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Historically, Star Trek has been all about positive outcomes against all odds, so why was Vulcan destroyed as a plot line?

The Enterprise (Federation) usually always saves worlds against all the odds, even if there are very great losses along the way. Surely the loss of Vulcan must be viewed as a failure.

This plot device of allowing Vulcan to perish seems to go against Star Trek precedence, especially as the Federation is about preservation.

With the Borg, Q intervenes to warn the Federation. Earth ends up being saved against all odds (a positive outcome), albeit at great suffering and losses. In Star Trek Generations, Picard and Kirk do the same - they reverse an apocalypse. There are many similar examples throughout all series of pulling the mythical rabbit out of the hat.

Given this history, have the movie makers stated why they destroyed Vulcan as a plot device?


EDIT:

There have been many useful ideas presented in comments and answer thus far. They revolve around drama device explanations and doing something new.

Perhaps what I was also considering was there an allegory like in Herman Melville’s works.

Was JJ Abrams really just making drama with this element of the story or was he trying to say something more with the annihilation of Vulcan?


EDIT 2:

It has been suggested - Raditz_35 very popular comment - that this was perhaps symbolic "The destruction of Vulcan is symbolic for the end of logic, reason and science as the main driving forces of the franchise."

Certainly the research of Richard Dawkins at the time (I'm not sympathetic of all his ideas BTW) that people are increasingly less interested in the rational would give some credence to not keeping logic, reason and science as the main driving forces of the franchise. Why bother with something people are not interested in any more. I suppose back in sixties the promises of science to solve all manner of problems seemed within reach.

Any further symbolic explanation welcome.

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    Because this is the "dark gritty reboot" – Steve-O Jan 19 '18 at 14:22
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    The destruction of Vulcan is symbolic for the end of logic, reason and science as the main driving forces of the franchise. This is a pretty common plot device in fiction in general, the thing no longer needed dies. – Raditz_35 Jan 19 '18 at 14:25
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    Likely they wanted to get away from the 'heroes save the day against all odds and largely without consequences' cliche, where the show (and even the movies) had a tendency to hit the reset button. If they're willing to destroy a planet that's such a key part of the series, then theoretically anything and anyone is fair game, which may help "up the stakes" and inject additional drama into situations. – delinear Jan 19 '18 at 14:42
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    @Paulie "Have the movie makers stated why they destroyed Vulcan". suggestion added to question. – onepound Jan 19 '18 at 16:03
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    JJ Abrams blows everything up. That's what he does. It's his trademark. – Vince O'Sullivan Jan 19 '18 at 19:14
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Leonard Nimoy said that JJ Abrams did this in order to "reinvigorate the franchise":

"I don't remember when JJ. told me he was planning to destroy Vulcan, but I started crying immediately. I've been crying ever since -- uncontrollably. In fact, if you hear sobs now, that is because Vulcan was destroyed. I console myself by remembering the old maxim: 'If you want to make an omelette, you have to crack eggs.' And that's what he's done; I think he's created a new omelette. He has reinvigorated the franchise and he's done so by doing something that is daring."

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    While a great reference, this kind doesn't answer the question so much as kick the can down the road. Clearly that are many ways to reinvigorate a franchise that don't involve destroying Vulcan, so why do it? – J Doe Jan 20 '18 at 5:01
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    While OP is looking for "something more", we have to consider that it's quite possible that there isn't something more. Not everything has to be symbolic or allegorical. – Mark Beadles Jan 20 '18 at 15:26
  • We aren't looking for symbolism or allegory, just the reason. – J Doe Jan 22 '18 at 7:17
  • @JDoe Maybe you aren't, but OP specifically said "Perhaps what I was also considering was there an allegory like in Herman Melville’s works." – Mark Beadles Jan 22 '18 at 16:36
  • @Mark Beadles to be fair to J Doe I added that later even though that's what I was driving at. – onepound Jan 23 '18 at 20:13
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It’s a plot device to reboot the franchise.

To add to the previous answers, the main challenge and also the main danger with any reboot of any franchise is get away from making it a remake instead.

An easy example is the retell of stories of Spider-Man. In every single movie but - maybe - homecoming, you have a retelling of the same old story... there’s nothing new, you’re just telling the same story in the same way, including the drives, emotions and motivations of all characters (spider bite, uncle Ben dies, power and responsibility, blah blah). In the end, you end up with yet another view of the same story. The character can only end up on the same place (figuratively) every time.

