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As a new Star Trek movie hits theaters this week, one can't help but ask a simple question: Why?

The last ST movie, 2002's Nemesis, bombed at the box office. On TV, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all had successful runs (seven seasons each), but Enterprise limped along in the ratings until it was finally cancelled in 2005 after four seasons.

But the creaky franchise apparently isn't dead yet. So what keeps it going? Geek-love, for one thing. Then there's the love of money, the root of all kinds of reboots. But why, ultimately is Paramount pouring money into an—ahem—enterprise that has been losing steam (in ST lingo, "venting plasma") for so long? And why not push farther into the future? Why return to the original characters—those who inaugurated that storied and fabled "five-year mission"? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt at the Trekkie convention. Why not a whole new crew?

I think one reason is the power the original characters still possess. Trek was never so much about adventuring in outer space as it was exploring the space between our ears—and the space between each other. It was about ideas. It was also about relationships.

Roger Ebert realized that. To those who slammed the wooden Star Wars characters, he replied, "Hey, I've seen space operas that put their emphasis on human personalities and relationships. They're called 'Star Trek' movies."

A strange and wonderful relationship

The original crew, spearheaded by the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, was anything but wooden. Theirs might not have been the most subtle performances, but they made viewers care. Theirs was a strange and wonderful relationship. On his own, each character was strong but, as a team, they were, ...

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