Star Trek at Fifty

 

Star Trek at Fifty

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Happy 50th anniversary, Star Trek!

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

My first memories of Star Trek are spending mornings with my parents on weekends watching back-to-back reruns of the original series and Lost in Space. They must have known that they had a fan on their hands when I asked my dad one day if we could construct the Enterprise out of Legos. We didn’t watch much of The Next Generation in first-run syndication, but we watched every one of the movies with the original crew at every possible chance, and I caught up later after Star Trek: Generations and my good friend Ryan McCarthy rekindled my passion for the franchise in the mid to late 1990s. After that, it was almost appointment watching for each series and film.

There was a rough time in my fandom in the era around the end of Star Trek: Enterprise and the debut of the JJ Abrams films, which I credit to a wave of “true fan” negativity that spread virally through the internet. With the resurrection of the franchise under Abrams, I was able to overcome my conflicted emotions and determine that it really didn’t matter what other fans thought. I realized that my fandom is mine alone, and my passions cannot be helmed by the fickle attitudes of the internet.

I often used Star Trek quotes in my essays for school and college, and I patterned my writing style off of the authors I read as I grew up, including so many in the continuing voyages.

Star Trek truly helped form me into the person I am today.

 

My favorite series is Deep Space Nine, followed by The Next Generation and Voyager in a close second. I truly believe that Voyager gets a lot of undeserved flack for its seven-year run. It had a lot of problems, especially in the strict adherence to the Trek writing formula, but it also returned to the core of the franchise in exploring the unknown. I wanted more conflict between the Starfleet and Maquis crews, and I wanted Voyager to be less pristine after all of the conflicts. They made a big deal out of conserving power and replicator rations, but the ship was nearly always flawless. I always point to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica as an example of what I expected, but with a much lighter story.

Deep Space Nine was unique because it turned the tables on the Trek formula in exploring the human condition by bringing the galaxy’s diversity to the characters. I loved the explorations of faith and religion, as well as the link to faith-based conflict and the American fascination with war. My single contention with DS9 is how the Bajoran story was left unresolved: Instead of ending the series with Bajor finally being admitted to the Federation, the show ends with the resolution of the Dominion War, which was not part of the overall premise.

My least favorite series is Enterprise, mostly because of the chaotic mess that it was. In an added moment of truth, I have yet to sit down and watch the entire animated series.

My top films are The Voyage Home, The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, and Star Trek Beyond. My least favorites are The Final Frontier, Into Darkness, and Nemesis. Between those poles, the order shifts around substantially. The Motion Picture does the most amount of moving because it’s a beautiful picture and among the most Trek of the franchise, but it’s also very slow and deliberate. It is very much a Robert Wise film.

My favorite captain is Sisko because I see a lot of myself in him. He’s emotional and conflicted, but he’s also willing to go against the Starfleet bureaucracy to get things done. Picard and Janeway are close seconds.

My favorite characters are the Prime Universe Spock and Data, though the Kelvin Universe version of McCoy is rapidly climbing the ranks to join them. I admit that Spock and Data have suffered a bit in my eyes with their latter appearances. Without a doubt, my least favorite character is Voyager‘s Kes because of the sheer amount of untapped potential and wasted story in that character. She could have been so much more.

My favorite ships are the Defiant and the Enterprise-D.

I also have two favorite Star Trek podcasts. The first is Women at Warp, which is a podcast that explores the Trek universe from a woman’s point of view. It has helped me to see many aspects of the franchise from a different point of view, and they are always respectful and thoughtful with their analyses. The second is Mission Log, which is an excellent episode-by-episode review of the franchise with some additional supplemental material from the Roddenberry archive. One of my favorite elements of this show is producer Rod Roddenberry’s journey as he comes to terms with his father’s legacy.

 

I am very excited for the future of the franchise, including the greenlit fourth Kelvin Universe film, and I am happy to see the return of Trek to television with the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. The future is bright, and it has the potential to inspire future generations as it helped inspire me.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the casts and crews, authors and artists, game studios, and my friends and family for keeping this ship flying for fifty years. May she continue to boldly go for many more.

