On September 8, 1966 a series like no other aired and changed television forever. It would be another decade before I was born but this show would affect my life in ways I could never imagine.
MY INTRODUCTION TO STAR TREK
I was probably around 2 or 3 years old when I started watching Star Trek The Original Series (STOS) with my father. I vaguely remember laying on the floor with him, eating popcorn out of a large kettle as we watched the series on a small black and white tube television. Back then VHS had yet to become a household mainstay and streaming media was just science fiction, so we would have to watch the series as reruns in syndication. We would watch all kinds of classic series together; Mister Ed, I Dream of Genie, the Rifleman and even Wagon Train. The one that stuck with me the most was Star Trek.
Featuring worlds beyond our own and aliens of every kind, I couldn’t wait until another episode aired. Spock, McCoy and Kirk were heroes to be admired and I was along for the ride.
As I got older, my father and I started going to the movies as they came out in the theater. My first major Star Trek movie in the theater was, what is now considered to be the best of them all, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. We had seen Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back in the theater, and it would still be another year before Jedi arrived but this would be my first Star Trek cinema experience. I had, of course, seen the Motion Picture but on VHS, and I loved it despite its flaws. Lt Illia fascinated me and, honestly, my young mind didn’t understand why. I was around 6 when Wrath of Khan hit the theater and I was excited to see a Star Trek film on the big screen. I don’t remember specifics about that night but I remember being awestruck by the film. It would be years until I understood everything I had seen, all I knew was that Spock had died saving the ship and that shook me to the core. Still, I loved every second.
It wasn’t until a few years later, the very same year we discovered the fate of Spock, until another series arrived in syndication. Star Trek the Animated Series debut on Nickelodeon September of 1984 and from that point I didn’t miss an episode. Originally airing some years prior to its Nickelodeon debut, this cartoon continued the 5 year mission with new adventures of the original crew plus a few new faces. At the age of 8, I was a prime target for this show and boy did it strike me. The episode that stuck with me most was the second episode, Yesteryear, featuring a young spock in a time travel story, I remember being amazed by every moment. THIS was awesome, this was a Star Trek series that was made for me. Little did I know that in just a few short years, the franchise would explode and so would my fandom.
In 1986 a movie hit the theater that will forever be my guilty pleasure and favorite ‘fun’ Star Trek Film. Directed by Spock himself (Leonard Nimoy), Star Trek IV the Voyage Home would solidify my growing fandom of the franchise. It had everything: Time Travel, an Alien Threat, a light love story, terrific humor and, of course, Whales! The movie was incredible to my 10 year old mind and I left the theater enthralled. When this film hit VHS, I watched it over and over to the point where I could quote it. Years later a fantastic novel by the name of Probe hit the shelves and finally gave clarity as to what was in the Alien ship that threatened Earth in the Voyage Home. Of course I read it and loved every minute.
In the time between movies I would occupy my obsession with the old books and new comics being released. Going back to the old novels published by Bantam in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I read everything I could get my hands on. I raided my local used bookstore for copies of these stories, many I bought for fifty cents each. Books like ‘Spock, Messiah!’, ‘The Price of the Phoenix’ and ‘Trek to Madworld’ filled my shelves. Each book containing new exciting stories of the original crew and providing insight into the characters that the original series could never get a chance to accomplish. In my quest for more Trek, I even managed to locate an original series Technical Manual that I still have to this day.
The comics (published by DC Comics at the time) provided fun alternate stories that, in some cases, served as sequels to some of the movies, Including the amazing Mirror Universe Saga which served as a sequel to Star Trek III. Many more would come and I would read them all.
THE BIRTH OF A NEW GENERATION
The same year Voyage Home was released in theaters, another exciting thing occurred, a new series was announced taking place on a new Enterprise. The buzz was on, Star Trek the Next Generation (STNG) would arrive in 1987. You have to keep in mind, this was an age before a world wide web, before any kind of social media or online forums. All of our information came from magazines. newspapers and live news. Despite the lack of an online presence, this series would debut on September 28th 1987 to 15.7 million viewers. My father and I, were among them.
From the first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, I was hooked. The 24th century was brighter and more technologically advanced than anything we had ever seen. Klingons were uneasy allies (there was even one on the bridge!), glasses had been replaced with spectrum analyzing VISORs and the Enterprise was not just an exploration ship but practically a city in space that had families on board! The film quality of the series was like no other either, it was as if each episode was a movie and not a regular television program. This series even had characters that seemed tailor made for me, the alienated android, Data, and the brainy outcast kid,Wesley Crusher, hit on two of my insecurities. Being a geek in the 80’s was a scarlet letter but being a brainy nerd as well, I was doomed. This show spoke to me and I knew that I would be with this show for the long haul, boy was I ever.
