Star Trek: From William Shatner to J.J. Abrams, it's still relevant at 45
Break out the Romulan ale! This fall marks the 45th anniversary of Star Trek.
Trek’s humble origins are almost hard to believe. When TV producer Gene Roddenberry pitched his “Wagon Train to the Stars” to NBC, it had already been rejected by CBS in favor of Lost in Space. Then, even after the Peacock finally did pick it up, they dismissed the pilot, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike of the USS Enterprise, as “too cerebral,” and demanded a re-shoot. Only Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock survived the cast change for a new pilot built around a hammy Canadian named William Shatner, who, so far, had only scrounged together a career out of bit parts in movies like Judgment at Nuremberg and a couple very memorable Twilight Zone appearances.
Needless to say, expectations for Star Trek were low. And though it did face cancellation after just three seasons, it’s become one of our most venerable franchises, having spawned five subsequent series and eleven movies. Much of what has followed since has been so good, in fact, that it’s almost easy to write off the original series as mere camp: heavy-handed messages conveyed through overripe performances amid garish papier-mâché sets. Those who do just that, do so at their own peril. The original series’ budget-limitations actually spurred creativity, such as when the Romulans were revealed to be the evil cousins of our lovable, logical Vulcans. Sure, they were only related because Trek’s production company Desilu (yes, that Desilu) couldn’t afford to come up with original makeup for another alien race. But how much more interesting that became as storytelling! The Vulcans, those most stalwart founding members of the United Federation of Planets, were now looked upon with suspicion by Starfleet’s more xenophobic humans and forced to ask themselves whether their embrace of pure logic is indeed meaningful or just a fragile lie meant to conceal their true passions. If Star Trek had been given a greater budget, it would have looked more polished, to be sure, but would that kind of guerrilla, seat-of-the-pants storytelling impulse have survived?
From the perspective of 2011, you could even say that the three year run of Star Trek, with its small but fervently devoted audience, anticipated today’s niche entertainment. And there’s even more to celebrate, now that J.J. Abrams is officially signed to direct the next movie installment. So, to honor 45 years of going where no man has gone before, EW presents you 45 reasons to continue loving all things Trek.
- Sulu’s mad fencing skills
- Uhura’s communicator earpiece
- Clint Howard as Balok
- Jeffrey Hunter’s catatonic stare as Christopher Pike
- Spock undergoing pon farr
- God-like non-corporeal aliens passing judgment on us all.
- “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a [insert non sequitur here]”
- Kirk’s familiarity with the complete works of Jacqueline Susann and aversion to punk rock.
- Mirror Universe Spock’s goatee and Mirror Universe Uhura’s uniform (could that really have been regulation, even in the Terran Empire?)
- Random planets that based their cultures on ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Nazi Germany, Native Americans, 1920s Chicago
- Captain Kirk’s fuzzy fedora
- Yeoman Rand’s clipboard
- Transporter accidents
- Deus ex deflector array
- Green space babes
- Ricardo Montalban’s pecs
- Aliens who force crewmembers to take part in mortal combat
- Vaal, the best mini-golf prop ever.
- Joan Collins as noble-hearted 1930s missionary (and unwitting Nazi abettor) Edith Keeler
- The Greek gods! They’re real, though they’re interstellar travelers with self-esteem and abandonment issues.
- Episode titles like “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” and “Is There In Truth No Beauty?”
- Gene Roddenberry’s obsession with “empaths.”
- Giant space amoebas.
- The Horta.
- The possibility that you could run afoul of hippies in interstellar space.
- The significant rate of Starfleet officers who develop god-like powers.
- Nurse Chapel’s prolific voiceover career.
- “Of all the souls I’ve encountered…his was the most…human.”
- Klingons of the 2260s. Though we never speak of their physical appearance. It was…a dark time.
- 20th century space probes that return to humanity super-intelligent, but with daddy issues.
- The notches on Capt. Kirk’s belt. Surely they number among the stars.
- The Gorn (at least until they got a CGI makeover on Star Trek: Enterprise, thus putting actors skilled in lizard-suit performing out of work)
- Humanity’s ill-advised flirtation with the creation of genetically-engineered supermen.
- The Eugenics War of 1996, which was clearly covered up by the lamestream media.
- The literacy rate of the 23rd century judging by Kirk’s love of Dickens and Khan’s affinity for Melville.
- Radiation that causes rapid aging. (Also the MacGuffin that could enable an appearance from the Shat in the next Trek film. J.J. Abrams take note!)
- The possibility that, as a Starfleet officer, you may randomly find yourself forced to reenact the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
- That you can travel back in time by sling-shotting around the sun.
- That the Tholians proved that a giant web could be an effective weapon in space.
- The Ferengi energy whip (Okay, that’s from The Next Generation, I know. But it’s in the spirit of the original series.)
- Spock’s brain (and “Spock’s Brain”)
- These guys.
And a 46th for the franchise to grow on: The Red Shirts.
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