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Analysis / Star Trek Beyond

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The Main themes and the final fight

Warning! Spoiler Talk below.

There are many phrases and ideas thrown around in Star Trek Beyond. Some of them are more obvious such as Uhura's arguments with Krall about the value of unity and being part of something greater. However, there's also elements of dealing with heritage and how to build on that, and the phase "getting lost" as Arc Words used at the beginning and end of the film.

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     Kirk's opening log 
At the opening of the movie, Kirk talks a lot about how the three year journey in space has begun to weigh him down. Making him disoriented in how he acts. That for all their exploring and contact, he's beginning to lose sight of why he's doing it. Compounding on this is the fact that technically, Star Trek Beyond is a Birthday Episode for Jim, and as he mentions to his oldest friend Bones, he's finally reached an age where he'll be older than his hero father. That he's starting to wonder more and more what it means to be Jim rather than to be like his father. As he mentioned, in this timeline, it was Pike that pushed him to join to be better than his dad. Now that he's saved Earth twice, and with all this exploration, he doesn't seem to know what he's supposed to be striving for.

     Yorktown and the call 
In a way, many of the main crew seem to reflect this. Chekov's become a charmer on the ship, Spock and Uhura take a break from each other due to differing views on having children. Relationships are shifting due to the long travels into distant shores, and work isn't always enough to shake things up as they go.

Landing at Yorktown, the crew seeks to recharge, reorient themselves and get straightened out. However, in this setting both Kirk and Spock are confronted with a chance to change their legacy based on changes to their heritage.

  • For Spock, he hears of Spock Prime's death, and it seems from the conversation that he never quite got over the logical impulse to go and help the Vulcans out as a more important group. Hearing of the ambassador's death only gives him further proof that he's been flying around every which way, and now his people again need help without his future self to do that.
  • Meanwhile, unknown to many of the crew, Jim has put in a request to be Vice-Admiral at Yorktown. Step away from the chair, feel part of something big but manageable.

However, something bigger than them lands in the form of a refugee, asking for help in saving her crew past a nebula near the station, and as the most advanced ship at the station, the Enterprise is the one to go.

Before Kirk leaves though, Commodore Paris gives him a cryptic note on getting lost in space. As it was in the context of talking about his application, what she's really talking about is Kirk trying to assess what his missions are all about. Her words could be taken as a kind of understanding that Kirk's trying to ground himself, but she wants him to think about what that means for his future, and whether getting a promotion is what he really wants. A subtle foreshadowing for what's to come for both Kirk...and his foe.

     The crash and the divisions 
Of course, being new Star Trek, the mission was a trap, and the Enterprise is torn apart by what's later called "bees". In a funny way though, the bee attack plays into the hypocrisy of Krall. He proclaims that unity is a weakness, and yet his attack was only made possible thanks to his uniform attack patterns on the Enterprise with hundreds of small ships. On the other hand, what Krall has is more Order than Unity. A common purpose, but no flexibility.

This then leads to the division of the crew into 4 groups: those captured, Scotty by himself, McCoy and Spock, and Chekov with Kirk. Those captured begin learning more of Krall's powers and intentions. Kirk and Chekov begin learning more about the circumstances surrounding their crash. Scotty finds a survivor: Jaylah, who brings him to a new ship. (more on that below)

However most interesting is McCoy and Spock together. Traditionally, Spock and McCoy have always been at odds, but with Spock now contemplating changing course for his legacy, McCoy actually makes for an interesting ear to hear. Despite being more the emotion to Spock's logic, the way McCoy listens and speaks to Spock actually reflects a good ear of a good friend, not making judgments on Spock's life choices, merely offering condolences, caring for physical pain, and showing true unity by refusing to go on without him. What McCoy is setting up for Spock is him seeing that the logic of carrying on Ambassador Spock's legacy can go in several different directions, since this mission is a reminder to Spock of how much the crew of the Enterprise has refined him.

