Star Trek Renegades: Proof that Hollywood is destroying Star Trek
DISCLAIMER: The writer of this review considers those that get mad about spoilers to be terrorists. In his view, they are holding the entire planet hostage from the use of freedom of speech. So if you don’t like spoilers, don’t read on. This is your only warning.
I’m a big Star Trek fan. No really, I’m 6’1″ and weight 210 lbs and I love Star Trek. But seriously, those that read the ZOG Blog or listen to my podcast Sovryn Tech know this already as I have written reviews for the amazing recent Star Trek: Continues releases, and on Sovryn Tech–while it’s an anarchist-run show about science and technology–I make it a point to quote or reference Star Trek at least once in each episode. Frankly, like many others I’ve met have said, I consider myself to have been “raised” by Star Trek in a very real way. Since I was born in 1981, I was able to experience the larger part of the Star Trek universe as it originally aired and premiered. I was able to experience all of the excitement from the rare news you’d get “pre-internet” (or at least, before it was so prevalent) in magazines, or on some news shows, or–for the best–at science fiction conventions. Star Trek was, and continues to be, a major part of my life.
Unfortunately, since the early ending of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, the world hasn’t really been able to enjoy Star Trek in its top format: weekly episodic entertainment. That’s not to say that the Star Trek books and comics that have come out since have been bad or didn’t whet the palette–they’re largely incredible, really–but they just weren’t the same. And the J.J. Abrams movies have been fair “popcorn” distractions, but they don’t really feel like Star Trek. And while those movies are a reboot while still connecting to what is now called the “Prime Universe” (all Star Trek before these movies), you can’t help but consider that a very rich tapestry and history is no longer being taken advantage of since everyone just wants to jump on the new Star Trek reboot.
Well…fortunately this isn’t true for everyone. Enter Tim Russ, a bunch of Star Trek fans, past Star Trek actors, and a voluntaryist (of which I am, as well) named Sky Conway. All of these people have come together to create a masterwork of new Trek lore, taking place within the “Prime Universe” in the year 2388, and it’s called Star Trek: Renegades. While this was originally billed as a movie (with the potential of getting optioned to CBS), it has since been billed as the “pilot episode” to a web series. And just before I get into the review let me say, I couldn’t be happier that this will be a full series (apparently coming in at 12 episodes per year).
When I generally review a movie or TV show these days, usually I spend little time in this section unless there is something really wrong. Since the advent of mass CGI in entertainment, pretty much everything looks good, so why talk about it? But when it is a more independent production, with a lesser budget than your typical Hollywood production (Renegades was made with a budget of only $375,000), I think it deserves a little more exploration.
The space sequences and starship battles in this look perfect. You have no problem believing you are watching high-end Star Trek. And they’re exciting, too, they don’t just look good. There are newer Klingon D-type ships that look fantastic, the Icarus looks good for such a new design, and the U.S.S. Archer is astonishing in how “legit” it looks (and I’m pretty sure they based it on the Nova-class starship that was supposed to be the successor to the Galaxy-class according the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual).
The planetside special effects didn’t exactly live up to the level that the space and shipside effects did, but they got the job done. I think it took a lot of guts and skill to pull off planetscapes that weren’t a “forest planet” or a “desert planet” like so many independent Star Wars productions do (look, it’s fine if you do that sort of thing, I get it, but when someone tries something really different, give them credit), regardless of execution in the end. And what I really appreciated was the continual showing of Earth in the year 2388 (with CGI-added advanced-looking buildings to landscapes), along with Starfleet Academy, and the various interiors of offices that turned out fantastic. Anytime that I thought the planetside effects were an issue, it didn’t take anything away from the action or story, in my opinion.
So I think the CGI was all pulled off well. As for the sound effects, I thought the use of Star Trek: The Original Series sound effects throughout (communicator sounds, door sounds, transporter sounds) was a nice touch. As I’ve said in the past, the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “In A Mirror Darkly”, when you see the U.S.S. Defiant from the TOS-era, I’m amazed at how advanced it looks after seeing LCARS-style interfaces for years in the other shows. So to have anything TOS related in Renegades attached it to Star Trek‘s history, but also gave it a surprisingly advanced sound. And speaking of interfaces, the 3D interfaces (once theorized on another starship named Defiant) worked very well, too.
