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Friday, August 26, 2016

Star Trek Turns 50

Written by Jon Williams

The final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
Its five-year mission:
To explore strange new worlds.
To seek out new life and new civilizations.
To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Those now-familiar words were first heard on September 8, 1956, when the very first episode of the original Star Trek television show made its debut. In the fifty years since, Star Trek has become a true touchstone, with phrases like “live long and prosper” and “beam me up, Scotty” making their way into the cultural lexicon. The show made stars of its primary cast members (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig), and has spawned numerous spinoffs, a movie franchise (including a reboot), and much more.

It seems hard to believe now, but that first Star Trek show ran for just three seasons, as it didn’t become a true hit until it was syndicated and shown in reruns. At that point, the original 79 episodes just weren’t quite enough, so, in 1973, the show was revived for an animated series that brought back all the original actors to voice their roles. Although it was also short-lived (spanning 22 episodes), it was well-received, even winning a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Series.

As the animated series wound down, Star Trek was at something of a crossroads. There was a demand for more, but it was unclear exactly what form it would take. Plans went into motion for a new television series, to be titled Phase II, but numerous problems eventually forced those plans to be scrapped. Instead, encouraged by the success that science fiction films were finding at the box office, Star Trek producers instead revived earlier plans to bring the Enterprise crew to the big screen. Those efforts paid off with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, again reuniting all the original cast members in their familiar roles.

The success of that movie spawned a franchise that would run for five more films featuring the beloved original cast. They were: The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Search for Spock (1984), The Voyage Home (1986), The Final Frontier (1989), and The Undiscovered Country (1991). It was with this last movie that Captain Kirk’s iconic line of “where no man has gone before” was updated to “where no one has gone before,” eliminating the gender-biased and (in a galaxy filled with aliens) species-biased language in keeping with the franchise’s ideals of equality.

That was when Captain Kirk first spoke those words, but it was not the first time Star Trek fans had heard them that way. In September of 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on television, set 100 years after the adventures of the original series and bringing a new cast (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, and Wil Wheaton) to the bridge of the Enterprise. Highly popular, this series ran for seven seasons and made its own eventual jump to the big screen. 1994’s Generations bridged the gap, starring the entire Next Generation cast and featuring several members of the original cast as well, in a story that saw Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard team up with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. The Next Generation cast then stayed in theaters for three more movies on their own: First Contact (1996), Insurrection (1998), and Nemesis (2002).

The final season of The Next Generation aired in 1994, but that was far from the end of Star Trek on television. Before it ended, in 1993, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured an ensemble cast as the crew of a space station in a contested region. Then, beginning in 1995, came Star Trek: Voyager, which followed a new ship and crew helmed by Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway, trying to make their way home to Earth after being stranded on the other side of the galaxy. Like The Next Generation, both of these series ran for seven seasons. In 2001, after Voyager’s conclusion, Star Trek: Enterprise made its debut, starring Scott Bakula as the captain of the very first Federation starship to be named Enterprise, in a prequel to everything that had some before.

And of course there is the new movie series. In 2009, after a 7-year absence from theaters following Nemesis, Star Trek returned to the big screen in a reboot from J.J. Abrams starring a new cast (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, and the late Anton Yelchin) in the roles of the original crew, with Leonard Nimoy appearing as an older Spock in a nod to the alternate timelines the different casts now occupy. That was followed up in 2013 with Star Trek Into Darkness, and earlier this year with Star Trek Beyond.

All of this, and still Star Trek fans have plenty to look forward to. In addition to a fourth film with the new cast, there is also a new TV series in the works. Slated to debut in January, Star Trek: Discovery will detail the adventures of a new ship and crew in the ten years previous to the events of the original series. And of course, the TV series and movies are just a part of what the Star Trek franchise has to offer. SmartBrowse on our website for music scores and audiobooks, and you can also direct patrons to hoopla digital for Star Trek comics, audiobooks, and other novelties. Also, keep an eye out for a special Star Trek 50th anniversary flyer along with our September catalog mailing.

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