Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek's 50th Anniversary




Space...the final frontier...
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise
It's five year mission...to explore strange new worlds...to seek out new life and new civilizations...to boldly go where no man has gone before...

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a science fiction classic.

Arguably the science fiction classic in many eyes. I'll let all of you fight that one out.

On this day in 1966, Star Trek first premiered.

Geez, I don't even know where to start with something this big. I don't think it's any exaggeration to say I wouldn't be doing this blog without Star Trek. Sure, Star Wars is the grandaddy of all geek things to me as it opened up the door to science fiction, but Star Trek has a very close second place in my heart. You see, right around when I saw the Lucas extravaganza, I started watching the original Star Trek series as well as its animated counterpart. This prompted me to at times turn my bedroom into the starship Enterprise. How old was I? Oh this was last week.

I kid, I kid.

Maybe.

But yeah, my rickety little kid's desk would serve as Sulu's control panel, augmented of course by a few sheets of cardboard colored with crayon buttons and dials. I ran a plastic Fisher-Price car up and down the desk surface to act as the transporter "slider" mechanism. My parents later bought me one of those...I don't even know how to describe them but they were everywhere in the 1970s...plastic utility belts. It came with a communicator, a tricorder, and a phaser that shot little disks that probably drove my mother up a wall. Small price to pay for safely equipping me to beam down to strange, alien worlds. Read: the back yard.

Of course there was a whole line of Star Trek dolls from Mego. They had the whole cast plus alien adversaries as well as bridge and transporter playsets. I didn't have any of them as a kid as my toy needs were focused on the other Star line, but you'll be relieved to know that I have the reissues of the Kirk and Spock dolls. They sit in my office now, placed next to my Planet of the Apes figures. I used to imagine a crossover but someone has already beaten me to it.

Man, I give up. When wasn't Star Trek part of my life?

Then there are the movies. I saw the Motion Picture in 1979 and hated it. I was far too young to appreciate its intricate premise and storyline at that time. I saw Wrath of Khan in 1982 and loved it. It was sad in places of course, but I think this is where I began to get that sneaking admiration of the acting style of William "The Shat" Shatner, not to mention Ricardo Montalban. I saw Search for Spock and while once disgruntled at the destruction of the Enterprise, I now wish the film was a documentary.

I think right around then marked when I'd religiously watch the Original Series on reruns Saturday afternoons. That lasted for at least four years or so, serving as a balm and constant companion through the hell of the teenage years and the phalanx of antagonistic peers. By that point, I began to see the "holy trinity" of the main characters as representative of a fully formed human. When taken in total, that is. You had Spock, the alien who might have been the most human character of all the cast, demonstrating the value of calm, logic, and the capacity to reason. There was McCoy, the "country doctor" who sometimes looked out of place on the show, but embodying the fire of human passion and serving as a moral compass. Then of course there was Kirk, the swagger and the bravado to make both those men come together and jump into action when needed. Wish I had his leadership skills. In fact, I so often wanted to emulate each of these men's characteristics.

In case you're wondering, yeah, I did go to conventions. I once even modified a blue shirt I had to look like Spock's Starfleet uniform. Found the ears for it and everything.

Think that's pathetic? Oh it gets worse. You see, this was before The Next Generation and all of the ensuing spinoff series (that appeared to decrease in quality with each iteration, but that's neither here nor there.) If you wanted new stories of your favorite franchise, you had two options: paperback novels or comic books. I chose both. Then I took it one (or maybe five) steps geekier. When we finally got a VCR and I could record the rerun episodes, I'd hold my boom box to the TV and get an audio recording of the show on cassette. I used to make my parents play the cassettes in the car when we went on vacation road trips. I called it an experience in "theater of the mind." My family and I still crack jokes about it to this day.

Maybe that's what it means. It becomes so much bigger than a TV show. When things like this come along...books, bands, movies, or whatever...when they become part of you. When they are companionable, then that's when you've got something really special. That's the best way I can put it without lapsing into the usual cliches of "they took me to other planets, they showed a world of peace and racial equality." All of that is true and accurate of course, but it's nothing you haven't heard before and I feel like I'd just be dog piling at that point.

It might be even more than that too. You see when we find these things like Star Trek, they also become vehicles for us. They take us to other people, people we often end up sharing our lives with in one way or another. This was true in a way with my friend George and it sure as hell was true with my friend Brad (oh the times he and I would rewind episodes just to cackle at "he's dead, Jim.") That's when fandom or "geekdom" is at its best, right? We find these other people who love the same things, we share it, and we develop bonds that eventually transcend what brought us together in the first place.

Thank you, Star Trek. My life would be a lonelier place without you. Live long and prosper.


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