A brief history of ‘Star Trek’

March 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 10, 2015

Author’s note: I know the blog has been Star Trek–heavy lately, thanks to all the musings prompted by the recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy. As it happens, I recently acquired DVDs of the four movies starring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, and I watched one of them the other night. But before I wrote about the film proper, I wanted to put it in the context of the Star Trek franchise.

Also, I recently read two books: Sweet Tooth, a spy novel by Ian McEwan, and The Lecturer’s Tale, an academic satire by James Hynes. Please bear with me… I’ll get back to non-Trek programming soon, I promise! MEM

Creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned the television show now known as Star Trek: The Original Series as being a “Wagon Train to the stars.” Despite its status now as a pop-culture icon, the program — which chronicled the 23rd-century adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the crew of the starship Enterprise — got off to a rocky start. In 1968, two years after its debut, NBC executives decided to commission a third season only after fans mounted a letter-writing campaign. But the show was canceled for good in 1969.

The franchise limped along over the next decade. A cartoon version featuring most of the original cast, which is now called Star Trek: The Animated Series, was produced for the 1973-74 TV season.

But Trek survived mainly in the form of reruns; this was how (and when) I first came to know the show as a young child. Trek fans were also able to enjoy print adaptations of the TV episodes, original stories told in novel and comic-book form, and a variety of franchise-themed toys and clothing. After the cartoon show was scuttled, however, there were no new television or cinematic adventures to be seen.

In 1977, George Lucas’s box office smash, Star Wars, got studio executives interested in science-fiction projects. Roddenberry, who had been pitching Star Trek television revival that’s now referred to as Star Trek: Phase II, got the go-ahead for a movie project that became 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The film was a bit of a turkey, but it did enough box office to pave the way for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This feature, released in 1982, was both a critical and commercial success; it was followed by four more movies featuring the original crew of the Enterprise and their 23rd-century voyages. The last of these, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, came out in 1991.

The 1980s was a terrific decade for Star Trek fans because the franchise spawned a new television show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which depicted the 24th-century adventures of a new crew aboard a new starship EnterpriseTNG debuted in 1987 and wrapped up after seven seasons.

In the 1990s, Star Trek reinvented itself. 1991 saw the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a show set on a 24th-century space station. DS9 had a darker edge than any previous Trek series but was quite popular; it too ran for seven seasons. Four years later, yet another new series appeared: Star Trek: Voyager, which tracked the journeys of a 24th-century starship that’s lost in a distant galactic quadrant.

In November 1994, a few months after The Next Generation wrapped up its broadcast run, Star Trek Generations premiered in movie theaters. The feature was intended to propel the TNG cast into their own string of movie appearances; it did so in part by teaming the original series’s Captain Kirk with TNG’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

While Generations, like The Motion Picture, was generally regarded as a turkey, the film did its job well enough. Three Next Generation movies followed.

And here we transition to the 2000s. This decade was similar to the 1970s in that the franchise spent much of this period floundering; different, in that it actually had multiple movie and TV incarnations during this time.

The last and arguably least of the Next Generation movies was Star Trek: Nemesis, which was released in 2002. It came out about a year after the debut of the fifth (and to date final) live-action Trek TV program.

Enterprise (sometimes called Star Trek: Enterprise) followed the voyages of a 22nd-century starship with the registration number NX-01 and the name — well, you know. The show wasn’t as popular as its predecessors and ended its broadcast run after four seasons, in 2005.

The franchise was quiescent for a few years after that, and some fans began to wonder if it had breathed its last. But, as I noted the other day, in May 2009, nearly four years to the day after the final Enterprise episode was broadcast, the property was rebooted with J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek, which recreated the original series by assembling a younger cast to play Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the whole gang.

Abrams and company followed up with Star Trek Into Darkness, which pitted new Kirk against a version of Star Trek II’s Khan Noonian Singh, in 2013. A third entry in the series is supposed to begin filming in Canada this summer and is due for a 2016 release.

And that’s where things stand.

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