 

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Best Day of Television

A meme has been making the rounds on Facebook about getting children into nature, claiming that kids “don’t remember their best day of television.” Thankfully, many of the people in my geeky circles have torn it apart with their best life-changing television memories.

Photo originally posted by the Children & Nature Network page on Facebook
Photo originally posted by the
Children & Nature Network Facebook page

 

Mine was May 23, 1994. The episode was “All Good Things…”, the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was the first time I had ever seen a television show do what is now considered a proper wrap-up of story lines from the series, and it still ranks up there with “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” from M*A*S*H as one of my favorites farewells in television history.

While the Children & Nature Network has a point in unplugging kids and getting them into the world around them – I spent a great deal of time in nature and away from tech in my youth over many years working on my Eagle Scout award and as a volunteer Trail Patrol member at Antelope Island State Park – this meme easily glosses over the effect that good television has on people. Good stories, regardless of medium, transport your imagination away from the burdens of reality and allow you to dream and hope, and fosters creativity.

Yes, even kids can understand the burdens of the real world and create imaginative wonders to solve them. Anecdotally, I know a successful filmmaker and writer who escaped abuse at home through the wonders of Star Wars. A more concrete example is the duo of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the high school teens who created Superman to battle the social injustices of the 1930s.

My love of speculative fiction stems from being introduced to Star Trek and Lost in Space by my father, and the plethora of action, adventure, and science fiction that dominated the 1980s television landscape. My imagination is still fueled by those memories to this day.

In the end, kids will remember their best days so long as those days are spent seeking their bliss. The trick is finding out what fuels their passions while guiding them into the world at large. All things in moderation.

 

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

It’s difficult to fathom right now, but a legend is truly gone.

Leonard Nimoy, icon of the stage and screen, has died at the age of 83.

Similar to most fans of his work, I knew him best as the stoic Mr. Spock in the Star Trek franchise. In that role, Nimoy portrayed a half-human, half-Vulcan science officer who was (supposedly) devoid of emotions and driven purely by logic. Ironically, he was the lens through which the show could analyze the human condition. His character acted in concert and counterbalance with McCoy’s emotion and Kirk’s authority, and became an Aristotelian trifecta by embodying logos, punctuated by pathos and the ethos of expertise and (later) command. Spock was perhaps the most well-rounded and defined character in the franchise.

Mr. Spock helped me in my youth as a role model for my awkwardness and gracelessness in social situations. Spock was an outsider among the Enterprise crew, but was well-respected for being an expert in his field and was also a valued friend. He was my favorite original crew member.

Of course, Mr. Nimoy was more than Spock. Beyond Star Trek, he was an accomplished actor, both on screen and stage as well as off screen with his fantastic and easily recognizable voice. He also was a director, producer, writer, singer, poet, and photographer.

I had the chance to see him on a panel at Dragon*Con, and his candor and humor was admirable. He sparred quite well with William Shatner on that stage, and his passion for life was palpable.

He was a quick wit, a true artist, and a kind soul.

It’s easy to say that he will be missed. It’s hard to quantify just how much.

 

Spock Chair

Shelving the Star Wars Expanded Universe Makes Sense

I’ve been thinking about the recent shake-up in the Star Wars expanded universe, and it’s taken me some time to really sort out my thoughts both in relation to my emotions and good business sense. I agree with the decision, and believe that it makes sense to do it.

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Darth Maul and the Hollowness of Death

Entertainment Weekly recently posted an exclusive video that announced the return of Darth Maul to the Star Wars universe.  For those who either missed or refused to watch the prequels, Maul was a Sith Lord—the same kind of baddie as Darth Vader—who used a double-bladed lightsaber.  His first on-screen appearance was in The Phantom Menace in 1999.

In that film, a three-way lightsaber duel ended with Qui-Gon Jinn impaled through the chest and Darth Maul toppling into a deep shaft, deftly cleft in twain by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Last January, viewers of the cartoon series Star Wars: The Clone Wars were introduced to Maul’s brother Savage Oppress (pronounced in typical Star Wars ­style as sah-VAHJ OH-press), who was a proposed apprentice to help Count Dooku overthrow his master and take control of the Dark Side of the Force.  At the end of that trilogy of episodes, viewers were told that Darth Maul was out there in the incredibly vague somewhere in the galaxy, and Oppress had to go find him.

