Star Trek: its 50 year mission…to boldly keep on going
September 8, 1966: the first episode of Star Trek debuted.
It’s now fifty years later…and the Trek universe is still a major part of pop culture, with a movie this year and a new series in the works.
I thought I’d share my own perspective…I go back a long ways on this. 🙂
I actually remember watching part of one episode when it was first aired. I was on my parents’ bed, and the TV was sort of stuck in a closet, where you opened the doors to be able to watch it. I don’t remember which episode it was, but I must have been being allowed to stay up late to watch it.
The series was almost canceled, but Bjo Trimble and her husband launched a fan campaign to keep it on the air. They used the tech available…encouraging a letter mailing campaign, not just to the studio and the network, but importantly, to the sponsors.
Star Trek got that third season.
Now, fans (or “fen”, if you want to use the fannish plural) generally consider the third season to be the worst…”third season” has even been a dismissive assessment of something. “How was that movie?” “It was so third season.”
Without that third season, though, there wouldn’t have been enough episodes for the show to be syndicated…and that could have been the end of the story.
This was all pre-home video…
While most syndicated shows had more episodes, it didn’t hurt that maybe we were seeing them a tad more often. The show would run five days a week…and if possible, we’d watch every one. Once we would get into the third season, I remember calculating how long it would be before it would start over. That’s not to say that the third season is entirely without its charms, but the early shows were better for me.
It was during this time that I, and many of my age, became deeply immersed in Gene Roddenberry’s vision. It was when, as a bumper sticker of the day had it, that I learned to “grok Spock”. Spock would become one of my fictional heroes (along with Doc Savage and Kwai Chang Caine). All three of these had things in common: other people saw them as “super”, but they all personally thought they were failures. They all valued emotional control. They all wanted to help others, but were always perceived as outsiders.
Spock, especially, exemplified this internal inferiority/external extraordinariness concept. Spock was, objectively, better than his crewmates in many ways. He was physically stronger, intellectually advanced…but felt himself to be weak, flawed, and unable to meet his father’s expectations.
Spock, though wasn’t as good as Spock plus Kirk…and McCoy was essential as the third point in the triangle.
We embraced all the characters (even “bad guys”, like Harry Mudd), and the tech, and the settings. We had Star Trek “tracer guns”, which fired small plastic discs. We read the Mad Magazine “Star Blecch” parody in 1967 (which was reprinted).
In 1970, Spock Must Die! by James Blish was published…and started a phenomenon of original Star Trek novels (not adaptations of episodes) which is still happening today.
By 1972, the first Star Trek convention was held. There had been fan conventions for decades, but this one was dedicated to this one series.
The success of syndication brought us the first follow on series: Star Trek: The Animated Series, starting in 1973.
It was great to hear almost all of the bridge crew back voicing their roles (only Walter Koenig didn’t make it as Chekov…although he would write a script for the series).
Quite a few of the elements of the original series returned…includes tribbles and yes, Harry Mudd.
It didn’t have the same feel for me, though. I particularly remember the music being intrusive.
Fan culture was big…there were fanzines, in particular, and fan clubs.
1977’s Star Wars suddenly made science fiction mainstream in a whole new way. Naturally, Star Trek, which already had a thriving fandom, made sense for a big screen adaptation.
Once again, the original bridge crew was reassambled…but the movie was, for many of us, disappointing. Some of it was so slow! In my area, rumor had it that Paramount allowed a local film student to re-cut it…for one thing, reducing the amount of time that we just were supposed to stare in awe as the Enterprise was onscreen. It retrospect, that almost certainly wasn’t true, but it was a widespread belief.
Fortunately, in 1982, Nicholas Meyer saved us (and the future of the series), with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Sure, it was almost operatic…but Ricardo Montalban was so good reprising a one-time role from the series! It had great moments, and many of us still reference the Kobayashi Maru. Okay, so Saavik never really became a fan favorite, but it was still a great movie.
Star Trek III simply wasn’t as good. Star Trek IV, though, the one with the whales, was fun! This created the mythology that every other Star Trek movie was going to be good. 🙂
1987 brought a new phase, with first live action follow on TV series, and it didn’t focus on the original characters…Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I wasn’t a big fan of the first season. I remember thinking that the way they solved things was by researching what the original crew did.
It grew on me. Picard and Data are iconic, and Q and the Borg were excellent additions to the universe.
From there on, we got more series and more movies. I’d say a standout for me was Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway (I was already familiar with Mulgrew), although Voyager wasn’t my favorite series.
When Star Trek was rebooted…I was pleased. I think Zachary Quinto is a charismatic and intelligent actor, and Chris Pine is always fun. It seems to me to be much more about action than thought, though, which takes it away from the core strength of The Original Series.
In particular, there seems to no moral ambiguity. The Federation was certainly imperfect, and so were the main characters. Kirk and Spock in TOS could be in the wrong…and could realize it.’
The 2016 Spock seems way too confident…he would not have become my hero in the way that the 1966 Spock did.
That doesn’t diminish my relationship to the Star Trek universe. For decades, it has been important to me and to the geekiverse…and society as a whole.
Thank you to Gene Roddenberry and to every single person involved in making Star Trek what it has been and what it will be.
Live long and prosper.
For links to many Star Trek resources, including searching for streaming options and public libraries, see the entry at The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip for September 8, 1966.
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