The Search for Space?
The annual Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, renamed ‘the 56-Year Mission’ due to a lost license with Paramount/CBS, has returned to Las Vegas, has returned to the strip, but in a different venue this year–Bally’s Hotel and Casino–due to the refurbishment of its traditional host, The Rio, just down the road. Bally’s is certainly a nice enough hotel (with splashes of bright red everywhere that reminded me of “The Shining”), but the actual space allotted for the convention itself was a bit limited, to put it charitably.
As a result, there was a lot less elbow room in the Dealer’s Closet–er, Hall, and the autograph lines seemed a lot denser than usual. A flood of last-minute cancellations (some due to the ongoing COVID pandemic) also meant there was a bit less star power at this event, as organizers struggled to satisfy those fans who bought pre-paid autograph tickets. All these issues aside, it is the last day of the convention now (as I write), and I’ve still managed to pull a great time out of these less-than-ideal circumstances. The indefatigable spirit of Star Trek optimism, combined with the joy of meeting (and re-meeting) familiar faces of online friends, favorite celebrities and even familiar cosplayers, gives this event a feeling more akin to a sprawling family reunion than a simple sci-fi convention.
Whether you’re into Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS), The Animated Series (TAS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9), Voyager (VGR), Enterprise (ENT), DSC (Discovery), Picard (PIC), Lower Decks (LD), Prodigy (PRO) or Strange New Worlds (SNW), every Star Trek series from 1966 to the present has its respective cheering section at the convention, and is represented to some degree.
The Dealer Closet–er, Hall.
Once you got past COVID-screening (masks were required at all times within the convention parameters) and registration, the first big stop is the Dealer Hall, where all the merchandise is sold/traded, and where most of the autograph meet-and-greets were squeezed into (others were held in the Leonard Nimoy auditorium and the Autograph Annex–a small room near the entrance to the convention).
I didn’t really buy much in the way of collectibles (small house, no room), though I did buy a few autographs, including Anson Mount (SNW’s “Captain Pike”), Jess Bush (SNW’s “Nurse Chapel”), and comedian Tig Notaro (DSC’s “Jett Reno”). I also saw many familiar faces from other Star Treks and conventions past, including actor/director Jonathan Frakes (TNG’s “Will Riker”), actor & gifted mime artist, Connor Trinneer (ENT’s “Trip Tucker”), Dominic Keating (ENT’s “Malcolm Reed”), Anthony Montgomery (ENT’s “Travis Mayweather”) and many others. Got to shake hands with the great Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”. “Star Trek: Nemesis”), whom I’ve become an even bigger fan of, though his social media. Also had another lovely encounter with Doug Jones (DSC’s “Saru”), whom I’ve met before on several occasions at other gatherings. Doug Jones is, without a doubt, one of the kindest and most sweet-natured people I’ve ever met in the entertainment industry (or any industry).
The Panels and Panelists.
Most of the larger panels were held in the Main Event Stage, aka “The Leonard Nimoy Theatre,” with smaller panels held upstairs in the “De Forest Kelley Theatre,” on the 26th floor. My friend George generously gave up his Gold Ticket prime seating to sit with me in the ‘cheap seats’ further back in the auditorium (thanks again, George!). Unfortunately, this version of the Nimoy Theatre, unlike its Rio counterpart, didn’t have the large monitors spaced across the length of the auditorium to accommodate those of us seated in steerage-class, so I apologize in advance for the spotty quality of the photos.
The panel I most wanted to see was the panel for “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”, a graceful blend of classic Star Trek’s episodic storytelling with the more inclusive casting and greater production values afforded in modern television/streaming productions. Due to this particular panel being the last on a very hectic schedule (with many cast members having just finished signing hundreds of autographs), the actors were each given only a few quick minutes to speak. Anson Mount discussed a feeling he had (while appearing on season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery) that the money being spent on those gorgeous new USS Enterprise sets almost mandated his character’s return someday…
Rebecca Romijn found commonalities between her genetically-engineered character of Una Chin-Riley (aka “Number One”) and her mutant character of “Mystique” from the early “X-Men” movies (2000-2003). Ethan Peck talked about finding his own way with the Spock character, apart from Leonard Nimoy or Zachary Quinto. Celia Rose Gooding expressed regret at never meeting the late Nichelle Nichols, and of honoring her legacy. Jess Stone (“Nurse Chapel”) mentioned how she forsook a modeling career in her native Australia to take her shot at acting. Melissa Navia (“Ortegas”) had just landed a role in an off-Broadway play when the COVID pandemic changed her career trajectory. Bruce Horak discussed how his real-life sight impairment led to his getting a call to play the ill-fated Aenarian engineer “Hemmer”; Aenarians are a telepathic, sightless offshoot of the Andorians, previously seen in Star Trek lore.
