Back to the Future
This week, Star Trek: Picard premieres on CBS's "All Access" streaming platform with Patrick Stewart reprising his famous role as Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: the Next Generation (1987-1994). The character was last seen in the 2002 film, Star Trek: Nemesis. For Star Trek fans, this series is remarkable as it's the first time the franchise is returning to the 24th Century era (last seen in Nemesis and Star Trek: Voyager) in nearly 20 years after doing several "prequels" set in the time period of Captain Kirk and Star Trek: The Original Series.
Reflections on Star Trek Fandom
It just so happens that the San José Public Library's Web Team are all big Star Trek fans (among other shared fandoms) and are looking forward to the new series. To mark the premiere of Star Trek: Picard, we (Tim Reif, Julie Oborny, and John Muller) thought we'd reflect a bit on 50+ years of storytelling in the Final Frontier. If you're also a fan and want a walk down memory lane or are curious about jumping into the Star Trek franchise, check out our recommendations below.
What first drew you to Star Trek?
Tim: Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) started showing up in syndication following the after-school cartoon line-up right when I was really into monster movies as a kid, especially Godzilla (guy in rubber lizard suit). So the bizarre monsters and aliens the crew encountered every week really appealed to me more so than the crew themselves - especially things like the Gorn (guy in rubber lizard suit). I was also mesmerized and maybe a little creeped out by the Horta (guy under rubber blanket).
John: The action, adventure, and camaraderie experienced by the main characters each week seemingly without any major repercussions or consequences to them for their actions. As someone who enjoys studying history and is an amateur genealogist I envied their ability to travel through time and interact with the past. Of course, if you're unfortunate enough to be a redshirt then you were out of luck, but that didn’t really register with me until later. (see the book Redshirts for a hilarious take on the phenomenon)
Julie: Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) was omnipresent in my household. This is something our family watched regularly, so TNG is a comforting habit. Star Trek: The Original Series was always on in the morning before school. Again, it was a comforting habit. When the reboot of movies came up, it re-invigorated my interest. I still like the original "Trilogy" (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) more than the newer ones, but it still caused me to reabsorb all things Star Trek as an adult. The Voyage Home is my favorite of the three because I liked that humpback whales (yes, it's "the one with the whales") are viewed as an intelligent species. Thinking about intelligence on Earth beyond human intelligence and even having a science fiction (sci-fi) film with an environmental focus was revolutionary for film at that time. I know we had Planet of the Apes, and there are other earlier film franchises that have done that, but they didn't have some comical moments while still retaining the heart of the franchise, and I'm pretty sure people died in those other ones. No humans die in The Voyage Home, not even a redshirt if my memory serves me.
What is your favorite Star Trek series, character, or story?
Julie: I would have always said TNG, but I really like Discovery. I love the diverse cast and that people who are generally underrepresented in the entertainment industry, particularly in sci-fi, are cast in lead roles. I think it's also because the pace and intensity remind me of one of my favorite series of all time, 2004's Battlestar Galactica (BSG). To me, good sci-fi shines a light on what's going on in our world right now. For example, BSG addressed torture and prisoner's rights when the United States was starting to look in the mirror and face the torture it had committed. Star Trek has focused on civil rights in the past. Good sci-fi often has themes of social justice and a vision or hope of what the world could or should be. Sometimes that vision is misguided if we examine that work of art retroactively, but we could say that about a lot of stuff. Star Trek and BSG do a good job of not shying away from difficult subjects. Favorite character is still Spock. Favorite actor is still Leonard Nimoy. You can stream a nice documentary about this wonderful person via Hoopla (free with your library card). "Guilty Pleasure Bonus" that is Star Trek adjacent: The Orville.
