I don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I don’t know which order I watched the original films or, being of that age, whether it was even The Phantom Menace I saw first. It’s always been there, and I’ve always loved it. To this day, it’s one of two franchises that my fandom is the most frenzied for. The other being Star Trek, and I most definitely remember the first time I saw Star Trek.
It was 10 years ago. The Stamford Arts Centre, a small local cinema I still frequent, was showing JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and I went because it looked like Star Wars. This was during the dark times, before the Disney buyout, where new Star Wars films were nothing but a pipe dream and from the trailers this new Star Trek looked like the next best thing. I went with my friend Connor who was a fan of the series – I have vague memories of him talking with another friend about Star Trek: Voyager – but walking into the movie I knew nothing about Star Trek. Well, okay, I didn’t spend my first 13 years on Earth living under a rock; I had seen clips of the original series, had heard the names Spock and Klingons uttered before, and might have even seen the Zero-G assassination scene when Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country was on TV one time. But I had never seen more than a couple of minutes of an episode or movie before until I walked into that screening of the 2009 reboot now a little over a decade ago. 128 minutes later I walked out a Star Trek fan.
I absolutely loved it, and still do to this day. It’s a rollicking adventure film, a visual spectacle and an action spectacular. All those cliché pull-quotes you’re likely to see on posters at your local multiplex and more. No doubt still humming Michael Giacchino’s excellent score, I vowed to find out more information on this long-running franchise that had passed me by, unearthing details about these once unknown shows and films like an archaeologist excavating mementos detailing an ancient mythology. Just, you know, using Wikipedia. This ‘research’, and the fact that William Shatner presented an episode of Have I Got News For You and my mum telling me that that was the “true Captain Kirk”, made me decide that I was going to further my interest in Star Trek by going back and watching the countless hours of content the franchise has to offer. Being a completionist with a strict Vulcan-like sense of logic, that meant going all the way back to the beginning, to 1966, and watching the whole franchise in the order of release starting with what is now known as Star Trek: The Original Series. So, I purchases the box-set, all three seasons, and stuck in the first disc to watch the very first aired episode, titled “The Man Trap”, and what I saw shocked me.
After my first viewing of Star Trek 2009 I thought I knew what the franchise would be like. I was wrong. The first JJ Abrams Star Trek film is a huge action blockbuster but the show was anything but. Gone were the CGI spaceship battles, the frantic pacing and apocalyptic stakes. It was my first experience with 60’s television and the fifty-minute episodes felt longer than the 2-hour movie. They were slow and weird and any action – if you can call it action by today’s standards – was awkward and laughable. The characters were radically different too. Kirk wasn’t quite the womaniser or rule-breaker that the film – and popular culture – would have me believe. Spock wasn’t being antagonistic to Kirk or being incredibly emotional every fifteen minutes or even in a relationship with Uhura. And Sulu, who after the film I was convinced was called ‘Zulu’ for the longest time, wasn’t breaking out a retractable sword every episode to dispatch the alien-of-the-week. It wasn’t what I signed up for and I was initially turned off. But, being a completionist by nature and having all three seasons already on my shelf, I began the long task of watching the entire series and, while I can’t remember exactly when, I eventually started to enjoy it.
Even today I don’t have the easiest time sitting down to watch a full episode of TOS, but there’s an unmistakable and comforting charm to the program. How much it has aged and how silly it is is certainly part of the appeal but, 10 years ago, the series started to grow on me as I saw what it was truly doing. The show was telling a classic sci-fi story each week with political and social themes explored in a very 60’s, and yet oddly timeless (for the most part), way. The 2009 movie had none of this, nor did it truly have the friendly camaraderie between the crew members, and in many ways that’s the spirit of Star Trek. The more I watched of TOS, the more I enjoyed it but, as someone born in that millennial/Gen Z crossover period, the pacing of the show meant that it wasn’t always what I wanted to watch. But when you’re in the mood for an original series episode nothing scratches the itch just like it. I tried watching the original Battlestar Galactica and had to stop after about 5 episodes because, while it had similar pacing to TOS, it had none of the charm. The 79 episodes took about 18 months to get through but by the end of it, my Star Trek fandom had evolved and the original style and storytelling engaged me just as much as the bombastic blockbuster that introduced me to the franchise.
