New voyages are ahead for fans of longtime franchise
“Star Trek” began 54 years ago today with a story essentially about a salt vampire.
But even with “The Man Trap,” which aired Sept. 8, 1966, on NBC, “Star Trek” showed some hints of its social awareness.
The episode, handpicked by the network to air first instead of the second “Star Trek” pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was about a shape-shifting alien who kills people as it extracts their salt. It seemed like the typical monster-of-the-week story, but there was some commentary about the alien being the last of its kind, like the buffalo (which had a resurgence since the 1960s). That was an example of how creator Gene Roddenberry tackled social issues with sci-fi metaphors for his “Wagon Train to the stars.”
Despite its low-budget effects, the original “Star Trek” series captured viewers’ attention with its space-age adventure, unusual theatrical lighting, dramatic music and frequent camera zooms onto a worried Capt. Kirk’s face right before the commercial break. And William Shatner knew how to make Kirk’s speeches stand out, with his dramatic pauses: “Risk … is our business.”
What stood out the most for fans was the acting and the writing in stories that were morality plays.
“Star Trek” addressed racism, war, poverty, overpopulation and other social issues during its original three-season run. And the series, canceled by NBC, kept returning in one form or another because of fans who couldn’t get enough of Capt. Kirk and company on the small or big screens or the generations who followed them.
After the original series, there was the animated version in the 1970s, followed by the six movies starring the original cast from 1979 to 1991.
Today, “Star Trek” is enjoying a resurgence similar to what it experienced during the 1990s and early 2000s when fans saw “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine, “Voyager” and the prequel series “Enterprise.”
During the current Renaissance of “Trek,” Santa Barbara County is playing its role, just as it has years past.
Santa Ynez became LaBarre, France, for “Star Trek: Picard,” this year’s CBS All Access sequel to “The Next Generation.” “Picard” episodes were shot at Sunstone Winery, which became Chateau Picard. Who knew France was just around the corner from the Chumash Casino & Resort?
And long before that, Santa Barbara County served as part of the planet in “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998). Fans of the “Next Generation” movie might remember the scene when an apparently malfunctioning Data (Brent Spiner), piloting a Federation scout ship, is being chased by Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Worf (Michael Dorn) in the captain’s yacht. The green land below them is the Santa Ynez Valley.
And those ships and others for “Insurrection” were created digitally by Santa Barbara Studios.
There’s one more local connection with “Insurrection.” Santa Barbara actor Anthony Zerbe played Vice Admiral Matthew Dougherty.
There have been other local faces on “Star Trek.” Lompoc native Jeffrey Combs has played several “Star Trek” aliens. On “Deep Space Nine,” he had recurring roles as Weyoun, the Vorta serving the Dominion, and the head of the Ferengi Commerce Authority: Brunt. He went on to play an Andorian officer Shran on “Enterprise.”
And the local love for “Star Trek” was shown when West Wind Drive-in in Goleta this summer showed the J.J. Abrams-directed reboots “Star Trek” (2009) and “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013). The drive-in, with its plentiful social distancing, has enjoyed its own resurgence during COVID-19.
Despite the pandemic, “Star Trek is moving ahead with more new programming.
Filming for “Star Trek: Discovery” took place before the pandemic, so the third season will go to warp on Oct. 15 on CBS All Access. The plot will pick up with Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) having led the crew nearly a thousand years ahead into an uncertain future. Again, “Star Trek” is going where no one has gone before.
Last month, the animated comedy “Star Trek: Lower Decks” premiered on CBS All Access. Not all fans are in love with the show, which is about junior officers on a not-so-important ship, but it has its moments.
Sometime next year, fans hope to see “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” which is designed to have the feel of the original series with stories that take place within a single episode. Anson Mount, Ethan Peck and Rebecca Romijn will reprise their “Discovery” roles as Capt. Pike, Spock and Number One, respectively.
The series will continue the adventures of the USS Enterprise during the years before Capt. Kirk sat in the big chair.
While fans welcome new programming, it’s been a strange year for them without the usual conventions, varying from Creation Entertainment’s annual event in Las Vegas to Comic-Con International in San Diego. The Nichelle Nichols Farewell Celebration, planned as the final convention for the actress who played the iconic Uhura in the original series and movies, was postponed from May to July and then delayed again. Indefinitely.
There’s no doubt about Ms. Nichols deserving the recognition. None other than Martin Luther King Jr. urged her to continue performing during the original run of “Star Trek,” which broke ground for TV roles for women and minorities. And besides acting, Ms. Nichols led efforts that successfully recruited women and minorities to be astronauts for NASA.
Elsewhere, Creation Entertainment plans to hold its annual convention this December in the new Caesars Forum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but another delay is possible.
For now, fans in local and national “Star Trek” organizations are enjoying virtual conventions over the internet and staying connected with each other over Zoom.
So instead of “Beam me up, Scotty,” fans can repeat one of Capt. Kirk’s phrases on the Enterprise bridge.