Star Trek

How Star Trek Shaped Me As A Man & Can Shape Us As A People

star-trek-tos

Over the many years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve gushed so much about how much I love Star Trek, and I know you’re probably sick of it by now. But today is the 50th Anniversary of the first episode, and I just wanted to share a few personal thoughts on why the show means so much to me.

I can’t tell you how much Star Trek has meant to me as a person. I first fell in love with the show watching The Original Series in reruns after school. By the late 1980s, I was addicted to its sequel, The Next Generation. And of course, I breathlessly watched all of the movies as they came out in the theatres. It played such an instrumental part in the formation of my values and morality as a young man watching that show. It meant so much to that young boy, and to the man I’ve become. It speaks to every fibre of my being.

Star Trek captures everything about the human condition, and about all that humanity IS capable of. As dark as it sometimes can get, Star Trek is a show driven by optimism, and the hopes and dreams of one tiny planet, amongst a sea of neighbors we may not even know yet. Admittedly, we’ve got a long ways to go on our own small planet, before we can truly hope to populate space with that kind of hope and goodwill, but it all starts with a dream.

You may say you hate Science-Fiction, but despite all the tecnobabble you may hear, Star Trek was never about gadgets and science. It is about people. People from all genders, races, religions, creeds, orientations, and yes…species…all trying to get along in the Universe, and trying to find peace and common ground. It is an allegory. In the mid-1960s, television shows simply could not talk about racism, classism, sexism, etc. Science Fiction was the perfect cover, and was used as a way to address social issues in a vaguely familiar way, but set in a distant future and in a far off place. It allowed the creator, Gene Roddenberry, to tackle the injustices he saw in the turbulent world around him. And spoiler alert: the same issues which are plaguing our world today. Star Trek has used analogous alien species and fictional conflicts to address real world problems, such as sexism, racism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cold War, bioethics, Artificial Intelligence and sentience, capital punishment, religious intolerance, bigotry, class warfare, and even drug abuse, to name a few. Star Trek is not some action-packed adventure story with ray-guns and bad prosthetics (I mean, yeah, that’s all there)! Star Trek was the most cutting edge and provocative show of its generation, and STILL CAN BE! The job is not done. Star Trek still has a vital role to play in our society.

You see, Star Trek is not about space, but about the space in between. The space between you and me, and how we can close that gap, bridge that gulf that lies between us. It’s about an idea. An idea that humankind has a future in space, and can be ambassadors of peace and tolerance. But first, we must start with ourselves. That’s not Science-Fiction. But it could be Science-FACT. It’s already within us, we just need to have the courage to be able to find it before it’s too late.

My friend Bill Doughty expressed a few thoughts on Star Trek that I’ve shared below. He meaningfully articulates some points that I may have missed. His words, like mine, are love letters. Love letters to a show that has given generations of hopeful dreamers a place to hang their hats, and hold out hope for tomorrow. A chance to boldly go where no one has gone before…

Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!!!  Live Long and Prosper.

From a post by Bill Doughty from Facebook (September 8, 2016):

“I’ve enjoyed reading people’s thoughts on Star Trek today. I’ve always loved Trek for the simple reason that no matter the series or format, it has always been about one thing: look at everything we could accomplish if we could only *get over ourselves.* But at the same time, it expresses that idea a million different ways across any sort of plot, genre, or storytelling medium you can imagine. Honestly, there’s at least one Star Trek story out there to speak to every man, woman, and child on earth, and if you say you’re the exception you’re wrong amd probably just trying to impress someone.

But whether it’s a TV show, movie, book, gamw, comic, or cartoon, and whether it’s tense, moody, silly, creepy, exciting, dark, thoughtful, or, yes, occasionally stupid, that same optimism is always there, hardwired into the DNA. Accept, tolerate, embrace, and explore, and there’s little we won’t be able to accomplish.

And we’ll also get teleporters and food replicators. You know you’d be down with that.”

