Happy 50th birthday, Star Trek! Yes, it was indeed a half a century ago today that Gene Roddenberry’s seminal sci-fi television series would beam down to viewers’ TV sets to change the genre for ever, and birth one of the biggest, most fanatical fandoms in history. The original series, which followed the spacebound exploits of the crew of starship USS Enterprise as they so famously boldly went where nobody had gone before, initially ran for 3 seasons from 1966 to 1699.
However, Capt. James T. Kirk, science officer Spock, medic Bones and that rest of the gang found themselves up against an unbeatable enemy: Ratings. Despite desparate efforts to keep the show on the air – including Roddenberry resigning as showrunner in protest, slashing its production budget, and petitions and campaigns by the show’s startup fanbase – Star Trek was cancelled by NBC after 79 episodes. However, when the show’s broadcast syndication rights were bought by Paramount, the studio started airing reruns in over 150 domestic and 60 international markets in an effort to recoup costs. Not only did it recoup costs, but it turned the show into a worldwide cult hit much larger than when it first aired.
This renewed interest led to the franchise being revived as the short-lived but popular Star Trek: The Animated Series, and after its 22-episode run concluded, Paramount begin developing a new TV series called Phase II. But when Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind proved to be a huge hit, Paramount reconfigured the plans to instead go theatrical, morphing the pilot episode of Phase II into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Although not as commercially or critically successful as Paramount would have liked, it did well enough to warrant a sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The movie would become a gigantic smash hit.
With Star Trek fervour at an all time high, Paramount would go on to produce six more feature films, and revive the franchise on TV with Star Trek Generations, Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. When Enterprise ended its run after 3 seasons in 2005, befalling the same flagging ratings fate as its original progenitor, it would be the first time since the franchise’s inception four decades earlier that some Star Trek wasn’t being broadcast somewhere in the world.
That all changed in 2009 though when Paramount tapped director JJ Abrams to revitalize the franchise, who thanks to some clever writing regarding time travel and alternate timelines, was able to give us a young and hip new take on the concept that could stand alongside the original without negating it. Abrams’ Star Trek would spawn two feature film sequels in Star Trek Into Darkness and the recently released (and rather very good) Star Trek Beyond. On top of that, CBS will soon be going back to the franchise’s TV roots with Star Trek: Discovery, a brand new prequel series set in the originals show’s timeline.
So yes, it is once again a very good time to be a Star Trek fan. Not that there was ever a reason to not be, as Star Trek has left a gargantuan impact on our culture. This has come in the form of inspiring technological design, launching a mammoth merchandising empire, helping to popularize fan conventions and geek culture, and even spearheading societal progression with its approach to multiracial casting (the kiss between the white Capt. Kirk and black Uhura is one of the earliest cases of a multiracial kiss seen on American network TV).
And in all the time it’s been around, through a total of 725 TV series episodes and 1517 minutes of feature films (not to mention the countless literary tie-ins), it has spawned a deluge of highlights. And since all of us here at TheMovies.co.za have found ourselves as a fan of this incredible series as some point in time, we thought we would share some our favourite moments with you.
Mine is actually a little soppy. You know how you hear people talk about going to your “Happy Place”? Well, my happy place is the happiest memory I have, one that happened nearly three decades ago. The school holidays had just recently begun promising seemingly endless adventure possibilities. We had had absolutely perfect weather that day, prompting my friends and I to get up to all kinds of outdoor antics. And with an apricot sunset as the backdrop, my dad was braaing sausage and frying up onions to make my favourite boerewors rolls, while my mother was in the kitchen preparing my favourite dessert of jelly and custard.
And as my last game of street soccer drew to a close, the warmth of the day still hanging in the air at dusk, my usually tyrannical older brother called me to me with surprising friendliness. The season 3 finale of Star Trek: The New Generation was just about to start. I hadn’t really been following the series, what with not even being 9 years old at the time, but my brother thought I would like it. I still don’t know to this day why he recommended it to me, or even why he was so uncharacteristically nice, but I’m eternally grateful that he was.
It was my first real exposure to a full episode of Star Trek, but as I sat there watching Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew go head to head with the seemingly unstoppable Borg, resulting in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger ending as Picard was assimilated into the Borg’s cybernetic ranks, forcing Commander Riker to open fire on the Borg ship and his own beloved Captain, I instantly knew it would not be my last. It was simply put, the perfect end to a perfect day, one that has been crystallized in my memory, and which I will cherish for as long as I will live.
I don’t classify myself as a Trekkie by any means, but my family gathering around the TV every Friday night to watch The Next Generation together was a big part of my childhood. Next Gen is my Star Trek, and it drove me to the cinema when the Picard and co. movies were released. However, in terms of other powerful Star Trek moments, I’m going to give a shout-out to something I encountered before Next Gen: the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. You know, the time travel one, set on 80s Earth, with whales?
The Voyage Home gets a mention from me because of how accessible it was. I didn’t connect with science fiction – and Star Trek – for the longest time. It just felt like clinical, obviously fake sets and starry sky backdrops. I didn’t feel anything, no matter how frequently actors flung themselves around the bridge during supposedly high-stakes space battles. However, The Voyage Home showed me an alternative. Sci-fi could be warm, and fun, and relatable. The movie let this little girl into the franchise in much the way the inclusion of Ewoks did in Return of the Jedi. It’s the Star Trek that first showed me the vastness of science fiction possibilities – that ordinary people and the present still have a place. And I value that.
I’ve always been a Star Wars fan more than Star Trek, but I grew up loving the Star Trek: The Next Generation series and enjoyed the host of characters and their weekly adventures, which always portrayed the vast scale of the universe better than Star Wars did. Captain Picard will always be my favourite star-fleet commander as a result.
I got into the movies much later and so was a little slow in getting to know Captain James Kirk and Spock and the legendary dynamics of their friendship. However, I still remember watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a teenager and although the film was quite old already, it left me captivated. It was the first time that I really felt there is a chance the good guys might not be able to make it out of this one. Khan remains the best Star Trek villain of the entire franchise for me and although I’ve enjoyed the many iterations of the show and films since, I’m still waiting for that next big Star Trek villain to grace our presence.
The best description for Star Trek was, ironically, a Star Wars one I read many years ago in a Privateer review. The reason why Privateer is cooler than Wing Commander, said the reviewer, is because everyone wants to be Han Solo and not Luke Skywalker. Everyone wants to be the cool guys exploring the universe and getting up to crazy stuff.
Star Trek’s buttoned-up military personnel (and let’s be honest, the human portion of the Federation is basically a military socialist government) may not be all that crazy, but they sure find a lot of crazy stuff. To beat Star Trek, you need to cite something like Lexx, Dr. Who or the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. No stone is left unturned in the Star Trek universe – and to its credit, Star Trek remained almost pure science fiction.
I have too many cool things to list about this franchise, so I’d rather just note the three low points: Neelix, the unbelievably annoying chef from Voyager; that the Klingons still have not been the major villains in the new line of films; and the title song from Enterprise. I f***ing hate that song and how it besmirched Scott Bakula’s brief moment in a world that sorely needed him.
So what are your favourite Star Trek memories?
Last Updated: September 8, 2016