Continuing on the “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology” trek. This log will discuss this topic:
In your opinion, what are the benefits of adhering to canon? What creative potential exists in jumping off from it? Where has Star Trek (or other similar franchises) done it well or poorly?
First, the benefits. Canon in Star Trek – and let us for a moment forget the theoretical issues around what canon is, and how it is built – provides Star Trek (or other franchises) with a universe. A coherent base of where we are, the ground rules of the storytelling, and a solid foundation of the characters and how we can expect them to behave.
The potential for a franchise, is that i draws at least some types of fans, to it. And I would argue that these are the fans you need, if you want to grow a fanbase that will fight for the survival of the franchise.
Canon provides a longer period to develop characters. If the growth and maturation of a character is desirable, that takes time. This was to a certain extent proscribed by the episodic nature for the early series, where Star Trek, from DS9 and onwards, has adhered more closely to canon, or at least the in-series canon. Existing material can be developed further, and form the basis of new stories. An example would be Ro Laren. A small, recurring, character in TNG, that formed the basis for all of DS9.
In developing new stories, that should save time. Writes do not need to explain that klingons are a proud warrior race. We know that. That saved time can be used to build up the individual characters, and develop the klingon culture.
The obvious non-Star Trek example would be Starwars. The title of the firsst movie alone, told us that there was a large previous history, that build up to this movie.
We see similar examples in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, where smaller off springs of the main narrative have formed the basis of works like “Farmer Giles of Ham”.
On the other hand adhering to canon leaves restrictions on the story telling. I am not a professional writer, but I would imagine that at least some of those restrictions would be conducive to the creative process. Following canon prohibits an alternative history. Vulcan cannot be destroyed before TOS, no matter how interesting a story that would be.
But departing from canon, leaves interesting possibilities. The change in the treatment of Ferengis from TNG to DS9 gave writers the opportunity to do it better next time. Ferengis used to be pirates. Some of them still are, but we are presented with a Ferengi culture in DS9, that is markedly different from what we see in TNG. Except where it isn’t. Ferengis are still misogynistic moneygrubbers. And I am not at all pleased with the slightly anti-semitic notes in the DS9 version of Ferengis.
Departing from canon does not necessarily mean that canon is completely left behind. The appearence of Klingons is a great example. The honored tradition of retconning, leaves some very interesting questions left unanswered after Trials and Tribble-actions.