Star Trek: Renegades review – will it live long and prosper?
Back in September 2012, Star Trek: Renegades appeared on Kickstarter. Its mission: to crowd-fund a pilot episode and pitch the return of Star Trek to television.
With Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager’s Tuvok) and Walter Koenig (Star Trek’s Chekov) onboard to direct, produce and reprise their previous roles, how could I say no?
I threw in $25 to get a digital download of the movie on completion, and then I waited.
In April 2015, the trailer was released!
And today — nearly three years after the crowd-funding started — the finished movie is here!
Watch Star Trek: Renegades now, for free!
Yes! While a digital copy was offered as a reward for backing the movie, it has now been released as a free-to-watch pilot on YouTube.
Grab a Romulan Ale, kick back, and enjoy!
The Plot – spoiler-free
One of the Federation’s largest dilithium mining colonies is under attack. Buildings are on fire, the mines are exploding, and the colonists are being singled out for execution.
As the alien force leaves the planet, they leave behind an obelisk which begins to glow. The planet itself then begins to glow, distort, and disappear.
A week later, Starfleet holds a briefing about the destruction of the mine — which is only the latest in a series of losses.
Admiral Chekov — Head of Starfleet Intelligence — notes that a few years ago, the home planet of a species named the Syphon seemed to appear from nowhere. He doesn’t believe that this appearance and the attacks on their mining colonies are a coincidence.
When Chekov is pressed for evidence of a connection, he plays a recorded message from Admiral Satterlee, who claims he has proof of a conspiracy in Starfleet, but is killed in an explosion before he can share it. Chekov also notes that Starfleet is hesitant to listen to his concerns about the Syphon, and the Federation Council has ruled out taking action against them.
Discreetly, Chekov asks Tuvok to assemble a non-Starfleet crew who can operate outside the confines of the Federation to stop the Syphon threat.
Meanwhile, Chekov assembles his own team of an assassin and a hacker to uncover the conspiracy from the inside.
There are spoilers beyond this point!
Characters: The Renegades
Captain Lexxa Singh (Adrienne Wilkinson: Xena: Warrior Princess) is a puzzle, and I’m dying to know more about her.
She worked for Section 31, who abandoned her to a life sentence in an Orion prison. What did she do for Section 31? Why was she abandoned? What did she do to the Orions? I want to know!
She’s a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh (as in The Wrath of Khan-Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness-Khan) and has inherited his super-strength. But when did Khan have children? How did his bloodline end up in the hands of Section 31? I want to know!
Throughout the movie, Lexxa recites a poem — Invictus, written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley — which her mother taught her:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
After Michael Caine’s incessant, grating, groaning repetition of “Do not go gentle into that good night” in Interstellar I was ready to hate Invictus popping up as often as it did. But — wow — Adrienne’s voice-over performances are just superb and a joy to hear.
Manu Intiraymi reprises his role of Icheb from Star Trek: Voyager. Since Voyager’s return home and the end of the show, he’s had an interesting experience: he was recruited into Section 31 on the promise that he could help other people liberated from the Borg, but they betrayed him and used Borg nanotechnology to turn him into a weapon.
That’s a super-interesting story, and I would’ve loved to have seen it played out. Frustratingly — and unforgivably — his entire story was blurted out in a blast of exposition.
Now, without having experienced any of his story, we have to accept him as an angry, self-loathing man with a gun for an arm. As a fan of the character in the show, this was painful and disappointing to watch.
I wish I could say Icheb had some cool moments. Sure, he had a few moments which called back on the Borg, Robocop and Iron Man, but they didn’t reveal anything about his character. Sadly, he was a frame to hang visual effects onto.
Jaro (Kevin Fry: Taken 3, 300: Rise of an Empire) was another character who deserved more backstory. We’ve seen Bajoran freedom-fighters before, but never one which embraced violence and the Pah-wraiths so absolutely. Even the very little we saw of him sent shivers down my spine.
I’m a big fan of Gary Graham (Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Voyager, Robot Jox) and I enjoyed him as Ragnar. He’s relaxed and confident, and just great to watch.
The big question, though: how the hell does he change his appearance? Is he a changeling? Is it holographic? After all the exposition doled out, we couldn’t even get one throw-away line about this? It’s infuriating!
My favourite character by far was Dr. Lucien (Sean Young: Rachael in Blade Runner). She’s a social creature, very warm and caring, deeply intelligent and independent.