To Boldly Go….Wrong: Why Many Trekkies Disown the Star Trek Reboots

Introduction

In 2009, successful producer and director, JJ Abrams directed a much anticipated reboot of Star Trek. The cast was young and hot, and the design was sleek and reimagined. The film was full of non-stop action, and rarely stopped to breathe. There were extended fight sequences, explosions, and nifty and impressive CGI. The movie was breathtaking to behold, and quite honestly, one of the best action films of the last two decades. But that’s the problem…Star Trek isn’t actually an action franchise, although it has often had thrilling action sequences. In fact, Star Trek is a show about ideas and philosophy. It’s about moral dilemmas and finding new ways to communicate with alien species and those who ostensibly look different from us. It is about finding the love, and making the noble choice, however uneasy that may be. It means that violence is always the last resort, not the first. And that is what these films failed to realize. That is what JJ Abrams forgot…or perhaps never knew in the first place. That is why it is easy to recognize that these are well made films, and exciting action movies, but fundamentally lack the spirit and mission of every Star Trek show or film that came before. That is why so many of us can love the movies, but disown them as properly belonging to the canon.

The Choice of Director
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Star Trek reboot was the vision of a man who openly admits that he was not a Trekkie. He had barely even seen the show, and seems to not have had a grasp of what it was all about.  I would point out that JJ Abrams is the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg himself. They have a remarkably similar trajectory, and Spielberg has been mentoring the younger Abrams for years. There is no denying the significant impact the elder director has had on Abrams. They share a similar directorial style, and are both masters of the popcorn blockbuster. Both can be thin on story and character development, and both filmmakers tend towards the melodramatic, high paced, meticulously scored, and frenetically edited films filled with action and adventure. These movies are edge of your seat thrilling, but take little time to pause for deeper and more meaningful reflection. With the exception of Spielberg’s more recent heavier work (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Munich, Schindler’s List), his movies are perfect for the whole family, and are wholesome and able to keep even the smallest child’s attention. Abrams’ films are very similar. Although I tend to hold the opinion that Star Trek is better suited for TV, I don’t think that’s prohibitively true. Perhaps they’ll never be able to achieve the depth an episodic television show can do with well developed story arcs, but I think a film with a good script and the right director might create something meaningful.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek
I think the problem is, JJ Abrams wasn’t the right man for the job. Firstly, I think he is perfectly suited for Star Wars — a franchise he admits to being a longtime fan of. It’s no accident that Spielberg and Lucas are such good friends. They both have similar styles, and both influenced Abrams. Close your ears Star Wars fans, but I would argue that Star Wars is far more suited to the action-oriented director with larger than life mythic characters, and epic battles between good and evil. Like most of Abrams’ movies and television projects, there is very little subtlety in Star Wars. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but its themes and tropes and overall depth are not nearly as sophisticated as Star Trek. Star Wars is the perfect popcorn blockbuster film, and Abrams is perfectly suited to direct for that franchise! If you care to check out my expanded discussion comparing Star Trek to Star Wars check out: Jon Ferreira’s answer to Which is better and why: Star Wars or Star Trek?

An Alternate Alternate Reality
Imagine for a moment that Christopher Nolan had directed Star Trek, or Peter Jackson. Or perhaps Kathryn Bigelow, Ang Lee, David Fincher, or even crazier, Terry Gilliam. Imagine a darker universe, but one filled with the intrepid Enterprise, always trying to make friends in all the wrong places. Or perhaps it’s another ship, in another time, and in another part of the universe. Think about the level of complexity, nuance, and philosophical weight any of those directors would have brought to the franchise. The problem is, most big directors wouldn’t take a movie like that, because many see it as an exhausted franchise and just a cheap moneymaking extension of the shows. They would rightly feel hampered and stifled by the Star Trek aesthetic and strict guidelines dictated by the franchise. As history has shown us, the past directors of the studio films took few liberties and added little artistry. They were formulaic franchise films, and really any director could have been plugged in or out.

