On November 28th 2014 I was sat in Starbucks on an afternoon break from work when I spotted the first trailer for ‘The Force Awakens’. The subsequent 91 seconds of dramatic voiceovers, nostalgic imagery and repeated cuts to black were the first moments that I realised that this was actually happening. There really would be a new, proper Star Wars movie with real talent behind it.
Of course technically we’d known about this for years. Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and announcement of a new Star Wars trilogy in October 2012 was by no means a small news story. And three months later when J.J. Abrams accepted the role of director for the first instalment, eyebrows were raised, followed by a pause, then a nod of “Yeah, I can see that” (though my money had been on Brad Bird). Actors were cast and returned to iconic roles, respectively, the start of production was announced, but it was only when the first minute-and-a-half of footage set to a John Williams score that the world was truly sure that this was a real thing that was happening.
Cut to 14th December 2015, just over a year later and three days before ‘The Force Awakens’ hits UK cinemas. I wake up from a dream where the opening scene of the seventh Star Wars had a Star Trek theme park. I credit this to my inner Betazoid detecting the online release of the first trailer for ‘Star Trek Beyond’.
As different a story as the two franchises are from each other, a new Star Trek film is much less of a surprise as a new Star Wars. It’s a sequel to two successful big screen iterations (also directed not entirely coincidentally by J.J. Abrams) which themselves came around not long after the last Star Trek TV series, ‘Enterprise’, had finished. And this first trailer sets itself very much apart; the opening seconds have geek-deity Simon Pegg step nonchalantly into shot while ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys plays (and continues to score the rest of the trailer).
Whereas the teaser for ‘The Force Awakens’ was solely focussed on its own mythos (Deserts! Stormtroopers! An R2-Droid! THE FALCON!), here Star Trek shows a willingness to embrace 21st century popular culture. And that makes sense; Star Trek is meant to take place a couple of hundred years in our future, whereas Star Wars takes place a long time ago etc. It’s only notable because Star Trek doesn’t really have a history with pop-culture references. Heck, they’ve actually gone back in time to the ‘present’ on multiple occasions but there’s nary a mention of music or movies. Since the 2009 film however, there’s more of an effort being made to make the franchise seem more ‘current’. It’s something of an irony that a series set in the future needs references to today’s culture to seem more modern – one of the earliest scenes in the first Abrams-directed Trek flick has a young Jim Kirk driving a 1965 Corvette Stingray while listening to the aforementioned Beastie Boys before the Nokia ringtone sounds over his speakers. And while there were fewer nods to the 20th and 21st centuries in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, they are present and correct in our first look at ‘Star Trek Beyond’. The jacket Scotty wears looks like it came straight off a 2015 high street, and Kirk is seen riding a motorbike (the trailer reminds us the film comes from the director of the third through sixth ‘The Fast And The Furious’ films, Justin Lin).
These two different approaches to introducing a film to its audience are clear. In the case of ‘Star Trek Beyond’, it tries to grab those not into Star Trek or sci-fi generally with the modern action movie element. But in the case of ‘The Force Awakens’, it’s Star Wars. It doesn’t quite just need to show up to sell tickets, but nonetheless the marketing has all been based on the mythology. Not for nothing were Han and Chewie given the final moments of the second trailer, and Luke Skywalker has actually been made prominent by his absence. Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon that has permeated the consciousness of generations, whether from the famous original trilogy or the infamous prequel trilogy, so those with no previous interest in Star Wars are being told that it’s such a huge cultural event that they have to see the film anyway or risk being left behind. Maybe if Star Trek had more dormant periods it would be treated similarly (before the ‘Enterprise’-Abrams gap, the only other period with no Star Trek in production had been the 70’s). But circumstances have moulded the two franchises into the beasts they are today, and neither show any sign of going away.