The next day, my buddy George and I sat in for a few minutes of the panel for “Star Trek: Picard.” The PIC panel featured stars from the first and second seasons of the show, as well as actress Gates McFadden, whose TNG character of Dr. Beverly Crusher is returning for the series’ third and final season. McFadden promised that her character was returning to “kick ass.” Actress/singer Isa Briones mentioned watching her first episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to prepare for her role as android Data’s progeny; the episode she watched was “The Offspring,” which featured an earlier ‘daughter’ for Data, and was the first episode directed by longtime actor/director Jonathan Frakes. Also nice to hear from Michelle Hurd (“Raffi”) as well as actor James Callis (“Maurice Picard”), who got a call from his agent to play “Patrick Stewart’s father” in season 2–naturally, he took the offer. I’m also a huge fan of Callis’ work from the magnificent reimagining of “Battlestar Galactica” (2003-2009). Despite my admiration for this fine team of creative people, the recent second season of “Picard” was a profound disappointment for me, especially after its exceptional season opener, so, my expectations for season 3–even with the anticipated return of the TNG cast–are more tempered now, to say the least.
George and I were only able to sit for a few minutes of the “Star Trek: Discovery” panel before we had to leave. The panelists were the aforementioned Doug Jones, as well as Anthony Rapp, who plays brilliant spore drive engineer, Paul Stamets. Like Jones, I’d met Rapp before at a previous Star Trek Las Vegas convention back in 2018 (after DSC’s first season) and he was very personable as well. Patrick Kwok-Choon, who plays tactical officer Gen Rhys on the series, was also in attendance. Before we left, Rapp was discussing his early career in theater, including his groundbreaking role in the urban musical “Rent.” Doug Jones was explaining the long process of becoming Saru and how he’s made a career out of acting through heavy makeup, including his ‘big break’ as the crescent moon-faced “Mac Tonight” character for a run of McDonald’s ads back in the late 1980s. Other iconic roles of his include the friendly zombie ‘Billy Butcherson’ in “Hocus Pocus” (1993), ‘Abe Sapien’ in the “Hellboy” movies (2004-2008) and ‘the creature’ in 2017’s Oscar-winning fantasy, “The Shape Of Water.” Jones has reprised his role of Billy for the forthcoming “Hocus Pocus 2”, debuting this fall on Disney+.
Due to the smaller venue, the convention had to be divided between two floors; the lobby level event area and the 26th floor. On the 26th floor, in the temporarily rechristened De Forest Kelley stage, author/Trekspert Larry Nemecek (“Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion,” “Star Trek: Stellar Cartography”) gave an interesting presentation on the evolving fictional boundaries of Star Trek’s galaxy and how it matches up with the real Milky Way galaxy, including stars and possible planets in common. Interesting coincidence that Larry was on the De Forest Kelley stage, since he played the late actor’s role of “Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy” in early episodes of the top-notch fan-film series “Star Trek Continues.”
The following day, I attended two more events at the De Forest Kelley Theater; the first was a look at the past, present and future of robotic exploration of our solar system, and was presented by David A. Williams, research professor for Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Williams is also an Instructor for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He discussed the various phases of robotic exploration, including fly-bys, orbiters, landers, rovers and eventual sample returns, some of which are done in preparation for human missions to those other worlds, such as Mars; others are done simply to sate human curiosity, and to learn more about our own world through the differences observed in others. Williams also spoke of this week’s highly anticipated launch of Artemis 1, the un-crewed Orion capsule lifting off atop a new STS-rocket launch vehicle, which rivals the heavy-lift power of the Saturn V rockets from Apollo. It’s a great time to be a space enthusiast.
