Star Trek: The Motion Picture – A film review by Douglas Nary, Jr.

The year was 1979. I was 5 years old, my parents had gotten divorced in June and I had just started Kindergarten feeling lost and confused among all these other strange kids. I still had my biweekly weekend visits with my dad to look forward to, however, and in December of that year, with Christmas on the horizon, he and I would have a special day together; one that would be forever etched into my psyche in a sweet way.

Since my baby brother was sick that day, it was just my dad and I. And we were going into town (from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, where Dad was stationed and we were living at the time) to go to the movies. The film that he was so excited to take me to see: Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Now, during the trip, I wasn’t so much excited about what movie we were going to see as much as I was having one-on-one time with my dad. Star Trek at that point didn’t hold a candle to Star Wars in my mind; it was just one of those old shows that my dad liked (along with Lost In Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Land of the Giants). But it did have spaceships in it and my 5-year-old mind was all over anything with spaceships, plus we were going to Farrell’s for ice cream sundaes after the show, so I had plenty to look forward to.

As the theatre darkened and we moved through the trailers of I-Don’t-Even-Remember upcoming films and moved on to the feature, I instantly recognised the silhouettes of three Klingon ships. I had seen Klingon ships before, but not like this. These Klingon ships were so BIG on the screen, and so real, you could almost touch them. Except you didn’t want to. These were, after all, the bad guys, and both the Klingons and their fate by this mysterious ‘cloud’ filled me with morbid fascination.

Then came the familiar faces. The first was Spock, albeit with long hair, on Vulcan, then Kirk, looking heroic as he stepped off of an immaculately sleek shuttle in an immaculately sleek San Francisco. Then we saw Scotty, looking much as he did on Jason of Star Command, as he took Kirk on what was to be a tour of the newly designed EnterpriseAnd then, we saw the Enterprise. Thus my affinity for Star Trek began, not from the familiar faces of the show that my dad liked, although they were nice to see on the big screen, from that ship in its intricate drydock. She was sleek, she was functional, she was majestic…she was beautiful, and wherever she voyaged, I wanted to be aboard her.

Forget the film’s slow pace. Forget the familiar plot similarities to “The Changeling” (which I had not yet even seen, so my young mind wasn’t even aware of them until years later.) I was completely hooked on the sensory experience. Being on board the Enterprise– whatever the familiar faces of the crew were doing or talking about- was like a Disneyland of functionality and engineering that became my first true appreciation of art. And the morbid fascination with this threat that crew was exploring, while my 5-year-old brain couldn’t really comprehend the plot, I felt like my dad was letting me in on a new level of understanding somehow (though I wouldn’t be able to articulate it to myself until years later), and finally, that last beautiful sweeping shot as we looked ‘up’ to the very big and beautiful Enterprise engage her warp drive to her next voyage.

Needless to say, I had beautiful visions of space technology dancing in my head as we ate our ice cream sundaes at Farrell’s in the same shopping centre that the theatre was at (if I recall correctly). Over the next few visits with Dad, both my brother and I would have car trips listening to Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderfully epic soundtrack, enjoy seeing the model kits that my dad built of the Enterprise, Klingon ship, and Vulcan shuttle which all had these neat looking rainbow effect stickers for the engine and weapon components, and Dad had even augmented the Enterprise kit’s saucer lights with additional lights in the saucer, engineering hull, and the ‘neck’ in between. He also had a picture book (The TMP Photostory. Essentially still pictures of the film with captions that read like a comic book) that he eventually gave me. We even saw the film two additional times at the local drive –in theatre. Our formal education on the original series also began. We shared Star Trek (as well as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and sci-fi in general) with our dad the same way other fathers would share sports with their sons.

A fan had been born that day. My ONLY complaint about the film was the lack of ship-to-ship combat action. I really wanted to see the new Enterprise up against one of those new Klingon ships, but I held out faith that we would get some action in a second movie. (And sure enough, we did.)