Next was the animated series from the 70’s and I think we should just gloss over that. It’s not terrible but it’s pretty far from being good either, and the show’s status as official canon is tenuous at best. The only episode I would deem worth watching, and now rewatching, would be ‘Yesteryear’, a fascinating episode focusing on a young Spock. I rushed through the animated series just to get it over with and have rarely gone back to re-experience it, moving onto the TOS movies that excited me much more. These movies must be big budget action films, right? Like the 2009 film but even better because they’ll still maintain the more classic sci-fi storytelling styles and the social themes that made the show so good. Wrong. Watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture for the first time was literally the opposite of an eye-opening experience. It damn near sent me to sleep. It was made in response to Star Wars being a massive hit and yet it much more closely resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a slow – oh, so slow – meditative piece that reintroduces the characters, sends them on a plot thin enough to barely fit in a 50-minute episode of the series and 80% of the film consists of exterior shots of the Enterprise moving incredibly slowly. The film wasn’t for me all those years ago but it’s interesting how your tastes change over time. The more I rewatch the film, the more I enjoy it, and today I believe it to be a great film. After watching all of Star Trek in all its forms, you can get tired of just how samey everything feels and so the more out-there and unique instalments that you once scoffed at eventually hold much more of an appeal.
While I vowed to watch the franchise through in order of release, I just had to continue watching the next five films without starting The Next Generation. The franchise owes a lot to those films, not only for expanding the audience and turning the cult show into a popular entertainment brand, but also because it expanded what Star Trek could be, tonally and story-wise. The classic The Wrath of Khan was a revenge thriller with submarine-style action set pieces. The Search for Spock, a flawed yet underrated film, offered a tone most similar to TOS but created how the Klingons would act for the next few decades. The Voyage Home was a time-travel comedy that introduced legions of new fans and more general cinema-goers to Star Trek. The Final Frontier exists. And Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country gave a perfect finale to the original series crew with a mission allowing for everything the franchise had learnt and developed up to that point, from the action to the humour. From my first time seeing it, to my most recent rewatch, The Undiscovered Country is my favourite Star Trek film. In fact, my favourite Star Trek anything. That’s another great thing about Star Trek. The sheer size of the franchise and the colossal amount of content out there, both good and bad, means that everybody has their own favourites and least favourites, making discussing Star Trek a joy. This isn’t Star Wars where you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone whose favourite film isn’t The Empire Strikes Back.
So, next up was The Next Generation and the series got off to a shaky start. Honestly, if I had started my adventure with Star Trek with season 1 of TNG then I don’t think I would have moved on to the second, let alone seek out the rest of the franchise. Early TNG might be my least favourite moiety of the entire 50+ years of Trek, but it does rapidly improve. While TNG is many people’s favourite Star Trek series, especially those who grew up with the show, I personally have never ranked it at the top end of my preferences. It’s good, at times fantastic, and Picard and Data are two of the best Star Trek characters but the series has just as many misses as hits. Going back now and rewatching select episodes can be fantastic and my appreciation of the series continues to grow, but I doubt I’ll ever go back and rewatch the series, front to back, in its entirety ever again. TNG is the progenitor of the 90’s era of Star Trek. It changed the franchise and expanded the universe, giving a true sense of continuity and, at least to me, feels like the true birth place of the canon of the franchise. This soon became a major part of my Star Trek fandom. I’m an obsessive person, desperately wanting to know the names of every character and planet and memorise the intricate timeline. Where once it was only Star Wars that I experienced it with, TNG gave me that same desire with Star Trek and that quest for nerd knowledge has only grown over time, keeping me watching even when I have found no other enjoyment in certain episodes.
