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Reviews of Star Trek Renegades by Bernd

Star Trek Renegades (pilot episode)

The year is 2388. Reuel VII, the second largest supplier of dilithium to the Federation, disappears as space folds around the planet. Admiral Pavel Chekov is convinced that Borrada, the leader of the planet Syphon, is responsible, but Starfleet has orders not to intervene. Chekov discusses the situation with Tuvok, who is now the head of Section 31. Tuvok enlists Lexxa Singh, who was imprisoned by the Orions, for the mission to kill Borrada. She takes command of her vessel, the Icarus, again, whose crew consists of renegades that have fallen into disgrace for various reasons. In Chekov's office on Earth, the Vulcan T’Leah detects a detonator in the hand of Cadet Chekov, the admiral's great-great-granddaughter, and the only way to avert the disaster is to sever her hand and beam it away. On their way to Syphon, the Icarus is confronted by the USS Archer, whose Captain Alvarez still has a score to settle with them. Alvarez pursues them up to the border of Syphon. On Syphon, the task force runs into a trap. Lexxa still manages to kill Borrada's son but is apprehended and hooked up to a device that paralyzes her, just like her surviving crewmates Icheb, the Betazoid Ronara and the Breen Boras. Borradas tells them that his people found a space-folding transportation portal 300 years ago but didn't know that two of them were required. When they activated just one, their home planet was made nearly uninhabitable. Now Borrada wants to take revenge, under the impression that the Federation is somehow responsible for it. After Borrada's fleet has left, apparently to destroy Earth, Ragnar and Dr. Lucien follow them with the Icarus, but they run into the USS Archer once again. With their communication down, they rush to Earth, but it is too late. The planet is already surrounded by a spatial anomaly. Obviously someone has activated a device that was already on the planet. Ragnar, who is a shape-shifter, and Dr. Lucien manage to trick the crew of the Archer and beam down to Earth. It turns out that the traitor is Lt. Masaru, actually an alien in human disguise. He stabs Admiral Owen Paris before he can be stopped. On Syphon, the Icarus crew has managed to break free and they proceed to the portal, where they run into Borrada, who has returned. Lexxa kills Borrada and takes control of the portal. On Earth, the Andorian woman Shree and Dr. Lucien find out how to operate the portal that is found in Masaru's quarters. They contact Fixer, Lucien's assistant who went missing on Syphon, in order to transfer the portal from Earth to the second one on Syphon. Fixer arranges a transport of the Icarus crew to Earth and stays behind on Syphon until the transfer is complete. The planet Syphon collapses, while Earth is saved. Admiral Chekov tells the Icarus crew that they are still regarded as renegades but that he will give them a head start and will help them resolve their issues. On the Icarus, it turns out that Fixer was killed in a failed experiment by Dr. Lucien, and she transferred his brain structure into a hologram without him knowing about it. To everyone's delight, the holographic Fixer rejoins the crew as if he had never been away.

It has been over seven years since "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" was released, a film with a decent budget and many big names in the cast but with a rather cheesy story and too much silly fan service. Now the team has gathered once again and brings us Star Trek Renegades, the pilot episode of a planned web series centered around a group of renegades on undercover missions for the Federation. The result of their efforts is a film that outperforms "Of Gods and Men" on almost all accounts and that is among the very best unofficial Star Trek productions ever made.

The story works very well, although it comes with some clichés such as most obviously the alien who wants to destroy Earth with a poor motivation (like the Xindi, Shinzon and Nero before him). But even with the knowledge that we have seen parts of the story before, I found the movie captivating and thrilling from the first to the last minute. The directing (by Tim Russ) is awesome, the performers are great and the production values are absolutely professional. And regarding the story, some things like the detonator in Cadet Chekov's hand (and everyone's horror about it) and the revelation that Fixer was just a hologram really surprised me. All in all, I think it is among the most intriguing screenplays of unofficial Star Trek films, and it can easily keep up with most canon episodes.

When I first read about Star Trek Renegades, I had reservations about the premise. I have a general problem with the idea of starship crews of outlaws or ragtags as it is an unfortunate (and meanwhile boring) trend in science fiction since the 1990s. Producers are extremely fond of such colorful crews, whose diversity and unpredictability bears a lot more potential for conflict than your typical Starfleet officers that are working towards a common goal. Farscape, Lexx, Andromeda, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica (classic and new) all heavily relied on the "rogue crew" theme. They used to show people that only happened to be on the same ship and that were on the verge of killing each other for petty reasons, while they fraternized on other occasions where we wouldn't expect it. Just as the plot required it. Well, if we accept the contrived idea that a dysfunctional crew may come together in the first place and may survive their conflicts longer than one episode, perhaps the real world proves Battlestar Galactica and the rest right, rather than the Star Trek Universe where you can usually rely on your fellow crew members. It has always been a unique feature of Star Trek that it focuses on the good people, the ones who are not driven by sex, greed and power. This is why I was sceptical about Star Trek Renegades.

