My inevitable review of Star Trek: Renegades

After nearly two years of nail biting, the pilot episode of Star Trek: Renegades is here. This professional-quality fan production has been anxiously awaited by all of us enthusiasts who have supported great works such as Star Trek: Phase II, Star Trek Continues, Starship Farragut and Axanar, to name only those of higher production values (not that I do not appreciate the likes of other fan series, but the list is too long to fit here).

As always, it feels somewhat awkward to review something that is already covered in depth elsewhere on the Web. Also, it is a bit unfair that we sit back and comment on other people’s work as if we were entitled to a quality set by our own standards when it is not us sweating to make a good film. And Renegades more than matches the criteria by which so-called “official” Star Trek works are judged, canonical or otherwise (Enterprise and J.J., I am looking at you).

Still, some aspects of Star Trek: Renegades came to mind on first watching.

If you look at the Icarus with more than a casual glance, you will see that it has sagital symmetry. That is, the ship’s bottom mirrors the ship’s top along a plane that runs through the waistline. There are two shuttlebays, the nacelles are located right on the symmetry plane and there are four of them. It is thus only a matter of time before upcoming episodes show us the vessel in a classical split (aka “multivector assault mode”) as an improvement on the preceding Enterprise-D’s and Prometheus‘s abilities.

Also, the Icarus‘s design is reminiscent of a continuous line of aggressive-looking ships that started way back in 1991, in Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda’s ST:TNG Technical Manual. Along the Defiant, the Equinox and the Prometheus, ships have become smaller in size, more angular, more detailed and more heavily armed in relation to their size. The Icarus‘s hull and bridge shape continue the Voyager‘s precedent, and, at the ship’s very front, those two prongs look like they have been borrowed from the Klingon Vor’cha class. In particular, the ship’s overall front and torpedo tubes seem to (at last) be the realization of part of Sternbach’s design for a small fighting ship that was detailed in the ST:DS9 Technical Manual.

None of this should be any wonder, of course, since Sternbach and John Eaves did ship design for Renegades. But will someone please remind me of where I have seen the backs of the Klingon ships’ nacelles before? I am sure I have seen that, but I cannot seem to remember where.

Exploring the Icarus‘s array of technical marvels, we are introduced to a novel communications device that conveys tact as much as realistic image and sound. At first this may seem very nifty and impressive, but one has to bear in mind the advances that Voyager promoted with the EMH and its fake matter. With holodeck technology, it is very easy to imagine a puppet controlled to mimic a real person’s remote behavior, as previewed in Worf and Quark’s bat’leth handling in “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” and by today’s performance capture as amply demonstrated by Andy Sirkis (of Gollum fame). Even if it is only forcefields instead of real tangible matter, the holodeck has done this and better in the past. The 3-D imaging in communications was also shown in DS9’s second half (notably in “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” but elsewhere as well; episode names fail me now). Lucien and Zimmermann’s communications escapades would naturally strain today’s bandwidth possibilities (especially if they take them one step beyond as hinted, nudge nudge wink wink). However, if we look back to the Internet’s achievements in this respect since 1996 and extrapolate them to the late 2380s, we may even consider Renegades to aim too low.

Last but not least regarding starships, the “Derelict Ship” (Tuvok’s infiltrator that meets the Icarus midflight) also reminds me of previous ships, but again I cannot quite identify which. Is it the scoutship from Insurrection with the addition of a Bird of Prey’s head? Will someone point it out to me? Thank you in advance.

Moving onwards to the cast, I was very much aware of Walter Koenig and Tim Russ making their comebacks as Chekov and Tuvok, but I intentionally remained ignorant of other cast members and rôles. It was a pleasure to see eyecandy Adrienne Wilkinson (from Star Trek Continues‘s “The White Iris”). My non-Brazilian readers would never know, but she looks like a clone of Brazilian actress Christiane Torloni when she was younger.

Now, Sean Young came as a total surprise to me. I did not realize it was she, though the face seemed familiar. When I saw the credits, my only reaction was that I had lived to see the day when Young would be in Star Trek. She looks beautiful (possibly more so than in the raving 80s) but it is a striking contrast to her early rôles that now she plays a more homely character, kind of “that aunt of yours whose job it is to prevent a space powderkeg from blowing up”. I wonder if it was intentional to have Dr. Lucien repeatedly put on and remove her glasses, reminding you that (1) Star Trek never had any after that infamous transporter chief’s from “The Cage” and Kirk’s Retinax 5 surrogate and (2) that is how Sean Young manages to focus on objects around her these days, so you live with it (not that I am complaining).

Regarding the plot twist on Fixer’s nature, it is a natural continuation of TNG’s Moriarty, the EMH’s achievements and Dr. Zimmermann’s research that an entire person’s brain pattern could be downloaded to the portable emitter, so this does not seem far-fetched, and was in fact a welcome surprise. Of course, the concept opens up new ethical frontiers, as a person could be repeatedly killed and brought back to life (of sorts) only to suit the convenience of those who would not release him from this mortal coil. I assume that, one day, Fixer will realize that he does not age and that he is able to rematerialize where he was not supposed to be able to, much like a Highlander when he finds out that death eludes him. Therefore it is also only a matter of time before an upcoming episode forces a guilt-stricken Lucien to explain to him what he really is made of now.