So, apparently this means that Darth Maul does indeed live and, by some miracle, survived being cut in half by a lightsaber and falling several stories.  Insert exasperated sigh here.

Supervising director Dave Filoni told Entertainment Weekly that it makes sense in terms of Star Wars lore:

Fans will note that there is precedent for this kind of resurrection. “The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural,” Darth Sidious says in Revenge of the Sith. Sidious and his master found a way to use the Force to cheat death—that’s how he was able to keep Vader alive after that little swan dive into a lava field. Couldn’t Maul have picked up on some of that too? Says Filoni, “He’s suffered through a lot to keep himself alive and implemented the training of his master to do so.”

There’s also significant financial interest for Lucasfilm in this move.  The episode(s) pertaining to Darth Maul will be aired in early 2012, and, by a cosmic coincidence I’m sure, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3-D is premiering February 10, 2012.  It goes without saying that I’m annoyed by publicity stunts written into entertainment to drive interest in a related property.  Anyone else remember the martial arts episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Tsunkatse”?  WWE Wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a guest star, and both WWE and Voyager were on UPN.

This entire mess—and yes, I’m calling it a mess—brings Star Wars into the realm of pointless character resurrections to drive sales.  It also revives the eternal frustrations I have with Star Wars fandom.  Since Maul was by far one of the coolest and most bad-ass characters in the prequel trilogy, the news that he would return to the franchise was understandably received with fan praise.  At the same time, others started to look at how this affects the overall quality of the franchise and aired their opinions.  In response to critical fans, some blogs, including Star Wars Underworld, questioned the “fandom” of people with differing opinions.  While I appreciate a discussion on how they plan to resurrect a character and do it well, it’s certainly not the first time that the Star Wars social media sphere has played the card of questioning how someone can be a fan of something while being critical: the hosts of The ForceCast did it numerous times before I stopped listening to the podcast back in May.

While other subsets of science-fiction and fantasy fandom can somewhat easily accept both positive and negative criticism toward the franchise of their choice, some Star Wars fans tend to follow the line of reasoning that if “you’re not with with us, you’re against us.”  It’s all fun and games until you disagree with Uncle George and refuse to drink the blue milk, and I’ve already seen backlash from refusing to buy the Star Wars Blu-Rays and my decision not to support the 3-D re-releases.  Having intelligent discussions about the positives and negatives of a franchise is one thing, but I cannot support attacking each other for having differing opinions.

The bigger problem I have with this is an issue that has plagued comic book franchises for decades, and that is in the pointless death and resurrection of characters.  In real life, religious beliefs aside, death is pretty permanent.  In storytelling, death is a result of failure, the completion of a heroic journey, or the motivation to start that journey.  In a smaller subset, that death results in a significant change of character dynamics—such as regenerations in Doctor Who, or the evolution of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—but those deaths still carry the impact of the end of a journey and how it affects the characters around them.

Simply put, to reverse a death negates that impact and cheapens the victory for the winners.

In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul’s death marked two important character changes:  First, it displayed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s maturity and readiness to be promoted from apprentice to Jedi Knight; second, it marked the beginnings of Anakin’s destined path.  The death of Darth Maul was a very important turning point for the Jedi themselves, as they discover that the Sith had indeed returned.

While I look forward to finding out how Filoni and company accomplish this feat, I am very skeptical about the Star Wars franchise as a whole at this point.  If Filoni proves me wrong and does this well, I will be quite amazed.  On the other hand, if this turns into yet another cheap comic book return—Superman wasn’t dead, after all, he was just resting—to sell tickets to yet another release of the Star Wars movies, then I’m done with The Clone Wars.  I have supported the show since it was announced, but for me, it would be that damaging, and since George Lucas has final approval on the show, the blame would lie solely with him.

Come 2012, we shall see.

Star Wars Fandom and The ForceCast

The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.

The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.

That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.

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