50 years ago, Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his crew first sailed onto screens in what may possibly be the most famous starship of all time: The Enterprise. Behind them, the loyal crew of the show’s pioneering creator Gene Roddenberry watched with bated breath to see if their show would fall or fly. After two years of being marketed as a “space western” in an effort to sell in a time where the Wild West was a much more marketable frontier than the Final Frontier of space, Roddenberry was a man with an agenda. Beneath the talk of space cowboys and fancy technology was a show with a beating heart; Roddenberry’s dream to present a better future for humanity through equality, opportunity and diversity.

Looking into the future... (Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry)

Looking into the future… (Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry)

To the crew’s dismay, Star Trek’s first pilot, “The Cage” wasn’t successful. Starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, the show was judged too “cerebral”. But like the plucky heroes that Trek would soon become known for, Roddenberry wasn’t defeated. The executives were so interested in the show that a second pilot was commissioned, an almost unheard of event. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” introduced the face of the Captain that would make history, and on September 8th 1996, the first regular episode (“The Man Trap”) was aired. While reviews were certainly mixed, the basis of Star Trek was solidified in the philosophies weaved throughout its story and the beloved characters that permeated it. With a multi-racial cast and many of TV’s firsts (the most famous of which being the apparent first inter-racial kiss on TV), Roddenberry crafted a future of hope, never afraid to question some of societies biggest questions.

The show was once again saved during its second season, after the fan base petitioned to save the how from cancellation. The show hit its stride, bringing us some of the most iconic episodes on television. Inanimate balls of purring fur don’t seem like the makings of one of the finest episodes of sci-fi ever, but it was all the more proof that Star Trek didn’t need much.

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Like all fine pieces of television, the script, the attention and the craftsmanship that made it worth the watch. The true stroke of genius came from the decision to emphasise a central triumvirate in Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Often at odds as the Heart, Head and Soul of the ship, Star Trek demonstrated with ease its uncanny understanding of its audience.

the-triumvirate

However, even the fan base wasn’t enough to protect it when the axe swung once again in the show’s third season and Star Trek disappeared from the screen, presumably forever.

Yet, in autumn of 1969, the show, with its undeniable tenacity, breathed again after extensive re-runs by Paramount Studios and the show’s fan base multiplied exponentially. Conventions started cropping up worldwide and the words were on everyone’s lips: When is the next season? An animated series was already being aired but when Paramount Television Service collapsed, the little known live-action Star Trek: Phase II series was scrapped and a whole new approach was announced: Star Trek was headed to the big screen.

With Star Wars dominating at the box office, it was, as First Officer Spock would comment, the logical option. Space movies were pulling in numbers and Star Wars proved that politically influenced narratives could attract the right kind of audience and so in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture warped into cinemas. Admittedly, The Motion Picture is the movie that most people have trouble describing to friends. It doesn’t have the epic tragedies of the critically acclaimed Wrath of Khan (perhaps one of Trek’s greatest triumphs), nor does it have the absurdity of some of the original crew’s weirder outings such as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (space whales anyone?). With a rocky pace and some of Shatner’s more cringe-worthy moments of over-acting, The Motion Picture could have been a flop, but it had enough charming features to warrant a redeeming sequel.

No caption necessary!

No caption necessary!

Wrath of Khan screamed into cinema history (KHAAAAAN!) and allowed four more movies to be created and, to many Trekkie’s delight, the follow-up series The Next Generation. TNG is perhaps Trek’s crowning glory. The characters, while still idealistic and, at times, too allegorical for even the most die-hard of fans, captivated audiences with a mix of fun, drama and cerebral questing that Star Trek was always meant for. It also introduced some of the show’s most notorious adversaries, such as the mischievous Q and the (frankly brilliant) Borg. The question of Patrick Stewart’s place as the best captain will always be hotly debated, but in any case, he led a cast of lovable characters who paved the way for 3 subsequent series: Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. After Roddenberry’s death in 1991, the continuation of the series  appeared impossible but his dream never died and in 1995, DS9 aired for the first time.

DS9 found its place among the stars in its controversially darker turn. While many criticised its darkness, the light of optimism is never far in the show (unlike the Battlestar Galactica remake just a few years later) and its serial nature allowed for a more immersive experience, with some of the most interesting characters to date (Is anyone going to argue that Garak is one of the finest characters yet to grace the show?). It wasn’t perfect but it was a shake-up for the franchise and proof that it could withstand a new feel and a life without Roddenberry.

 

The show continued to give us a diverse cast, including its new captains

The show continued to give us a diverse cast, including its new captains

While the two remaining series, Voyager (1998) and Enterprise (2001) weren’t as critically or publicly popular, the show never wavered in its beliefs. From Janeway’s strong female presence to Enterprise’s explanations as to the origins of Trek’s most integral moral dilemmas, the show maintained its heart, keeping its head high even as it was eventually cancelled in 2005. It was this heart that differentiates it from so many other sci-fi offerings. An avid fan base, still as strong (if not stronger) today as it ever was, continually maintains information points such as Memory Alpha, runs Starfleet (one of the largest fan clubs ever) and produces fan movies and shows.

True to form, fan interest once again sparked a revival and in 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted the series in a set of prequels (Rewrites? Alternate timeline? By this point we’re not sure) that generated two movies that, for the most part, lived true to the Star Trek name.

Wait… there were three movies? Into- what now? 09, Beyond and… what was that in the back? Explain that to me again… No no, I think you’re describing Wrath of Khan, we already did that one, remember?

reboot-cast

With Star Trek: Discovery on the horizon (led by the very trustworthy Bryan Fuller, who has served on both DS9 and Voyager previously), the franchise isn’t slowing with age. Fresh as ever, it’s clear that Roddenberry’s world still captivates us. Maybe it’s the space that still fuels our imagination, or the aliens and their futuristic worlds, but underneath it all, Star Trek is a show about humanity. It’s the humanity within Roddenberry’s vision that still draw millions of fans a year to conventions, premieres and fan events.

For many of us, Roddenberry’s faith in humanity feels personal: He believed in us, the viewers, and in their ability to be the best they could be. Not the perfect human (to him, this was neither possible nor desirable), but the most human and most good that one could be. If everyone strived for the betterment of themselves and humanity, Roddenberry’s future would be very near indeed. As a species we continually need hope; and this is why Star Trek may never die. As a story of the human adventure and every time we hold our heads high against the struggles of what the future may hold, Star Trek continues to Boldy Go before us and lead us into the future.

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