Nostalgia post #6: Ad Astra Per Aspera

Star Trek (1966-?)

Star Trek Space

The other science fiction franchise. Or the science fiction franchise, if we christen Star Wars science fantasy. Where George Lucas took Campbell’s ideas and put the eternal myths into a space adventure story, Gene Roddenberry envisioned a better future for spacefaring humankind. He created a vision of an utopia, in which more enterprising, unruly individuals join the Starfleet in order to find adventure, because in the post-scarcity Earth society there’s not much of that. In Starfleet, they travel across the universe, to meet exciting new people and… not shoot them, unless absolutely necessary.

Piotrek: I’ve always been more of a Babylon 5 guy, but I appreciate Star Trek more and more. As a kid, I’ve seen a random selection of mainly The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes, and there was not enough large-scale conflict for my taste. I generally liked it, but John Sheridan was my space captain. So, my introduction into the world of Star Trek was pretty chaotic… but I always liked the idea of trekking through galaxies in a big spaceship, and in time I came to also appreciate stories about (relatively) peaceful exploration.

Enterprise

Ola: My own acquaintance with Star Trek was no less chaotic, I must admit. I watched nearly all episodes of The Next Generation as a pre-teen kid, and for years Picard was the only true captain of the Enterprise πŸ˜‰ I waited with bated breath for each episode, and while some of them were rather convoluted for a six- to eight-year-old, it was still a great adventure. Fantasy worlds, various races with distinct cultures, drama on the ship, imminent danger… What I liked about Star Trek then and value even more now was the nearly non-violent approach, so rare in modern pop-culture. Differences were abundant, conflicting interests as well, but more often than not a peaceful resolution could have been – and heroically was – achieved. Exploration and understanding were the key values of the Star Trek universe, and inspired countless SF visions since. As for the liberal vision of future military, with its weirdly relaxed and convoluted structure, the red- and mustard-colored uniforms and the variety of ranks coupled with a nearly total lack of discipline, back then I didn’t even bat an eye πŸ˜‰

TNG Worf and Data

I must say that as a kid I was partial to Picard, Worf the Klingon and Data the android, and totally erased the presence of Wesley Crusher from my memory – which is why I thankfully remember Wil Wheaton only from The Big Bang Theory πŸ˜‰ But as TNG was showing intermittently in Polish TV and the episodes, once showed, were not aired again, and because I only watched one or two of the subsequent movies (admittedly much worse than the series), Star Wars was soon able to take hold of my imagination to a much higher extent. The movies were available on demand, the story arc concluded in three films, and the franchise (especially the books) much more abundant than Star Trek’s at that point. Only years later my fascination with this more nuanced and less dychotomic SF reality returned, and after J.J. Abrams’ rather successful reinvisioning of Star Trek in 2009 I watched episodes of the original 1960’s Star Trek series with a nostalgic delight, rubber heads or not πŸ˜‰ Tribbles rule!

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Piotrek: There’s been a lot of Star Trek around. Multiple TV series, movies, and, according to Wikipedia, around 850 publications. It all varies in quality, but I’ve read some enjoyable, smart novels, and the best of these is Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.

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Ola: And the franchise continues a strong presence, with several new big budget movies and two TV series, one of which, returning to the old characters from TNG, is bound to capitalize on the powerful nostalgia trend. Star Trek: Discovery introduced a slew of new characters, linked to some old favourites in exceedingly complex and unnecessary ways, and while the first season after a suspiciously Realpolitik beginning ultimately defended the core Star Trek values of freedom, tolerance, diversity and curiosity, the second one ended on a sour note – at least for me. I don’t mind so much the continuity troubles that plague this series, and I still hope for a decent resolution in season three, but some serious issues with the new series were becoming increasingly noticeable with time – such as psychological oversimplification, a constant and rather ill-conceived search for an enemy, or villain, a totally unwarranted MAD mindset (which infuriated me to no end ;)) and vilification of phenomena and beings not readily understandable.

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Piotrek: Personally I’ll be very interested in Picard, a series about my favorite captain (and perhaps character) in the Trekverse. It’s premiering in January, I hope it will be available in my country, streaming became so complicated I cannot be sure… with Jean Luc might make his series more in tune with the old Star Trek spirit, or so I hope.

Going back to theΒ Prime Directive… there is a sentence near the end of the book that summarize this spirit, as I understand it. It’s Kirk’s thought, after the main threat had been defeated (lets face it, it’s not really a spoiler, what were the chances of Kirk not succeeding?). Part of the crew wanted revenge, but captain did not allow it. Understanding was his way, and he solved a problem, not totally different from the one facing humanity inΒ Ender’s Game, without a war. After all:

There were no enemies. Only mysteries (p. 387)

Star Trek might be less exciting than Star Wars, but it’s way closer to how I’d love the world to work πŸ™‚

Ola: On that we fully agree. Star Trek: The Next Generation significantly contributed to my love of SF and science in general, fostered since my childhood years. I tend to come back to this franchise quite often as I appreciate the effort of the creators to show the complexity and power – and limitations – of human perception, imagination, emotions and cognition. And while kept purposefully simple and entertaining, the overarching message of the need for exploration, understanding of otherness, and high ethical standards inextricably linked with a sense of responsibility, seems timeless and much needed nowadays.

