Star Trek Turns 50
Fifty years ago today, Star Trek first beamed its way onto television sets across America.
A college friend of mine, Christian Waugh, is a bigger fan than I, and sums up Trek well: “Since then, it has inspired countless astronauts, engineers, and others to boldly go where no one has gone before– to say nothing of its influence on culture and technology. Best of all, today, Star Trek reminds us that the human adventure is just beginning.”
I could write thousands of words on the wonders of Trek. Indeed, my first extensive foray into short stories when I was younger was into thinly veiled (but more original than most) Trek fan fiction. I might even revisit the concept behind those stories in my projects for next year. I loved Trek, especially TNG and especially the one Trek movie that was also a political thriller, The Undiscovered Country. I read a lot of the books, and even went to see William Shatner speak at my college once. And yes, I collected the action figures and the starships. When my mom passed away, I found out she had kept my model of the Enterprise-E when I left it behind in my move to DC.
I loved Star Trek. It was optimistic, inclusive, and even when it was full of silly technobabble it tried hard to sound believable. It explored what it means to be human, and the challenges inherent in extending equal rights to everyone. And in 45 minutes, it gave the nerds in all of us plenty to be happy about it. Except in those episodes with the annoying Ferengi.
Sure, after 700+ hours, its formula had gotten stale. Taking a starship of similar shape and flying into “unchartered” shape was getting too familiar and attempts to deviate from the premise fell flat. The last of the original movies, a TNG-era one, was controversial and stupid at the same time (a rapidly aging Romulan version of a Picard clone building a superweapon and takes out Data). And the prequel show, despite some stand-out individual episodes, while airing during the dark hours of a post-9/11 world, it couldn’t find the right balance and so alienated the fan base and the casual viewing audience.
But as the reboot movies have shown, the audience wants to root for Trek. It loves those characters, that optimistic future. It just wants to be entertained by them, and not bogged down by a fandom or a canon that is too self-important for its own good. I think the reboots did a great job of reminding us of what we liked in Trek while making it accessible to others. Sure, something that required more thinking would be nice, but maybe the recently announced streaming show Star Trek Discovery can go there in this brave new era of serialized shows made for binge-watching. At the very least, we could avoid the clip shows and bottle episodes of earlier eras.
I did not become a sci-fi fan due to Trek. (I think I have a furry melmacian friend with a literal appetite for felines to thank for that.) However, its message of infinite diversity in infinite combinations (IDIC) continues to strike a chord with me to this day, and influences much of what I believe in and advocate for in all that I do.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Star Trek. Let’s hope the franchises continues for 50 more, or at least to when we make First Contact, whichever comes first.