With a new series came new toys and I had to get them all. Every penny I earned with allowance and gifts was spent on these new toys. The first release came in the form if 3 3/4 inch figures from Galoob but where the figures really shined was when Playmates released their 5 inch line. Every character you could ask for from every series made were released. It was heaven. One piece that alluded me was the Playmates Toys Enterprise D bridge. I wanted that something terrible but, I never laid my hands on one. I have moved on since, replacing my old figures with more iconic replicas and statues, but this was once piece my crew never had a chance to use.
For the next 7 years we watched and followed along as the Captain Jean Luc Picard and crew explored the galaxy through hardships and triumphs alike. We were in shock with Tasha was struck down and enthralled when the Borg captured Picard himself. We were amazed by the new and exciting creatures & aliens that appeared on the series. We cheered when Ambassador Spock arrived for a two part episode that solidified his legacy even in the future of the franchise. Each summer, with the end of a season, we were left with a fantastic cliff hanger leading into the next season. I vividly remember discussing Geordies unknown fate at the hands of Lore during the cliffhanger of season 6 with my fellow boy scouts.
During the run of Star Trek the Next Generation the final Original Series Crew film hit theaters. Star Trek The Undiscovered Country was, to me, the best in the original movie series. With the fun that I had with the Voyage Home, this film was the serious Trek film I had come to appreciate.
Filling in what would be the story of the peace treaty between Humans and Klingons, this story would parallel what was going on in the world with the Berlin wall and the inevitable fall of the Soviet Union. Nicholas Meyer, who had also been responsible for Wrath of Khan (Director) and Voyage Home (Writer) had a chance to wrap up the original series crew’s adventures with a brilliant sendoff. I still get teary eyed when the crew learn that the Enterprise A would be decommissioned at the end of the film. It is a touching moment that would be expanded on (but never seen on film) in the novelization of the next film that would be released a few years later. Plus, Sulu got his own Captaincy after all these years!
Although Star Trek The Next generation would end with Season 7 we were rewarded with more Star Trek before it’s final episode with an exciting new direction, Deep Space 9 (DS9). This time, there would be no traveling, this time it was a space station.
The first thing that struck me about DS9 was that the commander of the station, one Benjamin Sisko, was a family man. He had a son and, his first priority was not to his command but to his kid. This reminded me of my own father and instantly I was in admiration of Commander Sisko. He was a reluctant commander but one that cared about his family & his crew and that mattered greatly.
Not only that, but he had been directly affected by an event from TNG, his wife had been killed and his ship lost in the Battle of Wolf 359, the war with the Borg! Because of this, he hated Picard and blamed him for his loss. This one event changed his life and eventually led to his adventures on DS9. The other thing that I thought was great was that the series had even more of a sense of continuity with the character of Miles O’Brien. O’Brien had become a staple in STNG as the transporter chief and with Deep Space 9 he had gotten a promotion. He was now the Station’s Chief Engineer and moved his family to the station as well! Plus when Star Trek the Next Generation ended, another Enterprise crewmember joined the series. Lt. Commander Worf joined on and, honestly, really established his character to be one of the best of the show!
The series would primarily focus on the story started in TNG continuing the plight of the Bajoran people at the hands of their oppressors the Cardassians. This would eventually lead to Sisko becoming an icon in the Bajoran belief system. The series, while not as popular as TNG, was a terrific show. Covering the darker aspects of the 24th century covering subjects such as racism, war, ptsd, and more, it would later become among my favorite of the franchise.
VIDEO GAMES, NEW MOVIES AND THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Around this time I had gotten heavily into Video Gaming and, in that time period, every franchise had a video game. Some of my favorites were made for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System; ‘Star Trek Starfleet Academy – Starship Bridge Simulator’, ‘Star Trek The Next Generation – Future’s Past’ and ‘Star Trek Deep Space Nine – Crossroads of Time’.
Star Trek Starfleet Academy – Starship Bridge Simulator allowed the player to join Starfleet academy and even allowed fans to experience the famous Kobayashi Maru. I remember receiving this game for Christmas and being beside myself. I would spend hours perfecting my time as a Starfleet Cadet. The others were adventure games, (TNG was an isometric adventure with space battles, while DS9 was a sidescrolling platformer) both challenging in their own respect. I spent many hours on them all. I still play video games and long for a proper Star Trek game to be released. One day, we will see one…I hope.
At the end of the first season of Deep Space Nine (and after the end of STNG) a movie hit theaters that closed out the Next Generation series in a way only Star Trek would do it. Not only did the Captains of the Enterprise meet, they killed James Kirk and destroyed yet another Enterprise to boot! With the destruction of the Enterprise 1701-D, the ship that took us through 7 years of adventures, this marked the official end to an amazing series.
DS9 would have only 1 season on its own until the premiere of a new series that would bring back the exploration aspect that Star Trek fans had come used to with previous series. Sadly this would be the last television series in the continuing story after the Original Series.