Speaking of which, the circle will then be complete. In a little-known sci-fi production from 1982, Sean Young played a character who had been assembled from parts made in a laboratory. The character was not a real human but thought she was, until someone came along who revealed to her where her artificial memories came from: the brain pattern of a deceased person who she replaced and gave continuation to. Now it will be her turn to reveal this condition to an artificial person of her own making…

Other notable cast members include the comeback of Icheb, from Star Trek: Voyager, and John Carrigan (Kargh from Star Trek: Phase II) as both a Klingon captain and a Starfleet officer.

Going back to the regular Starfleet crew, another good surprise was to see Captain Parker Lewis Alvarez played by Corin Nemec, whose face I had not seen on a screen since 1994 (yes, I know — I have not yet seen either The Stand or — shame on me — Stargate SG-1). Considering his persistence, his apparent backstory with Lexxa, the blood in his eyes as he battled wits and brawn with the Icarus, and his evident honest-to-goodness, died-in-the-wool loyalty to Starfleet’s mandate, it is obvious that we will see a lot of his chasing the Icarus around (as a matter of personal pride too) until a later episode where he will be forced to a truce and an alliance with the Renegades for the common good against betrayals from up high. Commissioner Gordon would be proud.

Still in Alvarez’s turf, the USS Archer disappoints me a little. In contrast to the Icarus and to the more recent designs from Star Trek: Voyager, the Archer is overly simple in its shape and her saucer is a throwback to the TNG era, with a lack of detailing that does not do justice to Renegades. It is almost as if this simplicity was made to reflect Starfleet’s naïveté before the dark forces manipulating it; as if the ship’s very design was made excessively simple to depict the simplicity of its officers’ mindset. What troubles me, though, is that the design seems ripped off from Bernd Schneider’s original projects from the EAS Fleet Yards or from the Advanced Starship Design Bureau. I cannot quite put my finger on which design, but it would be something like the Andromeda class or maybe a cross between that and some other class from therein.

I was going to comment that Renegades‘s makeup left something to be desired, what with their Nausicaan, Andorian and Syphonians, and that it looked amateurish and monochromatic. Before you agree with this hasty evaluation, though, may I remind you that I saw the episode in 960p resolution (was unable to download it in 1080p). This is twice the definition that Star Trek worked with for many years (576i). Now, if we looked at Renegades with the same definition as those TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager episodes, I am sure that we would find its makeup to be more detailed than what the artists achieved in the long-running canon productions. Therefore I withdraw my comment.

I had four gripes about the story. One is already covered by Bernd Schneider’s review, which is yet another villain intent on destroying the Federation in a fit of vengeance, as Shinzon and Nero before him. The other is the contrived dialogue between the Betazoid Ronara and former Borg Icheb. You would assume these two characters to have known each other for a while, since they have been crewmates for who knows how long. Therefore it makes little sense that they show the viewer their abilities in an angry bout of exposition as if they were making their acquaintances there and then. The whole dialogue stands apart from the rest of the episode and has no real relation to any scene or take before of after it. I understand the need to bring the explanations to the viewer in as short a time as possible, but maybe the script could have used some polishing there; for example if they disclosed their abilities to someone else.

The third minor misgiving I have is the casual fashion in which transporters are overused. When the transporter was invented by Gene Roddenberry back in 1964, it was a clever means to speed up screen time by avoiding the need to show the Enterprise landing on planets. Over the course of TOS, even though the transporter was taken for granted as a plot device, it was never brushed aside with a shrug. This was a technology to be treated with respect, which Bones McCoy grumbled about and which could still subject people to accidents of varying degrees of tragedy (“The Enemy Within”, “Mirror, Mirror”, ST:TMP). Then along came TNG, where the transporter became an easy escape to all sorts of trouble (“Up the Long Ladder”, “Rascals”), and the Abramsverse, where it made starships obsolete overnight. Now Renegades uses the transporters over distances of lightyears, and characters beam here and there on a whim to the point of the viewer nearly losing track. If you use it too much, you risk making your stories pointless or, at the very least, doing away with suspense.

(Although, as a fan, I keep paying attention to the clever ways to cheapen production where the transport is involved. When Lexxa beams over into the Icarus, you never see the effect, thereby saving on the CGI, but you hear the noise, so no explanation is needed. Star Trek has been playing this trick since “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and it never wears out.)

The final plot hole to deserve comment keeps popping up in Star Trek and would not need any additional beating if it were not so thrown in our faces: will the next crew please not leave the ship and stay all together waiting to be shot at and captured wholesale? Am I asking for too much? At least this time they took advice from the ill-fated crew of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and sent some floating probes ahead (and we wonder why they have not done so before, seeing as that floating holocameras existed as far back as the christening of the Enterprise-B).

Last but not least, I disagree with Schneider’s view that there were not enough explanations of the episode’s backstory. Granted, this is a pilot and, as such, needs loads of exposition so the finished product makes sense to the viewer, who is thankful not to feel lost. However, pilots are also meant to tease the viewer’s curiosity. As stories progress, I assume that the backstories will be revealed, showing us why Lexxa is being chased since her childhood, what she did to land her into an Orion prison, what Lucien’s accident was that disgraced her, and what prickles me the most: how Starfleet’s advanced battlebrat Icarus came to be stolen by a bunch of Renegades!