On 8th September 2016 time has come: Star-Trek – or how is it called in German „Raumschiff Enterprise (Starship Enterprise) has celebrated its 50th anniversary. On 08. September 1966 the series was primarily aired in the United States. And though I haven't managed making my tribute on time, on the anniversary-day – this I just did in German – I wanted to write it this year also in English at any costs before the anniversary-year is over.
But let's go into medias res:
After a very mediocre start and it's end in 1969 the series saw an enormous popularity-boost in the 1970s - and is until today one of the historically most important television-series ever.
Up to now beside 7 (soon 8) television-series and so far 13 cinema-movies many computer- & video-games, books, Internet-media as well as countless franchise-products were created.
And the effect of the unique phenomenon „Star Trek“ goes far beyond it's core-function as an entertainment product into almost all areas of life.
Star Trek TOS (The original series) – the old Enterprise
Actually, the series was supposed to start already in 1964, at the time a pilot-movie (The cage) was filmed with mostly different crew. Captain at that time was Christopher Pike, portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter. And Spock has played a rather minor role.
Since this concept was too intellectual and too little action-packed for TV-station NBC, the series creator Gene Roddenberry revised script and crew. In 1966 William Shatner got the role of Captain Kirk – and together with the Vulcan Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and ship's doctor Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) the core team of the series had been formed.
The series itself I see quite ambivalent.
On the one hand, it stands for values such as tolerance, openness for the New and enlightened spirit of research.
On the other hand at the same time also for 1960s- and Western-mentality: Hitting & shooting BEFORE thinking and a Captain, no woman can resist. In addition also the scripts are partial shallow, gappy and implausible.
However the series has great charm and appeal:
The blend of yearning for the space and for a positive future paired with moral values and action but also trashy elements are simply fascinating - as Mr. Spock would say.
Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation) – the new Enterprise
Although there 3 further ships with the name Enterprise and a round of 80 years between the Original Enterprise NCC-1701 and the NCC-1701-D, „Next Generation“ is the 2nd real series in the Star Trek universe.
The Next-Generation of 1987 in many aspects is different than the original series. And – in my eyes – in almost all respects better. It starts with the Captain: While predecessor Kirk is a swashbuckler and a womaniser, successor Picard is a mature intellectual and in addition for many people a moral-authority.
Generally TNG is very well done, thrilling, action-packed and morally demanding.
This great composition set a new benchmark hereafter created a boom of fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery) in the early to mid of 1990s and to me still belongs to the 3 best science-fiction-series ever.
Star Trek DS9 (Deep Space Nine) – dark, stationary and captivating
Even before the Next-Generation moved from television to cinema in 1994, in 1993 it's successor Deep-Space-Nine started. And trek-series number 3 kept the extremely high level of Picard and Co, but yet made a lot of things differently:
For the first time the Star played Trek not on a starship, but on a space-station. Commander Sisko was a single father. For the first time a big war was shown in the Star-Trek-universe and in general the whole series was set atmospheric dark
Still today particularly outstanding in DS9 are the many and well elaborated supporting-characters and especially the long, ample, interrelated story-arcs. Therefore, together with the TNG, and Babylon 5, to me it belongs to the 3 best all-time SF-series.
Star Trek VOY (Voyager) – far away from home
Due to the success particularly of Next-Generation, but also of Deep-Space-Nine, the studio Paramount in 1995 decided to start a 2nd trek-series, parallel to DS9. To prevent these 2 series, ongoing contemporaneously in the same serial-universe getting in each others way, the Voyager was „shipped“ to the other end of our galaxy, to the 75-years away delta-quadrant.
Voyager is definitely a good science-fiction-series that is atmospherically much brighter than Deep-Space-Nine and in many ways similar to Nex-Gen. Apart from some wear and tear – stories are told again, we already know from Star Trek – compared to TNG & DS9 it often is made in a rather lacklustre way.
Voyager initiated both, the peak of the Star-Trek-mania in 1996, but also it's big downturn around the year 2000. Nevertheless me just like many other fans definitely don't want to miss the 4th trek-series.
Star Trek ENT (Enterprise) – the vanguard as rearguard
After Star Trek's success significantly subsided in the Voyager-era, in 2001 the series creators decided to completely reboot the franchise. And so 5th series "Enterprise" (ENT) does no longer play in the 24th century like TNG, DS9 & VOY, but in the 22nd century about 100 years before the original Enterprise (TOS).
The series itself, similar to Voyager, achieved a good overall-level, is well made and exiting. Nevertheless it's unable taking it up with the best Star-Trek-series and quality is highly viable. In my opinion the series highlight is season no. 3, dealing for 1 whole year with the well elaborated Xindi story-arc.
Enterprise, among other issues, deserves criticism especially for it's partly violent and sometimes even unethical approach of it's characters – something for certain influenced by 9/11.
However, it is exciting to see what happened in Star Trek BEFORE the "United Federation of Planets" (UFP) creation.
Wrap-up to Star-Trek in television
I don't want to hide the fact, that in addition to the mentioned 5 series (with real people) with Star Trek TAS (The Animated Series) also a short-lived cartoon-series created in the 1970s exists.
After the true start in 1966 Star Trek has managed something that – with exception of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond – probably no other entertainment-product ever has: To remain popular for 50 years and to successfully continue its history in cinema as well as (again from 2017) in television.
And 100% deserves to be!
Star Trek is exciting, fascinating and at the same time morally and intellectually demanding. Thus all the best for the future, perhaps for another 50 years!