She’s also deeply flawed, and commits — what seems to me, at least — a most horrific act which isn’t acknowledged at all.
To start, she was responsible for the death of Fixer. How in the hell do you cause a death while working on holographic systems? Weren’t they working with Dr Lewis Zimmerman, the developer of the Emergency Medical Hologram? How badly do you have to screw up to cause a lethal accident with holograms?
Not only that, but she took her colleague’s dying brainwaves and implanted them into a holographic body — without his knowledge or consent, nor even telling him after the fact. Talk about informed consent!
Does Fixer’s family know? How does she prevent him talking to anyone who knows about his death? He has to stay near her for regular maintenance, right? So how much free will does he have any more? What if he wanted to leave the Icarus? What if he wanted to join a Federation colony and start a family?
Is there any other way to interpret this than “She made a dying man into an immortal puppet?”
Tell me that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine!
By no means is that a complaint about the character! I’m utterly intrigued at where this situation leads!
I’ll be honest: it’s so good to see Pavel Chekov again that I can forgive a lot.
Sure, his scenes with the cadets were clunky, but so what? Sure, he didn’t actually seem to do anything when Earth was under attack, but so what? Sure, it looked an awful lot like he was waiting for Ragnar and Dr. Lucien to beam into his office — something which he couldn’t have known was going to happen — before delivering his awful “let’s save the world, but there’s something else I have to do first” line — but so what?
I love Koenig, I love Chekov, and I forgive.
If Chekov was over-used, then Tuvok was criminally under-used. He brought much-needed gravitas and a sense of foreboding, and I wish he’d been in it a ton more.
Captain Alvarez (Corin Nemec: Stargate SG-1, Supernatural) ain’t no Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway. He’s more like a rogue captain which Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway would hunt and bring in.
Alvarez is a glory-seeker, confrontational, fights outside of his jurisdiction, and would empty his entire complement of torpedoes before considering using the tractor beam or seeking a peaceful solution to a problem.
Alvarez is definitely a shade of grey in the story. He’s an unwitting antagonist; he’s just trying to do the right thing, but the “right thing” by him is to hunt the Icarus and prevent them completing their mission to save the Federation.
Unfortunately, for an unwitting antagonist, he’s sadly unsympathetic. He comes across as blundering and reckless, and the conflict that we feel between wanting to support him hunting criminals but his actions endangering the Federation would be so much more enjoyable if the character had ethics we could identify with.
Lt. Masaru (Grant Imahara: Mythbusters) was fantastic, but not for the same reasons as the other characters I loved.
Grant looked like the only actor who was really having fun on the set. His joy infected me, and I loved every second of his performance. Was it cheesy? Hell yes. Did he look like a fanboy in a Starfleet uniform? Hell yes. Was it the most fun thing in movie? Hell yes!
Characters: The Syphon
There’s nothing to say. There’s literally nothing to say.
The Syphon are angry at the universe, and intent on destroying everything in their path.
Look, there were just too many characters
While there are characters like Dr. Lucien, Lt. Masaru and Tuvok who I wish we’d seen more of, and characters like Jaro and Icheb who deserved more backstory, there were sadly characters who were shoehorned in and could’ve been lost without affecting the plot at all.
I don’t have any criticism for Chasty Ballesteros as Ronara, but the character was absolutely unnecessary to the story. Sure, she rescued Icheb when he was tied up — but is that the only reason she was here?
And what did the Cadets Madison and Chekov or Dr. Lewis Zimmerman (Robert Picardo: Star Trek: Voyager) add to the story?
Cadet Chekov had her arm phasered off — and sure, it was a tense scene — but why was it in the movie? It was great to see Dr. Zimmerman again — but what did he contribute, apart from Dr. Lucien’s exposition?
The movie would’ve benefited from a tighter focus on fewer characters, rather than trying to give all these people something to do.
The weapons fire in the ground combat scenes was shockingly good! The best visual effects are the ones which don’t look like visual effects, and — I have to admit — the first time I watched the movie, I totally tuned out the weapons fire because it was so expected and ordinary.
On the second viewing, though, I noticed. I noticed the atmospheric ripples and ejections of gas — and on a budget only a fraction of the typical Star Trek movie. You bet I was impressed!
Even the mundane composition of computer screens and holography in live action shots was impressive! There were one or two shaky moments, but not enough to yank me out of the story.
