Movie theaters have been featured in several episodes of the different versions of Star Trek. These theaters were often used to illuminate something about a particular character. For example, movie nights (sometimes on Mondays, sometimes Tuesday) in the mess-hall converted theater onboard the NX-01 of Star Trek: Enterprise helped symbolize T’Pol's growing appreciation and understanding of humanity (“Horizon”). When Tom Paris and Harry Kim recreated the Chicago Palace Theater in the episode “Repression” so the crew could enjoy old movies, it reinforced Paris’ love of all things nostalgic and his sociological interest in 20th century Earth.
Many fellow fans we have interviewed in our research speak fondly of their own Star Trek movie experiences, often recalling special memories of which theater, and with which family and friends, they first saw a particular or favorite Trek film.
The importance of “place” and fond memories of specific theaters were especially a part of the experience of seeing a Trek film before the days of website ticket purchasing. Movie theaters were places that fans gathered days, or sometimes weeks, before a film to guarantee a seat by purchasing tickets when they went on sale from the box office itself. The lines would transform city streets and theater parking lots into makeshift conventions – with fans arriving as strangers, but leaving not only with tickets to next week’s premiere, but also with new friends. Sometimes fans would bring portable TVs to watch episodes or boom boxes to play soundtrack music to pass the time. It was common to see fans playing Star Trek board games in line, or engaging in conversations about all things Trek. Theaters were also places that local fan clubs would pass out information about fanzines or club events.
After the show, theaters would also become places where fans would stick around and chat with each other about their perceptions of the film. Lobbies were the Internet discussion boards and Facebook of the day, allowing fans to continue the enthusiasm for the film after the credits rolled. The excitement was usually at its most frenetic when attending theaters on opening day.
We have our special memories of times spent at theaters watching Star Trek films. Like many of our fellow fans, they are really memories of family and good times spent with friends. On June 4, 1982, John and his father Vincent went to see Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the Esquire Theater in Chicago. The incredible line (The Wrath of Khan had the biggest box office opening weekend of all time to that date) and the energy of the fans before and after the show left an indelible mark on John. Now, 32 years later, the memory is a special one of his late father and John watching an incredibly exciting film that is itself about fathers and sons.
PHOTO: The premiere of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at the Will Rogers Theater, Chicago. Photo Credit: Photo by Mike Beyer an internet broadcaster at http://www.mindsimedia.info/. Photo used with permission.
Of course, the enthusiasm of audiences watching the films also adds to the theater experience. We clearly remember the audience’s shock at the loss of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at the Will Rogers Theater in Chicago in 1984, and the laughter of fans while watching Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at the Norridge Theaters in Norridge, Illinois. The good will and good feelings of the crowd were palpable during that showing of Leonard Nimoy’s film. And who could forget the intensity of watching Kirk and crew save the day in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country? The audience applause when Chang’s Bird of Prey was destroyed after the intense build up was explosive at the Old Orchard Theater in Skokie, Illinois. It must have been like that at theaters all over the nation and world.
Photo courtesy of, and used with the permission of, Cliff Eidelman. https://www.facebook.com/cliff.eidelman and http://www.cliffeidelman.com/
Accompanying the narrative of Star Trek VI was composer Cliff Eidelman's inventive and mysterious score, which recently saw an expanded release by Intrada. Indeed, there may be no opening theme to a Star Trek film that sets the tone more appropriately and effectively than Eidelman's "Main Title" -- and hearing the score on high-quality theater sound systems added an important voice to the last adventure of the original crew. When Star Trek VI premiered, Cliff's wife Claire captured a photograph of him outside a theater showing the film. (More photographs and information about Cliff Eidelman's projects are available at https://www.facebook.com/cliff.eidelman and http://www.cliffeidelman.com/)
Theaters come and go, their names change, and sometimes they are closed or re-purposed into some other kind of venue. These comings and goings mark the passage of time. The Will Rogers Theater in Chicago, for example, has long been closed. But the memory of seeing Star Trek III: The Search for Spock there endures. Please share your Star Trek theater memories in the comments below or the Facebook link for this article.
Special Thanks to: Mike Beyer, Cliff Eidelman, Ian McLean, and Nicholas Jose Tenuto
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.