Thursday, September 8, 2011

45 Years of STAR TREK's Final Frontier

Forty-five years ago today, the vision of one Eugene Wesley "Gene" Roddenberry debuted on NBC and the world of science fiction was never the same again.

I was introduced to the world of Star Trek at some point in 1973 when Star Trek: The Animated Series was launched shortly after the final episode of the original series aired on June 3, 1969, just 13 days before I was born.  Despite the poor Filmation animation, the cartoon grabbed my attention like you wouldn't believe, encouraging my parents to buy me Mego action figures, board games, books, whatever Star Trek stuff I managed to find.  The animated series naturally guided me to watch reruns of the original live-action series, often with my Dad, and the two of us formed this mutual love of science fiction from that point on.  There wasn't much he and I had in common during my childhood years, but Star Trek was one of those rare things we shared together and I'll always be grateful for that.

When Star Trek arrived in movie form in December of 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it started to breathe new life into my fondness for all things Trek, but it wasn't until Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 that fondness kicked into overdrive.  DC Comics launched their first Star Trek series in 1984 with a stellar cover by George Pérez.  This comic kept my interest going month after month, working in the feature films Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home  into its comics continuity as they were released.  These comics also introduced me to a writer named Peter David, who quickly became one of my favorites and has written some of the best Star Trek novels (and regular novel novels) ever.

In 1987, the game changed completely with the now-classic Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series.  Like many fans, I was a bit guarded about there being an entirely new cast of characters instead of Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty, but glad that Star Trek was airing in a new weekly syndicated series.  Thankfully, it didn't take long for Captain Picard, Riker, Data and Worf to win me over and one of my highlights of my freshman year at Kent State University was driving home to visit my parents just about every weekend and watching Next Gen.

The next several years were a great time for Star Trek fans.  Next Gen ran for seven seasons with mostly decent episodes with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country giving two last big screen adventures with the original cast.  By this time, my family and I had moved down to Florida, where I graduated college, and then moved back to Ohio after realizing the mistake we'd made.  I started work at a restaurant equipment parts and service company and settled into my new life in Columbus.  Things were changing and Star Trek kept changing right along with them.

In 1993, the third Star Trek series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine debuted as the premature repalcement for Next Gen as a TV series.  My future wife (and fellow Trek afficionado) Lori and I were introduced to this third cast of characters, but unlike Next Gen's first two uneven seasons, DS9 seemed to clicking from the start and steadily crafted the most consistently entertaining Star Trek series to date.  As Next Gen graduated to feature films with Star Trek: Generations, Deep Space Nine kept things rolling wonderfully week after week.

And then, Star Trek (or more specifically, Paramount Studios) got greedy.  In 1995, they launched a fourth TV series, Star Trek: Voyager, as the main draw for their new would-be television network, UPN.  This series was helmed by Roddenberry's successor Rick Berman and former Next Gen writer Brannon Braga and quickly became the first nail in Star Trek's coffin.  With only a few characters of any real substance, Voyager  floundered for a few seasons while the Next Gen cast thankfully had Star Trek: First Contact, easily the best film of their series.

After Lori and I moved in together and married in 1997, we continued watching both DS9 and Voyager every week.  Mercifully, Voyager picked up somewhat with the addition of Seven of Nine later that year, but we were soon let down by another nail in Star Trek's coffin, the bland TV episode-like film Star Trek: InsurrectionThe only salvation for Trek fans at this point was DS9, which ramped up its Dominion War storyline and rocketed a solid finale for the series in 1999.

The year was also personally significant because it was also when my first professional short story, "Doctors Three," was published in Pocket Books' Star Trek: Strange New Worlds II anthology.  At long last, I was able to contribute my own tiny piece to Star Trek mythos, chronicling the events of what happened when 144-year-old Dr. Leonard McCoy, my all-time favorite Trek character, learned about Dr. Lewis Zimmerman's creation of the Emergency Medical Hologram and the plan to let said EMH treat human beings aboard Federation starships.  Needless to say, it was a pretty nice feeling seeing my story sitting alongside all those Star Trek books I'd enjoyed over the years and I can only hope to someday have another Star Trek tale published somewhere down the line.

In 2001, Paramount tried one more time to keep the franchise going.  Star Trek: Voyager ended its seven-year odyssey with an anticlimactic finale and was replaced in the fall on UPN with the fifth Star Trek TV series Enterprise, an attempt to recapture the "Where no man has gone before" spirit of the original series.  This prequel (also created by Berman and Braga) was intended to explain the foundation of the Federation of Planets, but failed to live up to the potential shown in its pilot episode.

The temporarily fatal blow to the film franchise was delivered the following year with Star Trek: Nemesis, the final film to feature the Next Gen cast.  Once again, Berman produced another lifeless Star Trek movie that was intended to be similar to The Wrath of Khan in tone, right down to killing off the popular character Data, but it was doomed by a poor John Logan screenplay.  Meanwhile, Enterprise limped along on television, rebranding itself as Star Trek: Enterprise at the start of its third season in some weak attempt to reclaim its fanbase.  Despite the overall improvement of the episodes in terms of quality, many Trek fans felt they had enough and Enterprise was unceremoniously cancelled on May 13, 2005 after four seasons.

Star Trek was dead, Jim.  Or so it seemed.

Berman and Braga were rightfully kicked to the curb and in 2007, filming began on a brand-new film, simply titled Star Trek, that would reboot the entire franchise by featuring the original Trek characters once again in their prime, played by a younger, all-new cast.  Older, close-minded fans quickly and predictably unloaded their hate onto the internets, decrying the move while their open-minded opponents realized that this brash move was Star Trek's last, best hope for survival. 

The film was given to Alias, Lost and Fringe creator J.J. Abrams to direct and even with the excessive amount of lens flares, he and his cast of upstarts manged to craft something that appealed to an entirely new generation of Star Trek fans and hauled in over $385 million in box office during 2009, the best ever for a Star Trek filmLori and I absolutely loved the movie by the way, as did my parents, and I found it very reassuring and comforting that I was still able to share Star Trek with my father after all this time.

And now, we wait and wait for a second film with the new cast, hopefully for 2013, while another television series set after Voyager is supposedly being prepared to be pitched to Paramount by David Foster of 1947 Entertainment.  Things could fall apart at some point, of course, but with the huge success of the 2009 relaunch, they're not going to stay apart for very long.  Star Trek is here to stay and it seems the human adventure, the one that's taken forty-five years, really is just beginning.

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