Every time Icheb activated his Borg arm I grinned. I loved that effect! It was very much “Iron Man on a budget” but it had charm, and I appreciated the mechanical animation rather than an outright “transporter” or “holographic” effect.
The space flight effects are beautiful. Just beautiful. I can’t think of any The Next Generation-era movie which had space flight visuals which I enjoyed this much.
Possibly my favourite moment is when the USS Archer swings in from the side to position itself forward of the Icarus. The detail on the Archer is wonderful, the animation gives it such a feeling of weight, and the subtle audio effects complete it perfectly.
Picking just one favourite space scene is tough, though. There isn’t a single bad shot in the movie.
My criteria for judging the prosthetics is simple; if it doesn’t break my suspension of belief then it’s a good prosthetic.
By that criteria, the prosthetics in Renegades are great, with one awful exception.
Let’s talk about the great stuff first!
The Andorian blue-skin make-up was amazing! It’s easy to do that make-up badly, and I’ve seen enough rushed cosplay to know. The prosthetics don’t go as far as mobile antennae like the Andorians in Star Trek Enterprise, but they were still great.
The Syphon head masks looked great, too. The mouths were perhaps a bit too ambitious for what they could afford, but I’ve certainly seen worse on the broadcast shows.
The only really bad make-up was T’Leah’s Vulcan/Romulan (I’m sorry, I wish I knew whether she was a Vulcan officer or a Romulan freelancer — but it really demonstrated how poorly fleshed-out some of these characters are) forehead. It looked so bad, it broke my suspension of belief. It broke the criteria.
Fistfights in the sand
I’m not a fan of physical fight scenes. I vastly prefer plots which don’t need them. But, let’s talk about how Renegades carries them off.
On the whole: fine. I can’t get excited about something I don’t care about, nor can I be critical about something I avoid.
But that said, I’ve got a lot of respect for the choreography and physical exertion of the actors under their layers of prosthetics and the Breen helmet. I can only imagine how bad the visibility was, and how hot and uncomfortable it must have been. Kudos!
I want to say too, that the final fight between Lexxa and Borrada sent a shiver or two down my spine. It’s surprising, though, because there’s no particularly personal issue between them.
Assassinating Borrada is just a mission to Lexxa; a means to information about her mother. Borrada doesn’t have her mother, nor did her ever harm her, but Tuvok won’t release information about her mother until she’s killed Borrada.
On the flip side, Lexxa doesn’t mean anything to Borrada. He only wants to kill her for… well, reasons I don’t entirely follow.
So a fight between two characters who don’t have any personal animosity toward each other shouldn’t be than enthralling, but there are moments when it works.
When Borrada kicks Lexxa over and over again, and she flashes back to witnessing Section 31 beating her mother, I felt a chill. I felt a chill too when Lexxa taunted Borrada, demeaning his son.
But sadly, despite it being the best fight in the movie, it still felt meaningless. When Borrada was eventually defeated, I didn’t feel any relief or satisfaction. There were some great production values, but it still felt shallow.
The on-location filming of young Lexxa, her mother and Section 31 at Red Rock Canyon was beautiful.
The natural lighting and the colour felt so good after watching all the filming on cramped sets and glare of computer effects. I could almost feel the fresh air, and I’m sure I unconsciously stretched my legs.
My favourite locations by far, though, were the San Francisco cityscapes. Those panoramas were stunning, and so peaceful. I craved more establishing shots out there.
All the galaxy is a stage
Renegades is blessed by some truly stand-out enjoyable performances. In particular, Sean Young as Dr. Lucien, Gary Graham as Ragnar, and Herbert Jefferson Jr. as Admiral Satterlee were great.
Some characters and situations, though, were just off.
Why would Chekov and Tuvok rush a secret mission to assassinate a world leader on such flimsy evidence? Is it really in Tuvok’s character to withhold information to incite an assassination?
Since when would a Klingon commander be concerned about keeping a Starfleet officer waiting?
Why do academy cadets now treat admirals like rockstars, rather than as their commanding officers? Why is the Head of Starfleet Intelligence entertaining subordinates, who are also family members, in his office? Shouldn’t he draw a line, disregard whatever favouritism he wants to demonstrate, and treat his subordinates equally?
Why is murder — even on a non-Starfleet vessel — only worthy of an eye-roll rather than outrage? Why are there bomb proximity alarms in admirals’ desks but not on the front door of Starfleet Headquarters? Why weren’t there any Starfleet ships in the Solar System to intercept the Syphon ships before they reached Earth?
