I was ten years old and channel surfing, or possibly I’d just finished a movie. But somehow I came across a certain program. There were people in uniforms of different colours and some very detailed prosthetics and a large alien monster. I tuned in about halfway through the show, but managed to figure out that the uniformed crew was stranded on a hostile planet after their enemies stole their spaceship. A very big and impressive spaceship.
I stayed around to see how it ends. Having recently discovered Star Wars, I was on the lookout for anything with spaceships and aliens in it. And this caught me at the right moment.
What I was watching was the third season premiere of a television show called Star Trek: Voyager. My first adventure to “the final frontier”.
As I watched, I was struck by how this starship (let’s get our terminology adjusted to the appropriate universe) was meant to be the crew’s home. It was a kind of world unto itself; a mobile world that visited others in a wide and wondrous galaxy; a world that seemed adventurous and thrilling and…cool. I wanted to have transporters and replicators and go to strange, new places. In the era of cheap home videos and syndicated reruns, it didn’t take long before I was semi-conversant in every aspect of Trek lore, though it would be awhile before I got to see every episode. The franchise was celebrating it’s thirtieth anniversary and there was a lot to catch up on.
Now it’s the fiftieth anniversary, and while things took a break for a few years, Star Trek has gradually reemerged with a modern aesthetic courtesy of J.J. Abrams. Soon a sixth series — Star Trek: Discovery — will enter the era of cheap digital streaming.
A lot of years have passed since I was ten, but I haven’t gotten any less of a geek. George Lucas’ space opera may have opened the gateway, but Star Trek introduced me to the vast possibilities of science fiction and only led to me both reading and watching more of it. The series is still dear to me. You never forget your first love.
So you can’t expect me to let a milestone like this pass unremarked, or uncelebrated. But as I came to write this post about why I love Star Trek, I made an unsettling discovery: I don’t know exactly why. Unlike many I’ve never connected with its secular humanist philosophy. Military dramas (and Starfleet can sometimes look very military, though it has a different purpose) often leave me cold. Is it really just the entertainment? The simple pleasure of cool ships, crazy aliens, and space battles? The obsessive delight in studying in-universe trivia? And is there anything wrong with that?
I’ve realized that exploring the answer to that question will take time…and more space than one blog post can provide. There’s a lot of Star Trek, after all, and it now spreads over five decades. At the beginning of this year I started the herculean but enjoyable task of watching everything there is, from the very first episode of the Original Series to the present.
So instead of one massive retrospective, I’ll slowly unfold my favourite episodes from each of the five currently-existing shows and numerous movies. Ten seems like a popular number to aim for in such lists, not to mention that it’s how old I was back on that September evening. That should give me ample room to discover just what motivates this passion for worlds that never existed and people that were never born. 50 years. 50 stories.
Since I’m still working my way through watching it all, I need a chance to actually see things again before writing about them. Don’t expect these lists to appear weekly or perhaps even regularly, but they will be done by the end of the year. Just in time for us all to launch on another interstellar adventure with some new friends on a new ship.
Here’s to another 50 years of boldly going where no one has gone before…