It was around this time that Star Trek: Into Darkness was released and I found my fandom in potential crisis. The film that it was a sequel to introduced me to Star Trek but since then my tastes had changed. Would I enjoy the continuation of the new action movie Trek now that I’ve grow to love the diplomatic dealings of Kirk and Picard, especially when the fandom at large was dismissing the film entirely? The answer was yes. I like Into Darkness. Not as much as the first film but that blockbuster-style of Star Trek has always and will always appeal to me. I have fun with the film and some of the sequences are spectacular. Sure, the plot is a bit of a mess and some of the classic Star Trek moments and characters probably shouldn’t have been reintroduced, or at least not in the way that they were, but to this day I’ll happily watch and enjoy the film. It puts me in an interesting position within the fandom. As a fan of the wider franchise I can understand some of the disdain the Kelvin Timeline films get but at the same time it’ll always be my Star Trek.
During TNG I thought I would one-up myself and not only watch the shows in chronological order (which wasn’t exactly true because I had yet to watch Enterprise) but watch them in air order. So, during TNG season 6, after the episode ‘Chain of Command Part 2’, I started alternating between episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I’m glad I did this because not only did I get to experience the shows like those who were watching when they originally aired but it also meant I could take breaks from DS9’s lacklustre opening season-and-a-half with TNG being it its prime. Once TNG ended, DS9 became a truly great show and evolved what Star Trek could be. At its heart it still remained a Star Trek show, but it put Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future to the test with grandiose serialised war storylines and Starfleet characters with increasingly ambiguous morals. It grew into not only my favourite Star Trek show but one of my favourite TV series full stop. The characters and world feel the most genuine, the storytelling is much richer and the themes far more sophisticated than anything in the franchise, both before and after. After watching the 2009 film years ago I could never have imagined that this was what Star Trek could be or would even try to be. I enjoyed it so much that my plans of watching everything in air order went out of the window. I started watching Star Trek: Voyager but, because after 2 seasons of it I was unimpressed and desperately wanted to watch nothing but Deep Space Nine, I soon abandoned that show altogether.
While I began this ten-year odyssey through Star Trek with knowing next to nothing about the franchise, as I was working my way through the series for the first time I was also listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos to broaden my knowledge and get to know what long-time fans thought of the various films and shows. There was a lot of consensus around one thing: Enterprise sucks. The prequel series that for the longest time marked the death of the prime Star Trek timeline with its cancellation after 4 seasons, Enterprise was, and still is in a lot of places, reviled. So, my expectations were low when, after finishing Deep Space Nine, I moved onto Enterprise but from the outset I enjoyed it. It’s a series that evolved dramatically over its short run, and I’m fascinated by the way the series progressed. It begins with two seasons of classic, if not generic, Star Trek anthology storytelling, the third season is a single serialised story arc and the fourth is a collection of smaller arcs that finally tap into the potential of a Star Trek prequel. I unashamedly love the third and fourth seasons and even enjoy the more general fare of the first two. I love that the series continued to expand the world of Star Trek, just like DS9 before it, and showed the shifts and alliances of the Alpha Quadrant races before the founding of the Federation. That worldbuilding is one of my favourite aspects of the franchise. For many people TNG is a comforting show to watch, but for me it’s Enterprise. Despite the colder production design, I love the look and feel of the NX-01 and the sets of the show. I just like spending time there and I think the storytelling during the show’s second half is very well done. It’s a show I’ve since rewatched a lot and I’d rank it as my second favourite Star Trek series after DS9.