The reason the destruction of Vulcan reinvigorates the franchise is because it enables everything to evolve and change and it’s not only applied to Spock, it’s also applied to Kirk too. Obviously you can’t destroy the earth as that would alienate the viewer, but you can kill Kirk’s dad on the first minute and then dwell deep into that fact to differentiate him from the original Kirk and, if required to explore that.

Destruction of Vulcan (and incidentally killing Spock mother) provides the same effect on who’s probably the most important character of the original series: Nimroy. With that series of events, Spock stops being Nimroy, first officer, ambassador and a two hundred and something wise Vulcan to give space to the new Spock as a differentiated entity. If any character on the whole franchise has a stronger recognition and feel to it, a more defined personality, that is Spock as represented by Leonard Nimroy, there’s no reboot without destroying that association.

Without those events, the reboot would have just been an excuse to tell a new story with the same characters (a remake). Even if the actors were different, the characters would have ended up being the same. The plot scheme give depth to those characters and enables them to distance from the originals.

The biggest the catastrophe the easiest it is for the viewer to grasp the concept, even if it’s unconsciously. This is further explored on the sequel where the relationship between Kirk and Pike is equivalent to father and son, or where Spok’s human feelings of fear and solitude are explored on several occasions (inside the volcano, on the mind melt with pike).

All in all, destruction of Vulcan is a very effective way of enabling character development.

Finally, to comment on the “positiveness” of Star Trek, while that’s generally true, it’s not a good driver. Challenges, disasters, struggles, improvement and fight is what evolves a character and makes it interesting, placid positive events are simply uninteresting and non believable as drivers for character development.

  • This is all good speculation, and I don't disagree with it, but absent citations/sources from the filmmakers it's just that: speculation. – Mark Beadles Jan 25 '18 at 15:46
  • @MarkBeadles this was more intended as clarification of the accepted answer. The citation / source is already there and explains the reason for destroying Vulcan, this unfolds the line between "Destroy Vulcan" --> "Reinvigorate the franchise". But as I can't write a comment long enough I put an answer instead. I still think it adds to the previous answer and to the topic in general (as opposed to deleting the answer). – Jorge Córdoba Jan 25 '18 at 15:56
  • What accepted answer? No answer has been accepted. – Mark Beadles Jan 25 '18 at 16:01
  • @MarkBeadles thought it was, I meant your answer :) – Jorge Córdoba Jan 25 '18 at 16:06
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The Star Trek "positive" outlook generally only extends to inter-cultural relations and to a lesser extent inter-personal relationships.

However without antagonistic forces there can be no drama. TBH random physical world problems of various degrees simply are not considered "personal" or "cultural" or controversial in the sense as alluding to real or actual historical political issue.

So while you may have a personal fantasy liking for the planet Vulcan, its destruction as a random physical event was seen as a neutral but highly dramatic plot point rather than a political/philosophical point of contention with possible real world connnections. Basically zero applicability to anyone real world situation such that people could be immersed in drama but set it aside easily...unlike some movies were people came out emotional with recognizable real world political/philosophical sides to oppose or support.

Place that against the historical background of other antagonistic devices. Like a few failed inter-personal relationships are required to salt StarTrek to present special villains.

Even a few occasions of temporarily failed inter-cultural relationships to allow grand threats generally in the cold war or distant lands settings. (Which Star Trek uses to showcase positive personal interactions even across those deep chasms of cultural conflict. )

That said -- remember that this new StarTrek storyline is both alternate universe and timeline alteration...it is not simply a remake.

Almost all such "restarts" of established universes intentionally employ extreme violations of staid concepts at introduction in order to DEFINE that this new storyline is not connected to the old.

Totally different universe from old series as apparent from Pike and Kirk overlapping (not first meeting at "Menagerie"). Made even more different when Spock loses Vulcan and parents at beginning of career via time paradox events. And do not forget that the "Old Spock" of this universe was only very similar to the original storyline "old Spock". Actually they played with the death and retirement of Spock so many times that in fact we probably saw many very similar Enterprise universes before this new cast universe.

  • thank you for your comment I did not downvote it BTW as it adds another perpective that is valid in that I understand the drama aspect and as I've said the Federation has experienced great losses in material as well as personel in the past but that is quite different to anhialating a founding member's world pushing the species close to extinction and then saving Earth with ingenuity and bravery a typical star trek device when it comes to Earth. – onepound Jan 20 '18 at 11:41
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    No need to post multiple answers to the same question - if you have more to add, you can always edit your existing answer or comment on it. (I've deleted your second answer after editing its contents into this one.) – Rand al'Thor Jan 20 '18 at 16:48

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