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Can We Talk About This Terrible Star Trek Sequel Title?

September 10th, 2012

So the new Star Trek film is going to be called Star Trek Into Darkness.

Really?  That’s not a joke?

Ho boy, that is a bad title.  I respect them from trying to shy away from the “Star Trek colon title” model that the Trek sequels had been following for a while now (Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, etc.).  But making the words Star Trek be the first words in a phrase as a sort of pun is just silly.  It makes the title into a lame joke, which seems like the opposite intent when one of the four words of the title is “darkness,” which seems to indicate a shift into a more serious tone.  (I suppose that “darkness” could also refer to space, making Star Trek Into Darkness a sort of parallel to Gene Roddenberry’s famous original concept of the show as a “Wagon Train to the stars.”  But a) that seems like I’m giving the title way more merit than it deserves, and b) it still sounds silly, and making the title of one’s big-budget action-adventure film into a dumb joke cannot be what the filmmakers really wanted to do.)

So what approach should the Trek filmmakers have taken with the title for their sequel?  They couldn’t just go with numbers, since there already is a pretty famous movie called Star Trek II. Besides, numbering one’s sequels gets lame quickly.  Since audiences have been conditioned to expect diminishing quality with sequels, surely the Trek filmmakers didn’t want to start down another countdown to the inevitably lame Star Trek 5.

I love what Chris Nolan’s Batman films did, creating different titles for each film rather than a numbered series. The Dark Knight is a pretty perfect sequel title, since it is not only an iconic phrase very recognizable as belonging to Batman (as is The Man of Steel, the title for the latest Superman film, and a title of which I wholeheartedly approve), but also one that is given great thematic weight due to the events of the film.  When the end credits roll, you’re given a whole new perspective on the title.  It’s pretty perfect.  (Sadly, I don’t have quite the same amount of praise for the title of film 3, the lazily-named The Dark Knight Rises. I think it’s too similar a title to film 2, I think it has a much sillier and superficial connection to the story, and I think it was a cruel what-might-have-been tease to fans like me who would have really preferred a more direct adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns — a title that would have worked perfectly coming after a film called The Dark Knight — if Nolan and co. really wanted to tell the Last Batman Story.  But I digress.)

Marvel Films has had to determine what path to follow with their sequel titles.  They’re going with the 2, 3, etc. convention for their Iron Man films, but I love that they’re giving full titles to their other super-hero sequels (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World).  I think that “franchise colon title” is a great way to title one’s sequels.  It certainly gives the sequel films a more unique identity than calling them just 2, 3, 4, etc.

But because the Next Gen films already used that title convention, I can understand why J.J. and his Star Trek team didn’t want to go that route.  Instead, allow me to suggest that they should have considered the way George Lucas titled his first two Star Wars sequels.  Before the man went bad-title crazy (The Phantom Menace?  Attack of the Clones??  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?????) I think he had some decent title ideas back in the late seventies/early eighties.  The second Star Wars film isn’t called Star Wars 2 and it isn’t called Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It’s just called The Empire Strikes Back. (Remember, while the opening crawl identifies the film as Episode V, it wasn’t until a decade-or-two later that Lucas began making Episode V part of the Empire’s full title.)  I love the idea of just going ahead and giving your sequel film it’s own distinct title, and just trusting that the audience will be able to identify it with your franchise.  I sort of wish J.J. and his team had just dropped Star Trek from the title altogether — what a bold choice that would have been!

But the coolest thing that Lucas & co. did back in 1980 and 1983 is that, while the titles of the Star Wars sequels did not include the words Star Wars, THE LOGO-DESIGNS DID.  Check out the original poster for The Empire Strikes Back and for Return of the Jedi.  See the logo design, and the way the name Star Wars has been incorporated?  I love that, and think it’s so clever.  This is the way to both connect the sequel to the franchise brand name, while also giving the film it’s own unique title.

But sheesh, even without going that route — Star Trek Into Darkness?? That’s the best the Trek team could do?

Well, though I’m still excited for the film’s release next year, I guess now I have something else to complain about for the coming months in addition to the still-hideous J.J. Abrams redesign of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

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