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Verdict: Highly recommended

31 thoughts on “Nostalgia post #6: Ad Astra Per Aspera

  1. I only know op kirk and pikard, the rest i still have to make time for some day. The thing I always will be proud of is the gadgets, that even then looked so foreign, now can be seen in items we use daily… i have fond memories of these shows, i also did not follow it as it did not air regularly in South Africa when i was a kid

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  2. Voyager was the only Trek that I watched as a teen and that our family watched. We all enjoyed it. I tried to re-watch it a couple of years ago when Prime had a whole slew of star trek for free viewing. I think I got 5 or 6 episodes in before I just gave up.

    I don’t mind watching new (to me) episodes of a trek show, but I simply can’t re-watch them. I went through Next Gen and really enjoyed it when it was on prime several years ago. It came up again recently and once again, I just cringed when I tried to rewatch it.

    For me, Trek is a one shot, no matter if it is a movie or tv show.

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    • I don’t re-watch Star Trek too much (Babylon V I’ve seen 3-times, full 5 seasons), but I consider the Next Gen a well-aged series, in contrast to The Original Series, that was a bit too rough around the edges and should be venerated from a distance πŸ˜‰

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    • I think it may have something to do with one’s age at the time of the first encounter πŸ˜‰ Like with Star Wars, if you do it too late, the magic is mostly gone – because you’ve seen so many other things built on this original, expanding on it or putting a twist on it. I must confess I even watched a few episodes of the animated series and quite enjoyed them – even though they’re seriously lacking in every aspect πŸ˜‚
      I haven’t watched Voyager – need to give it a chance one day πŸ™‚

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  3. Next Gen and Voyager were formative for much, much more than Star Wars.

    Next Gen was more applied sociology & ethics than the more derivative Star Wars, but especially Voyager proved sci fi could tell a really intelligent long story about what it means to be human: both the story arcs throughout the seasons of The Docter and 7of9 are at the center of the series.

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  4. Star Trek holds a special place in my mind, not least because I started to teach myself English by reading James Blish’s novelizations of the original Star Trek – even before I saw a single episode. It represented an amazing vision of the future and it inspired many people toward science and a new way to look at the “other”, but with the passage of time it seemed to become entrenched in its own guidelines, to lose the courage to “boldly go” and somewhat lost its original sense of wonder. When I later “graduated” to Babylon 5 (((waves to Piotrek πŸ˜€ ))) I found a much better, more realistic approach to the human condition, one that took into account not only our lights but our darkness as well, and it took the pride of place in my imagination…

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    • I think Star Trek showcases the darkness quite well, even if mostly through the mirror of other beings, such as Borg. But I agree, with the passage of time the franchise seems to put more emphasis on entertainment than mind-bending ideas. I never really watched Babylon 5, for its airing time in Poland fell sometime during the transition between my fascination with Star Trek and my fascination with fantasy πŸ˜‰ but I will happily give it a go now πŸ˜€

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    • Babylon 5 takes a more pessimistic view on human nature, right, at times I saw it as a kind of “neo-conservative” s/f show… I will probably always feel more nostalgic towards BV than Star Trek, actually, but with my political views having shifted I’m probably a bit closer to Star Trek now… it would be a topic for a long, interesting discussion I think πŸ™‚

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      • There is pessimism indeed in B5 (JMS said that humanity would bring its burden of evil when going into space), but there is also a good deal of hope: in the selflessness of some characters, in the way normal people try to do their best in exceptional situations and so on. And Ivanova’s words at the end of the last episode do stress that hope…
        I always enjoyed Trek’s optimism, because we must strive for a brighter future, no matter the adversities of the present, but I also thought that it was more utopian than realistic. Something to hope for, but also a hard goal to reach. Still, I would not mind to see that kind of future realized πŸ™‚

        And if you decide to open a lengthy discussion on B5, I will be more than happy!

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  5. ❀ Star Trek ❀
    I believed quite fervently when I was a kid that the future would be like Star Trek. That knowledge and understanding would win out. I'm still hoping. πŸ™‚
    ST Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager were the shows of my childhood-teens-early 20s and my brother and I still rewatch them of a fairly regular basis. I never got round to Enterprise, and I've yet to watch Discovery though.

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  6. I have somehow been brainwashed into thinking that Star Trek was the inferior brother up against Star Wars as I grew up. During college, there was a philosophy teacher who showed us segments of some episodes to further discuss some ideas that were explored in the show and that’s when I realized how much depth it had. The problem I had and still sort of have is that I can’t tell what would be the best course of action to enter this world. I mean, I could totally start with the modern shows that are being released, and the J.J. Abrams movies, but I know that some of the better stuff are much older… and much longer… Great nostalgia post though, I’m really glad to see this feature back on your blog guys! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you enjoyed it, we did too! πŸ˜‰
      Oh, man, judging from by the comments section “SW inferior brother” won’t make you many friends around here πŸ˜‚
      Yeah, it’s a problem I don’t have ready solution for, I’m afraid… I’d probably go with one of the older shows, like TNG or DS9 (which incidentally I still need to watch!), and only after a season or two I’d try something newer. Though, as you probably know from the post, I am biased here πŸ˜‰ You may also want to wait for Picard, and, if you enjoyed that, later watch TNG.
      I love the old, old Roddenberry episodes, but they are like windows through time – intriguing curios which elicit more of an indulgent, slightly surprised joy than nail-biting, thought-provoking entertainment πŸ˜‰

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