September 10, 2012
Last week marked the 46th anniversary of Star Trek. That short-lived series spawned an entire culture, but for me, Star Trek was about more that cool ships, ham and cheese, and cool effects.
Star Trek taught me how hard heroes can fall.
It was 1996. I walked into a movie theater and saw the trailer for Star Trek: First Contact. Soon afterward, I tracked down where I could watch Next Generation and, within three years, I’d tracked down stations showing Deep Space 9, Voyager, and the original series. I rented the movies at Blockbuster and read about the making of the show, bought books on the artwork, technology, everything. I couldn’t ingest Star Trek fast enough.
As I grew up and new movies and series got off the ground, something felt off. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. As I re-watched old episodes, I didn’t feel the same excitement. Yes, I enjoyed the episodes, but there was something missing, and it was the same feeling I was getting from the newer episodes of Enterprise and the later movies like Insurrection and Nemesis.
By the time Enterprise was cancelled and Nemesis flopped, I finally figured out what it was that had bothered me for so long. Part of it, I think, was the fact that Star Trek was no longer about analogues to real-world problems or philosophy. Episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Measure of a Man,” and “In the Pale Moonlight” are classics that asked big questions about ethics, the nature of sentience, and the morality of war.
By the time Insurrection, Nemesis, and Enterprise came around, Star Trek was about Star Trek. Voyager was probably the worst offender. Every other word was made up and made sense if you knew the internal science on the show and had a complete disregard for actual physics and engineering. Characters were there to function as set pieces. The biggest slap came with Enterprise’s final episode, a supposed grand finale to the story that was really nothing more than a chance to do a B-story to a Next Generation episode.
I was crestfallen.
Don’t get me wrong. I do still love Star Trek, warts and all. My friends and I made it a game to pick out the production errors or blatantly wrong scientific terminology. I still think it made a huge impact on my love of science and speculative fiction, and I have fond memories of finding out my mother was a Trekkie in her youth, watching the redeeming 2009 movie with my now-fiancé, and the shared geekness that links me with millions of people around the world.
But Star Trek did force me to admit that even that which we love can betray us. Oh well. We’ll always have Vulcan.