The future came calling 50 years ago today when Star Trek premiered.
I was hooked from the start even though I missed a lot of the episodes when they originally aired. See, the weekly show time regularly conflicted with our Scout troop meeting (was this perhaps the beginning of the end of my interest in Scouts? hmmm…).
Anyway, the voyages of the Starship Enterprise offered us fans a glimpse into possibilities. Sure, there were other science fiction shows — The Time Tunnel, Journey to the Bottom of the Sea — but only Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Captain Kirk, along with Spock, Bones, and Uhura, took us unflinchingly into a future full of promise on their 5-year mission “to explore new worlds…” etc. etc. You know the bit.
Alas, it was not to be. Two seasons in, the network cancelled the show. A third season came about strictly through the force of fan will power and a letter-writing campaign, but that seemed to be the final call for our explorations of the final frontier.
The future ended in 1969.
Relegated to syndicated re-runs, Star Trek’s future quickly became part of our cultural past. I can remember watching some of those original episodes on my roommate’s 10′ black & white TV as a freshman in my dorm room in 1972-73. Since I, like many other fans, had missed multiple episodes during the initial run, some of the re-runs were new to me. In fact, for awhile, some people started to believe they were secretly shooting new episodes and sneaking them into rotation.
Rumors of a revived series or a movie bounced around for years, but it took the success of Star Wars to convince the studio to fund a big-budget big-screen return to the future. Finally, the Enterprise and its crew would be back. I remember driving about a half-dozen people from the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds to go see Star Trek: The Motion Picture at a theater in a Houston shopping mall — talk about trans-dimensional travel!
Well, okay, that first movie was, um, well, underwhelming. Sure, the special effects were whiz-bang and all that, but as someone finally grumbled on our drive back out to the festival grounds in the woods, “That wasn’t even as good as some of the old episodes.”
“It was one of the old episodes — the one with Nomad, the imperfection-killing robot, remember?” grunts and nods all around as Coop continued, “It wasn’t even as good as the original version of that episode, though.”
Thank goodness, the second movie restored our faith in the franchise. We came to accept the bad with the good as they delivered a series of movies with the original cast/crew. I loved all of the movies, some more than others.
But it was the return to television with Star Trek: The Next Generation that sent me over the moon, out of this world, and back to the future. The update and shift in emphasis fit the contemporary times just right, with a more urbane Captain Picard well-versed in diplomacy as well as the arts of interstellar warfare. Once again, we could “boldly go” on a weekly basis.
Confession: I never really got into either Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Not sure why but just neither of them ever really struck the right chord.
On the other hand, we thoroughly enjoyed Enterprise, despite the intense dislike so many other Trekkies voiced about that series. In particular, I loved the way they sought to fill in back story for the entire Federation history — hated to see that series end.
Along the way, we enjoyed the TNG-era movies as they came along, from Generations to First Contact to Nemesis. And we love the newest “re-boots” as well — well, not so much that second one, but Star Trek: Beyond brought back that old Enterprise-crew energy.
And now they say there’s another Star Trek TV show on the way.
The future ain’t what it used to be — it’s better!