What did we Trek fans get for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary?

As my title page graphic might imply, I’m a serious Star Trek nerd.   I’ll be honest; I’ve way too much bias to ever speak/write on the subject with any true objectivity.   It’s been with me pretty much since the age of 8 or so and will probably follow me into the urn (which could very well wind up being in the shape of the Starship Enterprise, I imagine…).

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Throughout the stages of my life, Star Trek has always been around in some capacity.   During my youngest years, it was the original series running in seemingly endless reruns, along with the animated series.   Later at around age 12 through my 20s it was the original series’ movies, from “The Motion Picture” (1979) through “The Undiscovered Country” (1991); my personal favorite of that bunch.

And in between there was The Next Generation TV series, starring the inimitable Sir Patrick Stewart, and its various spinoffs (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise) and the Next Gen movies (“First Contact” being arguably the best of that bunch).

I’ve made friends online and in person through the show (and still am making friends through it).   It probably cost me a couple of potential girlfriends back when I was younger, but no worries on that; as my wonderful wife of 17 years is a fellow geek, and very understanding in such matters.   I still find it hard to believe that I had never attended a science fiction convention before she and I met (!).   She took me to my first conventions, and later got me addicted to San Diego Comic Con (an annual pilgrimage for both of us now).  She embraces my love of Star Trek.

So in short, Star Trek had a huge hand…

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…. (^ see what I did there?  Huge hand?) in shaping the present-day geek that I am today.   It’s as much my comfort food as my no-sugar added ice cream.   Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) was, and ever shall be, a personal hero of mine.  Met him briefly at San Diego Comic Con in 2009, and was crushed when he passed away early last year.

With all of that love for Star Trek, this year promised to be a special year for the show; this was the year that Star Trek, like me, turned 50 (as will I in just a few days… yikes!).   There was a bit of hype (especially around September; the month of the show’s original premiere in 1966).   There were rumors.   There were disappointments.

But now, after all the smoke has seemingly cleared, I have to wonder; what did we fans get for the show’s big five-oh?   In essence, we got a pretty good movie (Star Trek Beyond), a bunch of talking-head TV documentaries,  the announcement of a new CBS All-Access online series next year (Star Trek: Discovery), a nice concert tour (my wife and I caught it in L.A.) and a great big convention in Las Vegas, which was my first Vegas Star Trek convention…and I had a blast!

All in all, not too bad except that most fans around the country (and around the world) didn’t get to go to Las Vegas for the convention, or see the concert tour for lack of a nearby venue.   I count myself as a very lucky Star Trek fan.   But most fans only got a movie (not too shabby), an announcement of a new series, and lots of documentaries with scores of people saying how great the show was, how the late Martin Luther King was a fan, how communicators influenced the Nokia flip phones of the last decade, blah, blah, blah….

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Okay then… moving on.

So let’s start with the first anniversary ‘gift’: Star Trek Beyond.

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Certainly an improvement on the last movie, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013); which felt like a soulless, pod-person imitation of a Star Trek movie.  It had familiar elements; Kirk broke the Prime Directive (somewhat needlessly here), the villainous Khan was back (the otherwise wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch was hopelessly miscast), and there was an evil rogue admiral (are there any other kind?).  The plot made absolutely NO sense when examined with even minimal scrutiny.   It was a ST movie without a soul.  Generic action, and little more.  Even the poster looked more like a Dark Knight movie (below).

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So given that?  ST Beyond really had nowhere to go but up, and up it went.  It was lighter, the characters were better defined (Spock and McCoy are at their original series’ best here), and most importantly, some of that old unique Star Trek optimism was back.  The shimmering Starbase Yorktown felt like all of ST’s optimistic-pluralism/technology-unchained utopia ideas embodied in one location.   The villain (played by “Luther”‘s Idris Elba) was a slight misstep, as he fell into the snarling, prosthetically layered, artificially deep-voiced variety of movie bad guy.  He had a ‘big secret’, but it was still a weak link in an otherwise fun movie.   ST Beyond is certainly as enjoyable as the 2009 film, which was a then-much needed shot in the arm for the franchise.   In my mind’s ‘head canon’ I prefer to think that JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot team only made two ST movies; Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond.    The one in-between just doesn’t count for me…

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So that first anniversary gift was a good one, but… as Spock says to Kirk in 1979’s The Motion Picture, “Is this all… is there nothing more?

