55 years later, a seven-point guide to the Star Trek universe
Wait. There is a whole Star Trek universe
There would have to be. Star Trek is literally set in outer space. It started out, 55 years to the day, as a somewhat camp space-Western. A bunch of 23rd-century intergalactic adventurers — humans from diverse races, plus one half-alien — on board the USS Enterprise, boldly go where no man had gone before. The initial episodes were a ratings failure on American TV. But fans — housewives at first, followed by nerdy boys - slowly warmed up to the shows idea of an optimistic future, making Star Trek an out-of-this-world success.
The Original Series ran for three seasons. There have since been nine spin-off television series, a film series only fans like, another film series everyone likes, animated shows, novels, comics, very raunchy fan-fiction and a global army of enthusiasts.
It’s like Star Wars, then….
No! And you’d best not confuse the two, lest you frustrate more loyalists. Star Trek’s adventures are largely peaceful. They’re set in a future where humanity, at least, has overcome bigotry. Earth has joined a chummy United Federation of Planets. Their Starfleet vessels go on diplomatic missions, with each series focusing on a different ship, with a different captain and crew. There is politics, certainly. Some aliens don’t play nice; some haven’t evolved to play at all. Issues of ethics and philosophy underscore every plot twist. Think of Star Trek as a sci-fi parable for how we could live better on Earth today.
So there are no villains?
Oh no, there are plenty of villains, and battles. The Klingons are territorial and short-tempered. The Romulans are sinister and secretive. The Vulcans, so cool and logical, can get on your nerves as well, as you will find with first-officer Spock interacting with captain James T Kirk on Star Trek, The Original Series. There are androids with evil written into their code, extra-dimensional beings, and a hivemind of cyborgs. And then there’s Khan, so evil, he was exiled into space. Don’t let him get anywhere near Spock.
Fans keep saying “Beam Me Up, Scottie”
That’s because Star Trek tech is cool. You can teleport people across vast swathes of space by beaming them there. Ships can zip across the quadrant at Warp speed and Hyperdrive. Phasers, space-age weapons, can stun, but also do fatal damage. There is 3D chess, which looks more complicated than the earthly version. You can enjoy a simulated environment on a Holodeck. Or time-travel if you can get the calculations right.
Sounds like it’s ahead of its time
Yes. Even for a show that aired its first episode 55 years ago. The Original Series featured the first interracial kiss on TV, when Kirk kissed his communications officer, Uhura. It portrayed Russians as loyal, essential teammates at the height of the Cold War. Women held key posts aboard the Enterprise and in alien cultures. The Star Wars universe seemed, by the 2000s, lost in its own outdated vision of the future. But that changed with JJ Abrams’s reboot, with a film trilogy (2005-2016), which gave the franchise a stylish, fun spin. The shows and films since have shown that the heart and soul of the early series can be played up in new ways.
What’s the fastest way to catch up?
Watch the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series, some of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the 2005 Star Trek reboot and its 2013 sequel, Into Darkness. Hooked? Watch series like Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Discovery, and the new Lower Decks, an animated adult comedy about the least important Starfleet ships.
Is there a cheat sheet to butter up a Star Trek Fan?
First, call them Trekkies. Mention that Uhura’s first name is Nyota. Tell them that Persis Khambatta did India proud by appearing in the 1979 Star Trek film — so what if she had to shave her head? Then raise your palm, extend your thumb out, separate your fingers so a V forms between the ring and middle finger, and say, “Live long and prosper”. That’s the Vulcan salute.