I think the optimism was a more important element than you're giving it credit for.
Well, fair enough. It's not that it was unimportant so much as I think it wasn't really, at least on Roddenberry's part, a big programmatic thing
-- it was just about making the adventurers sympathetic and relatable. Such optimism as TOS had seems to me to have followed from that (even then it still used future holocausts as a trope and had Kirk & Co. cleaning up after some rather dark misadventures by Earth's representatives).
I'd say the single most important thing that set Star Trek apart from its sf television contemporaries (beyond the anthologies, which were a different beast that didn't have the continuing characters important to fandom) was that it attempted to appeal to an audience beyond young children.
That's also an important part of it, definitely.
As for the films being a "nostalgia delivery system," well, yes, but I fail to see how that sets them apart from most of the franchise to follow the original, beginning with Star Trek--The Motion Picture.
In the sense that the nostalgia it's delivering is for space opera in general and no longer for any distinguishing aspect of the Trek franchise; a nostalgia for audiences that no longer recollect the differences Trek had from other properties, as one can see for instance in Shaka Zulu
's comments (sorry to pick on you Shaka
but it's true). The Motion Picture
is radically different in that distinguishing aspirational
sense most of all. (After TWOK this element of the film franchise did start to recede into peddling sentimentality and fanservice, or in the case of TFF perhaps just Shatnerian ego-service.)
[No substantial disagreement with the rest of your remarks, thanks for that detailed response.]
King Daniel Into Darkness wrote:
TNG continued to try to tell genuine SF stories and innovated new approaches to its medium.
Examples, please? Because TNG to me is anything but innovotive or genuine sci-fi.
TNG innovated its own format, the A- and B-plot structure that went on to become standard for subsequent shows -- the pro's and con's of which have been a topic of discussion here
but which, whatever one thinks of them, were a real departure from TOS' formula and did enable the development of more members of the ensemble.
They also ventured further outside the box in terms of story structure and narrative risks than TOS was wont to do: Picard spent an entire episode being tortured (seriously
tortured) in "Chain of Command" and lived an entire alternate life as a civilian scientist in "Inner Light;" episodes were built around members of the ensemble other than the Captain, with just about everyone getting a turn in the limelight; an entire episode "The Lower Decks" was devoted to a minor group of junior officers, with the bridge crew making only occasional appearances; they killed a main cast member without portentousness or grand meaning in "The Skin of Evil," and so on. All innovations that are taken for granted now, but innovations is exactly what they were.
I do find the contention that TNG didn't tell sci-fi stories bizarre. Episodes routinely revolved around the investigation of scientific what-ifs: the ethical implications of artificial life forms or cloning, communication with a variety of exotic space-based lifeforms (primitive and otherwise), digitization of consciousness, encounters with cosmic strings and wormholes and singularities, and of course a host of time-travel puzzlers... those are all the kind of storyline that is characteristically science fiction. And while TNG was running there was actually still an effort to make the science (at least loosely) relevant to our
science and not just to Trek canon.
None of which of course means you have to like
TNG, that's up to you.
(I myself prefer TOS in many ways.)