Although there are many franchises that have been successful through the years, only very few have been as successful as Star Trek. Since its premiere in 1966, it has produced 13 movies, 11 TV series (incl. 3 animated series) and almost 900 novels. It has been with its audience for three generations. As the highly anticipated latest series Strange New Worlds has just premiered on May 5th, it is the right time to look at the history of Star Trek.
It is not the mere numbers that make Star Trek special, but how they were groundbreaking from their start and showed an optimistic outlook to the future.
The Early Years
IIn 1966, Gene Roddenberry conceived a TV show that included an Asian American man and an African American woman as part of the bridge crew. In the original concept, the first officer was also a woman. All of this happened 49 years before “Oscars so white” was trending on Twitter. The diversity shown in the bridge crew of the original Enterprise was so unique that Martin Luther King Jr. himself convinced Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), not to quit the show. A woman of color as 4th in command of, not only a spaceship, but also the flagship of the powerful federation of planets, was sending an important message to the world.
The show ranThe show ran for 3 seasons before being taken off the air. 10 years later, the story was revived, this time in a major movie. It was the 4th most successful movie in 1979. Star Trek was back!
The sets and costumes were updated to a more modern look and the higher budget meant that the visual effects were state of the art. The first four movies, produced until 1986, did so well that it was decided to create another show. This one premiered on September 26th ,1987, and started what can only be described as the golden age of Star Trek.
The Golden Years
The Next Generation was set roughly 100 years after the original series, and again broke down barriers. It included a blind character and made him a fully functioning member of the crew. The show also prominently featured pads, which included touch screens, that became reality in the form of smart phones.
Deep Space Nine quickly followed up the show, which included a black commanding officer and a female first officer. Voyager, the first with a female lead in the form of Captain Kathryn Janeway, premiered two years later
Each show, while following a familiar concept, kept adding new aspects. Next Generation focused mainly on the scientific part of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine added religious aspects, and Voyager focused on moral dilemmas. The shows didn’t shy away from tackling controversial topics such as homosexuality and conversion therapy, mental health and PTSD, just to name a few
During this time, Star Trek was everywhere, as the original crew continued to make movies, and the three TV shows were highly successful. The shows attracted high profile guest stars, such as Jean Simmons, Whoopi Goldberg and Stephen Hawking. When it comes to appearances, the uncredited cameo of King Abdullah II of Jordan (then still the prince) is surely something unparalleled.
But the market got saturated. The next show Enterprise was only modestly successful and ended its run after only four seasons. The movies suffered a similar fate. The last movie with the Next Generation crew, Star Trek: Nemesis, proved a commercial failure. It was time for Star Trek to take a break again.
A New Start
A new approach was needed to attract a new generation of viewers. Therefore, the original Star Trek was rebooted, but in a brilliant way. The writers created an alternative timeline and wrote it into the story. This way the writers could use the beloved characters around James T. Kirk without being bound by the established canon. They simply changed the rules of the game!
A young and sexy cast helmed by Chris Pine did the rest to attract the audience. Star Trek (2009) was a smash hit in a year that mass produced blockbusters. It was followed by two sequels, which although not being able to reproduce the original success were still largely successful.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that the franchise returned to the silver screen in the form of Star Trek: Discovery. The show was surprisingly divisive among fans, but it raised the bar for storytelling within Star Trek.
While the original series was mainly a monster-of-the-week show, Discovery focused on story arcs that spanned a whole season. Once more, the franchise proved it is leading the way in inclusivity. It features a none-binary character, and two of the main characters are a gay couple. What is refreshing is that these aren’t just “the queer characters”, but deep characters with exciting story lines and many aspects of personality, who simply happened to be LGBTQ+.
A trait quite unique to Discovery is that it changes its Captain every season. The show is therefore no longer focused on the lead character and instead is an ensemble show.
The last show to premiere was Picard, which stars Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard 20 years after his last outing as the character. This was a brilliant move, as the show brings back a beloved character and gives the story a fresh twist. Just like with Discovery the focus is on season spanning arcs. However, it also moved the action away from one particular ship.
Instead of trying to portray Picard as overly fit for his age, it doesn’t shy away from showing him as an elderly man, who requires help. Again, this proves that inclusivity is a major theme in Star Trek. This is especially significant considering that Hollywood is known for ageism.
The latest series Strange New Worlds has been carefully built up. It features Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike. He already started in the second season of Discovery in that role. It was initially created for the original series. In many ways, this show is a prequel to the original Star Trek show, since it will also include Mr. Spock, one of the most popular characters of the franchise.
Season two is being planned, and the iconic role of Captain James T. Kirk has already been cast. No other than Vampire Diaries alumni Paul Wesley will take over from the legendary William Shatner. When the news broke, William Shatner tweeted to Paul Wesley:
It is truly a franchise for the generations, as the legend lives on.
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Maria is our resident nerd and passionate about all things fantasy and science fiction. She is Spanish and grew up in Germany, which is why she is a native speaker of both languages. Becoming a fantasy writer was only logical to combine her skills and passions. In addition, she is working on her English degree and loves to play tennis and dance Salsa. She is currently writing her first novel and will mainly be covering Star Wars, Star Trek and Shadow & Bone.