Firstly, let me start off by saying that I am not against fan films existing. I think that Star Trek having such a giant fan film base is a great thing and an excellent platform for aspiring filmmakers to get their start in a universe grounded in the deep lore that Star Trek has built over the last 49 years. I personally attempt to keep up with any news of new fan films in the works and I am ecstatic for the upcoming Axanar and Pacific 201 films which appear to bring a new brilliance to otherwise unseen eras in the Star Trek timeline.
That being said, Star Trek: Renegades was just…bad, in every sense of the word. While I am not against fan films existing, I am against bad producing, bad writing, and just generally bad storytelling in whatever forms it may appear in. Be that a Star Trek fan film, James Cameron’s Avatar, or any Uwe Boll film ever, I will always be against sloppy, confusing, and just plain uninteresting storytelling such as that which appears in Renegades. In order to be specific and logical with my grievances, I will attempt to go through each category of filmmaking and be as specific as possible about where I feel there are errors.
***********PLEASE NOTE THAT SPOILERS WILL APPEAR BELOW.*****************
Firstly, the acting of Renegades was, in simple terms, atrocious. People may point to the performances of Tim Russ, Walter Koenig, and Robert Picardo as being good acting and yes, for the most part, these three seasoned Star Trek actors do give good and convincing performances. I was actually quite surprised at Koenig’s ability, in this film, considering his age and the fact that he hasn’t really played any other character ever, besides Chekov, except for his conniving role as Bester in Babylon 5. I thought perhaps he may have lost his ability to act over the years of playing the same character over and over again but this was not the case. Koenig delivered a nuanced and pleasant performance as a new kind of Chekov that I will admit was fun to watch.
However, Koenig’s, as well as Russ’s and Picardo’s considerable acting ability only serves to make literally every other actor pale in comparison. Extremely pale. Even other actors who have acted in professional films such as Manu Intiraymi, reprising his role as freed Borg/Brunali Icheb from Star Trek: Voyager, and Corin Nemec, known for his role as Jonas Quinn from Stargate SG-1, simply do not seem to have the ability to act anymore, if they ever did. Honestly, I think their respective performances in Voyager and SG-1 were raised by the professionalism of those around them and once that professionalism was lost, their acting ability suffered. Unfortunate but true.
For Nemec’s performance, I was half convinced that, when looking at his ship’s viewscreen, he was really looking at cue cards for his dialogue and was reading them off one at a time. Unfortunately, this is the standard that Renegades sets with its acting and the bad performances are made even worse when performed in front of Koenig, Russ, or Picardo. It was torturous to see Chekov actually perform when the character of his great grand-daughter stands there and delivers lines as wooden as can be, especially that of former Mythbuster/McDonalds spokesman Grant Imahara. Even the scenes where Koenig, Russ and Picardo are not present, the acting feels like a band of amateurs decided to recite lines off the Renegades script. Not act, recite. All of the rest of the performances feels more akin to a dramatic reading than film acting. Everything comes off as forced, wooden and entirely unconvincing, which is the job of actor. Make me believe that you are your character. In this, Renegades entirely failed with the notable exception of Koenig who, I am pleased to say, still has it.
PRODUCTION DESIGN AND SPECIAL EFFECTS
Perhaps the only half redeeming part of Renegades is that, because its budget was larger than most, it does have a decent amount of good designs, mostly in the area of the ship design. Many of the CGI ships were well designed, well rendered and pleasant to look at. My only issue with this area was how the Syphon ships looked too similar to the Son’a ships from Star Trek: Insurrection but maybe that’s just me. However, the CGI model for the USS Archer, same class as the titular ship from Voyager’s two parter “Equinox”, was gorgeous. Very nice to look at and praise to the artist who made it. All that being said, the bulk of any CGI where it was motion-tracked or chroma-keyed was just bad. When physical sets were being used, the settings were decently convincing but once any actor walked in front of a green screen, I instantly could tell the difference and it severely brought down the experience.
While all that could be explained due to a lack of proper budget, nothing can explain why Icheb’s pseudo-Borg tech arm thing was made from CGI and not a physical prop. Icheb’s robot arm was seriously the most distracting part of this film simply because it was horribly motion-tracked. As Icheb would walk, his arm would not move smoothly and would inexplicably jerk one way or another regardless of how Icheb was actually moving. It was so noticeable that I had to rewind just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. It would have made so much more sense to just build a glossy plastic arm for his to wear and, in all likelihood, would have been cheaper to do. It seems like the filmmakers wanted so much to have the CGI effect of Icheb’s arm appearing from nothing that they dismissed all concepts of practicality in favor of one effect that was unimpressive to say the least.
