Even if someone hadn't watched much of the original series, it made sense as a stand-alone story. Some bits might twist the underpants of purists into a knot, such as the romance between Spock and Uhura (huh?), but those aside, fans and non-fans should find the back story of how they ended up on the Enterprise quite enjoyable. While spectacular, J.J. Abrams, the director and producer, never allowed the special effects to override the human aspects of the story.
Despite creator Gene Roddenberry's self-deprecating description of "ST" as "space opera," it could be argued that the show offered (and still does) a vision for an evolving society. The original series debuted in 1966, a time eerily like this one. We're engaged in not one but two useless wars. We have another round of civil rights issues to contend with, both ethnically and with gay rights. We still fight to take back control of government from special interest groups and labor pains birthing the vision of a just and green society still reverberate.
Social change never happens overnight. It's been said that it takes a generation for an idea to be seen as acceptable. We've had two generations since the original series. Some of the changes, such as women's equality and peace between races have taken hold, but still have a long way to go before truly becoming a part of who we are. We need the visions to keep the dreams alive.