Ideally, if they are going to continue to make films, they need to be their own artistic entities…new stories, not rehashed ones, and perhaps darker and more reflective of our society today. Galactic terrorists or something. They need to stand alone, and not be regurgitations. They need to embody the spirit of Star Trek, but have permission to…ahem…boldly go where no one has gone before. And they need to have NO MORE DAMN LENS FLARES!!!

The Soul of Star Trek
Perhaps the soul of the show can be found directly in the guiding principle of the Federation and Starfleet Academy. It’s a moral code, by which the explorers live by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive, was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. A premise such as this was profoundly unique to Star Trek, and revolutionary for the era. Roddenberry clearly had Native American genocide, African slavery and Civil Rights, and other Colonial interference and subjugations in mind when he crafted such a directive. Over the fifty years prior to the show, Colonial governments were being overthrown, and countries were gaining their independence and autonomy from various imperial states. The devastation left in the wake of colonial imperialism can still be deeply felt in nations across Africa, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. Roddenberry deeply believed in a future free of unnecessary meddling or interference.

A Mission of Peace
Furthermore, Gene Roddenberry created a society that had been devastated  by a third world war and a frightening war of eugenics, but had picked itself up and healed itself. Somehow, they had come out on the other side, and had learned to live peaceably together. Things like gender inequality, racism, and greed were seemingly stamped out over a few short generations. The crew of the Enterprise are explorers, and their fundamental mission is one of peace, “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man (one) has gone before.” Sometimes to my discontent, the characters on Star Trek generally seek to talk first, and shoot later. The show (and films, to some extent…) are first and foremost about ideas and finding ways to communicate with those ostensibly unlike us. Even in hostile situations, the Star Trek crews have sought the exchange of words before blows. The franchise has historically been a philosophical one, not overly concerned with gadgets (although at times, they lost site of this, and got mired in technobabble) or overt science fiction tropes and fantasies, but in exploring the human condition. The characters reflected the wide spectrum of colors and nationalities, and were a hopeful ideal on the part of the creator to inspire egalitarianism and end bigotry in his world. The characters may be from the future, but they are telling our story.

Sex & Violence Trump Ideas
I should say that I like these last two reboot films only as the action movies they are. I think they are mostly well-made movies, but they bear little resemblance to the world Gene Roddenberry created. They sacrifice everything the franchise stood for. And that doesn’t have to be oversimplified dated morality lessons, but honest dialogue and intellectual curiosity. The original series, and its offshoots concerned explorers, bound by a code of ethics, and ultimately resistant to violence, but always resolute when it needed to be used. These new films not only have characters whose first instinct is violence, but the films themselves are filled with explosions and bombastic action sequences. There’s also an inordinate amount of sexuality, and although there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of it, these sequences seem exploitive and gratuitous (Alice Eve stripping down to her bra and panties for no apparent reason?). In general, the action sequences and sexuality seem forced and unmotivated. Although exciting, they don’t quite feel right for these characters. Violence was always the last resort for the crews of the television series, but it seems like the first instinct and natural default of the new Kirk and crew.

As I’ve argued, Abrams was perhaps not the right director for this franchise. He is a populist director, cut from the cloth of Spielberg, and he is always going for the sentimental, edge of your seat action film, with the unnecessary lens flares and the slick look and feel. His projects are rarely deep and thoughtful, and they’re not there to generate discourse or raise questions about our own humanity. They are simply there to thrill and entertain, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless, it goes under the name of Star Trek. He made this film very marketable, and full of all the sex and violence an audience craves and demands these days. Perhaps that is the only kind of movie you can have these days. I’d like to think not. I contend that Christopher Nolan makes dark and thoughtful movies, while still cramming them with sex and violence. It’s not that the reboots needed none of the action, but it needed a lot more of the thought. I could have lived with even the amount of action it did have, IF it had provided something intellectually stimulating as well.

