To Trek In Wonder

enterprise-dIt’s a fiftieth anniversary of going to places where no one has gone before.

The Star Trek franchise, or at least the best parts of it, are praised for taking science fiction and using it as a means to tell good stories. All of the series, and maybe even a movie or two, touch on issues that humans (and other thinking beings) wrestle with. Beings and issues are transported into a recognizable future. When the writing and acting is good, viewers can place themselves in the story, imagine the setting and the conflict, and wonder, “What would I do, if I were in their boots?”

I hear the newest Star Trek tv show will take place about ten years before James Kirk got his command of the Enterprise–and eight years or so after Captain Pike encountered the Talosians. Mistake, I think.

Star Trek gets praised for the principle of IDIC, infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Mixed race crews, favorable portrayal of most aliens are hallmarks. Praise is certainly deserved there, though a lot of media looks like Star Trek these days. My sense is that the people who run Star Trek today don’t have a big grasp on the infinite.

Tackling important issues is also done a lot of tv. A lot of people forget that a lot of other television in the late 60s and 70s was also into “relevance.” The Enterprise flew in the same fleet as detective, hospital, and law shows–even a number of sit-coms.

Various writers have complained about Gene Roddenberry’s various directives. Harlan Ellison was bothered that he couldn’t write drug dealers into the Enterprise. But he still penned a fabulous episode. Non-interference, a preference for settling disputes without violence, etc.: these are not obstacles, but merely a spur for a writer’s creativity.

I found myself reflecting on the various output of Star Trek over fifty years. The original show may have been eclipsed in some ways by better acting (Next Generation), amazing special effects (the recent movies), and a consistently high standard of writing (DS9). But it still lands very high in our tribal Trek memory because of one thing: wonder.

It was a wonder to jump ahead three centuries in 1966 and explore a galaxy opened up for twentieth-century humanoids. It was against a wonder to jump ahead eighty-some years for a new Enterprise in 1987. There is a reason these two shows stand out for most fans, and why the other tv spinoffs did not do as well. Least well-received was the most recent series named for the ship. While the story of the founding of the UFP and the voyages of the first Enterprise are interesting enough, they don’t exactly inspire wonder in the way that going to the future does.

I hope I’m wrong (because I’d like to see a really excellent Star Trek on tv) but I suspect that the new series will come off as a mediocre sibling to the others. Why? Because it–and the creators–can’t get past the 24th century.

I suspect that people will still be making Star Trek media fifty years from now. The next ground-breaking show–if there will be one–will set itself beyond the “known” eras of the 2200s-2300s. Obviously, the current braintrust of Star Trek thinks otherwise. And maybe there are enough fans who do too.

Call me a complainer (“Are we there yet?!”), but I just want to go where no one has gone before.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to To Trek In Wonder

  1. Liam says:

    I am not sure if I saw the original series when it first aired. I started kindergarten 50 years ago yesterday, and my bedtime was too early. Maybe by its last season, I was seeing it live. Certainly as soon as it went into original reruns.

    But I vividly remember the sense of the time: the continued blossoming of the amazing space program (the peak experience of which for me was getting to see the original lunar module for Apollo 11 a few months before the lunar landing, for my father was an engineer who worked on the design of the radio-antennae-communications systems for the module). It’s so hard to capture what that felt like then. As well as the sense that we might, just might, be beginning to resolve some old debts that were far past overdue on the domestic front; that turned out to be premature, of course.

  2. Atheist Max says:

    I love Star Trek – especially the original series – and I agree with you; wonder!
    My favorite episodes were mind blowing at the time: “Miri”, “Charlie X”, “Squire of Gothos” and the totally bizarre “Spectre of the Gun” where they relive the shootout at the Ok Corral.

    A great example of how something entirely fictional can inspire people to envision and build a better future.

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