And Icheb’s arm is not the only CGI artifact that doesn’t appear good. The strange artifact that creates portals simply did not appear real. It had such an annoying glow and faded look that one can only assume that it was made using the most simplistic of 3D modeling software. If they took so much time and spent so much money on making the ships look as good as they do, why couldn’t they make a simple 3D stone block look any sort of real? Apparently consistency was not on the minds of these filmmakers since the complex CGI elements like spaceships will look good but simple elements like stone blocks or robot arms look entirely fake.
While I understand that making an amateur film can be an overwhelming undertaking, I do not believe there is an excuse for the sloppy editing present in Renegades. I remember a year or so ago when Renegades was posting about their new cameras and how professional they were gonna look because of it and stuff. However, even with their tech advances, Renegades still feels like an amateur backyard film. I remember making backyard films with my brother and I make no claims to greatness. Our films sucked and I fully admit that but Renegades promised something so professional looking that they made it out like CBS was actually considering them. After viewing Renegades, I can say that the editing alone would be enough to turn any professional TV executive off of the idea. The flaws in the editing are almost too numerous to count. Perhaps the most grievous error is the absurd amount of bad closeups. I don’t mind an occasional closeup but when you literally spend half of your dramatic scenes with a slow motion closeup that isn’t even centered on the actor’s face, you have a problem. It comes off as forced drama and looks cheap.
CHARACTERIZATION (AKA AN EXERCISE IN FAN SERVICE)
Being an aspiring screenwriter, I pay close attention to how characters are developed and characterized in TV and films. Characterization is perhaps the most important part of screenwriting because it’s how you get the audience invested in your story. Without characters that feel real, you leave the audience wondering why they are wasting their time on characters they don’t care about, and that is the case for literally every single character in Renegades. No one, and I literally mean no one, is an interesting character. After viewing Renegades, I couldn’t believe just how bad each character was made and how much apathy I had for them all. This is largely due to the fact that the bulk of characters in Renegades are not actual characters but merely caricatures of their “place in Star Trek” for the purposes of fan service.
Let’s start off with the minor characters and since their names are unimportant, I will refer to them by their species since that’s all they represent in this movie.
The Bajoran has no purpose in this film other than to be the foil for The Cardassian. Both have no reason to be there other than they already are, both have no character agency to keep doing the things they do. They are contrivances for the purpose of making the audience feel like it’s more ‘Star Treky’ because there is a Bajoran who hates a Cardassian and makes a Pah-Wraith reference and a Cardassian there for the Bajoran to hate. They all forget that Renegades is supposed to take place long after the events of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and that the Dominion War was won. The Cardassians were defeated and were presumedly forced to pay restitution and work towards peace, although not seen on screen. Being an avid Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fan and a lover of how the Bajoran/Cardassian political situation was worked into the story, I cannot express how much I hated how Renegades decided that their best use of a Bajoran and Cardassian was as a simple exposition of racism with no explanation and no reasoning. I found this insulting both to myself and to the depth that DS9 had explicated the Bajoran/Cardassian story over its seven year run.
Now for another minor character pairing that made no sense. Icheb and the Betazoid are simply the most awkward coupling I’ve ever seen. Their pairing is not romantic in nature but it’s also not without possibility and if this explanation makes no sense, that mirrors the sense that both of these characters don’t have. Icheb, bitter at being experimented on by Section 31, but also possibly thankful, constantly gives the Betazoid a hard time just for being around. Icheb exudes angst over being abused by both the Borg and Section 31 but he also somehow likes it and when the Betazoid questions him about anything, Icheb gets angry. You’ll also notice reading this that I haven’t mentioned anything about the Betazoid on her own because for all intents and purposes, she has no character on her own. She is there to be the plot device that Icheb talks to and also the plot device that helps free Icheb from the Syphon guard with her Betazoid telepathy. If one were to simply replace her with say Deanna Troi, or any Betazoid ever, or even if she was just replaced in the script with “telepathic plot device”, one would never know the difference because of how flat and unnecessary she is.
