Star Trek: Into Darkness: My Hope for John Harrison

Geek Culture
(Left to right) Zachary Quinto is Spock, Benedict Cumberbatch is John Harrison and Chris Pine is Kirk in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. Credit: Paramount Pictures

If you are viewing The Hobbit in IMAX, you will get to see a special nine-minute trailer of Star Trek: Into Darkness, in which you will see more of the new villain, John Harrison. If you are viewing The Hobbit in regular theaters, you may see a new 1:50 trailer. I will admit, I have a little bit of envy for those who will be viewing the IMAX trailer, because the inclusion of a brand new villain into this part of the Star Trek universe is the first thing said about Star Trek: Into Darkness that has me wanting to watch a movie I had previously written off. Finally, I see some glimmer of hope that the alternate timeline Star Trek will live up to the great possibilities and potential set-up by destroying the planet Vulcan.

When Star Trek: Into Darkness was first announced, the Internet went crazy with speculation that the next villain would be Khan. As soon as that happened, the movie was dead for me.

Here’s the deal. When you do something as significant as blowing up Vulcan, then that will dramatically alter events in the new timeline. If the resulting changes are not dramatic, then I have to ask, what is the point? You have an entire new universe with which to play. Why re-imagine a story already told?

It is this re-imagining of stories already told that turned me off of the Star Trek Ongoing comics.

I did not enjoy the 2009 Star Trek film. Not because it was set in an alternate timeline — that is a more than valid Star Trek trope. Not because they blew up Vulcan. Not because of Red Matter — even though I could not suspend my disbelief for that aspect of the movie. The reason I do not like the first Abrams’ movie is because it was, in my opinion, nothing more than a generic action movie with Star Trek affixed to the label. It lacked the substance and human story that drew me to the series nearly four decades ago. Don’t even get me started on the jazz hands of cinema… I mean artificial lens flare.

But, I tolerated it. I welcomed it, even if with a lot of dislike, into Star Trek canon because it brought many new fans into the franchise. It has been the cause of many people going back, and watching all of the other series for the first time. Also, I tolerated it because it is difficult to include, in a couple of hours, the substance found in Star Trek of old, while introducing viewers to a whole new set of characters. So, I think of Star Trek: 2009 as a mediocre pilot episode.

Then, the comics were released. Some readers may not be aware that Star Trek Ongoing is part of the new canon. Think of them as television episodes leading up to the next movie. The official outline reads:

The adventures of the Starship Enterprise continue in this new series that picks up where the blockbuster 2009 film left off! Featuring the new cast of the film, these missions re-imagine the stories from The Original Series in the alternate timeline created by the film, along with new threats and characters never seen before! With creative collaboration from Star Trek writer/producer Roberto Orci, this new series begins the countdown to the much-anticipated movie sequel.

The problem for me was, and continues to be, the re-imagined stories are only slightly different than the originals. They blew up Vulcan! I want new stories, damn it!

Then, John Harrison was announced. There was more online buzz, a lot of speculation, and a lot of talk among people in my G+ Star Trek community. It was later confirmed by that John Harrison is not a name used to throw people off the trail, and his name is used in the nine-minute trailer. It is, in fact, the name of the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

It was at that moment that I exhaled some of the resentment I have towards what I think has been, up to this point, a poorly re-imagined franchise, and thought, “Yes! We are going to get a new story, but with familiar characters!” It was also at this moment that I purchased all of the Star Trek Ongoing comics, looking for some more clues as to what type of threat this character may hold.

Bottom line, I do not think it is Khan re-named as John Harrison. The fact that Carol Marcus is a character means no more than Kirk, Spock, and McCoy being used as characters. Marcus’ story is different. She is a Federation scientist, not a civilian. Kirk and Marcus do not have a love story, nor do they have a child. Never mind that neither of them are old enough, nor have they been out of the academy long enough. I have read comments about her hair style being the wrong style for Marcus. To that, I have to say, “Are you kidding me? Why wouldn’t they update Marcus’ look in the same way they updated Uhura’s look?” According to an interview on MTV, Pine states that Marcus’ scientific knowledge plays an important role in solving the crisis posed by Harrison.

Let’s not forget, for Khan to work as a character, he would have to be introduced into the comics. For it to work, that story would need to already exist in the alternate timeline, and it doesn’t. There is the possibility that they will re-imagine Space Seed in the comics before May, but I strongly doubt they will. The reason I doubt this is because the comics have shifted away from re-imagining The Original Series episodes, and are now focusing on the different character’s backgrounds.

There was a time when people that Cumberbatch would be playing Gary Mitchell. I was more okay with this idea than I was the idea of re-doing Khan. fits the synopsis of a threat from within the Federation and someone who has a personal connection to Kirk, with god-like powers. Mitchell was also introduced in the comics. Yes, they killed him off in the end, but the guy has god-like powers. He may not be dead in that torpedo casing.

But even more, I am really loving the idea of a brand new villain in John Harrison. And despite some people saying, “It can’t be Harrison. We were told the new villain would be in existing canon,” Harrison is a part of the original timeline canon. Harrison was in Space Seed. For some people, that will only act as more proof that Harrison is Khan but with a different name.

But what I want to think they are doing is they are being extremely smart by re-imagining what was once a throw-away character, or “redshirt,” and bringing someone previously ignored into an key role. They’ve already laid the groundwork for this by dedicating one of the Star Trek Ongoing comics to redshirts, and a formally auxiliary character.

In an MTV interview, Cumberbatch says of Harrison: “He is a terrorist […] He has extraordinary physical powers, but also mental powers. He can sow an idea, which is as powerful as gunshots or close-hand combat, which he’s masterful in. He tears into the fabric of both the world and the Enterprise family, and he leaves behind him a trail of devastation. It’s quite exciting to watch.”

Ignored megalomaniac redshirt seeking revenge, or a brand spanking new character, Harrison could be just the character the new Star Trek needs to tell the human stories necessary to make old fans happy, and action-packed adventure needed to attract even more new fans into the franchise.

What are your hopes for John Harrison?

PS: Before saying Harrison is a re-named Garth of Izar or Mudd, may I ask, why the insistence that it be an old character with an established timeline? What is your opposition to a new story with familiar characters?

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