But enough self-indulgence. Now that you know how I became a Star Trek fan, let’s dive into the first of this series of reviews, where I will analyze and try to figure out why our favorite films are so great, why our not-so-favorite films aren’t, and why people have such a difference of opinion on such things. We begin with that first Star Trek feature.

Star Trek had been around for 13 years at the time of the first film’s release, so a lot of people already had some pre-conceived notions about what a Star Trek movie should be like. Fans craving a new Star Trek adventure in any form went to see it in droves, but they were divided over the film, some considering it a huge disappointment while others thought it was simply epic. (We Nary boys were definitely in the latter category.) Mainstream moviegoers, who were expecting something along the lines of Star Wars instead got something along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey and were simply bored with it.

So, what happened that caused this? Well, in 1979, we were on the brink of the space shuttle era. It was to be the first (of many we hoped) reusable space vehicles, and the first such vehicle, named Enterprise, had been successfully test flown on free flight within the atmosphere that tested her guidance and landing systems. I truly believe that these flights and their promise for the future, as much as anything else, led to an escalation of America’s appetite for science fiction. Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out around the same time as Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman: The Movie and Alien. Also on the small screen, we were being treated to things like Battlestar Galactica, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman. No doubt about it, it was a great time to be a science fiction fan.

While I will concede that the film’s slow pace and cerebral plot may have contributed to its relatively lacklustre performance with critics of the time, when one considers the above conditions, it was actually a quite logical (no pun intended) and perfectly reasonable mistake to make.

Clearly, producer Gene Roddenberry felt that audiences were ready for a more cerebral type of Star Trek adventure that would engage the audience’s minds and get them thinking rather than go with a shoot ‘em up type of scenario. The success of Close Encounters no doubt convinced both him and Paramount that a science fiction adventure need not involve space battles to be successful. They also had every reason to believe that the Star Trek name and characters and their popularity would carry any adventure to success both critically and commercially.

So why didn’t it?

Was it the lack of ship-to-ship combat action? No. I have already admitted that this was my only personal complaint about the film…but I was five and had a child’s taste for excitement and I still loved the film. Also, there are plenty of other Star Trek adventures made before and since that do not involve space battles and were loved by fans.

Was it the plot similarities to past Star Trek episodes? Perhaps. There are similarities to plots from previous Star Trek episodes. “The Changeling” is the most obvious, with the two stories involving machines in search of their “creator”, which turns out to be human. There are also elements of “The Doomsday Machine”, also featuring a mammoth machine threatening to swallow the Enterprise and a character named Decker; and “The Immunity Syndrome”, in which the Enterprise penetrated an outer “cloud” layer to get to the threat facing them.

However, Star Trek borrowing plot elements from other sources or even from itself is hardly unique to this film. The next film in the series, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, borrows heavily from both Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities along with other well-known sources and no one complained. So I don’t think recycled plot elements is the problem here. Every plot comes from somewhere, you just have to do variations on the theme not seen before, and The Motion Picture did so spectacularly.

Was it the “odd numbered curse”? In my frank opinion, the so-called “odd numbered curse” on Star Trek films is balderdash! Both this film and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock are not only two of my favourite Star Trek films; they rank among my favourite films of all time. And last I checked, “1” and “3” are both odd numbers. They may not have been as popular with critics as Treks II & IV, but they were just as successful at the box office, which to me means that they were just as popular with fans of the time. Plus, one must consider the box office numbers for the Star Trek films made since 1998. Films number 9 and 11 have outperformed their even numbered counterparts (10 & 12) in terms of both box office and fan reaction. Heck, if anything we’ve been living with an EVEN numbered curse for the last 17 years!

When one looks at how this film has aged gracefully over the last 36 years since its release, how it has grown in esteem with the release of new cuts (one in 1983, and a spectacular Director’s Edition in 2001 that fixed almost all of the second act’s problems), it’s quite clear that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a film that has withstood the test of time quite well. My theory on why it did not perform as well as it should have…it was simply ahead of its time. It just needed that time to get the recognition it deserved. Lack of plot and characterization? Poppycock! Both Kirk and Spock go through significant character arcs that I for one have been able to identify with at different points of my life. Spock’s especially. As he goes from believing his human half to be a weakness and responsible for his pain to embracing it and finding new strength, we too find strength in embracing new ways of thinking that we have previously been rejecting. This, in turn, can lead to a better understanding of others and even of the universe and our place in it.