Coming over to Dr. Lucian and Fixer, this is perhaps the only pairing that had any sort of compelling emotional appeal that worked. While I think that the explanation for why we should feel for these characters didn’t work, Sean Young, better known as Replicant Rachael from Blade Runner, gave a decently nuanced performance alongside Robert Picardo’s reprisal of Dr. Lewis Zimmerman that made me feel for her situation even though I didn’t really know nor understand her situation. Basically, I understood that Fixer was once a person important to her and when he died, she preserved his brain patterns in the hologram of Fixer that has been serving as the Icarus’s engineer since then unbeknownst to the rest of the crew. However, this is where this plot line fell apart. Given the numerous problems with maintaining hologram’s visual integrity as seen in Voyager with The Doctor, I didn’t find it believable that the Fixer hologram had passed itself off as human for years with no one on the crew knowing, including himself. Wouldn’t someone have noticed at some point the slightest glitch in his holographic matrix? Wouldn’t someone have noticed that he doesn’t eat or use the bathroom or anything a human does? This coupled with the fact that it is never explained where Fixer’s holographic emitters are or how they work or how he can go anywhere and do everything everyone else can made for Fixer’s character to be just an excuse for Dr. Lucian and Dr. Zimmerman to have a secret from everyone else. While they could have at least explained that Fixer uses a mobile emitter like Voyager’s EMH, it’s as if Renegades assumed that its audience was too dumb to question how his hologram works so they sidestepped the issue entirely.
Coming over to perhaps the worst performance of the entire cast, Lt. Masaru, played by Grant Imahara, I have to say that this character made no sense in the slightest. He starts out as an aid to Admiral Chekov and only serves as a plot device for narrative explanation to bring the audience up to speed. Then, near the end of the film, he is revealed to have been a spy and assassin. He kills Admiral Paris, and just as he attempts to reveal his evil plan and kill Admiral Chekov, Masaru is conveniently killed by Chekov’s unnecessary Romulan bodyguard. This was perhaps the ultimate slap in the face to the audience. The Romulan, who is never explained, kills their only known lead to the conspiracy and her only excuse for killing the person who could explain everything is “old habits.” Like really? You unnecessarily kill your big reveal plot device character of Masaru using another unnecessary plot device Romulan because of “old habits”? Way to prolong the conspiracy way longer than needed because you were too dumb to realize that information could save everyone but what can you expect from a character whose only existence was to kill Masaru because the plot demanded it.
And for the final minor character that I will explicate, The Andorian. This was the most blatant use of fan service that has ever existed. Not only is she a hot Andorian chick, but one with cleavage that would make Seven of Nine blush. Her entire existence is reduced to serving as an over-sexualized device for the demands of the plot to use and spit out. First, I am not going to be one of those people who say that ALL sex appeal in Star Trek is heresy like those who disdain Seven of Nine or Deanna Troi simply because their bodies were accentuated. However, the Andorian’s body is not just accentuated, its crafted for the specific purpose of over-sexualized titillation clearly seen in her first seen when she engages in a lesbian tryst with a woman right before using a “mind rape” device on her. Then, for the rest of the film, is seen with an annoying amount of cleavage rivaling that of Christina Hendricks. I can only assume that this distracting amount of cleavage was used to draw the audience away from the fact that the Andorian only exists to be the stereotypical “hacker” chick who discovers the evil conspiracy because she can and the plot demanded that of her. When your characters are serving the whims of the plot just because that’s how it HAS to happen or it all falls apart, you have a problem with your plot and it makes your characters flat, uninteresting, and unpleasant to watch.
While I could go on with other minor characters and how contrived they are, I shall digress by moving on to the antagonists. The Syphon are a new race introduced in Renegades and I have to say, I couldn’t find them less interesting. Given that the Syphon are supposed to be something new, you would expect perhaps new and unexplored traits to appear that may bring interest to the audience but about five minutes into their introduction, they are revealed to be nothing more than Klingons in fake looking masks. The Syphon culture, as it appears, praises honor and rituals and rites essentially all things that we’ve seen before in the Klingon episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, coupled with the fact that the Syphon appearance looks curiously like it was ripped off of the Wraith from Stargate: Atlantis, I feel like no imagination was actually put into these villains. They are given some plot contrived reason for why their actions are not actually wrong because they were wronged first but this is never explored beyond their word so we have no way of knowing what they’re actually doing. The Syphon are the bad guys because the plot demands that there be alien bad guys for no real reason. Again, having contrived characters, or in this case entire cultures, makes for zero interest on the part of the audience. Especially when this alien race is nothing more than Klingon rejects.
