By Seth Kushner
I have a confession to make. One I’ve never revealed to anyone ever. I am not a life-long Star Trek fan. My love goes back only twenty-five of my thirty-eight years. As a child I hated Star Trek.
I hated Star Trek.
The original Star Trek series, the one that ran for 79 episodes between 1966 and 1969, played in syndication throughout my childhood on WPIX Channel 11 here in New York. I remember watching it occasionally on weekend afternoons but as a child raised on Star Wars, fast paced and action packed, the slower Trek seemed boring and slow with antiquated special effects. I guess I had the same problem the network had when it originally aired—it was too “cerebral.”
I can remember being at the home of my parent’s friends one weekend when I was about six seven, and the episode I later came to know as “Amok Time” was playing on the 19” tube set in the living room, while we children played. My attention was captured a when the Pon Far induced Spoke fought Captain Kirk on Vulcan, but once the fight was over, my attention wavered until months or maybe even years later when I caught the episode, “The Arena” where Kirk fought the Gorn. I was a boy and I liked seeing the fights, but little else interested me.
In 1979, my father took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture at a local movie theater. Making an assumption from the advertising, my father promised it would be more like Star Wars. He was wrong. Sure, the effects were bigger and grander, but the dull, monochrome, sterile sets and costumes, the plodding run-time and heady narrative were all off-putting to me, (and to many).
Who needed Star Trek? In the following years I had The Empire Strikes Back, Superman 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark—all movies a kid could love and all more exciting than Star Trek.
Then it was 1982 and a new Star Trek film was being advertised. Two things were working in its favor. 1) I was older, now eight years old, still craving action and but by then, also enjoying stories. 2) The TV commercials showed space battles, explosions, and an old enemy craving revenge. It looked exciting!
The week before the release of the new Trek film, Channel 11 aired the episode “Space Seed” during primetime, advertising it as a “must-see” before the film. I’d never seen it before and buying into the hype, I watched it and it engaged me. It was the best Trek episode I’d seen and Ricardo Montalban’s Khan was a great villain and it whetted my appetite for the new film.
In Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Nicholas Myer and Harv Bennett replaced everything that didn’t work about the previous film and produced a Trek I (and many others) could get behind. Gone was the bland production design and cold story. In their place were sets, blood-red uniforms, and lots of action, seeded around characters and situations the audience cared about. This new Trek, a “Horatio Hornblower in space” injected more personality and depth into these familiar characters than they ever had previously. And, the death of Spock (long before interned spoilers) was a shocker and made me care more about the character than ever before.
I liked Star Trek 2 and the original series episode with Khan, but I still wasn’t a fan, a “Trekkie”, or a “Trekker.” I went on to enjoy the resurrection of Mr. Spock in Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock in 1984, and the save-the-whales story of Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home in 1986, though the contemporary setting and light tone rubbed me the wrong way. The original series continued to air in regular syndication, and I continued to not watch it.
In the spring of 1987 I started reading about a new upcoming Trek television show, Star Trek: The Next Generation in my favorite Sci-Fi magazine, Starlog. In the days before the Internet, we were forced to read about our favorite things in monthly magazines, rather than on daily blogs. Any bit of news was huge. News about the new Trek show was huge.
That summer, Channel 11 was airing the original series every weeknight at midnight and excited for the new show, I started watching the old show, in order, every night. I was 13, going on 14, more than old enough to appreciate the original series on an intellectual level. I was mature enough to understand Gene Roddenberry’s socially conscience vision of the future, one where people of all races would put aside their differences and work together to better mankind. I fell in love with all of the characters, especially the trinity of the three leads. Kirk’s bravado, Spock’s inner conflict and McCoy’s humanity all captured my imagination. Of course, Trek had a supporting crew, but Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekhov – all icons – but they were never really given much of a chance to develop in the series.
The summer between the end of junior high and the beginning of high school was all about Star Trek for me. I bought a copy of The Star Trek Compendium from the local mall’s bookstore. I read the synopsis and author Allan Asherman’s thoughtful analyses of every episode as I watched them, studying it as a rabbinical student would the Torah. I crammed twenty years into one summer, preparing for The Next Generation that fall.
I entered high school a full-blooded Star Trek fan, still watching the original series, as well as The Next Generation in weekly syndication and loving it, though in retrospect, that first season was pretty bad. I was a shy, skinny kid; hormones exploding (literally) through my pores and it was Star Trek that helped me find my life-long friend.