In the movies, it’s like they have the names of Spock and Kirk, but they don’t have the gravitas of those men (or those actors). They don’t embody what those men stood for. I felt that adding the romance between Spock and Uhura was cheap and irrelevant. It changes the very nature of Spock. Whereas I could see Uhura having an onboard romance, Spock would never have compromised his duties and position on the bridge. Even the time on the show when he did kiss a girl (in This Side of Paradise), he was under the influence of an enchanted flower. The famous interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren was originally supposed to be Spock and Uhura, but even then, the characters were being controlled like puppets, and not responsible for their actions. Spock was wed to his job, and in some ways to Kirk as well. Although Roddenberry didn’t intend for Kirk and Spock to be gay, there is a special quality to their friendship that runs deep and loyal. I see none of that chemistry between the characters in the recent films. I see people wearing costumes of the same color, general Starfleet insignias, some familiar props and set pieces, and many of the same names of gadgetry and technobabble. But what I see more of are characters that don’t fill the costumes they wear, saying things they wouldn’t say, and resorting to sex and violence without hesitation. I see movies filled with action, but short on substance. I see none of the probing questions and deep reflection on the human condition. I see none of the morality and characters wrestling with the consequences of breaking the Prime Directive. I see two really good action films, with some amazing direction and slick production design. Unfortunately, I don’t see Star Trek. I look at these films like I look at the Guy Ritchie/ Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. They may be fun and exciting action films, but they lack the integrity and spirit of the original source material, and besmirch their good names. In my opinion, they should just stop making them, make them right, or just call them something else altogether!

Conclusion

The reboot Star Trek films are A LOT of fun. When I first saw them in the theatre, I was thrilled and excited. They are well-made, really solid efforts. Unfortunately, I just don’t recognize them as Star Trek. Sure, they have the same names and the color of the costumes are right, but they are not the Kirk and Spock I know. Not because they are different actors playing the role, but because they don’t carry the spirit of Star Trek in their hearts. They shoot or punch first, and talk later. This is not the Roddenberry Star Trek I grew up with. Perhaps if they had had another director, they would have been different. More introspective and thoughtful. As it is, I own both films, and I love to watch them for what they are. But what they aren’t is Star Trek!

Which is better and why: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

The Pros and Cons of Star Wars
Although I was exposed to Star Wars first, as I grew older and more discriminating, Star Trek offered me more substance and what I needed as a more mature adult. I agree with what many have said about Star Wars being very black and white, pitting good against evil, and filled with common archetypes. Lucas drew heavily on Japanese film and culture, and the mythology of Joseph Campbell. His movies are epic, and rightfully called space operas. They have a very overblown, deeply felt, dramatic tone to them, and are very operatic in style.

When all is said and done, I can’t help feeling that Star Wars really is a franchise aimed at young people, and the young at heart. The action is exciting, relatively easy to follow, and filled with all kinds of colorful costumes, freaky alien makeup, thrilling sound effects, and exquisitely detailed models and/or CGI. There are few deep philosophical questions, and Lucas doesn’t ask much of us. It’s thrilling, in the way that Stephen Spielberg movies are thrilling, and it’s not surprising that the two are friends and borrow liberally from each other. Just as Spielberg provides all the excitement of hunting a giant shark or being chased by a Velociraptor, Lucas provides us with captivating excitement, while spending less time filling in the deeper inner life of the characters. The emotional investment of the characters is bifurcated, with deep allegiances to good (the rebels/Republic) and bad (The Galactic Empire). Luke dresses in white at the beginning, and Darth Vader is in black. Every design choice in the films reinforce this dialectic, and make it abundantly clear who is who, so you never have to question who the bad guy is. The emotions soar in isolated scenes, but the feelings are relatively simple and unrefined. There is little philosophical musing or deep cerebral action happening throughout the franchise. There’s little nuance here. That’s not Star Wars. It’s exactly what it says it is, and you know exactly what you’re getting. I still love it, but more in a nostalgic way, summoning my boyhood infatuation with the films. When I want something more filling, I turn elsewhere.

