"Star Trek." Just saying the words carries an immense sense of history and legacy. Everyone knows about Star Trek — but not everyone knows Star Trek. To the uninitiated, the franchise can appear to be something daunting and challenging to get into, a near-impossible universe to find an introductory foot in, like the complicated comic book continuity of the DC or Marvel universes. And I should know because, once upon a time, I was one of them.
Growing up, Star Trek was something that I was aware of, but that was it. Like most, I knew about Spock, Kirk, the Enterprise, and Jean-Luc Picard, but I had no idea what any of it was actually about — or why it was so popular. In 2009, in an era before Netflix and other streaming services, you couldn't just find the first season of a show at your fingertips, binge-watch it all in one sitting, and move onto the next. For that reason, Star Trek just always seemed like something out of my reach — not because I didn't want to get into it, but because I literally couldn’t access it.
But lo and behold, all of that changed when Paramount released J.J. Abrams' cinematic reboot, Star Trek (2009). I was sold on the movie the minute I saw the first trailers — it was epic and emotional, and it seemed like something I could get into without all of the baggage that came before. The perfect entry point for someone who doesn't know anything about anything, just like me. I bought tickets for the premiere, and I first saw the film in a room packed with Star Trek fans. This was my own personal "First Contact" with the franchise, and it was an experience I'll treasure forever.
As soon as the film began, I realized that while it was a reboot, it was also nourished by all that had come before. In the audience, I heard someone fondly chuckle at the sound of the U.S.S. Kelvin's familiar radar sensor, and that was when I understood the immensity of what I was embarking on. This sound was followed by plenty of important callbacks to Star Trek: The Original Series that I wasn't yet aware of — the Kirk and Spock relationship, Bones' snarky quips, red alerts, the Vulcan salute, even the theme music. On the screen, names were spoken with a legendary weight, and events appeared to be dictated by fate itself. All of this elicited a thunderous reception from the audience, and I cheered along with them thanks to a film that included a stellar cast, an exciting story and an emotional core grounded in friendship and heroism. Of course, I didn't understand all of it but I thought to myself, "This is something I want to be a part of."
Once the credits rolled, that was that. I was now a Star Trek fan. My first foray into this universe may not have been the same as old school fans, but after the film, I was in it for the long haul. I wanted to learn more about Spock and Kirk, and why their friendship was, essentially, the pillar of the franchise. I wanted to see more of Sulu, Uhura, and Scotty, and all the adventures they went through together to spark a franchise that would get me to hear "Space, the final frontier..." for the first time ever in the theatre more than four decades later. Shortly after this, I bought the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series, sinking my teeth into an era that was far from my own. And I never looked back. Today, I proudly stand as a fan of the franchise, from The Original Series and The Next Generation to Discovery and Lower Decks.
In 2021, Star Trek is growing bigger than ever before, and I'm so glad to be a part of it. And yet, it never would have happened without J.J. Abrams' Star Trek (2009). Thanks to this film, I fell in love with a universe that had so much to offer — and that has so much more yet to come. As the franchise continues to fire on all its dilithium-powered engines, more and more people might be exposed to Star Trek — and some may easily find themselves in the same spot I was in in 2009, asking "Where do I possibly begin?" The answer is simple.
J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek film remains, to this day, the perfect entry point for new fans. It distills everything that is great about the franchise, roping it in an action-packed spectacle that has something fundamental to say about courage, and what it means to boldly venture into the unknown. It's a concise introduction to the franchise that works as both a reboot and a continuation of everything that came before, thanks to a carefully constructed story that involves time travel and an alternate timeline. The film may be a modern reimagining of classic characters and concepts, but they all remain true to who and what they are.
Star Trek (2009) is the first entry in the 'Kelvin Timeline,' and it can be enjoyed on its own, but the film is also an easily accessible gateway to the world Gene Roddenberry created all the way back in 1966. The film delivers a sense of wonder that I can imagine viewers experienced when they first saw William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy step onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise 55 years ago. Plus, thanks to a promising ending, it leaves viewers wanting more, a curtain call that effortlessly doubles as a springboard to explore everything else the franchise has to offer.
In 2009, J.J. Abrams' film was the shot in the arm Star Trek needed. Since then however, the franchise has evolved and now, the trilogy may no longer be the figurehead it once was. Some fans will even disparage the 'Kelvin Timeline,' claiming that it's too different from what Star Trek is truly about. But take it from this fan — it's all one big universe, and one doesn't take away from the other. Rather, the entire franchise is enriched by its various extensions. Star Trek (2009) and its sequels inform The Original Series, and vice versa. The film is an important cornerstone in the franchise's storied past. Not only is it a great film, it's a celebration of all things Trek, and it will leave you ready to hit warp speed.
And if you don't understand that reference, don't worry, you will soon enough.
This article was originally published on May 3, 2021.
Ian Cardona (he/him) is a freelance writer who primarily contributes to CBR by covering various comics, movies, and TV shows. You can find him on Twitter @ianc_1701.