Star Trek Voyager (STV) would follow Captain Katherine Janeway, a powerful woman who would lead her crew into parts unknown. STV would be a return to the exploration side of things and started out with a bang.
The story of a lost Starship and a crew made from two opposing crews was the setup of legend. The incomparable Kate Mulgrew leading the lost travelers in the role of Captain Janeway dominated the show and gave you someone strong to follow from the start. Fantastic cast, great setup and then, season after season, the series would lose steam. Attempts to regain viewers through the lovely Jeri Ryan as the Borg crew member, 7 of 9, never resonated as well as it should have. While I personally enjoyed the series, and stuck with it to the end, it was clear that the end was coming for Trek and nothing they did would change that. The series limped along until it was sadly cancelled after 7 seasons. Honestly I thought they had missed a chance to have the final season back in Federation space dealing with the ramifications of their joint crew union but alas, nothing came of it.
Soon after Voyager started a new film hit the theaters, this was the first film for the Next Generation crew that featured them on their own. Serving as a sequel to the amazing two part episode Best of Both worlds, this film had it all, A new enterprise, a new adventure and an old enemy. Directed by Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes, Star Trek First Contact became the best of the ‘Next Gen’ movies and boy was it fantastic. The Next Generation crew would offer up a few more movies but, while fun, none would have the impact this one would. They all have their moments, but First Contact would be the last of the ‘Prime’ universe films that would really be memorable.
THE DEATH OF TREK
When Voyager came to a (disappointing) close a new series launched on its heels. Promising to be the ‘prequel’ series that would show the birth of the Federation, this series had potential to explore parts unknown in the timeline of the Star Trek universe. As with any ‘Prequels’, one would think that those involved would be careful not to corrupt the established canon and timeline. Sadly, this was not so.
Enterprise (the series) Starring Scott Bakula (of Quantum Leap fame, another series I love) as Captain Archer, started strong. With the first true encounter with the Klingons to showing the prototype Enterprise ship, this series really had potential to be something great. Sadly the opening theme was only the first roadblock.
Now, I won’t go too far into my dislike for the show, I could write an entire second blog about the problems this series had but there are those that like it and I respect that. There were good episodes and the cast was terrific, but, between the pop ballad theme song and the casual disregard for Canonicity, this Trekkie was not impressed. In fact, not many of us were and the series was canceled after 3 seasons. For all intent and purpose, The Star Trek franchise was dead and, sadly, it killed itself.
For the next 4 years, Star Trek was dead. While many novels and comics would be released, video games would be played, the television franchise had seemed to have reached its end. This was heartbreaking for us Trekkies. Yes, we had the home video releases to watch and rewatch but it was not the same. Then rumors of a relaunch started.
THE KELVIN UNIVERSE
In 2008 word got out that an all new reimagining of the Original Series crew would hit theaters. The internet was ablaze with this new movie helmed by JJ Abrams and starring a young new cast in the roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and crew. The fandom was polarized. Some claimed that this was an abomination to the franchise while others, like myself, where more ‘cautiously optimistic’. In 2009, the new movie simply titled STAR TREK was launched and it did justice to its predecessors.
Depicting the birth of Kirk and Spock and the first adventure of the original series crew this movie was quickly established as an ‘alternate’ timeline later to become known as the Kelvin Universe. It had everything a new fan and old could want, including Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as Spock (Prime) in a manner that worked perfectly. This film would be followed by two others, ‘Into Darkness’ and ‘Beyond’. Both were fun and enjoyable films and ‘Beyond’ brought back the fresh wounds of actor Leonard Nimoy’s passing the year before its release. I’ll admit, I may have cried a little when Younger Spock was informed of Spock Primes passing.
On another note, IDW publishing has been releasing an excellent series of comics based in this new Kelvin Universe. The comics really dive into the moments between the films and serves as a series of its own. I highly recommend them all!
This past year a new series began filming. Having heard rumors of a new series for some time, Star Trek Discovery premieres in just a few short weeks of this writing and I am cautiously optimistic. Promising to be, yet another, prequel to the original series this one takes place only 10 years before the original series and will be the first series that takes place in the Prime Universe since the end of Enterprise (and that is still debatable).
I had an opportunity to visit a travelling museum for the series earlier this year and it does look well produced and exciting. (see photos below for a sample). This series will air exclusively on CBS’s new app (CBS ALL ACCESS) and sadly it is behind a paywall in the United States. Despite my disappointment in this, I will of course be one of the many to pay to see it when it premieres. I am both excited and fearful of this new series and I genuinely hope it is something that carries on the Trek Legacy.
Star Trek is and for ever will be a major part of my life, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with several of the actors from the various seasons and even have had the privilege to help create officially licensed clothing over the years. I love this franchise and look forward to where it may go, both good and…not so good.
Thank you for reading, Live Long and Prosper
Late To The Game 9/16/17