The Virtue of Star Trek
Star Trek, on the other hand, started right out of the gate as something new and provocative. It didn’t take long to notice that this Sci-Fi series was going to be something drastically different than anything that had come before. This was no Lost in Space or Forbidden Planet.  In truth, Gene Roddenberry drafted a proposal for the science fiction series that he publicly marketed as a Western in outer space. He called it a so-called “Wagon Train to the Stars” — taking the name directly from the popular Western TV series. In that show, settlers explored the frontier in peace, but encountered hostility along the way. Their strong moral code allowed them to solve disagreements and meet new people and civilizations. Sound familiar? He privately told friends that he also was modeling it on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, intending each episode to act on two levels: as a suspenseful adventure story and as a morality tale.

Within the first few episodes, the show set itself apart from its peers, and offered a thoughtful reflection of 20th Century problems and unenlightened prejudices, while comfortably distancing itself in the future. Up until that point, much Science Fiction had been cheesy, shlocky, campy, and silly in its portrayal of the future. The genre had become waded in technology and ridiculous depictions of space gadgetry. Of course, Star Trek had its own technobabble and gadgets, but they were never ostentatious or showy. They were functional and utilitarian, and built on technology we already had. Or at least could envision. The show told deeply inquisitive stories, and offered a Universe like our own, except better. And all of this was already apparent by the fifth episode!

Although Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) isn’t my favorite series, it set the bar high. The first significant thing it had going for it was its multicultural cast, including three Jewish actors (Shatner, Nimoy, Koenig) playing bridge officers. Even though the show never acknowledged the ethnicity of its actors, the casting was a symbolic nod to what kind of show this would be. Secondly, there was an actor playing an accented Scotsman, an actor playing an accented Russian, a Japanese man, and a black female communications officer who spoke Swahili. This was one of the first instances of a black female in a lead role. This kind of diversity was almost unheard of in network television at the time, and all throughout the series, Roddenberry gave substantial roles to minorities.

This universe was set three hundred years in the future, after the third world war and the eugenics war. Humanity was peaceful, and had rid itself of greed, capitalism, the need for currency, and war. Starfleet Academy is where the future’s recruits to Starfleet’s officer corps will be trained. It was created in the year 2161, when the United Federation of Planets was founded. By the time Kirk is captaining the Enterprise, Starfleet and the Federation are roughly a hundred years old. Exploration is out of its infancy stage, but still wild and not totally regulated. Needless to say, Kirk and his crew have a LOT of latitude.

The Soul of Star Trek
Perhaps the soul of the show can be found directly in the guiding principle of the Federation and Starfleet Academy. It’s a moral code, by which the explorers live by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive, was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. A premise such as this was profoundly unique to Star Trek, and revolutionary for the era. Roddenberry clearly had Native American genocide, African slavery and Civil Rights, and other Colonial interference and subjugations in mind when he crafted such a directive. Over the fifty years prior to the show, Colonial governments were being overthrown, and countries were gaining their independence and autonomy from various imperial states. The devastation left in the wake of colonial imperialism can still be deeply felt in nations across Africa, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. Roddenberry deeply believed in a future free of unnecessary meddling or interference.

