Welcome to the first entry in “Where Every Geek Has Gone Before”, an oncoming series of articles centered on my progression through the Star Trek franchise. In this entry, I’ll be detailing my limited history with the property and establishing what I plan to do as I… well, ‘trek’ through further entries in the franchise.
I grew up a Star Wars geek. As a kid, my love for sci-fi mostly centered around Jedi, wookies and space rouges. My earliest memories of geek anticipation were for The Phantom Menace back during my early elementary school days… and my first geek disappointments were soon to follow once the prequels lost their early charm as I entered my teenage years. Point being, I was a huge Star Wars dork, but I never really was into Star Trek. I was always aware of Trek in the way that anyone who’s somewhat aware of pop culture is. I knew of the pointy earned Spock, the overdramatic Kirk, the grumpy Dr. McCoy, the “engaging” Picard, the robotic Data, the dude from Reading Rainbow who wore that visor, etc. All of them had popped up in my pop culture rear view mirror at some point, whether it be on a t-shirt at a convention, in animated parody form on TV shows like Futurama or even in strange fan fiction that I had unfortunately come across during random Google searches. Yet, I never really gave Trek the time of day and, in retrospect, I understand why.
As I was growing up, Star Trek really wasn’t front and center in the culture. Sure, it had its place, but that place wasn’t in the hearts and minds of the youth. During my younger years, the only real presence Star Trek had was Star Trek: Enterprise, or as I liked to call it, the show that I saw ads for while watching The Simpsons in syndication on UPN. Plus, on the rare occasions I had seen glimpses of The Original Series or The Next Generation reruns on TV, I was usually bored by the slower space battles or technical jargon heavy conversations. I was raised on the action heavy and quickly paced back and forth of George Lucas. I didn’t want to hear Gene Roddenberry’s creations babble on about the “Prime Directive” or whatever it was. I wanted high energy space battles, stories of good vs. evil and light sabers cutting things in half, all of which were delivered by the timely Star Wars prequels… for better or for worse. So, when the Star Wars films became dormant in 2005, there was a lack of a sci-fi franchise that stood out. Sure, there were space themed films like Wall-E or Sunshine that broke up the monotony, but nothing that really stood out to me in terms of a thrilling sci-fi franchise that made me wonder about the stars like that earlier series of films had… until May 08, 2009.
JJ Abrams’ Star Trek has a lot of problems, most of them typical of many huge blockbusters of the time (and now, to be honest). It has a weak villain, vague science and more of a Wars vibe than a Trek one overall. Yet, I did and still do love the hell out of it. Despite all of its clear flaws, it excelled at doing what all franchise reboots should do; it put the property back in the minds of the public in a way that didn’t completely destroying the spirit of the original. In fact, I still maintain that the element that earns the film its title is what kept people glued to the original property in the first place: the ensemble cast. Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as McCoy, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, John Cho as Sulu, Zoe Saldana as Uhura and Simon Pegg as Scotty all had a lot staked against them going in from die hard Trekkies young and old, but for someone like me that had had little to no exposure to the original characters, they brand new slates to be drawn to. Everything from Kirk’s cocky attitude to Spock’s inner emotional turmoil to Chekov’s quick witted attempts to use the transporter charmed and entertained me to no end.
So, no matter how big or small, the entire cast made an impactful impression on my image of the characters, not merely as pop culture icons, but as actual human (or half Vulcan & human in Spock’s case) characters that I could relate to and want to see succeed against the intergalactic odds. Despite being young and attractive versions of these legendary pop culture icons, they still managed to feel flawed and fun in their own unique ways while at the same time keeping to the basic tenants of the characters that even non-Trekkies (like myself) knew. It obviously helped to have Leonard Nimoy present as a passing of the torch as well as a solid contrast between the older and younger generations. I can see why older Trek fans couldn’t quite get into it, but for someone seeing the franchise with fresh eyes, it was a damn fun time at the movies that gave me a hunger that needed to be satiated.
From there, I looked into watching the older films with the original cast. I had obvious heard a lot about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, so I figured that it would be a solid start for my exposure to the original cast that started it all… and boy did I figure right. Despite being released fifteen years after the start of the first television series, the film manages to catch any non-Trek fans up to speed on the character relationships just enough to be fully invested in what’s going on. The witty back and forth, themes of letting go & moving on and powerful performances from a commanding Ricardo Montalban, an aged William Shatner & the rest of the cast manage to make the film more than just both a great adaptation of Star Trek and an elaborate ship battle in space between two sworn enemies that anyone could enjoy.
All the tension is there and when Spock makes his famous sacrifice, it feels so earned because all of the actions leading up to it have been so damn emotional. The way we see people like Kirk, Spock & McCoy interact like old friends makes their struggles as the film continues all the more investing. The character arcs are developed in such a fashion that makes all the trouble and turmoil near the end worthy of the attempts at heartbreak… something the similarly themed yet FAR less impactful Star Trek: Into Darkness couldn’t clearly ascertain. Plus, on a technical level, it’s just astonishingly impressive, from it’s dynamic use of tight spaces to James Horner’s chilling score. Wrath of Khan is not just thee best of the The Original Series cast films, but one of the best sci-fi films of all time.
As I ventured through the rest of The Original Series cast films, my appreciation only grew for Trek. Even in the worst of those films (which, for the record, is still Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) still have a handful of fun moments, especially between the trio of McCoy, Kirk and Spock. Still, the films do range quite widely in terms of tone and intent, from the character driven and more lighthearted Voyage Home and Search for Spock to the more quiet & contemplative sci-fi of The Motion Picture and The Undiscovered Country. Yet, no matter the quality level or how clearly old the original cast members were getting, the characters tended to be consistent and more importantly engaging throughout all six of them. It was the perfect series of films to give me a wide spectrum of adventures to attach me to the classic Trek characters before eventually going back and watching the television series.
And that’s where this article series comes in. Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation have been gaping holes in my geek culture exposure for years, so I naturally thought that writing a series of articles about my journey through Trek would be solid reasoning for actually sitting down and watching both. The current plan is to write an article for each season of both TOS and TNG as well as a few remaining articles on the TNG cast movies. If the series proves popular enough, I may elaborate my thoughts further on the original cast films and the reboot series, perhaps even going further into Deep Space Nine and beyond, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. I also roughly plan on doing these articles about every three weeks to a month, though they may be delayed or bumped up depending on what other articles I’m writing or how busy my normal life schedule gets. So look forward to seeing Trek through a noob’s eyes, as I dip my toes into the waters of sci-fi lore that is Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.
Next time on ‘Where Every Geek Has Gone Before’, we’ll be looking at Gary Mitchell, time portals and Khan Noonien Singh himself as we dive into The Original Series Season 1.
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