In this series, I will rate films on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being at the top. On that scale, I rate Star Trek: The Motion Picture a 9, its slow pace being the ONLY thing keeping it from a 10. I could not have asked for a better introduction to the Star Trek universe, and I predict that our ever-increasing understanding of the universe may prompt future Trek writers to look to this introspective adventure as an example of what to aspire to.


  • Blog Author: Douglas Nary, Jr
  • Blog Layout and Pictures: James Hams
  • Pictures: CBS/Paramount, Google Images. 

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So, let’s talk about Discovery – By Bill Allen

“A minority female lead is a groundbreaking—“
no, plenty of folks are going to cover that.

“The F/X are CLEARY, not pre-TOS Prime—“
Yeah, let’s skip that can of worms.

“The Klingons are—“
I have absolutely no idea, heard thirty theories, will hear thirty more. (Looks cool, though.)

“It’s on a Streaming service instead of—“
no, I will not argue about this…and no, I will not get off your lawn, grandpa.

“the ship looks like—“
that was done, redone, overdone, then done again during the first teaser.

So, a thousand blogs, ten thousand opinions, a hundred thousand fan theories (some of which are good, and some of which…well, folks, please have your homes tested for lead paint.) What can I say about the new Series? There are a lot of folks who are much smarter than me and very clever analyzing all the little details…and there are folks who are not as smart as me but much louder making assertions and assumptions based on no evidence, or two seconds of footage, or tinfoil hats.  How can we write about Star Trek Discovery when we haven’t seen it yet? We can talk about what we know about it: it is Star Trek.  But what does that mean?


The crew of TNG

Let’s go for a little trip down memory lane.

I never Discovered Star Trek. the birth of Star Trek came about a decade before I showed up on the scene. So, unlike a lot of fans, I don’t have a ‘moment’…Star Trek was something my family liked, so it was always on in reruns as I grew up. So, I don’t have a cool story about my first experience with Star Trek. (It wasn’t even the first non-cartoon movie I saw in cinemas…I ended up seeing “Ghostbusters”, and then “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, and then saw “Search for Spock”.) But there were plenty of firsts.

I remember being 15 minutes late for the Premiere of TNG. I was at my grandmother’s in Texas, and it was Sunday afternoon that it was slated to air (the wonders of a show jumping directly into syndication…) I had gone to church (because that is what you do when you stay at Mamaw’s) and hung around a bit to play with kids my age, let Mamaw kibbitz with the preacher, that sort of thing, and then she said, “well, let’s go home so you can watch that new Star Trek show you keep talking about.”

so, I missed the beginning. My first sighting of the New and ‘improved’ Enterprise, redesigned to be more futuristic and the like, was as it soared majestically in orbit over whatever alien planet they were visiting to see some station called ‘Farpoint’. I liked the lines of the hull and the glowing blue of the nacelles that swept so smoothly and majestically up from the hull…and found that the teeny tiny saucer on the Enterprise looked really out of proportion and stupid. “what have they done to my ship?!?” I cried, aghast…then the Enterprise flew off and reconnected with the saucer section, and suddenly, not only did the ship look MUCH better, it had a cool new feature with the detachable saucer. The lesson here: sometimes we can be hasty with our gut reactions. Not only did the first episode of TNG get better, but over the years, the series as a whole got better.

