It’s rare for a series to reach its 50th anniversary and still be remembered so fondly. Many of us have been aware of Star Trek our whole lives. It began before some of its youngest fans were born, and will in all likelihood continue even after they die. It is one of the most revolutionary and forward moving concepts, as well as shows, that has ever been produced.
For me, my first introduction to Star Trek was through my grandfather. He would watch it all the time, religiously, with a level of enthusiasm unique to his life. He was a stoic man, not very inclined to personal moments, but when it came to either his music or Star Trek, he became very emotionally invested. My grandfather was a professional country musician who went by the name Johnny Fields. Though he could play seemingly anything with strings, he suffered from a head injury as an infant which eventually led to him becoming legally blind. As long as I can remember he was legally blind, considered handicapped, and it was fascinating to me that though he was blind he was so in love with this TV show he couldn’t even see.
As a young man I had zero appreciation for it. The original series felt stale. The limited special effects and production value weren’t enough to engage me even as a casual viewer. I didn’t find myself really drawn into the world of Star Trek until the feature films started happening. I’m an illustrator and I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I have a very strong attraction to things that look good, or are at least aesthetically appealing, so the higher production value of the feature films immensely improved the way I understood what my grandfather saw in those shaky sets.
Once I got past that hiccup, I was finally able to recognize just how great Star Trek actually was, or really you could say how great it is. The dynamic relationships between the characters, combined with the fantastical events of space travel, being in far off unknown places, and yet all of it grounded by a very real emotional core, drove home the irrefutable value of Star Trek.
From the feature films I went on to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, and once again my grandfather would record every episode. At that time we didn’t have near the technology that we do now to easily retain and replay television shows. He was recording these items on VHS tapes, to re-watch on his 21 inch tube television, in his very cramped small living room, but he loved it. He would schedule his entire week around Star Trek, making sure that he never missed when a new episode was on so that he could add it to his collection.
Star Trek: The Next Generation continued. They rolled out Deep Space Nine and I didn’t know what to think of it. Everything “Star Trek” up to that point involved the Enterprise and now it was going to be a story centered around characters based on a space station. It didn’t matter to my grandfather, he was all in on the continued stories of the United Federation of Planets.
My grandfather passed away in August of 1999. Up until the point when we had to sell his house and move him into a nursing home, he maintained his routine of recording every new Star Trek episode, no matter what television show it was. Even as the property continued to grow and we got TV shows like Voyager and Enterprise, there would always be a tape in the VCR ready to record.
Now with the new feature films and the discussion of the new television show coming out, Star Trek continues to be an avenue where those of us who aren’t afraid to consider hard questions, emotional circumstances, and are willing to let the beauty and dynamics that can only be found in science fiction be utilized to pose questions regarding our own culture, humanity, and existence. Star Trek continues to be paramount in its execution and quality of these areas of storytelling.
Which of its incarnations has been the best? I would argue that the best Star Trek is in fact Star Trek. As in all of them, equally and separate. It doesn’t matter what show it is, what movie it is, who the the big names are in the cast, it only matters that it is a Star Trek story true to the vision of Creator Gene Roddenberry. With that being the situation, I for one will be interested in sitting down to enjoy it. Simply put in many cases Star Trek does for its audience what it proclaims in its opening sequence, that it’s characters are going to be taking us to a place, whether that place is internal, external, imaginary, or even controversial, it’s taking us to a place that we’ve never been before. For that, I’ll always love Star Trek and my grandfather.