Long-range sensors, Mr. Spock!
In which we get acquainted, and I ask the question that determines the fate of our universe. Or at least measures it.
First off, it’s a treat—and a relief—to say in 2010 that I’m writing something, anything, that appears at the domain StarTrek.com.
I was among many helping to launch it in 1996, much less add to it. But oh how things have changed—in Trekland, in digital realms, and the world at large—since those first days. I catch myself trying to imagine the sight of De Kelley or Jimmy Doohan live-blogging, or chatting with online fans off a laptop from set-side on old Desilu Stage 9. Or the crazed scene of a triumphant summer storming of Comic-Con San Diego by the superstar cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993 or so.
Now, I’m assuming we’ve been properly introduced—at least, we have if you’ve been hanging around a nacelle or two for a few years and know me from my books, as Communicator managing editor, columnist in Star Trek Magazine, or just special Treks galore. And that you know I care deeply about Star Trek, its people and history and future— on both the real and fictional side. It’s also all about what informs my own site today, LarryNemecek.com, and my Trekland blog.
But if you’re among the newly obsessed of the past couple years or so... first off: Bless you!
And somewhere, somehow, Gene Roddenberry thanks you, too.
You’re keeping alive not just a huge franchise, but a great visionary’s embodied philosophy—and the thing that not only wrote the book on modern pop culture and the fandom lifestyle, but mainstreamed it. And affected zillions of people in the process who otherwise … well, I have not computed the ways, but I assure you they are astronomical.
That’s why I laughed so much as the doom-and-gloomers said Star Trek was dead when the “failed” Enterprise was cancelled in 2005— “failed” being a relative term for a show that went longer than the original series, and drew more raw viewer numbers weekly its last year than the Battlestar Galactica reboot. (Look it up.)
And now, here we are, thanks to J.J. Abrams and his Supreme Court, with Star Trek in the mainstream of the cool kids, and Hollywood seeing the franchise as hardly just adrift in space anymore.
But it has been a year since J.J.’s Trek hit the big screen. The heat of high box office, or even the coldness of some shoulders, has had time to sink in. And still, as I did a couple years before the May 2009 premiere, I look at the crossroads today and ask the same big-picture question:
Where do you think Star Trek will be in 10 years?
J.J.’s film is brilliantly cast, gorgeous and masterful; its turn to an alternate timeline has been both damned and praised by fans, all over the map. Still, the trouble with quibbles is hardly anathema: everyone all the way up to J.J. agrees that the “brewery engineering” set is unfortunate, for one thing.
But it’s sure not the first time people got antsy over a new Trek. I mean, the newbies can be excused, but you vets know the outright groans over much of The Motion Picture… some quarters’ dismay at the “militarism” of Harve Bennett’s movies… the tsk-tsking over a Deep Space Nine that didn’t “go anywhere”… the squawls over the notion of prequel Enterprise “going backward” … and the even louder howls at the very nerve of a “new” cast for the groundbreaking ST:TNG. What was that Gene Roddenberry guy doing, mucking around with Gene Roddenberry’s classic?
For God’s sake, a chunk of ‘70s first-wave fandom refused to “accept” the entire third season over the perceived bastardization of Spock’s Vulcan character, as Gene and the other series founders backed off being hands-on—or outright left the show.
So, here we are: the heart of summer convention season, with the big annual Las Vegas convention by Creation looming this very weekend. I can’t wait to get rejuvenated among the faithful and take a sounding. It’s also the year I finally get to the Big Apple for fandom and hit New York Comic-Con, which falls on my October itinerary along with the new Hollywood Xpo.
But Vegas is Trek-only, and the scene a year ago of the biggest eye-opener in memory—at least on my radar. With dealer-room browsing squeezed between autograph lines and mainstage seat-claiming, most fans have little to no time for the “side room” panels—great speakers, but usually empty.
So flash forward to my amazement: I get asked to join in the “side room,” for what I now call the “State of Star Trek” panel—and there’s TWO HUNDRED people in there. Fresh-faced! Excited! Kids in middle school! Stunned, I still think enough to do a couple of show-of-hands surveys: vast majority of them are at their first con. Vast majority of them are there because of J.J.’s movie.
A small sample. sure—but how do you argue with that? They were so new they didn’t even know they were supposed to be in lines or jockeying for seats! A few upset canon purists were there, sure, but at least two kids talked about how the “cool clique” in their school came to them to ask what it’s all about.
If you want a sure sign that Star Trek ’09 was a game-changer, there you go. Any wonder why I’m dying to see what we get this year at that same panel? And who comes by my table this year, or hits us up at the meet-ups? And you can bet that somewhere, someone with a studio or network title is watching to see the tickets, the sales, the viewers—and debating when the next level of the Star Trek “comeback” hits.
Meantime, I know the Bad Robot gang will have a few more stupefying, heart-wrenching “heckuva ride” films in store. In fact, every transition movie—The Motion Picture and Generations, and now ST ‘09—has had to overcome the big internal hurdle of the cast/format “set-up” or “reunion”; with that out of the way, the follow-up films were free to start with a bang and go from there. And as they too have said already, writers Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, along with co-writer Damon Lindelof, no longer have that hurdle, either—Script #2 can now be “damn the set-up, full story ahead!” It’s as scary as it is liberating for them, but history has their backs: just think how the other two “sequel” movies turned out … a couple little things called The Wrath of Khan and First Contact.
So, I ask again: Being in a movie era again like the ‘80s, with Star Trek only in two-hour doses every two or three years—what do you expect now from Gene’s universe down the line, and how are you biding all the empty stardates in the meantime?
As for me, our coming “Trekland, Supplemental” visits at the reborn StarTrek.com are going to have it both ways: looking back and looking forward. Check in, will you? And don’t be a stranger at my site, or all that social networking stuff, either.