Tim: Conveniently, I'd have to stick with TNG and Picard as my favorites. They really exemplify the progressive-humanist ethos that Star Trek is known for. And Patrick Stewart's performance took it beyond just naive idealism and made the audience believe that humanity might just be able to hold themselves to that higher standard. Picard was a model to me for how business/political leaders should behave. Its no accident that at the height of TNG's popularity there was a business management book called Make It So, analyzing Picard's leadership style. If I had to pick the TV show or movie that was the most influential to me at that time, it would be a tie between TNG and Northern Exposure.
John: My favorite Star Trek series is Deep Space Nine (available through Link+) because it’s more relatable than the others. Primarily because the characters weren’t perfect and had their flaws which they worked through over the course of the series. Plus, they had real families and built their camaraderie through shared experience (Chief O’Brien and Dr. Bashir). The episodes “His Way” and “In the Pale Moonlight” deserve special mention for just how well both comedy and drama respectively could be done in Star Trek. My favorite individual episode is from The Next Generation entitled “Tapestry”. I found the self-reflective "what if" concept to be very intriguing. When given an opportunity to make alternate choices in a pivotal point in one’s past life then being returned to the present only to realize it was those very mistakes that you were trying to fix that molded you into the person you are today was a very powerful idea.
What are you looking forward to or hoping for in the new Picard series?
John: To see what happens to a person who has lived a life of action and purpose haunted by the mistakes of his past struggling to find meaning and redemption in the twilight of his life by saving the Federation one more time. Also, to find out the state of the Galaxy/Federation and find out how the respective lives of the 7 main bridge crew turned out after their time in StarFleet.
Tim: I remember about a year before Picard was announced, Patrick Stewart commented that he might be willing to reprise his role if they could get actors from the different series' together into one show. That's exactly what I've been wanting since Voyager ended. At this point, they've missed their chance to have past characters crew a Federation ship together (they're too old for it to make sense), but I'm hoping the Picard show will check in with a lot of familiar faces and scenarios. It looks like some of that, at least, will be happening.
Julie: An evolved Picard. I want to see a different Picard. Sir Patrick Stewart is such a talented actor, I want to see him flex his acting skills. Check out his broad range of work in our DVD/Bluray and Hoopla streaming collections (Trust me, it's a broad range. And, yes, I checked - he really was in The Emoji Movie.).
In what form does "Star Trek fandom" express itself in your life?
Julie: My greatest expression of fandom is probably fashion. I've got some cool Vulcan Salute 🖖 earrings that are made out of this iridescent plexiglass material. I've also got some Spock earrings and a few more jewelry pieces. My go-to backup costume for years (until it got shredded in the wash) was my Star Trek TOS Commander costume. Why yellow (commander) and not blue (science), you ask? I like to be the leader, and yellow looks good on me. I've got a couple of shirts, but I don't wear those as often. This isn't for me, but if you are a fan of crafting, you should check out this cross stitch book. I do like to get crafty in the kitchen though; these geeky chef ebooks and books have recipes from a lot of sci-fi and fantasy stuff that I like, including from Star Trek, such as cellular peptide cake with mint frosting (wish I was that kind of Pinterest mom) and Romulan ale (much easier to make).
John: Occasional convention attendance, though I’ve found that meeting the actors in person ruins the mystique of their respective Star Trek characters. Lots of Star Trek quotes, memes, and general discussions in person and posted on social media with my immediate co-workers, friends, and family. I also invariably wear my blue (library/science) Deep Space Nine uniform jacket or one of my Star Trek pins for Halloween.
Tim: I'm really into film music - its about 75% of what I'm listening to at any given time. For the last few years I've had this OCD project of tracking down all the available Star Trek CDs now that they've finally started releasing complete film scores and extensive samplings from the TV shows. I've got about 15 more discs I need out of about 100. While there's some amazing stuff, to be fair, a lot of it isn't super memorable either; it's just cool that its now out there. The library has some decent samplings of the older releases available on Hoopla.
Are you looking forward to Star Trek: Picard? Leave a comment and let us know how you'd answer these questions.