I remember the exact moment we met. It was in 9th grade global history class and I was sitting in the back talking to another kid about the previous night’s Next Generation episode. Martin, tall and skinny kid in a Slayer t-shirt and black leather motorcycle jacket, turned around, looked at me and said, “You like Star Trek too?” And, so was born a 23 year (and counting) friendship.
Martin and I attended out first Star Trek convention during the summer between 9th and 10th grade. We took the D train all the way from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan and it was the first time I was allowed to take the train into the city without my parents.
Two fourteen year olds arrived at the Hotel Pennsylvania, across from Penn Station and followed the crowd of “Trekkers”, (as they preferred to be referred) some wearing Vulcan ears and/or Starfleet uniforms, to an upstairs carpeted ballroom packed with dealers selling merchandise. We pushed through crowds of Klingons and Romulans and Andorians and just plain old nerds like ourselves, to sample the wares and spend our money on posters and fanzines and 8×10 glossies of actor Jonathan Frakes – Commander Will Riker – who was scheduled to sign autographs later in the day.
We sat in a big conference room where we were presented with a slideshow preview of season 2 of The Next Generation. The crowd applauded wildly as each of the characters appeared in the photos. “And, here’s Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data!” “YEAAAAAH!!!!…WOOOO-HOOOOO!!!!!…WHISTLE, WHISTLE!!!!…”
We watched as a guy dressed as a Ferengi auctioned Star Trek Paraphernalia. I won a model of the Starship Enterprise D for the same amount of money it would have cost to purchase at the dealer’s room or from the local Toys R’ Us, but that didn’t matter because I was part of something.
During the presentation of the original series “Blooper Reel” we got the impression of the crowd being almost a sort of a cult, because many seemed to be screaming out Captain Kirk’s flubbed lines as he said them. They’d seen these bloopers before. Many times. And, since there was no Youtube back then, (the concept alone would have sounded like something right out of Trek) that meant they had to have watched it in person as cons. Like I said, many times.
Martin and I waited in line for over an hour for Jonathan Frakes to sign our glossy photos. We overheard several conversations from fans complaining about the Next Generation, which was odd since they were standing in a line waiting for an autograph from one of it’s stars. They said things like, “It [the show] doesn’t even follow proper story structure for a television show,” and “They needed to introduce three characters – Data, Worf & Troi – in an attempt to include the character qualities of one Spock.” They were haters. The original series was their Star Trek and I didn’t understand because I loved all Star Trek, but my secret was that I was new to it, so perhaps my opinion was checkered?
Martin and I went to many, many Trek Cons (as we called them) over the next few years. We got to see our heroes like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and pretty much all of the casts, in person. These events allowed us to connect to the things we loved, feeling fortunate knowing not everyone’s interests afford him or her this opportunity.
We never dressed up in costumes, and always had the attitude that we were somehow less geeky than most of the fans (though we probably weren’t) but we continued to line up for autographs and buy posters and videos and books and all sorts of crap.
The running joke Martin and I had involved the character of Q, the omnipotent trickster who constantly tested Captain Picard and the crew of the new Enterprise. During every Q&A with anyone from the cast or crew of The Next Generation, someone (a different someone every time) would put his hand up and ask in all seriousness-
“Is Q coming back this season?”
Q was clearly a recurring character and he made an appearance every season during the show’s seven season run, sometimes more than once, and this dolt was asking if he was coming back. Yes, Q’s coming back! Martin and I would literally wait, giddy with anticipation, to see how long it would take for someone to ask, and it usually wasn’t long at all. Then, when the inevitable moment arrived, we could barely contain ourselves.
To this day, Martin and I agree the summer of 1990 was the longest of our lives because of The Next Generation’s season cliffhanger involving Captain Picard being assimilated by the malevolent Borg into Locutus, a robotic weapon to be used against Starfleet. The episode ended with Commander Riker, now in command of the Enterprise, about to fire upon the Borg Cube ship, which would kill Captain Picard, in order to save the earth. The tension built, then “To be continued.” Arghhhh!
Martin and I continued to bond over Star Trek. We saw Kirk and the crew meet “God” in Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier and we were equally disappointed. We went to see the Glasnost-themed Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country, Trek 2′s Nicholas Myer’s return to the series, and we loved it, seeing it six times in the theater!