The next panel was on Star Trek podcasters, including Jeff Happ, Phil Routh, and David Vos from “NerdTrek,” Subrina Wood of “SyFy Sistas” and my friend, Heather Rae, of the “WomenMakeTrek” podcast; they are also a guest presence on many other podcasts. The group ended their discussion with an invaluable piece of advice for any audience members who want to be podcasters; if you’re worried that your idea for a new podcast might not be original? Do it anyway, because you will still be bringing your own inimitable voice to the project. For example, SyFy Sistas examines cultural or racial aspects of Star Trek that might easily be overlooked by a white male viewer. Heather’s podcasts often speak from their personal perspective as a nonbinary woman.
Whatever your perspective, it is uniquely yours.
The Roddenberry Archives.
Not far from the De Forest Kelley stage was the Roddenberry Archives, which featured a row of replica and actual screen-used costumes from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979). The costumes appeared to be those worn by Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock, and either Captain Kirk (William Shatner) or Commander Decker (Stephen Collins). My wife, who creates our own costumes for various conventions, was interested in the noticeable wear and tear in the areas where the pant leggings were joined with the actors’ shoes. Incidentally, the 91-year old William Shatner also appeared at the convention on Sunday to sign autographs and pose for photo ops. Having seen Shatner many times in person at conventions over the last 21 years, I must say, the man is a human dynamo. He never slows down; even his voice is still surprisingly robust for his age.
Also in the Roddenberry Archives room was a stunning fully immersive virtual tour of the USS Enterprise as it appeared in the original 1964 pilot, “The Cage” as rendered by the visual artists at otoy.com. The project was aided by longtime Trek graphic artist/archivist Michael Okuda, and also by director Robert Butler, who directed “The Cage” nearly 58 years ago (I had the privilege of meeting Butler at San Diego Comic Con in 2019). The ‘tour’ is operated by a gaming controller, with which the viewer can control his tour on a large monitor. The ‘tourist’ can zoom into any space within those areas of the ship seen onscreen, including the bridge, the main corridor, the transporter room and Captain Pike’s quarters. Certain details of the ship that were not visible onscreen are carefully filled in by the artists’ imagination, but in an authentic way true to the sets’ design.
My favorite part of any sci-fi/fantasy convention is the cosplay, and Star Trek conventions offer a wide variety of cosplay options; from screen-perfect Starfleet uniform replicas, to creative twists on alien characters, or for comedic mashups between Star Trek and other movies/TV shows.
Nichelle Nichols, 1932-2022.
The recent passing of actress Nichelle Nichols certainly did not go unobserved at this convention, at which she was a mainstay. I’ve seen her tirelessly sign autographs and pose for photo ops for long lines of fans, up to only a few years ago, when her own health was beginning to visibly decline.
In honor of Nichelle Nichols’ legacy, the hallway on the 26th floor, aka Skyview, was lined with memorable quotes from the actress, as well as photos from her life and accomplishments. There was the famous portrait of Nichols posing with former President Barack Obama, as well as a collage from her 2019 documentary “Woman in Motion” (a must-see for Star Trek fans). This 56-Year Mission convention seemed considerably lesser without her presence.
She will be missed, always.
Warping Out of Orbit.
As I write this in my Bally’s hotel, I am preparing for the three and a half-hour ‘voyage home’ tomorrow. While the 56-Year Mission was a bit cramped this year, with elbow and breathing room close to nonexistent in places, the experience was still worth it for me, and that’s largely because of the people I meet here; both longtime returnees, and new faces whom I’ve only previously met online. It’s always uplifting to reconnect with other like-minded futurists who have their feet in this world, while their hearts and minds look toward a better one.
All of my photos from the convention can be found on my Flickr page here: Star Trek Las Vegas, aka The 56-Year Mission, Aug. 24-28th, 2022 Live long and prosper!
All Photos: Author.
One Comment Add yours
Always enjoy reading about the Trek conventions ‘over the pond’ and looking a little enviously at all the actors that manage to attend. Looked like a great event, a pity about the smaller scale but great to hear it was still enjoyable.