     The Franklin and the Rescue 
After much learning, traveling and coming together, most of the stars gather on Jaylah's ship. Which turns out to be a historical legacy: The USS Franklin. Apparently the first ship to hit Warp 4, and the subject of many mysteries in the Federation. The Franklin is a representation of Starfleet's heritage. But also a symbol of what Krall lost. Again, more on that below. There are also plenty of connections to the past beyond itself for each of the characters. But for now, the most significant parts are:
  • Spock recalling a small trinket of affection he gave Uhura that becomes a way for them to confirm the crew's location.
  • Kirk finds a bike, recalling his mother telling stories of how his father drove her crazy on the bike.
  • And most significantly, Jaylah opening up about her Survivor's Guilt. That she was captured by Krall, and to have her escape, her father had to give himself up to Krall's Number Two Manaas. That he was brave, but died for it. For this, Scotty told Jaylah that it was a terrible thing to happen, but her pain isn't all that's going on now. "You're a part of something bigger now." And that she doesn't just need to survive, but live into a larger purpose. And so, she gives them more information and tools to begin their rescue.

     The final battle 
The final battle is all about Kirk. Not in that he does everything, but symbolically the battle ties him to Krall much more than any of the other crew.

Starting with how The Franklin fights the "bee" swarm. With them getting information from McCoy and Spock, they deduce they need to disorient the swarm, and find a way to do so with Music. And what song do they use? Sabotage from Kirk's youth. Reminding him of the good old times.

They catch Krall's ships, but he escapes, and it's here that we learn a shocking truth: Krall is in fact the former captain of the Franklin: Balthazar Edison. A former soldier made captain after peace, and in his last log entry, he swears to strike back at a Federation that doesn't care for them anymore.

This then leads to the most important clash: Kirk vs. Edison in the air circulator. What the battle boils down to is Edison and Kirk discussing both their pasts and their futures. First with Edison talking about losing their way but finding the superweapon gave them a purpose to bring the galaxy back to the struggle that made them strong to begin with. However, what becomes clear as the battle continues is that in some ways Edison got too wrapped up in himself to remember full well why he struggled for humanity. His heritage as a soldier consumed him, so that after being lost for so long, all he wants now is to struggle with foes again, feeling disgraced by the Federation, lashing out at them. Kirk tries reasoning with him time and again about evolving, that Edison succeeded in what he was trying to do all this time in giving them peace. But ultimately, when Edison starts to set off the weapon, Kirk states a part of his heritage that he now wants to honor even after outliving his father: "Better to die saving lives than to live with taking them. That's what I was born into." And with some help from his friends, that's what he does. Meanwhile, Edison is flung out, destroyed by his own weapon and his own resentments, still hatefully glaring at Yorktown as he's consumed.

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     Detente 
Following the rescue, Kirk and Commodore Paris talk about how Edison's case is now closed, but that his record will now be forever tainted by his actions. Kirk mentions that he "got lost", and then talks about how as Vice-Admiral, he wouldn't get to fly anymore. And "Where's the fun in that?" While this seems to be Kirk reverting to an older self as an adventurer, in many ways its him recognizing that he's part of something bigger wherever he's working, and that has reground him in purpose beyond just protecting one station. In a way, Paris recognizes that this was what Kirk wanted all along, as she smiles at his polite declining of the promotion.

Spock meanwhile gets Ambassador Spock's possessions, and finds a photo of him with the prime timeline Enterprise crew. Seeing this was final confirmation to Spock that his prime counterpart, while logical, also found purpose in serving alongside the same friends he had. And that's enough to convince him to stick around with the Enterprise crew, and begin making up with Uhura.

While none of the other characters have the same kind of reaffirmation that those two have, there is one more story that deserves mention: Jaylah's. Jaylah's heritage was snatched from her in the escape, and all she wanted was to get off the planet. But now that she's achieved that, what would she do next? Well, Kirk and Scotty decide to give her a new purpose by plugging her into Starfleet academy. While she never asked for it, it is something bigger than herself as Scotty mentioned before, and it could give her new purpose in life. Whether it will be successful or not is left in the air, but by her surviving with the crew, she is ready for a new chapter of her life to create her own legacy.

And with a new Enterprise to lead them on, the crew once again is ready to continue building their legacy in a ship that acknowledges their heritage. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

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