The road to Romulus, as the recent Sulu hullabaloo proved, is paved with good intentions.
The team behind "Star Trek Beyond," which lifts off Friday, portrays Enterprise helmsman Sulu as a married gay dad, in an apparent tribute to George Takei, who has become one of the universe's most outspoken voices for LGBTQ rights in recent years. But Takei rejected the revisionist story in his own tribute to the late "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, whom, he said, intended Sulu to be heterosexual.
Both takes add up to a larger tribute to a fantasy franchise that inspires creativity – and powerful feelings of protectiveness – even as it nears 50 years of logging stardates.
That's a shade different than the strong sense of ownership "Star Wars" fans exercise over the younger, flashier series that might never have launched, if not for "Star Trek." And it's light years away from the sexist and racist venom spewed by cowardly online trolls over the new all-women "Ghostbusters" team.
Still, movie history tells us that reboots of popular series can rouse fans to vote with their feet by flocking to theaters – or kick back in protest over any perceived sullying of the source material.
The impact of devising alternate timelines, as with the latest three "Star Trek" movie installments, can be as unpredictable as a balky phaser. The potential for casting a wide beam of creative freedom comes with the possibility of stunning – and angering – longtime fans.
J.J. Abrams, who directed the first two new "Star Trek" flicks and last year’s wildly successful return of "Star Wars," found the elusive sweet spot between capturing the spirit of the originals while exploring new characters and stories. He’s also adept at intergenerational casting, as evidenced not only by his “Star Wars” turn, but by Leonard Nimoy’s final appearance as Mr. Spock in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
Director Justin Lin’s "Star Trek Beyond" is dedicated to the Nimoy, who died last year at age 83, and to the latest Chekov, Anton Yelchin, who was fatally struck by his own runaway vehicle last month at age 27.
Any fuss over Sulu shouldn't overshadow the memories of two fine actors who spanned "Star Trek" generations.
It’s unknown, of course, how the late Roddenberry would have felt about the Sulu switch. But his enduring creation shows we're all part of a big, diverse universe – and we shouldn't be afraid of what we might find, either in space or in ourselves.
Whether you roll with old-school Kirk, new-school Kirk, Piccard or Janeway doesn't matter – passionate and civilized debate has helped fuel "Star Trek" since NBC canceled the original series in 1969.
May the next 50 years bring more "Star Trek" interpretations that boldly go where no others have gone before.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.