Star Trek: The Original Series
There were just three short seasons before being cancelled, by my land, what a magnificent run. Granted, the production values were god awful, and the acting was almost as bad. By today’s standards, the show is often laughable, with flimsy sets and unimaginative multi-colored food morsels (they didn’t even have room in the budget for prop food). However, those three seasons produced some of the most iconic scripts, with some of the most profound and philosophical ideas ever put forth on television. Although sometimes the dialogue was laughable and contrived, the stories in those early years were really innovative, and simply good science fiction. The Enemy Within is a nice riff on Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and asks us to examine the evil within us all. It explores where our assertive and aggressive sides come from, and acknowledges that we must invariably draw on our reptilian self-preservationist savage from time to time. It’s not pretty to look at that side of ourselves. Dagger of the Mind raises questions about crime and punishment and the ethics of certain methods of rehabilitation. It might be even more relevant today, with our bursting, eroding prisons. The Conscience of the King is a great premise, with a former tyrant and mass butcher hiding within a Shakespeare troupe as an actor. He might as well have been Eichman or Mengele. Return of the Archons is the inspiration for the recent Purge movies. One night a year, people go crazy and kill, for the sake of peace and calm in society the rest of the time. Yet, like today, the exploited and exploiters aligned with the have and have-nots, and it becomes clear who’s being purged. In Space Seed, we are introduced to the inimitable Khan, one of the greatest characters in the Trek universe. and introduced to a superhuman man and product of the Eugenics Wars, a shameful and destructive period in Earth’s late 20th Century. The genetically engineered Khan is a reminder of Hitler’s own obsession with breeding a master Aryan race. The episode City on the Edge of Forever, was artfully scribed by the famous Science Fiction writer, Harlan Ellison. This episode is so unlike the others, and has a special grace and elegance to it. We see Kirk genuinely fall for a woman, and ultimately have to let her die in order to not pollute the temporal timeline. This was really the first Trek to introduce the idea that our interference could change the course of time. This would later be known as the Temporal Prime Directive. This Gateway of Forever construct was used later in TNG, when Picard had to step through, and ended up on a Romulan ship. Although cancelled after just three short years, Star Trek set the tone for the rest of the series, and set the bar high for future generations. It was the face that launched a franchise, and is quite honestly, the series by which all others are measured.

I’m currently on my fourth viewing of all six series (including The Animated Series), and every time I go back to TOS, I’m a little skeptical, knowing it’s a bit cheesy, and hard to watch at times. However, there are at least TWO things that TOS got right. The first thing is the scripts. Those stories were strong enough to carry the show, no matter what happened. They were bona fide works of science fiction, and as good as anything in the genre. Secondly, the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and Bones was so solid and so affectionate, you could tell those three men really liked each other. They had such a short hand, a familiarity, and lighthearted chemistry. You would have thought they’d been acting together for over 20 years. That trifecta relationship was really what the show rested on. Had Jeffery Hunter stayed with the show, I don’t think it would have been nearly as successful. Despite his absurd (but lovable) over-the-top and blustery acting, Shatner brought a charming energy, which permeated through the whole cast.

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Although the film franchise was launched in 1979 — roughly a decade after the first series went off the air — it took nearly 20 years for another Star Trek show to hit the airways. That show was the much beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation. Think of it. What big shoes to fill. In that 20 years, a revolution had formed — a groundswell of fiercely loyal fans devoted to what…three short seasons of a cheaply produced science fiction show from the late ’60s! By then, Star Trek Conventions were popping up all over the world, and the fan base was deep and committed. I myself attend Conventions every summer! We all know Star Trek was much more than a cheap science fiction show. It was a movement. It was the thinking man’s science fiction, and a font for how we approach the universe, ourselves, and each other. It was social commentary. It was brawn and brains. Action and exploration. TNG was great, and did a remarkable job filling those shoes. It was different and new enough to be fresh and above reproach, yet still recognizable as in the Trekkie universe, upholding all of the same ideals and asking us even more nuanced questions. The first couple seasons were rough (embarrassingly bad quality writing that was at best prosaic and contrived, and at worst, creepily sexist and racist), but it showed marked improvement after that. The major improvements upon the original were a significantly higher budget and convincing production values, and more importantly, an arguably better cast — acting wise. That’s not to say the iconic cast from TOS was horrible — because they weren’t — but they were generally a bit cheesy and overblown, allowing us to love them for the charm of their personalities over their innate acting ability. TNG had a legitimate stable of trained actors, led by the inimitable Shakespearean stage actor, Patrick Stewart. He set the tone for the whole show. His serious demeanor and commanding presence leant the show gravitas, and we instantly knew we were in capable hands. Probably the next best actor was Brent Spiner, in a remarkable turn as Data, the android who so desperately longs to be human. His earnest and inquisitive, while often unintentionally funny, demeanor stand as not only the levity of the show, but ironically its heart. The tin man provides the heart and soul of the ship and crew, nay, its very mission. The rest of the cast varies in talent (and in annoyance factor — I’m looking at you Deanna and Lwaxana Troi…Beverly and Wesley Crusher!) But for the most part, the cast was competent and effective. Sadly, my final assessment is that although it has some of the best episodes Star Trek has ever produced (Chain of Command, Ship in a Bottle, Darmok, The Measure of a Man, Relics, to name a few) and perhaps the two best characters — Picard and Data — the show’s writing was uneven and inconsistent, making it sometimes fall short of the mark. The show is excellent, but it would take one more incarnation to really master the formula.