The crew of DS9 S7

I remember being less than thrilled about Deep Space Nine. This was the golden age of syndicated TV: right before all these new networks popped up and really defined themselves, you had outfits doing all sorts of great sci-fi/fantasy shows: Time Trax, Babylon 5, Kung-Fu the Legend Continues, Hercules….Star Trek deserved a spot in among all the PTEN fare. But…a Space Station instead of a Starship? But then I read the TV guide articles (Sure, internet was around back then, but not exactly commonplace) and they talked about the mysterious wormhole to the other side of the galaxy, and how O’Brien would figure out a way to make the whole space station move….so I thought, ‘ok, they fall in the wormhole, and drift around from place to place in a mobile station, far from home, more resources than a Starship, but less mobile…put the crew to the test beyond the final frontier…’ of course, the actual show played out a bit different than the concept I had in my head, and while I thought *MY* idea was cooler…DS9 ended up doing great, and gave us a fascinating Trek series. The Lesson Here: fans tell great stories….but those are not the ONLY story. Someone else—especially guys whose stories are good enough that they get PAID to tell them—are ALSO going to be good.

I remember Voyager. Back to a Starship now, but on the far side of the galaxy (I guess those network execs listened to my cool idea about how they should have done DS9…?) TNG really shook things up, gave us a DRASTIC shift away from TOS in look and feel…it was still Star Trek, but was definitely a ‘strange new world’. DS9 gave us a different kind of story altogether, again going new, with new life and new civilisations…and it laid the groundwork for building that ephemeral thing called ‘canon’.

The crew of Voyager

Voyager gave us a universe. It took the aspects that created the ‘TNG era’, cemented ‘canon’, took a deeper look at the old standards and went a little more in depth, laying the foundations that changed Star Trek from being just a franchise and bumped it up into…a Legacy? I’m not sure, but whatever Trek had become, ‘franchise’ seemed an inadequate word. It gave us our favourites, it fleshed out details, and still managed to surprise us with new discoveries…even about some of those old favourites. The lesson here: Star Trek lives. It perseveres….it keeps on sailing along the horizon, and often the journey matters even more than the destination. 

I remember Enterprise. A reimagining (a ‘reboot’ before it was even a word) going back to the beginning, reStarting everything, giving the tired old 1960s tech an upgrade and facelift, while still holding true to the core of Star Trek. It somehow managed to avoid most of the catastrophic clichés and hackneyed tropes that ruin prequels, staying fresh and imaginative, while simultaneously screwing the pooch with fanservice and getting strung along some lousy storylines because that was what fans really wanted to see. The fanbase lost interest, the show overran its costs, the franchise was fatigued….

The crew of Enterprise

for whatever reason, the show did not do well, and was cut down before its time. When it had a bad episode, it was one of the WORST episodes of any Trek in the 50-year history of the universe…but when it had a good episode, it was some of the absolute BEST Star Trek EVER. The lesson here: don’t listen to fans. Star Trek is not what it is because the fans made something of it; the Fans are what they are because Star Trek made something of THEM.

I remember Kelvin.  Go back to the beginning (the REAL beginning, not some silly prequel story), give us Kirk, Spock and the OG Masters of Sci-Fi. But don’t give us papier Mache Monsters and reused Andy Griffith Sets. We live in a new era, where technology and cinematography allow us to push the envelope visually, create a look that still captured the spirit of Trek, but wrapped it in all the new advances that we had made to make it feel like the future again. (Because, let’s face it, here at the dawn of the 21st century, much of our tech has already greatly surpassed that which TOS envisioned for the future centuries hence…) the heart of Trek is still there, the soul of Trek shines through…Star Trek will not become dated or archaic.  The lesson here: the journey is just beginning.


I remember Discovery…

For all of you who are fans, take a minute and name the five best directors/writers/producers that worked on Trek. No matter who you are, somehow, by some miracle, at least one name from your list is part of the Dream team building the new Star Trek series. The cast is made of A-list actors and B-listers who damn well ought to be A-listers.  The ship…the ships, the aliens, the imagery….they pored over the archives, selected bits and pieces from the greats of Treks VFX history….pulling from TOS, TMP, the Maroon movie era, TNG era, etc etc etc. this is Star Trek, through and through.  The stories, the characters, the actors….all the instruments are in play, and the conductor is about to begin, and a new symphony will resonate through the internet and the rest of the galaxy.

