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Old 10-05-2014, 10:29 PM
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Okay! Time for the comments I promised in the newspost. (You're about to see why it took me until now to post them.) I'll be calling "Eleven is Prime" XIP for short.

First, I already said this in the post, but it bears repeating: this thing is amazing. It takes two worlds that are blatantly, obviously mutually exclusive and sews them together with barely a seam.

Sometimes this kind of project is actually done officially or semi-officially for a series. Some of the Reeves-Stevens' Trek novels are like this (Millennium, a DS9 trilogy I love to death, comes to mind); the Marvel miniseries Avengers Forever does something similar; and of course it was practically the mission statement of ENT's fourth season. These projects always walk the line between ridiculous and sublime. For instance, while I enjoyed ENT S4, it often felt a lot like fanfic.

"Eleven Is Prime", however, IS fanfic. So no problem! Moreover, its goal is to reconcile things that aren't actually supposed to be reconciled, so the need for a stretch or two is understood.

What impresses me most about XIP is how rarely Wowbagger has to rely on characters being dishonest. That's the classic way to do a retcon, of course -- just claim what we saw was a big conspiracy. (For instance, it would be easy enough to have Vulcan's destruction be some kind of fake set up by Section 31 or whatever.) Wowbagger manages to avoid that almost completely; everybody's telling the truth as they see it most of the time.

Even more surprising is the one irreducible lie: Spock talking about Kirk's father. Interestingly, Wowbagger's hand was forced here only by the filmmakers, not by any previous canon. Everything about Kirk's father, up to and including his name, was fanon before the reboot. If anything, I've always had a general sense that Kirk's dad is dead in TOS, if only because Jim never mentions him -- especially during the tragic events of "Operation: Annihilate!" (By the way, the book most responsible for the fanon about George Kirk is Diane Carey's Final Frontier, where he's the original first officer of the Enterprise under Robert April. It's one of my favourites. If you think Honor Blades (a Duane/Rihannsu reference Wowbagger threw in) are nasty, wait'll you see what the Romulans use in that book!)

The movie, however, went the other way. It was a good storytelling move: finding out his dad wasn't "meant" to die young both gives Kirk something to feel good about and makes it personal between him and Nero. (Of course, for us it also has the sad implication that George probably outlived his other son, Sam -- and maybe even Jim too.) This is one of the two contradictions that the movie uses to prove we're in a new timeline, the other, of course, being Vulcan. But amusingly enough, the death of an entire planet poses a smaller challenge to Wowbagger than one man. After all, you can always find a new planet and call it Vulcan. Jim was not about to find some new guy and call him his father. Thus Spock Prime has to have been lying -- no way around it.

By the way, in looking up George on Memory Alpha, I discovered a subtle point about the "reboot": it actually adds a bit to our Kirk's canonical backstory. The trick is that this movie is very specific about where the timeline diverges (Nero's arrival), so anything before that is now canon. This includes George having been in Starfleet, probably Jim's birth in space, and most amusing, the origin of Jim's middle name.

(An even more subtle point: we now know George was in Starfleet, but there's room for debate on whether Winona was. The filmmakers say so, but she's never shown in uniform.)

So if I like XIP so much, why don't I marry it? Not so fast. I do have some problems with the piece, and the biggest one -- biggest two, actually -- is Spock.

First, believability. This is Spock's story; it lives or dies on how he's portrayed. And for about the first two thirds, there's no problem. But then Spock comes up with his plan to Bring Back Kirk. A plan he has years to think over. A plan that involves blowing up stars... and takes place in the year Nero came from, seeking vengeance on Spock personally. And not once does it occur to him that he might be responsible for the supernova.

For any character, that would be a stretch. But this is Spock. He's not just smart, he's the smartest main character in all of Star Trek. On the spur of the moment, or under emotional stress, he might overlook something important. But in XIP he has sixteen years to coolly contemplate his plan -- and he overlooks the most bonehead-obvious thing in the world. Hell, I don't even buy Scotty not pointing it out to him.

That's the first problem. The second is where the story ends up. In many ways, I admire Wowbagger's explanation for the supernova. It fills in Spock Prime's story neatly and makes several characters' actions make more sense. If I'd been writing this thing, I would have been pretty pleased with myself for having the idea...

...before reluctantly deciding I couldn't use it. Because no matter how well it gets the job done, it utterly destroys Spock.

In this story, Spock is a man who, through his own unbelievable stupidity (see above), is directly responsible for millions of deaths. To "save" a friend who had already lived a full life, he caused a race to be wiped out. I'm not saying that couldn't happen -- it was an accident, after all. I'm saying you cannot have Spock responsible for that and still the same man afterwards.

First take the in-story perspective. A human who had done what Spock did would kill himself. No questions asked, no ideas about redemption, just fly into the nearest star. Assuming Spock didn't do the same, then yes, as in XIP, he would do his best to fix the situation. But in this case, that does not translate to "help Kirk beat Nero, then just hang around in case anyone needs advice next movie." No, unless Spock is utterly devoid of responsibility, it translates to "help Kirk beat Nero, then at the absolute earliest chance, fix Romulus."

I can get behind the idea of Spock being loyal to the "true" timeline (which is something that bothers me massively about the actual reboot). I can just barely buy him not trying to save Vulcan -- because he believes that was supposed to happen, and maybe for fear of the alternative being worse somehow. (Now would be a good time to build that gizmo from "City on the Edge of Forever" and find out.) But Romulus is different! History will be unchanged as long as Future Spock and Nero think the Romulans have been wiped out. With everything he knows now, and 200 years to work with, Spock can easily fake that. He doesn't even have to be around personally; all he has to do is leave the right messages with the right people, and he can see to it that Romulus actually does get evacuated before the nova without either his past self or Nero finding out.

It's like the guy hasn't read any time travel stories at all. Including the ones he was in.

So in-story, it's silly that Spock would just hang out in the past and give the occasional inspiring talk to a rebooted character. And it's even worse from the out-of-story perspective. A Spock who could be responsible for millions of deaths and just carry on is not one I can relate to. His voiceover at the end of STXI goes from nostalgic to almost obscene. If XIP were canon, next time I watched the movie I'd be cheering for Nero. (Worst of all is the tag in XIP with Spock wondering if he might still be able to save Kirk when that year rolls around again. The arrogance required to have that thought -- to wonder if he might still make an omelette from the broken eggs of accidental genocide -- is just incalculable.)

So, long story short, my biggest problem with XIP is that it gets all the details right, but is careless with the big picture. (Sorta like how some people felt about STXI itself.) Wowbagger does a tremendous job of making us feel Spock's pain leading up to the Nexus plan, enough that we can almost believe he'd be dumb enough to try it, but then doesn't deal properly with what follows -- a guilt and a responsibility which would dwarf everything in Spock's life to that point. Neither his feelings nor his actions thereafter are remotely commensurate with what he did.

Besides, at the end of the day, it just feels wrong. The Star Trek universe is not a place where heroes accidentally kill entire species. (Intentionally is another story. Ask Phlox.)
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Last edited by Zeke; 10-05-2014 at 10:41 PM.
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