Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Retcon Factor 5!

This blog was inspired by watching the new Star Trek Discovery and given the topic there will be spoilers, there will however be quite a bit of rambling before Discovery gets mentioned.

A retcon is:

in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.

One of the best known examples is where Darth Vader reveals he is Luke Skywalker's father in 'The Empire Strikes Back'. A revelation made all the more shocking given Obi Wan told Luke Vader murdered his father when they met in 'A New Hope'. This retcon, that Obi Wan lied to Luke, was sufficiently exciting and added so much to the story that fans embraced it. The same cannot be said for the infamous Dallas retcon where an entire season of the show was revealed to have been a dream.

These two instances lie at opposite ends of the retcon spectrum. Fans embraced Vader being Luke's father and it added a whole extra level to the conflict between them. On the other hand the Dallas retcon produced a mixture of fan outrage and media ridicule. Overall Dallas is probably more representative of the reaction to retcons, so if you have a well established fictional universe with a detailed canon you should perhaps be cautious when it comes to retconning, or just go full speed ahead and launch retcons left right and centre. This is where the spoilers start in case you hadn't already guessed.

I'm not even going to touch on the changes to the look of the Klingons, or the rather grimdark atmosphere even before the Federation gets into a war with them. Let's start with the lead character being Spock's foster sister. This comes as quite revelation as given the occasions on which the subject of family and loved ones came up in scenarios Spock was involved in. Somehow though the fact that his foster sister was infamous in Starfleet history never came up. Now it's just about possible to accept that maybe this just never came up in conversation for some reason, but this really cannot explain the subject of Prototaxites stellaviatori and the 'Spore Drive'. The basic idea is that there is a network of spores that at some quantum level forms a network that spans the galaxy and can potentially allow for instant travel across light-years. This is an incredible piece of technology, that simply does not exist at any future point in the Star Trek universe that viewers have seen. One might simply say this is a technology that fails and thus is never brought up, except that Discovery makes it clear the drive has its risks, but it does work. Even if it was too risky for Starfleet one has a hard time imagining that not one of the enemies they encountered over the next century felt the same way. Then even if you are willing to imagine that Discovery has another twist up its. sleeve, the captain demonstrates the network by putting Burnham in a chamber and showing her distant parts of space. Now there is simply no rational basis on which Starfleet is going to abandon a technology that lets them view hostile space without risking ships.

Now of course it's possible that Discovery will come up with ways of explaining the problems with the spore drive away, but frankly they shouldn't be putting themselves in that position. There are any number of holes in the Trek canon they could have chosen to expend what is a talented cast and production crew on. Likewise Michael Burnham is an interesting character without retconning a spurious connection to established characters. I'm still hoping for some brilliant twist that's going to make this all come right, but I can't saying I'm expecting one.

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