible effect on Burnham's adoptive family, namely her brother Spock and parents Sarek and Amanda. Sarek, in particular, was incredibly close to Burnham, and already harbored guilt over her denial to the Vulcan Science Academy in deference to Spock. While never overtly emotional, Sarek's heartache when he realizes he will likely never see his daughter again is palpable.

Far from being isolated character beats, these tie into older Star Trek movies. After the franchise was saved by the classic 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a sequel was commissioned. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock primarily existed to undo the Vulcan officer's death at the end of The Wrath of Khan so the franchise could continue indefinitely. It's not without its charms - Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette play Klingons - but you would likely be hard-pressed to find a Star Trek fan who considers it a great. The effects work is noticeably more modest than in the previous film, and the plot is far less nuanced, largely just obsessed with reviving Spock. As was long the pattern, the odd-numbered Star Trek films were generally inferior to the even-numbered ones; The Search For Spock is sandwiched between the franchise-defining Wrath of Khan and the wildly-successful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (also directed by Nimoy).

But a curious aspect of The Search For Spock suddenly becomes much more resonant with Discovery as background. The mission to revive Spock begins in earnest as a frantic Sarek darkens James Kirk's doorstep, ranting and raving about his son's katra, essentially the Vulcan equivalent of a soul. Sarek believes Spock would have stored his Katra in Kirk before his death, though it turns out he actually transferred it to the increasingly erratic Dr. McCoy. Sarek's borderline hysteria makes little sense in the context of the time; the character had only been seen once before, in the TOS episode "Journey to Babel," where he was portrayed as a particularly cold Vulcan with a distant, complicated relationship with Spock. However, with the knowledge that Sarek has already lost a child in Michael Burnham, his desperation to save his son takes on much more power, and makes the eventual reunion between father and son all the more powerful.

As Sarek says at the film's conclusion, logic fails him where his son is concerned. Expanding that notion to both of his children not only gives the film emotional resonance, it also reinforces one of its strongest themes - the devastation of what happens when we're unable to protect our children. The film also deals with the fallout of Kirk discovering he has an adult son, David, in The Wrath of Khan - an adult son who ends up murdered at the hands of the Klingons in one of the franchise's darker moments. David's death would haunt Kirk for the rest of his life, and factor heavily into the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Star Trek: Discovery will likely always be a divisive series, for reasons both valid and not. It's pushed the franchise in new directions some fans will simply never be comfortable with, even if they were necessary for Trek to thrive in the 21st century. But at least those fans can take solace in the fact that Michael Burnham and friends have made a mediocre TOS film much better.