By this point in time, I was in college and had a girlfriend and happily she was a Star Trek fan and we watched the end of The Next Generation’s run together, but it was Martin I called to discuss the details of “All Good Things”, the final episode, where Q did indeed return.
My friend and I shared our disappointment with the missed opportunity time-crossed meeting of Captains Kirk and Picard that was Star Trek: Generations, but we were equally thrilled when the series returned with the exciting and emotionally charged Star Trek: First Contact, where the Next Generation crew officially took over the film series and battled the fearsome Borg.
Martin had moved across the country to San Francisco but we always found time to discuss the plotlines of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, the darkest and most serialized of the Treks, centered around Trek’s first African American Captain, Benjamin Sisko, and his assignment at a sort of space station version of Casabalaca. Its involving and multi-layered arches, and huge cast of colorful and flawed characters captured our adult imaginations. Star Trek was growing up with us.
Star Trek: Voyager and Captain Janeway’s mission to get her ship and crew home from an uncharted part of the galaxy, was up and down for me but Martin loved it and I agreed its best episodes were strong.
By the time Star Trek: Enterprise premiered, I was in my late 20s and the show, limited by it being a prequel, failed to capture much of an audience and though Martin dropped it early on, I stayed with it and was rewarded with a very solid final season, where the producers retooled the show with creative success, but it was too late. The fans stayed away and the Enterprise was dry-docked. That coupled with the failure both creatively and commercially of the films Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis meant one thing–
Star Trek was dead.
And, it stayed dead for several years. My attention moved on to new things like the Battlestar Galactica revamp, created by Ron Moore, formerly a Star Trek writer/producer. Freed from the constraints of Star Trek and what it represented, Moore let lose with a dark tale of genocide fused with topical allegory and compelling, flawed characters.
I was married with an infant son when Trek returned to my life with the film, Star Trek, (no subtitle necessary) helmed by J.J. Abrams. Star Trek had given us a sequels, spin-offs, and prequels, but this new film was a remake of the original series, with new actors portraying our beloved Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest. Reading about it during production, I was dubious but hopeful.
I’ll always remember being at that first Trek Con, with my mullet and pimples, and listening to those older fans complain about The Next Generation, and I was determined to remain open-minded and not turn into them.
Martin and I, now in our mid-30s, hit the first showing of Star Trek on the morning of opening day. We were excited, based upon the trailers, but cautious. What we experienced that day I describe as “the ultimate summer movie of our time,” and I mean that in the most positive way. Hollywood summer movies, over-hyped, big, loud and dumb, so often disappoint, but Abram’s Trek delivered the goods. The film was fun, and smart, and engaging, and fun, and exciting, and most of all, it was FUN.
Star Trek managed to be fresh and original, while also injecting just the right amount of nostalgia. The film’s production design harkened back to the original 60s series taking the retro-futurism into a silver, lens-flared Apple-esq aesthetic.
Abrams cleverly restarted the franchise while remaining respectful of what had come before. Leonard Nimoy’s Spock beautifully handed over the keys to the Enterprise to Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Chris Pine’s brash Kirk 2.0 and we loved it.
Martin and I knew from the emotionally charged and thrilling opening scene that Star Trek was back. George Kirk pilots a starship into the hull of an enemy ship, on a suicide mission to save the lives of his escaping crew, including his wife, who was in labor with his son, Jim Kirk. Having just witnessed my own son being born, I was in near tears over Kirk’s dad hearing his baby boy being born over the com, while sacrificing himself. Powerful stuff courtesy of J.J. Abrams.
My friend and I are still Trek fans. Martin, newly married and in the army was recently training in the Mojave Dessert in preparation for his upcoming tour-of-duty in Afghanistan, and I hadn’t heard from him in several weeks when I received the following text-
“Benicio Del Toro offered Khan role on Trek 2 allegedly.”
I’ll always remember what Martin and I wrote in each others high school yearbooks. Quoting Kirk and Spock during the Vulcan’s death scene in Trek 2:
“I have been and always shall be your friend.”
Martin leaves for Afghanistan soon, but we will always be two friends, bonded by Star Trek for nearly a quarter century and I still haven’t shared my secret with him. There was a time when I hated Star Trek, but that was a long time ago.
The photos used to illustrate this article were taken at a particular Star Trek Convention at Hofstra University in 2001.