We are going to see some old favourites reborn, revitalised, improved and explored in greater depth. We are going to see new and amazing things. We are going to wax philosophical about sociological and cultural issues through allegory both internal and external and ponder some of the ‘meaning of life stuff’ along the way. We are going to get some of the ‘the world can be a better place’ commentary on contemporary humanity as it contrasts with this vision of a better future. We are going to get some godawful episodes that will leave you wondering if the writers were drunk or if they just lost a bet (if I ever become a successful novelist, I am bound by such a drunken wager to write a story about a worm that poops platinum…I know how painful a bad bet can be) and we are going to get some episodes that will be so magnificently crafted that you say “This. THIS is what Star Trek is.”  We are going to get other things that I can’t even begin to think of….and when all is said and done, we are going to get at the very least two or three Years of Discovery….and we will get another 50 years of Star Trek. (and in five or ten years, I’ll write another blog about Discovery, and be able to fill in this ‘I remember Discovery’ section with all that we have learned, and loved, and hated, about Discovery…but I look forward to watching the show, and discovering whatever it has to offer.)

The lesson here?

who cares? Star Trek IS BACK! LET’S PARTY!!!!!!


  • Blog Author: Bill Allen.
  • Pics and Blog Layout: James Hams.
  • Pics: CBS / Google pictures.

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Asexuality in Star Trek by Emma Filtness

Hello, my name is Emma and I am a member of Starfleet and the Tactical Officer on the USS Merlin (Region 20). I have identified as Grey-Asexual for roughly a year and as a keen sci-fi fan, I was curious to look into the spectrum of asexuality in the expanded universe. Today I am happy to produce my results.

What is Asexuality?

According to Urban Dictionary, the term asexual is described as “a person who is not interested in or does not desire sexual activity, either within or outside of a relationship. asexuality is not the same as celibacy, which is the willful decision to not act on sexual feelings. asexuals, while not physically sexual-type folks, are none the less quite capable of loving, affectionate, romantic ties to others.” As a spectrum, asexuality is, much like space, yet to be fully explored.

Asexuality in Star Trek

During my research, I was able to find a few different scenarios featuring blatant asexuality as a theme. Throughout these story arcs, there is a recurring driving force which is that sexuality is considered to be a building block of the human psyche. Any species, alien or otherwise, that are currently not sexually active wish to embrace sexuality in order to further discover what it is to become human. The species that I will be using as examples are The Vaalians from The Original Series episode The Apple, Jn’aii or more specifically Soren from the Next Generation episode The Outcast and Data also from Next Gen.

The Vaalians

The Vaalians are discovered by Kirk and the landing party after being attacked by the indigenous flora. The Vaalians do not procreate as it is forbidden and are replaced as needed by the Vaal, who is the driving force behind their community. According to a blog by Women at Warp, which also explores asexuality, “The episode links the Vaalians’ lack of sexuality to the other elements of their society that causes them to stagnate… When the people express concern about how they will survive [after Kirk & co destroy the Vaal who has been operating a sophisticated computer system which is damaging the Enterprise.] Kirk reassures them that they will now be able to lead ‘normal lives’… ‘You’ll learn something about men and women – the way they’re supposed to be.” On a positive note though Spock stands up for the Vaalians by saying that simply because their culture is different to the crew’s expectations does not make it invalid. The episode links the species’ naivety and lack of understanding to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, with the Enterprise away team as the Apple of Knowledge (hence the episode name) and the controlling Vaal as God. I think this is a ‘fascinating’ though relatively insulting look into an asexual society, though the time period must be taken into consideration here as any sexuality other than straight was highly frowned upon. As a result, the fact that there is even a mention of another sexual culture was a step forward.