Deep Space Nine Captures Lightening in a Bottle
As the various series matured,  Star Trek tackled more philosophical ideas, and challenged its viewers to think more deeply. In my humble opinion, Deep Space Nine (DS9) stands as the pinnacle in Star Trek accomplishment. I know many people disparage it because it takes place on a space station, and not a starship, thus defying the mission of the show. That’s bullshit. The show has by far, the most accomplished cast of actors, each playing really unique characters. including one Bajoran, a shapeshifter, a Ferengi, and later a Klingon. Add in two terrific Cardassians, and Lissipian barfly named Morn (an anagram spoof on Cheers‘ Norm) and you have the most talented cast of all. Sure, TNG had Picard and Data, but it also had Troi, Crusher and Yar. DS9 cast is terrific across the board. There simply is no offensively bad actor on the show.

In terms of scripts, I would venture to say that few science fiction scripts in the history of episodic television have rivaled DS9 at its best. The scripts are so well articulated, and so intricately plotted, that character arcs are well developed and extended perfectly over the course of the seven year run. Dialogue is elegant and intelligent, and the plots are interesting and engaging. DS9 at its best perfectly mastered the balance and elegance of a solid Star Trek episodes. The episode would be both cerebral and moral, ask questions the audience had to answer, and still provide plenty of action to keep you engaged.  TOS and TNG might have some stellar episodes throughout, but DS9 wins for most consistent quality. And most evenly and impressively acted by every cast member.

I only need name a few transformative DS9 episodes to make my point. Far Beyond the Stars envisions the events of Deep Space Nine as the creation of Benny Russell, a struggling science-fiction writer living in 1950s New York City who dreams of an escape from the racism and social tumult that surrounds him. He also looks exactly like Ben Sisko, giving the rest of the cast a chance to ditch their makeup and prosthetics to appear as his friends, co-workers and tormentors. This episode may be low on production costs, but it extraordinarily high on concept. In The Visitor it’s hard to escape a viewing without sobbing uncontrollably. This episode gets to the soul of what Star Trek is ultimately supposed to be about: the human condition. After the unexpected death of his father, Jake spends a lifetime figuring out how the boy that he was can be reunited with the dad that he so desperately needed. At its core, Star Trek is not about technobabble or sci-fi, and this episode perfectly captures that. It is a story about love, loss and self-sacrifice that is so powerful that it transcends the genre and devastates by its sheer beauty. In Duet a Cardassian man arrives on the station suffering from an illness that he could only have contracted at a Bajoran labor camp during the Occupation. While in custody, he boastfully claims to be the head of the labor camp, responsible for countless Bajoran deaths. Major Kira (a deeply bitter and resentful Bajoran) leads an investigation to determine whether he is actually a notorious war criminal. The show explores mercy, redemption, forgiveness, guilt, and the insidious effect of hatred and vengeance. It is one of the most powerful hours you’ll ever spend in front of a television.

Star Trek or Star Wars?
As much as I enjoy the Star Wars films, they are blockbuster candy. They’re exciting and thrilling, and are undeniably fun. At the same time, they are also really sweet and fill me up for a time, but they’re not high in nutrition. Whereas, Star Trek rejuvenates me each time I return to the well. I am inspired by its lofty ideals and Roddenberry’s hope for a better tomorrow. The movies and shows are intellectually engaging, morally inquisitive, and challenge me each time I watch. Star Trek pushes us to reexamine our world, and to go boldly go where no one has gone before. If Star Wars is my youthful idealism, Star Trek is my cautious optimism, tempered by time and experience. That sustains me.

