It’s Not A Retcon, It’s Alt-Time


By Captain Damage

These musings are an expansion on a conversation with @mousecanttweet on Twitter.

First off, before I get into any of the stuff that may prompt calls for the surrender of my geek card, let me say that I very much enjoyed both Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). Both movies are fun and the character portrayals are great. Chris Pine, in particular, is spot-on as young Kirk.

If you are unaware, the 2009 reboot of the Star trek franchise, produced and directed by
—SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers ahead for ST, Lost, Buffy and Terminator: SCC

If you are unaware, the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, produced and directed by JJ Abrams, involves splitting the universe into two timelines. The first timeline includes all Star Trek television series and movies created prior to 2009: Enterprise (ENT), the original series (TOS), the animated series (TAS), The Next Generation (TNG), Voyager (VOY), Deep Space Nine (DS9), movies 1-6, Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis. Also, presumably all the comic books and novels. The second timeline splits off shortly before TOS and includes ENT, ST2009 and ST:ID

The splitting of the timelines in this case (alt-time) is just a cheap way for non-fans to weasel their way into total control of the franchise. They can add or subtract anything they want without the need to explain through retconning. Alt-time is the explanation. And it treats the preceding forty years of creating a universe and mythology as a cafeteria.


So there is no point in asking why Praxis is shown to have been blown to pieces 34 years before it’s supposed to have exploded in STVI. Or why there’s a single tribble in sick bay (tribbles: can’t have just one) at least a year before they were discovered in TOS. Or why are the Klingon’s foreheads are ridged. Or any of the other hey-wait-a-minutes fans will notice.


This gets to why I find the use of alt-time in ST2009 & ST:ID so unsatisfactory. Alt-time has been used in Star Trek and some of my favorite series before, often as part of an explanation for an awkward retcon. E.g., to explain Tasha Yar’s daughter in TNG, or Dawn’s sudden appearance in Buffy, or the changing of the date of judgement day twice in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. In ST2009 and SD:ID, alt-time is the entire explanation, end of discussion. It’s done as a way to take the least amount of effort to cover their ass against criticism.

I can’t help but draw comparison to a previous Abrams/Lindelof venture, Lost, which had one of the most unsatisfactory endings ever. The polar bears? The smoke monster? The weird time displacement? The love triangle? The dead people coming back as something similar to, but distinct from ghosts? The socialist Dharma Initiative? None of that has anything to do with anything. They’re all dead, and have been since the crash. All that layering of cool, weird stuff was just put in there to keep you watching. They were dead all along, so none of that weird stuff needs to be explained. They’re dead and that is the explanation.

So why is there a tribble in sickbay? Because alt-time. Why is Praxis in a thousand pieces? Because alt-time. It feels like (and, okay, I say this about a lot of reboots) they’re just picking and choosing a token number of Trek icons to place here and there to justify calling it Star Trek, when it’s really, at it’s core, something completely different. I, and i think most fans, would have written it very differently.

But like I said, it’s a fun movie!

I’ll let @mousecanttweet have the last word:

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