Star Trek opens May 17. Okay, say it with me: Star Trek opens May 17. Have you ever heard anything so wonderful?
By Mary O’Keefe
“Star Trek Into Darkness” is the second in the new J.J. Abrams series of films. But before there was Chris Pine’s Capt. James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock there was an amazing television series that lasted three years and has been changing lives ever since.
“Star Trek,” the original series, began in 1966 and was canceled in 1969. Producers first asked Gene Roddenberry, a veteran television writer, to come up with a program similar to the then-popular “Wagon Train” series. “Star Trek” was to be Wagon Train to the Stars, however no one thought at the time how far reaching this series would be.
Science fiction writing is about looking into the past, examining the present and projecting that vision into a future world. “Star Trek” was developed at a time when the country was in turmoil over Vietnam, and sex, drugs and rock and roll were the battle cry against “the establishment.” It was a tough time for the country, but what a great time to write science fiction.
“Star Trek” took all of that social anxiety, threw it into the future and tried to teach the audience what would happen if they did not change its path. Granted, these stories were mixed in with rather, well, let’s call it unusual, storylines – “Spock’s Brain” may not have been social commentary, but it was science fiction.
The original “Star Trek” was historic. There were different races, even species, being treated as equals. Women, although still wearing a mini-dress, were given jobs of responsibility. And behind the scenes, a woman writer, Dorothy (DC) Fontana, was smashing that “women can’t write science fiction” glass ceiling.
All of the above writing is the justification most of us, Trekkers and Trekkies, cite when we are caught by non-Trekkers with our phaser keychain or wearing our Vulcan ears to a convention. Over the years, we have been made fun of and mocked, even by those we love most – William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk) on “Saturday Night Live” screaming at pretend Trekkers/Trekkies to “get a life.” Or the book “I Am Not Spock” by, well, Spock (Leonard Nimoy). But despite all of the “beam me up” jokes, Trekkers/Trekkies have continued to grow and stayed loyal.
It’s amazing that after 47 years, “Star Trek” is still going strong and the fan base is still intact. The new films with the beloved characters are now being played by a new generation of actors, and the franchise continues. These storylines, the 2009 “Star Trek” and the soon to be released, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” are quite different from the original series. Budgets are huge, special effects and make-up replace the guy in a reptile suit, yet it is still the same somehow. This comes down to Gene Roddenberry and his writers and actors of the original series.
The characters that were created were solid. There was no doubt what Capt. Kirk would do if put in a specific situation. It doesn’t matter how young or old he is, his character foundation is so strong the audience knows him. They know all of the “Star Trek” family, those shipmates on an eternal “five-year mission.”
The fun part about the new films is learning how these characters became the ones we know, and love. Like watching old videos of relatives when they were younger, these movies make us smile at the origins of their character quirks and empathize with the suffering and the losses that shaped their lives.
So when you go on May 17 to see “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and as you wait for the film to begin, think about the history of how this film got to the big screen. The term “standing on the shoulders of giants” has never fit better.