Which is better and why: Star Wars or Star Trek?

If I wanted to teach my daughter about Star Trek where would I start?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

When approaching your daughter about the virtues and joy of being a Star Trek viewer, I would start with explaining that despite being set in the future, it is a pointed reflection of our contemporary society, with all its injustices and social inequities. It addresses our prejudices, and all the work we still have left to do. But it’s projected through the lens of the future, replete with dazzling technology and a truly egalitarian society, free of greed, enmity, and exploitation. And yet, the show is not about gadgets and technobabble, but rather, the human condition. It is about us —  more evolved and enlightened — yet still facing the struggles of overcoming the corrosive and dangerous elements in ourselves, regardless of how accepting and magnanimous we’ve become. The future is about personal responsibility, and being responsible citizens of the galaxy. The characters on Star Trek are stewards of the universe, and their ongoing mission is one of exploration and making peaceful contact with new species. Roddenberry had a very touchy-feely idealism, but examined the human condition with great depth and philosophical rigor.

In order for your daughter to understand the spirit of Star Trek, she must first understand the guiding principle by which every Federation/ Starfleet character lives by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. Undoubtedly, Roddenberry was thinking of European’s treatment of Native Americans and subsequent genocide, African Americans path to slavery, the forced conversions of Amazonian tribes, and every other act of subjugation, even when governed by the best intentions. Gene wanted socially conscious explorers who didn’t ‘conquer’ space, but respected the aliens they came in contact with, and didn’t impose their technology, morality, or belief systems on those unlike us. It’s the very essence of tolerance and cultural communication and exchange. Star Trek embodies the good in each of us, and the simple commitment to empathize with others. You can point to the bitter and acrimonious culture wars and race riots ripping apart our country today. It’s found in the urban streets of Baltimore and the lofty halls of Congress. In the words of Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Roddenberry saw the same division and unrest out his window in 1960s America. An unpopular war was waged in some far-flung country we didn’t belong, and the streets were erupting in peaceful and violent Civil Rights protest. Star Trek was not some cold, distant, and alien fantasy, but an introspective work of art targeted at the very heart of our society.

The obvious first place to start is with the original series — Star Trek: TOS. Although the production qualities are abysmal, and the acting broad and overblown, the stories are some of the best Science Fiction has ever produced. Famous Sci-Fi writers wrote for the show, and often explored complex issues like race relations, intolerance, prison reform and rehabilitation, the darkness found in each of us, imposing their views on other species, ethnic cleansing, genocide, keeping peace and upholding justice without interfering or meddling in others’ affairs. You might have to directly address the fact that although the show is very progressive and enlightened, there is still rampant sexism on the show. Apparently, there is a limit to how far into the future you can see the evolution of your society. We are all products of our time. A good lesson, and undoubtedly, a teachable moment.

Once you’ve worked your way through the sadly brief three seasons of TOS, you should probably move on to the first six films. In many ways, these films add depth and credibility to the franchise, and counter the cheesy distractions of the poor production qualities of the original series.

From there, the other series vary in quality and efficacy. In my opinion, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most mature, profound, cerebral, consistently high quality, well written, and exquisitely acted. But there is much to love about Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. The other two series have great episodes and memorable characters, but aren’t always consistent in quality and delivering the signature Star Trek philosophy and world view.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to convey to your daughter is that Star Trek is so popular and has such a devoted fan base because it meets so many of our human needs. It is a nourishing and visceral combination of ideas, action, story, philosophy, morality, ethics, and social commentary, and it has the ability to inspire us to be the evolved and enlightened society we should all aspire to. It is thrilling and action packed, yet cerebral and thought-provoking. Star Trek dares us all to boldly go where no one has gone before. To be our better selves.

If I wanted to teach my daughter about Star Trek where would I start?