Those three words conjure up the Star Trek series, which has proven resilient, being reinvented, spun off and emulated for 47 years. The last two films, directed by J.J. Abrams, have taken the Star Trek lore into a brave new direction, giving the well-loved characters and the existing history of the original series and the first six films, a new cast and timeline. Wisely, they have incorporated story elements that have been successfully interwoven in the Star Trek history before, such as battling a powerful, intelligent enemy who is seeking revenge, dealing with the loss of loved ones, and laying one’s life down for another or the entire crew.
When the series first aired in 1966, I remember thinking that it was cowboys in space. It didn’t interest me at the time. Perhaps I was too young to really appreciate it. However, it wasn’t long before it captured my interest. The compelling stories, while having all the action of a good western, also pose timeless questions such as:
- What does it means to be human?
- Will we let our baser nature rule us?
- Is logic better than emotion?
- How do we choose to treat others?
- Would we choose self-sacrifice to save our friend or crew?
- Is it right to infringe on another culture’s development?
- When do you cross the line from diplomacy to violence?
Recently, I had the chance to view an old sci-fi movie, which seems to foreshadow Star Trek, called Queen of Outer Space (1958), starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eric Fleming. I was astonished to see a similar storyline and many of the same design elements in the costuming, scenery, and even the outline of the Star Trek insignia in the film made eight years before the first series. The storyline involves astronauts traveling to Venus, where they find it to be inhabited solely by beautiful women.
I don’t know whether this film influenced Gene Roddenberry or, faced with a small budget, he reused costumes and scenery already in existence. Or perhaps he hoped to draw on an existing sci-fi fan-base by making the series look and feel familiar. Regardless, I found it surprising, as I thought all these years that Star Trek was entirely an original Roddenberry brain child. In literature, when a work is shaped by a prior work it’s called intertextuality, and I think it’s safe to say Queen of Outer Space influenced Star Trek. Any Star Trek fan would find it worth watching just for the “Hey! Look at that!” moments.
Star Trek (2009) is a prequel to the original series, which creates a new timeline for the crew of the Enterprise. The film introduces Chris Pine as James Tiberius Kirk and Zachery Quinto as Mr. Spock. The new storyline pits a Romulan nemesis named Nero (brilliantly portrayed by Eric Bana) from the future, out to avenge the destruction of Romulus and the death of his wife. Nero lays the blame for Romulus’ destruction at the feet of Amabassador Spock, reprised by Leonard Nimoy, who was supposed to intercede by preventing a star from going supernova. Traveling back in time through what appears to be a lightening storm in space, Nero alters the timeline by attacking the USS Kelvin, which results in the death of Kirk’s father just moments after Kirk’s birth. During a 25-year delay, Nero waits for Spock to appear and forces both future and current Spock to watch the destruction of Vulcan and experience the death of Spock’s mother. In a battle of wills, Kirk and Spock must outwit Nero before he can destroy Earth and the entire Federation.
Pine and Quinto bravely take on the classic Star Trek roles originally portrayed by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and they do a marvelous job creating conflict, tension and ultimately close bonds. Pine brings the reckless bravado of Kirk alive, as well as contrasting nuances of humility, and Quinto balances the stoicism and logic of Spock with surprising new emotional elements. Kudos to the casting department for the excellent job of selecting the actors to reprise the iconic roles, which include:
- Keith Urban: the grousing Dr. McCoy, AKA Bones.
- Zoe Saldana: the sexy and linguistically adept Uhura.
- Simon Pegg: the miracle working Mr. Scott.
- John Cho: the sword-wielding Sulu, who may have the makings of a captain.
- Anton Yelchin: the young, bright and eager Mr. Chekov.
Kudos also to the writers, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and a nod to original series creator, Gene Roddenberry, for the action packed, yet often humorous, script and for playing with the characters and timeline in such an imaginative way.
The latest film, Into Darkness (2013), brazenly reworks the original storyline involving Khan. A genetically engineered man of superior intellect, he has been revived from 300 years of suspended animation to assist Star Fleet in developing weapons for a future war with the Klingons. Khan has other plans involving awakening his 72-member crew from their deep sleep and destroying the Federation who holds them captive. Not knowing who to trust in the Federation, to what lengths will Kirk go to save his crew and the Enterprise?
In the original series and second film, The Wrath of Khan, Khan was masterfully played by Ricardo Montalban. In this film, he is chillingly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock).
Forty-seven years and counting, and this Star Trek fan is still engaged and eager to find out where the crew of the Enterprise will boldly go next . . .
The Small Screen
- The Original Series (1966–1969)
- The Next Generation (1987–1994)
- Deep Space Nine (1993–1999)
- Voyager (1995–2001)
- Enterprise (2001–2005)
- The Motion Picture (1979)
- The Wrath of Khan (1982)
- The Search for Spock (1984)
- The Voyage Home (1986)
- The Final Frontier (1989)
- The Undiscovered Country (1991)
- Generations (1994)
- First Contact (1996)
- Insurrection (1998)
- Nemesis (2002)
- Star Trek (2009)
- Into Darkness (2013)
The first original Star Trek novel was Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds. It was published by Whitman Books in 1968. Since then, hundreds of Star Trek novels by various authors have been written. I have not read any to date, so I cannot comment on them.
- Queen of Outer Space (1958)