While we’re mentioning sound effects, why don’t we dig into the music? I think music is so important to a production, and scenes can often rise and fall based upon the quality of the music.
Impressively, the production crew was able to get Dennis McCarthy (of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) to do the themes for Renegades. While I didn’t feel like the music stood out, it certainly didn’t ruin anything. It definitely felt like Star Trek, and that’s probably the most important achievement to make. That doesn’t mean a score can’t break out from what we know of as typical Star Trek music, but when you’re trying to get people to really recognize what they’re seeing as new Trek, the music is a good place to start.
There was also a song (as in, with singing) in the end credits based around the poem “Invictus” (which is quoted often throughout Renegades). The female singer does a fine job, and considering Russell Warren’s work on Star Trek: Enterprise, I thought this actually fit in rather well.
I think we need to talk about the acting before we get into the actual story. And I just want to speak in general here.
The acting was great. A couple points where maybe it was just “acceptable”, but like the aforementioned effects and music, nothing took away from the action or the story. Star Trek alumni reprising their various roles definitely gave Renegades a serious tone, and a much more “legit” air that really helped suspend your disbelief that this wasn’t some kind of addition to the official canon of the “Prime Universe”. Walter Koenig as the 143 year-old Admiral Pavel Chekov. Tim Russ as Tuvok (and he directed this, as well, doing a smashing job, in my opinion). Robert Picardo as Doctor Louis Zimmerman (the guy that created the EMH, not the EMH itself). Sean Young, and others from Star Trek‘s past returned here, and they were all welcome returns.
Even a couple of actors from the amazing Star Trek: Continues web series made appearances, including the man who I consider the REAL new Captain Kirk: Vic Mignonia, playing a Cardassian of all things (great makeup job, by the way).
I was also pleased to see the great Richard Herd (seaQuest DSV, V, and a plethora of other science fiction shows) make an appearance. Just a phenomenal actor that I haven’t seen in far too long.
Speaking of people you probably haven’t seen in a while, Edward Furlong (of Terminator 2 fame, playing John Connor) has finally been given an acting job again. I hadn’t seen him in anything since the KISS-backed film, Detroit Rock City, so it was a really welcome sight to have someone who was such an essential part of science fiction films getting taken seriously in the 90’s to have gotten another acting gig (I’m sure he has been acting here and there, but it’s great to see him back in the genre).
One of the most impressive things I felt with the acting and casting in Renegades was just the raw amount of women with lead roles or even minor roles. There were women everywhere! Not that Star Trek has ever been a slouch about having a bevy of major female characters, or as extras, but by comparison to any other science fiction franchise out there, Renegades really upped the ante on the amount of women that can be the standard onscreen. I mean…wow! This impressed the hell out of me. And particularly to have an Andorian woman as one of the lead characters (and she’s gorgeous in blue, too)…just blew my mind. And kudos to the production crew for having the lead character of the whole show (Captain Alexxa Singh) be a woman once again for Star Trek. It is much welcomed.
Also, the amount of alien races represented was equally impressive. You’d be hard pressed to not find a single major species from Star Trek‘s history to not have been seen here (even the Borg and the Orions are represented). And the new alien race presented, the blue-skinned and horned Syphon, looked fantastic. As the series progresses, I’d be interested to see more of them as this is the first totally new “enemy” created in the Star Trek universe in a while.
Bottom line, the casting and acting was solid work, from the veterans to the new people.
Woo boy. In brief, the plot of Star Trek: Renegades revolves around the emergence of a new race–the Syphon–who are destroying dilithium mining operations (by wiping out entire planets) and have become a danger to the Federation’s ability to even exist. Without dilithium, you can’t really have warp drives, after all. So Admiral Chekov (yep, it’s still that Chekov at over 140 years-old) who is now the head of Section 31 works with an older Tuvok to stop this new threat. However, they decide that a Starfleet crew cannot be used to solve this problem, they’re going to need some outcasts, and Tuvok knows just who to hire.