Finally we come to the major characters but curiously, the only one of any real consequence is Lexxa Singh. I cannot express just how uninteresting this character is. She first appears in her Orion prison cell writing the words to William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus, on the walls which in itself made no real sense other than Lexxa accentuates the word, “captain”, in a clichéd way to reference Star Trek’s tradition of captains. Perhaps this was meant to be a reference to Nelson Mandela’s incarceration in Robbin Island prison but given Lexxa’s apathy about pretty much everything other than her mother, I just couldn’t see it. But let’s just discuss Lexxa’s origins for a minute. Her last name is Singh and it is revealed that she is the famed Khan Noonian Singh’s daughter…three hundred or so years after he would have been at the peak of power during the Eugenics Wars…and about a hundred years after his brief resurgence as seen in Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan. So you may ask why Khan’s daughter appears in a time when it’s pretty much impossible for to appear in at her age and you would be right to ask. There is no answer to be found however. Replace Lexxa with any character who has any modicum of fighting skill and nothing would have changed. There is nothing special about Lexxa that would make her being Khan’s daughter make any sort of sense. It is as if the writers were like: “We need a main character but with something that the Trekkies will like because it’s a reference to something…Khan’s Daughter, let’s do it regardless of how much sense it won’t make.” Then Lexxa’s origins are conveniently sidestepped by her flashbacks regarding her mother whose identity is never revealed. Is this supposed to be Marla McGivers? Or someone Khan knew during The Eugenics Wars? We never find out. All that matters is the half-hearted attempt at giving Lexxa some character depth even if it only serves to make her character more confusing than she already is.
I will put this quite simply. The plotline is a mess. There are these interwoven plot threads involving a Starfleet conspiracy, the Syphon threat, Section 31, the USS Archer, and the crew of the Icarus but nothing comes full circle. It feels as if the filmmakers wanted to do something impressive so they took the base ideas from three fan films and smashed them together into one, resulting in a convoluted mess that makes the Temporal Cold War of Star Trek: Enterprise’s infamy look like the plot a children’s chapter book. The conspiracy is never resolved, story feels no more advanced at the end than it did at the beginning, and the Syphon threat is only somewhat resolved due to some deus ex machina performed by Fixer using technobabble that would put Voyager’s plot resolutions to shame. In short, don’t expect anything to make sense at all because it won’t and thinking about it will only result in a headache.
THE BUDGET ARGUMENT
Now many will argue that Renegades deserves some slack due to its lack of budget and yes, I can forgive things like effects, set design and the like since money is required for these things. But one thing that always pops out to me is why do some of the effects suck while others are pretty great? Why is there this disconnect? If you’re going to do one thing well, do everything well. Don’t be so half-hearted that you think that if you do a few things well and skimp on the rest that no one will notice. Another thing that does not require money is imagination. There was no imagination brought into this movie. Everything was so contrived and forced that it felt like these filmmakers were being forced into making a movie when they really didn’t want to. Good writing costs no money but this film is lacking any sort of good writing and skill in making an interesting movie. Look at a movie like Primer. While I am not a die-hard fan of Primer, it is easily recognizable that the makers of that film had imagination and while they had a tiny budget, certainly less than Renegades, they still made something decently good and at the very least, interesting enough to enthrall an audience in its world. This is something Renegades quite simply didn’t do.
THE TV PILOT ARGUMENT
Some will also argue that Renegades was meant as a television pilot and that the characters, plot, and budget could all be fixed if given more time to develop. While yes, TV pilots are meant to introduce characters and plots but Renegades did too much. Like I said in the Storyline section, it felt as if they wanted to smash three plots into one and hope it worked out when it didn’t and, while I don’t think having a lot of characters was a flaw, I do think having every character nothing more than a caricature, plot device, or fan service was a flaw. Look at a show like Firefly. They had a cast of eight and, just in the pilot, they made each character interesting enough that we wanted to come back to see more of them then in the subsequent episodes. We got to see each character develop more and more. Same with shows like Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, JJ Abrams’ Lost, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and the list goes on. While they didn’t complete plots or character threads in the pilots, and they didn’t need to. They did at least make the characters have the potential to become more than what they started out as. Renegades did not do this. Each character was so flat that they can only continue being just as uninteresting if any more episodes have the unfortunate fortitude to get made.
STAR TREK: RENEGADES OVERALL
Just to wrap up, do not think that I am a hater of all fan films or anything of the like or that I am a Trek hater. I too would love for Star Trek to return to TV but I am extremely thankful that CBS did not pick up Renegades because I am simply against shoddy writing and poor filmmaking and, in the case of Renegades, it simply did not do justice to Star Trek. Given that Star Trek is one of the richest modern mythologies ever created, it deserves better than Renegades’ half-hearted attempt at continuing where Voyager/Nemesis left off. With its nonsensical plot, terrible characterization, and mismatched production value, Renegades should serve as an exercise in how not to make a fan film when you have a larger than most budget and also as an example of not being so steeped in hubris in a vain attempt to sell to CBS.
Have you seen Renegades? What did you think? Let us know in the comments