Well, kinda yeah.  That is, if you weren’t fortunate enough to have seen the anniversary concert or attend one of the big conventions.   But there was another gift hiding behind the tribble pile… fan films.  Specifically the “Star Trek Continues” fan series (2013-present?).   These were my favorite gift of all, to be honest.

Given the recent “Star Trek Axanar” fan film lawsuit (Google it if you must; I don’t want to rehash it here), it would seem that CBS/Paramount (ST’s parent company) put the kibosh on most fan films with a recent list of rather draconian new rules for fan productions in the wake of the Axanar lawsuit (again; I’m not taking sides in this post).   But ST Continues luckily already had 7 episodes in the can at this point, and those episodes are an absolute unabashed JOY for Star Trek fans.   The films are more or less an hour long in length, and feel pretty much EXACTLY like lost episodes of the original series; hairstyles, makeup, gel lighting, music, even acting styles.    The actors (many of them industry professionals) work really hard to maintain the integrity of the original show, and the whole endeavor is clearly a labor of love.

Here is the link to the site where you can watch all of the existing episodes and vignettes:

Star Trek Continues.com

I’ve actually been fortunate enough to have attended several conventions where I’ve met and talked with the fan series’ cast/crew members, such as the very talented, passionate voice actor Vic Mignogna (he’s “Captain Kirk” on the show, as well as the series’ creator, writer and just about any other role that needs to be done),  his fiancee, actress Michele Specht (as new ship’s counselor, Dr. Elise McKenna) who is clearly the class clown of the company; she is hilarious.   I could definitely see her as the group’s morale officer as much as her character counsels the crew within the series.

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Chris Doohan ably takes over the role of engineer Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott; a role his father, the late James Doohan played in the original series & 7 of the movies.   I’ve also met Kipleigh Brown, who plays crewman Barbara Smith (a character first seen in the 2nd ST pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before…”) and Kim Stinger is Lt. Nyota Uhura (very sweet girl, too).  Former TV “Mythbuster” Grant Imahara also does helm duty as Lt. Hikaru Sulu.  Todd Haberkorn does a terrific Spock too.

The episodes feel utterly uncanny.   The Swiftian morality-play aspect of ’60s Trek is perfectly captured, but subtly updated as well, with new issues being explored.  New topics for this series include child abuse (“Come Not Between the Dragons”), gender inequality (“Embracing the Winds”), sexual abuse (the memorable “Lolani”) and some that are just plain fun, like the sequel to the original series’ “Mirror, Mirror” (“Fairest Of Them All”) and “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (“Pilgrim of Eternity”, which guest-stars Michael Forrest, who played ‘Apollo’ in the original episode).    This is not a simple fan film series; this is, as the title implies, Star Trek Continuing.  It’s the return of the original series as best it can be done.   Even series’ creator Gene Roddenberry’s son Rod gave it his personal blessing, saying  “I’m pretty damn sure my dad would consider this canon.  And, as far as I’m concerned, it is canon.”   Me too, Rod.

But given the ongoing Axanar suit, and the current state of upheaval regarding Star Trek fan films in general?  I honestly don’t know what the future holds for this series and this troupe, which make these films ENTIRELY as a non-profit enterprise (no pun intended… okay, well just maybe a little bit).   But whatever happens, I wish them a lot of luck.   They brought back Star Trek in a way that no big budget mass-appeal new movie or series could ever do.  And that’s not a knock to those big budget movies/shows, but they have to guarantee a profit margin.  And that means mass-marketing to all groups, not just the faithful.   These ST Continues fan films are made just for us; just for the fans.    They exist solely for love of the game of Star Trek, and nothing more.

Of all the ‘gifts’ given to the fans for this 50th anniversary of Star Trek?  I’d say Star Trek Continues is my favorite; it is certainly made with love and dedication.    May they, and Star Trek, continue to live long and prosper!

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