Regarding the premise, Star Trek Renegades seems to share many traits with the above mentioned other science fictions franchises, rather than with Star Trek. And a character like the Bajoran who is out to kill his Cardassian crewmate fits the cliché. Also, the trigger-happy captain of the USS Archer is not exactly the type of Starfleet commander that we know from TNG. All this would have been reasons for me to dislike Star Trek Renegades, but nothing like that happened. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and I can attest it works on the backdrop of Star Trek.

The perhaps most important asset of Star Trek Renegades is the cast of professional actors. Kudos to Adrienne Wilkinson as Lexxa Singh, because the portrayal of a strong woman who can literally kick ass often ends up as unintentional comedy. Walter Koenig, Tim Russ and Gary Graham were already in the cast of "Of Gods and Men", and once again I enjoyed their performances a lot. And although the role of Tim Russ as Tuvok wasn't a very big one because of his directing job, the appearance of my second favorite Vulcan is always a special pleasure. The other Star Trek alumni who reprise their roles are Richard Herd (Admiral Paris), Robert Picardo (Lewis Zimmerman) and Manu Intiraymi (Icheb). I was a bit sceptical about the idea that Icheb, as a former Borg drone, would be turned into a technologically enhanced superwarrior, but it is worked out well that it somehow happened against his will. Among the other cast members, Sean Young's performance as the disgraced scientist Dr. Lucien is a clear highlight, whereas the actresses playing the Vulcan and Andorian are a bit disappointing. It is counter-productive in hindsight that the two joined the crew in the end for no obvious reason, whereas the much better introduced and better played odd Bajoran/Cardassian couple was killed off.

It is a general dilemma of all science fiction movies or pilot episodes that too much exposition would hamper the story, whereas too little of it would make everything too hard to understand. This is especially true for characters that are very much defined through their special abilities and their tragic back stories or criminal records as they dominate in Star Trek Renegades. I think that overall the film strikes a good balance. It focuses on the more interesting characters such as Icheb and Dr. Lucien and does not leave too many questions that should have been answered. Yet, of all the important characters Lexxa remains somewhat underdeveloped. I would have liked to see more about what triggered her criminal career and what is her driving force, rather than blurry memories from her childhood. But as already mentioned, the great acting more than makes up for a few deficiencies in how the characters are defined. Finally, coming back to my gripe with the "rogue crew" theme one last time, it would have been a bit more satisfying to learn more about how the crew came together in the first place and how they could get their hands on a powerful starship.

Star Trek Renegades also excels in the field of production values. The make-up of Borrada and his people is fantastic. I like the diversity of the sets, the realistically looking starship designs and the visualization of the space battles. And perhaps most notably, there are seven or eight (perhaps even more) different establishing shots of San Francisco (which, in this reality, isn't a gray skyscraper desert). Only the cheap look and bad fit of the Starfleet uniforms (Archer crew and Admirals Chekov and Paris) is a bit disappointing. I also don't like the yellow walls of the Starfleet interiors. The lighting in the yellow sets was apparently yet another problem. I repeatedly thought I had to adjust the hue and reduce the saturation of my monitor because many scenes in Chekov's office looked unnatural.

Star Trek Renegades comes with an original score that is a perfect companion to the visuals. Although I think it shouldn't be done too often, I like how in some scenes the actual sound is muted and replaced with music.

There are other awesome Star Trek productions that have moved beyond the stage of being fan films, such as notably Star Trek Phase II and Star Trek Continues. While they can keep up with Renegades in terms of writing, acting, filming, sets and effects, the two TOS-era productions suffer a bit from the fact that they are in a competition with the original from the 1960s, and that perhaps they are not doing enough to move on and tell completely new stories. In this regard, I enjoy Star Trek Renegades a bit more because it boldly goes where no one has gone before. And even though I have some afterthoughts about the premise and the events in the film, I am convinced that it has the potential for a fully fledged series and that we will see more of it.

In my initial excitement I gave the pilot of Star Trek Renegades the full ten points. But thinking about it once again, it still has room for improvement. While Renegades has the superior story, some episodes of other fan films are clearly more professional. So I think nine points is a fair deal.

Remarkable homage: There is an Admiral Nimoy Memorial at Starfleet Academy.
Remarkable technology: Dr. Lucien communicates with Dr. Zimmerman via a tactile holographic interface.
Remarkable ship: The USS Archer was designed by Art Department veteran Rick Sternbach.
Rating: 9

 

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Last modified: 13 Mar 2016 
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