Star Trek at 45
I think I’m legally required as a nerd born in the latter half of the 20th century to write a little something about Star Trek today, the 45th anniversary of its premiere.
I was probably 10 when I first discovered Star Trek, back when the future was still the future. This was 1975 (don’t do the math,) long before Star Wars.
There was no such thing as cable TV back then. Down in Ben Lomond, 90 miles south of the S.F. bay area, we were able to pick up five channels with the big TV antenna mounted to the chimney (the four networks plus an independent station.)
To watch TV, I had to walk over to the set, turn it on, turn the dial to the channel I wanted, then turn the TV antenna rotator control which sent a signal to the roof to point the antenna towards the station I wanted to watch. After about a minute, when the TV had warmed up enough to show a picture, I usually had to tick the antenna rotator over a notch or two to get a clear picture.
Some station started showing Star Trek at 7 p.m., after the local news and before prime time. I’m not sure which episode I saw first. All I know is that it instantly became my favorite show (sorry, Batman.) All I had seen of science fiction on TV up to that point was Thunderbirds (puppets) and Lost in Space (what the hell?) But Star Trek… Star Trek seemed right. It seemed to make sense, to have purpose, to confidently know what it was doing.
In the blink of an eye, I had built models of the Enterprise, a Klingon battle cruiser, and a Romulan bird of prey. I bought the Starfleet Technical Manual, and I was a Vulcan for Halloween (most people asked why I was going as an elf.)
Looking back, I learned heroism, selflessness, logic, confidence, and for the first time in my life I was seeing an Asian man and a black woman on a regular basis. As my parents descended into constant fighting, Star Trek was part of my escape. The people on that show were, in some ways, my best friends. I couldn’t have asked for better.
When Star Wars came out, I bought a new set of models, and a new set of books. But Star Wars was just an adventure story. It didn’t teach me anything new about life and how to live it the way Star Trek did.
I was in high school when The Wrath of Khan came out, and the first couple of times I saw it, yes, I cried when Spock died. Really, I could say he was the first person I was close to who ever died in my life. I remember I went to the movie with “friends,” and for weeks afterwards I would get random crank calls laughing at me for crying.
Over the years, I’ve met Leonard Nimoy (Spock,) James Doohan (Scotty,) and most recently Walter Koenig (Checkov.) Walking out of a restaurant with Walter (I call him Walter,) I joked that I had shaken hands with almost half the original cast. He said, “Well, you’d better hurry up if you want to get the other half.”
Time went on and Star Trek became big business and spawned a bunch of semi- to ultra-crappy spin-offs that left important questions unanswered, like why did both the Borg and the Vulcans develop silicone breast implants? And why does the engineering section of the new old Enterprise look just like a Budweiser brewery?
Ah, but those days back then, when I was a little kid, when it was unique, and special, and gave me hope… those were good days.