And the exposition. Oh god, the exposition. It’s just too painful and obvious to ignore.
The movie was too short to tell the whole story. Rather than shoehorn in the exposition, it would’ve been great to split it into two. Give Jaro and Icheb a movie to tell their story, and throw in some hints about a conspiracy at Starfleet. Then give Ragnar and Ronara a movie, and build up the tension at Starfleet. Finally, bring all the characters together and ramp up the conspiracy at Starfleet to boiling point, and light the fireworks.
Or — something like that, I don’t know. I just wish there had been more time to tell the story properly.
Star Trek mythos
Star Trek means different things to different people. Some people say Deep Space Nine was too political, and some people say Voyager had too much cheesy action.
My Star Trek is about peaceful exploration. My Star Trek occasionally takes drastic, immoral action, but then looks back at itself and knows it could’ve acted better. The drama in my Star Trek comes from social issues and interaction, not from the threat of physical harm.
So, is Star Trek: Renegades a part of the mythos I love? With some work, it could be.
Chekov was too quick to send assassins to kill the leader of a non-Federation world. Captain Alvarez was too quick to blow up the Icarus. These rushes into violence aren’t justified; the movie should’ve told us why the peaceful alternatives were rejected.
Am I too forgiving of the production quality?
I’ve read a lot of comments on the quality of Star Trek: Renegades. People are complaining about the quality of the production, the quality of the writing, the quality of the acting, and the quality of the effects.
When I was in college — getting-on for twenty years ago — I contributed to a few student films. A little bit of camera-work, a little bit of editing, a lot of acting.
Being twenty years ago, sharing our films was tough. I’ve got a box of VHS tapes somewhere, but certainly no digital copies, and absolutely nothing on YouTube to share with the world. Only my close friends have seen what we made, and since they came from the same background as me, they had reasonable expectations of the production quality.
To be disappointed in a low-budget film is reasonable; it’s subjective and your own experience. To recognise problems is reasonable; nothing is beyond criticism. But to complain and demand better is unfair.
The cost of actors and visual effects are easy for most people to quantify. We see them, we experience them, we accept there are costs.
But what about the people behind the scenes? Check out the credits of a “bad” movie sometime, and remember that the budget had to cover the costs of all these people. And the studio rental. And the audio booth rental. And the manufacturing of sets and props. It’s expensive.
And before any filming begins, the script has to be written. Not even a big-budget Hollywood movie will pay for endless revisions until dialogue is perfected. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and a film has to go into production before it can earn its investment back.
A movie being low-budget doesn’t necessarily excuse a terrible production, but it should certainly set expectations.
Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Icarus
After everything I’ve said, it probably sounds like I hated Star Trek: Renegades.
Far from it!
Renegades is flawed, yes. It’s clunky in places, and asks me to suspend my belief for longer than I can bear.
But it’s also a barrel of fun! There are enough surprises to keep it exciting, the visual effects are wonderful, and I need to know how these characters’ stories end.
Renegades sets up a continuing story and ends on a cliffhanger. The Syphon were the villains of the movie, but they were only being manipulated — by the same forces manipulating Starfleet and the Federation too.
Are the Iconians the real villains behind the scenes? The symbols on the obelisks reminded of me of other Iconian symbols, and the technology is similar to what we’ve seen before.
Granted, the Iconians are considered long-since extinct, but the entity which possessed Lt. Masaru said they wanted to reclaim what they lost a millennia ago. Could the Iconians want to reclaim their lost empire? Maybe!
The character I think I’m the most curious about now is Fixer. The rest of the crew knows he’s a hologram, but he doesn’t. How long can they keep that up? Especially with the mobile emitter now destroyed — how many excuses can they think of to keep Fixer on the ship and close to holographic emitters?
I want to know the history of the Icarus, too! Is she a stolen Starfleet ship? Was she build by Section 31? How did Lexxa acquire her? Was she bought, stolen or won?
Would I recommend Star Trek: Renegades? If you’re a super-fan, yes — absolutely. The flaws are mostly forgiveable, and it’s a fine adventure story.
If you’re anything less than a super-fan… maybe you’d enjoy it. The cliches and tropes are a tough slog if you’re not invested in the characters, and it helps to start watching with a bias toward enjoying the Star Trek universe.
But hey, what do you think? Was I too harsh? Too forgiving? Let me know in the comments!