50 years with Starfleet: a love letter to ‘Star Trek’
“They’re still using money. We’ll have to get some.” - Capt. James T. Kirk, “Star Trek IV—The Voyage Home”
PRESCOTT – “Star Trek” debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, just nine months after my own debut.
Since then, my life has been heavily influenced by the multiple incarnations of the show.
It began with the second episode, when my mother, who stayed at home to care for me one night while Dad worked late, grabbed me and held me tighter while watching an episode titled, “The Man Trap.” A frightening show (for the time), which fans now call, “The Incredible Salt Vampire,” she told my father all about how scary it was.
Their Thursday nights were busy, and didn’t get around to watching another episode until the next season, when they sat down on the couch, prepared to be scared silly, only to see “The Trouble with Tribbles,” about the U.S.S. Enterprise being overrun with little pink fuzzball creatures.
My dad was not impressed.
They grew to love the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, explorers of the 23rd century, as did I. At the time, I never noticed William Shatner’s hammy overacting (“Spock! You. Must. Save. TheShip!”) or how bright colors like pinks and purples splashed on the walls – remember, color TV was a new thing back then.
The show was nearly cancelled after the second season, but limped into a third season thanks to a fan letter-writing campaign. Then it was over.
I kept up my fandom through the episode novelizations (thank you, Alan Dean Foster) and books like the “Star Trek Technical Manual.” And let’s not overlook that odd little animated series, voiced by the original cast.
I was thrilled, along with millions of fans, to see the first space shuttle named “Enterprise” in 1977, then crushed to learn it would never actually fly in space.
The first movie was a disappointment when it hit the Phoenix premiere big screen, the Cine Capri theatre, two years later. I mean, how long can they spend looking out the window, no matter how cool the effects might be?
But, the second movie, “The Wrath of Khan,” now, there was a film that knew the characters and how to use them. It stands, even today, as a classic sci-fi movie. I still love it. Spock’s death scene still gets me every time.
More films came along, some not as good as others.
In 1989, “Star Trek—The Next Generation” showed up on my TV, a 24th-century version of the original series. My snobbish support of the only “real Star Trek” bubbled up. A bald English captain from France? An android? (What, Spock’s Vulcan stoicism wasn’t enough?) An empath, and a snot-nosed kid saving the ship each week? I wanted to throw Counselor Troi and Acting Ensign Crusher out an airlock, and I was not alone.
But a funny thing happened a year or two later: the new series began to grow on me. The characters and plots began to develop.
I once again fell in love, and kept watching, through the dark, brooding “Deep Space Nine” spin-off, and the “Voyager” spin-off, all the way to the “Enterprise” prequel, where the characters were forever saying to aliens, “We’re from Earth,” only to be told, “Never heard of it.”
I’ve been living with these Starfleet members, Vulcans, and Klingons, and their nemeses, Romulans, the Borg, and Cardassians, all my life. Making obscure references to the shows. Keeping my Motorola Flip-phone for too long, because it reminded me of a communicator. (“Kirk to Enterprise.”)
When Gene Roddenberry, the “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” who created this hopeful view of the future, died in 1991, I had a feeling of loss. I knew he hadn’t had direct creative control of the show in a few years, but still — he was Roddenberry. He invented my future.
I recently saw “Star Trek Beyond.” It was a fine adventure film, set in space. But change the names of the characters and the ship, and it could have been any other space opera.
Maybe the next series, “Star Trek: Discovery” can recapture the magic. I surely hope so.
I’d hate to see the franchise die before I do.