The #StarTrek “cheat sheet”

As you may see from some of my other posts, I’m kind of a Star Trek fan, and have been one most of my life. I grew up on reruns of the original series and over the years have watched all the various incarnations (though I have not seen every episode of everything – I got, as they say , “a life”). As a Trek fanboy, I’ve learned a lot about the franchise and so, for your edification, here are some of the key “factoids” that you can use whenever Trek comes up in casual conversation (which I’m sure is… umm, often).

Impress your friends with this, the Star Trek “cheat sheet”.

Each show reflects its time

Star Trek was very much a product of its time, whenever it was produced. The original series was about ambition and hope, inspired by the space program and the “new frontier” that was spoken of by JFK (Kirk is a very effective replacement for JFK). The Next Generation presented stories about the fear that technology would “assimilate” us at the dawning of the Internet. And Enterprise showed a very obvious 9/11 parable through the Xindi story arc. The best Trek presents a mirror to the culture who views it… and by reflecting this culture, great stories are told and people are entertained.

The best movie is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

This is indisputable, because it is an absolute truth… the same way water is wet and rocks are hard, The Wrath of Khan is the best Trek film. The interesting conversation comes about when you start to explore why that is the case. The primary reason is you had a singular vision that stemmed from a filmmaker who was less a fan of Trek and more a fan of classical storyteller and Shakespeare… Nicholas Meyer.

Meyer, not being well-versed in Trek lore, realized the rich tapestry and universe that existed and took advantage of it in ways that directors and writers following him failed to… and all of it was steeped in character. Spock, finally accepting himself, sacrificing his life to save the ship and crew.

The best captain argument is pointless

“Kirk!” “Picard” “Archer!” Look, each captain reflected the expected characterizations of the time, and so each one had different traits that resonated with views. Kirk was more action oriented, Picard was more intellectual, and Archer was more humanistic and pragmatic… No captain is “better” than the other (though I’m actually a fan of Archer… mostly because he had a dog).

“Spocks Brain” isn’t the worse episode of Trek ever

No, that honor belongs to the Voyager episode “Threshold”, which dealt with the impact of crossing the Warp 10 barrier to crewman Tom Paris. He starts… devolving. Is this not Trek? No, this is horrible.

A close second place is the Harlequin romance knockoff episode of Next Generation “Sub Rosa”, which has Dr. Crusher having psychic sex with her dead grandmother’s girlfriend. Next to these klinkers, Spock’s Brain is Shakespeare.

Lots of celebrities are Trek fans

The biggest example is Seth McFarlane, who would LOVE to have an office that looks just like a Next Gen bridge. But there are many others: Mila Kunis, Daniel Craig, Nathan Fillion, Karen Gillan, Tom Hanks, Ben Stiller, Rosario Dawson, Kelsey Grammer and more are all unabashed Trek fans.

Paramount is cool with fan productions… for now

Some of the best Trek that has come out the past few years has not been official…it’s been fan-made. I’m particularly impressed with Star Trek Continues, a fan-made episode series that actor Vic Mignogna has spearheaded. It captures the tone and spirit of the original series better than any of the others… better even than the new Trek films. Paramount is cool with the fan productions, as long as they don’t make money. Though looking at a future marketplace when they have to compete with the same eyeballs that these productions are aiming for, that may not last.

The best Next Gen movie is the last episode

One of the most interesting and honest commentary tracks I ever heard is Ron Moore and Brannon Braga commenting on Star Trek: Generations. On the commentary, the two writers of the film basically admit (as much as they can, considering the commentary is on a Paramount-issued video release) that the last third of Generations doesn’t work and that the “better” movie (and what should have been brought to the big screen) was the series finale “All Good Things…”

While there are many fans who love First Contact, I have to say… Brannon and Ron are right. “All Good Things…” wrapped up the Next Gen story in a way that the movies never did, and also was an entertaining romp as well. It worked in ways that Generations and First Contact didn’t. And the least we say about Nemesis, the better.

Gene Roddenberry didn’t create all by himself

There is a myth (one that was largely promoted by Gene himself) that Roddenberry came up with the show and everything in it by himself. Not so. He had some tremendously talented people who worked tirelessly to build and create Star Trek, and it would not have been what we know as “Star Trek” without them. Matt Jeffries, Gene L. Coon, Robert Justman, D.C. Fontana, Herbert Solow… and numerous directors and writers made Trek exceptional. Gene added a lot, obviously… but he didn’t do it alone. For details, I recommend reading the book Inside Star Trek.

Gene Roddenberry was also a… ‘ladies man’

Gene was an idea man, and one of his ideas was to have a lot of sex. He bedded lots of women, and one of those was the actress Majel Barrett, who ended up his wife after he got a divorce from his first one. No judgement here, just pointing out… he was human, not some all-perfect saintly figure. Also, we now know where James Kirk’s libido came from.

A space shuttle was named Enterpise because of the fans (and Gerald Ford)

The first, experimental space shuttle was named Enterprise thanks to the fans… they wrote NASA and insisted the first shuttle be named after the ship James Kirk commanded. The final say was with Gerald Ford, and after he heard of the write-in campaign he approved the naming. He said he was “partial” to the name.

Gene Roddenberry “helped” the letter campaign that saved the original series

One of the “dirty little secrets” of Trek is that the campaign that saved Star Trek for a third season wasn’t exactly a spontaneous demonstration. Way back in 1967, when Star Trek was in trouble, Roddenberry and his staff started contacting the vestigial fan groups and began to ask them to write NBC to renew Star Trek. He even paid for protest materials and bumper stickers that fans plastered on studio execs bumpers! So the idea that the fans “rose up” to save Star Trek is true… from a certain point of view.

For a while Gene Roddenberry was a dealer of Star Trek collectibles

Gene never owned Star Trek (Desilu, then Paramount, did). So, he was paid a flat salary as a producer and a writer… and when the show ended he tried to get new shows off the ground with very little success. To keep the bills paid, he opened Lincoln Enterprises, a mail-order company that sold Star Trek collectibles (including scripts and 35mm film strips from the show). He… “secured” many of the items he sold through this company from the studio, which rubbed some the wrong way. He eventually folded the company, but for a while the best Dealer of Star Trek collectibles out there was Gene Roddenberry himself.

We can thank Lucille Ball for Star Trek existing at all

I love Lucy… not because she was a brilliant comedienne, but because she bankrolled Star Trek. The original producers of Star Trek was Desilu, the production company mutually owned by Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball. After a pilot that didn’t really work, Desilu asked Roddenberry to make a second pilot, and it is rumored that Lucy herself made the decision to green-light the series.

Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do, but not about this. Thanks for the laughs, and thanks for Star Trek!

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

Back to Top