Because these shows have an almost barbaric number of episodes, by the time I’d finished Enterprise the next Kelvin Timeline film was released in theatres. From the trailers I thought Beyond might further develop the schism in my personal fandom between the new and old styles of Star Trek, but that proved to not be the case. Beyond was not just the CGI bonanza the trailers and two previous films would suggest but a Star Trek film through and through. It appealed to both of my Star Trek preferences: both as a cool action movie and, now that I had explored what the franchise truly had to offer between the first film and this second sequel, as an old school Star Trek experience. It had the charm and tone of Star Trek of old but felt very much like a continuation of the recent film series, culminating in the perfect film to release on the franchise’s 50th anniversary and also the perfect Star Trek film for me personally. Beyond is not only the best of the Kelvin Timeline sub-series but one of the best Star Trek films out of all 13 of them, topping all of The Next Generation movies which I have yet to mention just because, other than First Contact, I’m continually unimpressed with them.
Since finishing Enterprise and the release of Beyond, I’ve been rewatching Star Trek almost religiously, sometimes an entire series and sometimes just select episodes. As I become more of a fan and my knowledge of the franchise grows, I’ve enjoyed returning to episodes and films and re-evaluating them, this time with a more analytical eye. I always form my own opinion but I read reviews and listen to podcasts to challenge my views and look at my most beloved and loathed instalments in new ways. The Pensky Podcast is by far my favourite critical deconstruction of Star Trek I’ve encountered, and it’s been a pleasure to rewatch Deep Space Nine over these past couple of years along with the podcast. Until recently, rewatching is all I’ve been doing but there’s been a constant irritant and black hole of knowledge in the back of my mind these last few years: Voyager. The show I bailed on to focus purely on DS9 and refused to go back to remained, and I can hardly call myself a Star Trek fan if I haven’t seen one of the core series, right? So, last summer, I set myself the task of watching an episode of Voyager a day so that I’ll have completed the whole series by the time Star Trek: Picard begins to air. And so far, so good. As I write this, I’ve yet to miss a day and I’ve almost finished the seventh and final season. I wish I could have finished the show by the end of 2019 so I’d have watched every piece of Star Trek content within a decade of being introduced to the franchise, but I think it’s near enough. And how am I finding Voyager? It’s fine. That’s the word that comes to mind. There are highs and lows but the most part the show is a perfectly middling series that I’d probably rank as my least favourite.
But can we ever truly be done with Star Trek? 10 years after being blown away by Star Trek 2009 there’s still content that I’ve yet to see and we’re now in a new era for the franchise, with a bevvy of upcoming shows and films on the horizon. It’s been interesting to watch a brand-new Star Trek show at the same time as fans, new and old, all over the world with Star Trek: Discovery. It’s a series I have problems with, particularly after the second-half of season 2, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the experience and found things to like in the show. For better or worse, it’s a modern Star Trek series that in part speaks to me as a Kelvin Timeline fan yet feels more at odds with the fan of classic Star Trek inside of me that, say, Into Darkness was. Discovery has big problems, most emanating from the writing, but there’s enough of a spark there to keep me watching both in hope it’ll improve and just because there are already elements I enjoy.
It’s been a wonderful experience to look back on my own personal Star Trek odyssey to see how I went from the Trekkie newbie who went to see JJ Abrams’ film because it looked like Star Wars, to where I am today. As I enter my second decade as a Star Trek fan, I feel there’s a lot to look forward to. A revamped Discovery in the third season that holds promise of improvement; Star Trek: Picard looks like a great continuation of both the character’s story and the fate of the galaxy post-Nemesis; the animated show Lower Decks has me intrigued and if Tarantino actually makes a Star Trek film then I’ll be there opening night. I’ll admit, I think the Section 31 show that we’re supposed to be getting sounds terrible but I’ll hold judgement until I see it and overall, I think the future looks bright for Star Trek. But what I’m most excited for is the Noah Hawley-helmed fourth Kelvin Timeline movie. I love that the controversial Star Trek sub-series that introduced me to the franchise now ten years ago is still alive, and I can’t wait to watch its continuation knowing that in the years between the first and fourth film I’ve grown into the Star Trek fan I’d hoped I’d be after walking out of the Stamford Arts Centre a decade ago.
“It’s been a long road. Getting from there to here”.
What’s been your Star Trek journey? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.