When Leonard Nimoy died, I could not comment...could not write at all. The loss went too deep; the space he left was so full of things I had never examined. Having now gazed into that space, I think that the very last of my childhood may have gone with him.
I am 40 years old. In some way or another, Star Trek has shaped my thinking since I was a child.
And it was Spock—of course it was—who caught my attention. I was painfully shy, awkward, ignorant of much of the cultural idiom; highly intelligent, an academic achiever who never understood the jokes or references my classmates made; always too serious.
Always too literal. Too logical.
Of course I identified with the half-Vulcan aboard the Enterprise. I too struggled with my humanity, with my day-to-day existence in an environment both bewildering and full of threats, amongst rules I could not control and barely understood. Spock's camaraderie with his companions in the face of all these things, their sense of shared danger and adventure and goals, was as mysterious and dazzling to me as an oasis amidst their planet's bare rock and sand would be to a Vulcan.
Spock represented something better than the flawed, violent, alienating world around me. And as I grew, all of Starfleet came to represent that alternative as well, far more so than Star Wars' urgings toward self-awareness (self-awareness had never been my problem).
Starfleet's quest to discover, to understand, to explore without destroying, resonated deep within my 12-year-old soul. Here were people who did not think all difference was dangerous. Here were people who were strong, and instead of belittling or mocking or trying to destroy those who looked and behaved differently, they used their strength to learn from and benefit those they encountered.
Star Trek TNG accompanied me throughout my teens and early twenties, a font of intelligent, actively curious benevolence of a kind that was seldom found in the increasingly adult world I was trying to occupy. I had figured out the jokes, developed a sense of humor, become fluent in the cultural idiom, but still it was Spock to whom I turned—though it was his Vulcan traits which now fascinated me.
He bent emotion to serve reason, a still point in the churning frenzy of the Enterprise's ventures—at rest, yet never inert. Complex, responsive, rational. The best kind of human...and it was being half-Vulcan that made him so. The message was clear: We can evolve into beings greater than the sum of our parts. Feeling, or even being, alienated matters less than determination, than intelligence, than logic, than compassion.
I filled my 30s with a mix of Trekker and Trekkie movies, as well as TNG and TOS. Unquestionably the Federation shaped, and continues to shape, my ideals of a world(s) that is just, equitable, humane—of a society benevolent to all its inhabitants, both old and new.
I watched Abrams' new Trek films as I neared 40, eager to embrace the newest iteration of a world and character that shaped my youth; there was much in them to enjoy. But, with the exception of Zach Quinto's acting (though of course I miss the original Spock), most of what I like about the new films has little to do with what I love about Star Trek.
Abrams' Trek is space opera in the tradition of Star Wars: Most aliens not aboard the Enterprise are enemies or hostile; running, fighting, and overt emotion rule the day. The only characters who fully embrace rules and logic are scolding teachers who are disregarded, or villains who are later annihilated.
This is not surprising. Abrams has said, more than once, that he'd never before watched Star Trek—and didn't 'get' it once he had.
The intelligence, the wonder, the curiosity and reasoning—and the human emotions which drive these things, including fear—are largely missing from the brave new world. The things which gave me hope that the adult world could be more than what I experienced as a child, that helped me navigate it as I grew, that gave me hope and faith that we, that humans, could be better—could meet without disguise, and know each other, and come away wiser and more fully ourselves from the experience—these are missing.
The new Star Trek has great production values, fight scenes, backstory—but for me, much of the warmth and wonder are gone from the adventure.
It may not matter. I am no longer a child. I have not been for a long time—since long before I knew what Star Trek was. My youth was not a place which forgave innocence. But this kind of realization—this loss of warmth and wonder—is a cold greeting even for middle age. I wonder if I am not letting Spock down by it.
For I know that for all the reasoning underpinning my grief, Mr. Spock would indeed most likely say that I am being illogical. That all things change, including ourselves. That wisdom lies in learning continually, in shaping and choosing our own changes as we grow. That those things cannot happen in the absence of hope.
And perhaps it says more than anything I've written above that knowing what Spock would say is enough to square my shoulders and turn my gaze forward to the next 30 years.
(Thank you, Mr. Nimoy. For all of this, for hope and grief alike—because for me the Trek wears your face, and always will.)