The J’naii and Soren

The J’naii are introduced to us in the Next Generation episode The Outcast which lies out as follows. The Enterprise is contacted by the genderless J’naii who require assistance finding a missing shuttle which has disappeared into null space. In order to track down the shuttle, Soren, a skilled pilot and Riker are sent out as a search party. However, the craft is damaged and Soren is injured. During her treatment by Dr Crusher, Soren is interested in learning more about the female identity as it turns out that Soren is interested in Riker and wants to pursue a romantic relationship with him. This presents a massive problem as the J’aii forbid any expression of gender or sexuality in any form as they believe that it is primitive and is thus a perversion. “Those… who view themselves as possessing gender are ridiculed, outcast and forced to undergo ‘psychotic therapy’” which is designed to forcefully re-educate the individual in order to bring them back into line. The point of the episode was to highlight LGBT rights and homophobia in line with Gene Roddenberry’s legacy who wished to include more LGBT characters in the show. Which in addition to The Apple shows that despite arguments that Star Trek is only science fiction and therefore not necessarily accessible, it is one of the only shows willing to express the many variations of the human psyche.

Data

In the last of today’s explorations, Data is arguably the most mainstream asexual character in modern culture. As an Android, “Data is not human, though he desperately wants to be.” In order to become more human, he engages in sexual intercourse with Tasha Yar which is a continuation of my larger point. In a blog post from 2009, the author, Elizabeth, herself an asexual, theorises that in the Star Trek universe, “sexuality… is contingent on having emotions… This implies that sexual attraction is itself an emotion… it could be that the emotion Data as experiencing was purely his desire to be human, channelled through a sexual circuit.” Data is in many ways a very good example of an asexual and the wider reactions to this, in that many asexuals face harassment stating that lacking sexuality is in a way inhuman, much like Kirk and McCoy’s reaction to the Vaalian’s lack of sexual activity or leanings.

Conclusion

Summing up, it is clear to me that within the Star Trek mythology, asexuality is treated as a somewhat alien trait, lacking emotion and deeper knowledge which is a cornerstone of humanity. However, I am not attacking the franchise, in fact, I celebrate that Gene Roddenberry was forward-thinking and daring enough to encourage other cultures, ideologies, gender and sexual identities when it is still relatively frowned upon in society. This legacy has continued in the Star Trek pathos, introducing Sulu played by John Cho as gay in the new film ‘Star Trek Beyond’. I hope to see this legacy grow in future series and films and potentially include another asexual character.

Thank you for reading!  


Bibliography


  • Author: Emma Filtness
  • Pictures provided by: Emma Filtness
  • Blog layout, Some Pictures and links: James Hams

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Episode Review: Star Trek: DS9 “DUET” by Tracy Gallagher


“DUET” is a Quintessential DS9 issue-oriented episode that is very riveting and brilliantly characterised with some very good performances.

The Plot does mainly centres around a Cardassian named “Marritza” who does happen to arrive at the station as a passenger on a passing ship. Kira does promptly arrests him for a being a war criminal and throw him in a cell on the station. You see, he has a medical condition that he could only have acquired at a Bajoran Labor Camp named Gallitep during the occupation of Bajor by Cardassia. This labour camp was also the site of horrific Bajoran treatment at the hands of Cardassian atrocities.

As Major Kira and the Bajoran are concerned any Cardassian at Gallitep is guilty as charge. But a number of clues that don’t add up at all- Kira begins a search for the truth behind at Gallitep during the occupation of Bajor. The resulting dialogue between Major Kira and the Cardassian pulls no punches in either content or on delivery too. The evidence does indicate that “Maritza” is really Gul Darheel, the man who did actually really ran Gallitep and made it him a mission to terrorise ”Bajoran scum.” Suddenly Kira does finds herself face to face with one of the most hates Cardassian, Bajor has ever known.

Nana Visitor does deliver one of the powerhouses, emotional performance in entries seven-run of DS9. Even better is Harris Yulin”s turn as Darheel, whose absolute tour de force display of acting being menacing, downright evil Cardassian frightening to live, with such lines as “ What you called a genocide, I call a day’s work”! Odo”s subsequent investigations of the Cardassian”s identity brings Dukat most hates Cardassian in the entries seven-run of DS9 into the plot with a great deal of sensibility.