Enter Alexxa Singh (yes, she’s an eugenic augment, related to Kahn Noonien Singh, himself). She has a ship–the Icarus–and a rag-tag crew that can handle the mission. On attempting to stop the Syphon, they discover they are using an ancient obelisk technology to destroy entire planets instantly. These obelisks have cuneiform writing on them, but other than that I’m still not exactly sure who created them (perhaps the Preservers from the TOS episode “The Paradise Syndrome”). Maybe I missed something, but I’m really not sure where those obelisks came from. I imagine this will be something explored in future episodes of Renegades at length, and I look forward to better understanding it all. And of course the Syphon use this technology to try and destroy Earth, but the crew of the Icarus saves the day, and the plot is set for future entries into the series.
While I touched on the plot rather briefly for a 90-minute production, I thought it was a good story. And there was so much backstory trying to get crammed into it that I’m in awe of how much Star Trek was put across the screen in that amount of time. And that’s one of the things I really appreciated about Renegades: It made no bones about doing some serious “fan service”. One of the top things I look for in a sequel of any kind is franchise fidelity (I talk about this more in previous reviews I’ve done). I want to know that the production crew cares about the franchise as much as I do, and the easiest way for that to happen is by making reference to obscure points of franchise lore, or keeping well within the continuity, and overall respecting what has come before. Renegades did this in spades. Almost to the point that many would probably consider it overkill, but I thought it was perfect. Previous events mentioned, the accurate portrayal of past characters, the overall look of the sets…all of it made the idea that this was full-on Star Trek all the more believable. I could write an entire series of articles on all of the “fan service” done in Renegades, honestly.
As far as what made Renegades “darker” than most Star Trek? Well, there’s the quick remorseless killing of characters by the Syphon, as well as the direct statements of wanting to have sexual relations with captives. There’s the overall darkness–as in, little lighting–of the sets. There’s the attitudes of the characters. Oh, and there’s that scene where Admiral Chekov’s granddaughter gets part of her arm phasered off by a Section 31 agent to get rid of a bomb, teleporting the remaining parts of the arm to get it away from harming anyone. Yeah, dark. And I thought it was much needed in the franchise. Even the “positive” use of Section 31 (Starfleet’s NSA, essentially), Borg technology, and an augment as a “hero” lends a darker tone.
As for the “sexiness”, well, one only need look at the cast and the wardrobe to see where that comes from. And it works. It works really well.
One of the things that was hopeful to me is a point where Admiral Chekov says something to the effect: “We’ve bent the rules this far, where does it end?”
Star Trek in its later years, and certainly in its recent independent productions, has been operated by many “liberty-minded”, “libertarian”, or even “anarchist” or “voluntaryist” people. As I identify in one form or another with all of those terms, I’m pleased by this. But it goes without saying that the Federation is a socialist military dictatorship, and doesn’t gel with liberty ideas. My hope is that the aforementioned comment by Admiral Chekov, and the fact that what amounts to pirates (Alexxa and the Icarus crew) saving the day, will lead to anarchism–or something close–becoming a positive thing in the “Prime Universe”. Hell, I’d be happy if the Federation completely dissolved because humanity realizes the danger and hindrance of government entirely.
It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I’d love to see anything remotely like that. But if nothing else, Renegades has shown that you can enjoy Star Trek without having to love Starfleet.
In the end, I’ve sadly heard a lot of hate for Star Trek: Renegades, calling it little more than a “fan film”. While certainly, that term used to be a point of pride, lately I think it has become an insult. Productions that I would have once called “fan films”, I would now call “indie films”. But Renegades, like Star Trek: Continues, is so well done, and so above and beyond what’s being done much of the time with major franchises (even by Hollywood itself), that personally I chalk them up to being part of the continuity in my own mind, and it’s nothing remotely like a “fan film”, even if it were made 10 years ago. Things like Renegades, and other upcoming Star Trek projects like Axanar are doing what the big studios seem to refuse to do: Stop appealing to the masses and give the fans what they want. And they’re delivering high-end quality. In the 90’s, myself and other science fiction fans I knew were dying for projects like this to come out. Think of Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming. People screamed for that, but it never happened, and we had to put up with a second-rate remake on Syfy years later.
No, no. I want the goods. I want stuff like Star Trek: Renegades. By the fans, for the fans, with actors and producers that give a damn about the franchise. And did I mention that these projects have been spearheaded by voluntaryists? How could you not want to watch it?
I hope Star Trek: Renegades has a long and fruitful future. I’ll be there for it.