With this being the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the latest film opening tomorrow, and every episode of every series now on Netflix (The Next Generation Season 2 Episode 16, Q Who? is currently playing in another tab), I thought it time to share some thoughts on this venerable cultural institution.
I love Star Trek, and even if across all six series and thirteen movies, the quality can vary, I’ll always love the idea of Star Trek. I was always aware of the classic series and its films as a child, but I only got to watch Star Trek when The Next Generation started on TV (Saturday nights on Network 2, though I’m sure it started on Irish television later than its 1987 debut, as I wouldn’t have such a strong memory of it if I had been four when it started). Though I was always fascinated by science-fiction and fantasy, I think I as a little daunted by Star Trek as it seemed so grown-up. As a child my older brother was always more of a fan and I clung to his coattails a little: fascinated by the idea of a ship flying around space and having adventures, but also a little put off by how serious it all seemed to be. It was only in my teens that I began to really appreciate it.
I’d probably choose Deep Space Nine as the best Star Trek, for its depth of characterisation and ongoing storylines and general quality of writing, though I’ll probably always favour The Next Generation as my first Star Trek, and for its pure sci-fi nature.
Rather than ramble on about why it’s so great, I’ll throw out a few Trek-related words and what thoughts they bring to mind.
Trek: a long arduous journey. one of the things that Star Trek really conveyed clearly to me was the vastness of space. I knew on paper that it was big, but hearing characters talk about travelling for days or weeks just to get to a particular planet really brought it home to me. It was both fascinating and terrifying: in infinite space, what wonders and horrors could be waiting?
Data: initially, the android seemed simply to be Next Generation’s version of Spock: the emotionless, rational outsider who held humanity up to a mirror by questioning us and defining us by his difference. But I gradually came to realise that in his attempts to become more human, not only made us question what it means to be human, but was also unmistakably human in his desires to become more than himself, to expand beyond his programming. He embodied the old Enlightenment ideals of self-improvement and more than any individual character represented Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of humanity transcending its 20th-century limitations and always striving to evolve.
The Final Frontier: This to me is the greatest appeal of Star Trek—the spirit of exploration. At heart, it’s about finding frontiers and then exploring beyond them: sailing beyond the horizon, climbing over the next hill. That itch to discover new worlds, new lifeforms has always been the greatest draw of science-fiction for me, and the idea of being on an amazing spaceship flying around the galaxy with the express mission of exploring the unknown: how could one not fall in love with that?
50 years on, Star Trek is still going strong. Though the new films might lack the sense of exploration of the classic series, more honest Trekkers will acknowledge that same could be said of many of the older films, and the TV series have always had the time to focus on the scientific and philosophical issues the Enterprise’s exploration invited one to ponder. With a new series coming next year, hopefully a new generation of young people will be inspired to look up at the night sky and wonder just what’s out there.
Live long and prosper.