Star Trek and I were born in the same year: 1966. Naturally, I missed the show in its original broadcast run on NBC from that year until it ceased production in 1969, but since the show was so successful in syndication in the 1970s and 80s, I grew up with it. My brothers and I could usually find an episode playing once or twice a week, maybe more, even though back then we could count our TV channels on one hand. For a while there we even had a Star Trek Saturday morning cartoon, and once the movies started coming out I went to all of them—one movie every two or three years from 1979 until 1991.
My appreciation of the show was avid but not excessive. I’d seen all the episodes several times and knew a fair amount of Star Trek trivia, but I wasn’t a Trekkie. I checked out Star Trek books from the library, but never wrote any fan fiction of my own. For some reason I had a Captain Kirk poster in my dorm room at college, but I never went to a Star Trek convention. By the time I finished grad school and embarked upon my adult life of family and work responsibilities, I had drifted away from TV almost entirely. I guess you could say I had “gotten a life.” I had “moved out of my parents’ basement and grown the hell up.”
Then, in 2006, both Star Trek and I turned 40. It occurred to me that my children were growing up in a world where the Starfleet communicator and Uhura’s earpiece had become essential personal accessories, where the sophistication of those little square computer tapes had been exceeded, and where you really could make entries into a notebook-size computer with a stylet pen. Allusions and references to the original series were commonplace.
The children were certainly old enough to enjoy and appreciate Star Trek, so why not? I went down to the library and checked out as many DVDs of the original series as they had available, plus my favorite of the six movies–Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And there we sat on mid-winter evenings, bundled on the couch in blankets, munching on popcorn, going where our little family had never gone before.
I suppose if this is the extent of my mid-life crisis—reliving my geeky childhood—I can count myself lucky.
I knew I was onto something when one of my kids, after flipping through the latest stack of library DVDs, said, “We’ve seen all these. Are there any more?” Or when my kids would sit at the kitchen table gnashing their teeth over their homework, muttering to themselves, “Study, study, study! Or bonk bonk, bad kids!” Or when Number One Daughter raises a Vulcan eyebrow and declares, “That is not logical.” Or, worse, when someone sings, “Ah-ah-ah-ah…scrambled eggs” to the tune of Spock’s horrible song in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.”
Somehow, despite the dated, bongo-laden opening theme music, the low-tech special effects, and beehive hairdos of the original series, and amid the beeping and squawking of a CGI-savvy, handheld game system-playing bunch of children, the next generation of Star Trek fans was born. I think this is because the artistic and cultural achievement of Star Trek transcends its stylistic appearance and any technological limitations of the show’s production. The stories speak for themselves, they speak universally, and they stand up under scrutiny over time, which I believe are the criteria for a work of imagination to earn the title “classic.”
When I began introducing my children to Star Trek, I was actually reintroducing myself to it. I hadn’t seen an episode of the original series in probably 20 years and hadn’t seen a Star Trek movie since the theatrical release of Star Trek VI in 1991. I had only experienced Star Trek as a child, as a teenager, and as a young adult.
At the age of 40 I came back to Star Trek with freshness, maturity, and a perspective formed by over twenty years as an adult. I saw and took note of things that had eluded me before. I discovered that the stories I had enjoyed so much as a child were even more appealing and entertaining to me now. Star Trek has universal appeal.
Now, in 2016, both Star Trek and I celebrate our 50th birthdays. Star Trek has rebooted and presents a fresh vision of itself. Geek culture has emerged from the basement and become synonymous with pop culture, and people are rediscovering the 80s. Case in point: my brothers and I are now playing Dungeons & Dragons with our offspring and our mom!
So, happy 50th birthday, Star Trek! See what you started?