It does turn that Darheel is really “Marritza” posing as the Cardassian Criminal (who has been dead for years) trying to martyr himself so the Cardassian Government will be forced to acknowledge its guilt for everything it did to the Bajoran people during occupation of Bajor – a very moving display of self-sacrifice for the sake of progress on all ends.  “DUET” is all substance, completely, engrossing in its conveyance, and it also features a very sad and tragic ending.

I think. “DUET” is one of the good episodes of season one of DS9. I rated it four half stars often. It’s one of the best moments in the entire season one of DS9.



  • Blog Words: Tracy Gallagher
  • Blog Layout and Pictures: James Hams

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LGBT in Star Trek: We Are Ready and We Have *Been* Ready – By Jason Fritz

Star Trek is one of the most enduring cultural phenomena to come out of the United States in the 20th Century, and certainly the most enduring science fiction franchise to ever do so. Premiering with the original series in 1966, viewers have swept away to strange new worlds and new civilisations as well as new cultural and technological ideas. While lagging behind the 1963 debut of the British series Doctor Who, it preceded the 1977 release of Star Wars by more than a decade and pushed the limits of television standards in the sixties. In 1979, the cast was reassembled for a motion picture continuation, followed by five more instalments with that cast of characters, four more television series and another seven motion pictures with varying casts and characters.

For over fifty years, Star Trek has introduced us to changes in the way we view gender and racial equality as a society, explored the implications of becoming involved in the internal affairs of others (a thinly veiled criticism of American adventurism overseas to stem the spread of communism during the Cold War), and employed the use of alien races and cultures as metaphors to examine aspects of our own condition. Star Trek was among the first to feature an interracial kiss on television, and among the first to feature roles of significant professional authority for women and minorities.

Despite all that, throughout its long history of promoting social change in America, one glaring omission from Star Trek lore has been the lack of any significant non-heterosexual characters. While the subject has been touched on in passing, most notably in Next Generation’s “The Host” in 1991 and Deep Space Nine’s “Rejoined” in 1995, both of which used the alien Trill’s trait of changing host bodies (and therefore genders) over time to explore the issue, the main characters in both stories remained firmly heterosexual thereafter, their orientation never to be explored or even questioned again. Next Generation also touched on the subject more metaphorically in the 1992 episode “The Outcast” through another alien race, the androgynous J’naii as represented by Melinda Culea’s character Soren, who in this case enjoyed a brief romance with Will Riker. The episode kept Riker’s orientation firmly heterosexual, however, while the conflict safely revolved around Soren’s self-identification as a female in a society that rejected gender identification altogether.

More recently, sharp-eyed viewers of the 2016 feature Star Trek Beyond might have caught a brief glimpse of Hikaru Sulu (played by John Cho) enjoying shore leave with his unnamed husband and daughter, but in fifty years of existence, that is the extent of the entire Star Trek franchise’s efforts to depict any significant character as anything other than heterosexual. That is literally it.

Last August, as the casting process for the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery went into high gear, executive producer Bryan Fuller announced that the new show will feature the franchise’s first openly gay character, which we now know will be played by Anthony Rapp. In a landscape where the first gay character on television was introduced in 1972 and Billy Crystal played the first openly gay regular television series cast member in 1977, where Saturday Night Live featured its first openly gay cast member in 1985, where Friends depicted the first lesbian wedding on television in 1996 and Ellen DeGeneres came out on her own show in 1997, where Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ER ousted longtime regular characters as gay in 2000 and 2002, and where Will & Grace and Queer as Folk have both enjoyed long and successful runs, this hardly seems to be breaking new ground. In fact, one could argue that simply featuring an openly gay character is old and tired ground. Still, sceptics of the depiction of a gay regular character have loudly asked: “Is Star Trek ready?”


Ready for what???

