To Boldly Go

Space… The final frontier… These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds… To seek out new life; new civilizations… To boldly go where no one has gone before!

I can still hear those words with the underlying theme song for Star Trek. Its opening is deeply ingrained in my psyche. I began watching it back around 1990. Catching up on the missed seasons thanks to the numerous reruns, and I watched it up until it went off the air.

I was 10-ish years old when my mom took me to the Little Professor book shop for a Star Trek fan gathering in the store. I was very excited to go meet other people who enjoyed the show, like me.

See, I was a child. I had nothing to compare against and I was convinced I was a hardcore Trekkie for the following reasons:

  • I had watched the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s run up to that point by calling dibs on the television as soon as I got home from school, enduring Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show solely because it lead directly into “Next Gen.”
  • I had seen most of, maybe, the Star Trek movies released by this point.
  • I owned two books about the fictional engineering for the ships in the Star Trek universe, specifically the Enterprise schematics and technology used in both The Original Series and Next Generation.
  • I was 10-ish years old.
These two books made me believe that the world of Star Trek was real.

Now, I feel it is fair to say that simply by owning the above two books, puts me in the bigger-than-average fan group; but I thought I was the hardest of hardcore Star Trek fan.

So, imagine my shock when I arrive at the bookstore and see a dozen adults, half of them in full uniforms. People had their own Star Trek Uniforms!?

I was the youngest attendee by probably a dozen years. And when it came time to answer trivia, I quickly realized I was out of my league with just the first trivia question was: “In what quadrant was Data’s body discovered?” I had watched the show but I had idea what the answer was. People knew these sort of trivia?! The realizations of that day did not diminish my love for Star Trek, but it certainly humbled me about what it took to be a ‘hardcore fan’ and made me question whether I actually wanted to be one.

Not that they were bad or annoying or anything negative. Everyone there was very nice to this random kid. But it showed how much more they cared and knew about the show than me. It was an important realization to find that I didn’t care about the show as much as they all did. In some ways that was freeing to realize I was “just a fan.”

When Picard and his crew went off the air in 1994, my Star Trek fandom flagged. Sure, I would watch Deep Space Nine, or reruns of the previous series when they came on, but it was no longer must-see television for me. I remember being at the grocery store and an entertainment magazine in the checkout aisle was talking about Janeway being the Voyager captain, and I tried watching the first season before my dad and I lost interest.

Actually, thinking back, I think my interest in Star Trek was very reflective on my life and mindset. I fell for the show during an age when I was socially awkward and I sought escapism. When I stopped watching, I had reached the age of being a busy kid with lots of after school activities that my parents ferried me to, or that I was tasked to help my father with his work on computers.

Since this was back during a pre-DVR era, I didn’t get a chance to regularly watch it and had to rely on reruns. Sure, dad would record shows on VHS, but those were almost always his shows and not stuff for me.

Regardless of the exact reasons, I never bonded with a Star Trek show the way I did with Next Gen. I still loved space and Sci-Fi, I did end up being a huge fan of the Battlestar Galactica series on Syfy, but each subsequent iteration of Star Trek, Voyager, Enterprise, and most recently CBS’s Discovery; never captured me in the same way.

The Star Trek I remember is about the sense of discovery. It is the utopic world where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have literally been solved and society can, free of those base needs, turn to what now becomes attainable. This is echoed by the show’s creator as well:

‘Star Trek’ was an attempt to say humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in lifeforms.

Gene Roddenberry

The Federation are an exploratory space force of planets who have attained this level of technology and capability. It also acts as a sort of United Nations for the planets, trying to ensure peace among them in the name of this greater goal.

Of course, for an entertaining show, this must be continually challenged. So, enter the Klingons, Romulans, Borg or even the demigod alien of Q. And from them many conflicts of the show took place, though each series brought in their unique villains. Next Gen took the core mission of exploration more seriously than The Original Series. Voyager was a ship that found itself thrown across space to regions not yet reached by the Federation. Deep Space 9 wasn’t about a ship, it was the space station where many of these races would come together, though ships would play a big part of it.

The fascinating evolution and reimagining of Klingons from The Original Series to Next Generation to Discovery. The image is not mine, was found online.

Most of my blog posts end up sitting as a draft for a long while and this one was no different. I began working on this post as a memorial for my friend Ben who died unexpectedly early this year but I couldn’t find the motivation nor thread to finish.

Ben loved Star Trek. We would talk about it in some way almost every time we got together. Maybe not for long periods but he would tell me episode plots and what he thought of the CBS Discovery series. We even talked about Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville and how Ben was impressed with how much it was a Star Trek show despite not being one officially.

How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

James Kirk , The Wrath of Khan

I miss those conversations, among others. Our friendship wasn’t entirely based around Star Trek. He played in my D&D campaign for a while. He loved our dog Elwood. He was a Sounders fan and season ticket holder with our group. He gave me a Game Boy Advanced and a copy of his favorite Tetris cartridge, something I still have and treasure.

But, even with all of that, at the heart of my and Ben’s relationship I find Star Trek.

Elwood and Ben sharing the couch.

Writing this is hard. This post has sat unfinished for months as I grieved and processed and found myself unable to put into words the feeling of loss which grows all the more familiar as I grow older. Over time I continued to fiddle with this post, but the impetus to finish this post came from San Diego Comic Con and the trailer, the first real look we’ve had, at the new Picard series.

I, like so many others, got excited. I loved it. It isn’t going to be a classic Star Trek show, but it features one of my favorite characters ever played by one of my favorite actors ever, reprising a role I never thought I’d see again.

This trailer made me realize that Jean-Luc Picard, a character who helped me form my moral compass, is back.

This trailer reminded me that I do love Star Trek, even if it isn’t the utopic technologically driven space opera that I grew up with. I love the universe. If a piece of media can make me fall in love with its universe, then it will capture me. It’s happened with Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek. I watch most of what is put out in these universes because I just want an excuse to detach from my daily life and escape into their worlds.

Sometimes we all need to escape. It’s the wonder of our imaginations, even without any outside material it is possible to be somewhere else, someone else, at some other time. I can imagine a world where I could excitedly text with my friend Ben, or my dad, about this Picard trailer.

And I am eager for next year to roll around so that we can join Picard on his next adventure.

“Live now; make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

Jean-Luc Picard