For a franchise that purports to “boldly go where no one has gone before”, Star Trek is remarkably behind the curve on this issue. Instead of asking if the franchise is ready, critics should be asking where the franchise has been all this time. The opportunity to create controversy, which I would argue is no bad thing, was decades ago. Carol and Susan already got married, Willow and Tara already kissed, and Will and Jack have already made every risqué gay reference that prime time television will allow, plus a few others that managed to sneak by. Captain Jack Harkness, who became the first omnisexual character on television in 2005, should have premiered on Star Trek, not Doctor Who. Now is not the time to question whether Star Trek should be inclusive; now is the time to play catch up.

Most commercial ventures have a natural desire to increase profits as much as possible. If the owners have good business sense, that usually means taking steps to offend as few paying customers as humanly possible because even the people who are wrong still have green money. Some media properties have an advantage in that regard because of not reaching the phenomenal success that Star Trek has, and not have become such a cultural touchstone. The gayness of Will & Grace was part of the concept before it was ever greenlit for a pilot, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was lucky enough to air on the fledgeling WB, where network scrutiny had not yet reached the point where it would later doom Joss Whedon’s Firefly. ER was able to introduce the story as a major conflict with a character who wasn’t fully revealed as gay until her sixth year on the show, and even then, she was depicted as facing the threat (or reality) of extreme homophobia and discrimination at every turn.

None of those advantages is available to Star Trek. The future depicted in our weekly programs and movies is one where discrimination and bigotry are dead, where racism and homophobia are but footnotes in history, and where all people are treated equally regardless of heritage, skin colour, or sexual orientation. Star Trek has no choice but to depict an openly gay character as unremarkable in his or her gayness. By the time of Star Trek: Discovery, if everything we’ve learned about Gene Roddenberry’s future is accurate, being gay should simply be an accepted part of society, no more or less remarkable than my heterosexuality.

All that leaves critics in a bind. There can be no easing into this. There can be no slow introduction, no period of getting to know the character before revealing that he or she is gay, no comfort zone. For those who have felt safe in the womb of a Star Trek that addresses gayness only in easily dismissed metaphor, briefly touched upon one week and then blessedly gone the next, the idea of an openly gay character suddenly standing next to Captain Kirk week after week can be a scary one. There can be no pretending that the future is not gay, that marriage will only ever involve a man and a woman, perhaps while one of them wears comfortingly silly forehead prosthetics or painted on spots. They must face the stark reality that gay men and gay women are attracted to and date other gay men and gay women week after week, and that they are not going anywhere no matter how much some people might wish the episode would just be over.

Some people won’t like that; it’s practically inevitable. Some longtime fans will refuse to accept it. They’ll complain loudly about how the new series is destroying their childhood; they’ll lament the state of excessive tolerance in our society and how it will end the world as we know it; they’ll mock the gay lieutenant mercilessly and portray him as so disliked that the producers should give him an abrupt “Wesley Crusher” exit; and they’ll threaten to withhold their dollars and CBS All Access subscriptions until their intolerance of tolerance is tolerated and appeased.

Some fans will argue that we shouldn’t risk creating a schism in the Star Trek community, that we shouldn’t risk conflict between the people who are willing to accept a gay character and the people who aren’t. I submit that the schism already exists—it’s just hiding safely in the shadows right now, safely nurtured and protected by the absence of any significant portrayals of gay characters in the Star Trek mythos to date. That situation shouldn’t be preserved. It should be dragged out into the light and exposed. It should be questioned, it should be examined, and it should ultimately be discarded. Nothing is accomplished by hiding it in the name of offending as few people as humanly possible. That may be the commercial way, but that is not the Star Trek way. That’s not what our fathers taught us. That’s not what Gene taught us. And that’s not the way we should move forward.

I am the last person in the world to tell anyone “If you don’t like it, get out.” Those words are not worthy of Gene’s vision, either. They’re not worthy of our fifty years of history and tradition. They’re not worthy of us. Instead, I would encourage everyone to stay—stay and watch, even if you don’t like it. Stay and take the journey. Stay and get used to it.

Because gay people aren’t going anywhere. And neither are we.


  • Blog Words: Jason Fritz
  • Blog Layout and Pictures: James Hams

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