Half a century since its debut, Star Trek is as hot as ever, with the movie franchise a regular summer blockbuster and a new series coming to Netflix. Jonathan deBurca Butler talks to some lifelong Trekkies about its enduring appeal.
Tonight, Star Trek fans from all four provinces of the Irish galaxy are set to beam into the Woolshed Pub on Parnell St, Dublin, to celebrate 50 years since the launch of the cult show.
At the helm of what promises to be a fun-filled night of intergalactic festivities is Ronan Healy of Star Trek Eire.
“There will possibly be a few people who’ll dress up alright,” says the 39-year-old. “But it’s not really a requirement. We’re trying to cater to every type of fan, from casual to superfan.”
Healy, who hails from the planet Walkinstown in the Dublin Galaxy, first got into Star Trek through its 1990s incarnation, The Next Generation; a series that was popular across the globe and included Patrick Stewart, who played the wise captain Jean Luc Picard.
“Nobody can touch that series for me,” says Healy.
“It got me through my teens and those shows are engrained on my personality, I think. I had always loved science fiction and these were great stories but they were thought provoking too. Yes, there was a bit of fun but it wasn’t just lasers everywhere.
“There was also an underlying story, whether it was an episode dealing with homosexuality or torture, there were so many aspects to it. It really gripped me.”
The original Star Trek series was created by Gene Roddenberry, a Texas-born policeman’s son who flew over 50 combat missions in the Second World War.
When Roddenberry returned home, he followed his father into the police force where he wrote speeches for the LAPD.
To supplement his income he wrote television scripts and was soon able to indulge his passion for TV full-time.
The original series ran on NBC for three seasons from 1966 to 1969 and even back then, its creator wanted to do more than simply entertain.
“When Roddenberry was writing the original series, he wanted to talk about America in the ’60s,” says Healy.
“But he wouldn’t have got away with telling those stories if he hadn’t hidden them in the 23rd century. It was hugely political. If you think about it there was a Russian flying the ship — at the same time of the Space Race.
There was a black woman on the bridge in a position of power and 20 years after the war a Japanese man flying The Enterprise.
“So he tackled war, racism, he tackled women’s rights but by putting it all into an alien setting he was able to get it past the studios.”
Fellow Trekkie Gary Reynolds also intends to boldly go to celebrate his favourite show tonight. He was about six or seven when he saw Star Trek first.
“My earliest memory of it is the original series,” says the 31-year-old. “I remember seeing ‘The Man Trap’ which was the first episode of series one. It was weird and it was scary. It had this strange sort of salt vampire that went around attacking the crew for their salt. I remember seeing it and wanting more.”
Reynolds recognises that some of the original series was perhaps a little “cheesy” and would now be considered somewhat “laughable” but like his co-fan Healy, he feels there are some episodes that still resonate today.
“There was an episode called ‘Let That Be Your Last Battlefield’, where the crew go to a planet and find two warring factions,” says Gary.
“The aliens all had black and white faces but on opposite sides. This was clearly dealing with racism. So there are political allegories if you like that are still frighteningly relevant today I think.”
It would be a full 10 years after that final series before Star Trek was reincarnated.
In 1979, two years after the first Star Wars movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit the silver screen and was greeted by a public who were hungry for science-fiction and willing to pay for it. The film grossed $17m in its first week.
There have been 13 movies since as well as countless series episodes. When Roddenberry died in 1991 he was a wealthy man but for fans his legacy is something else.
“I was at a talk recently that was given by Jan Warner who is the head of the European Space Agency,” says Healy.
“He was comparing the International Space Station crew there at the moment with the multicultural crew on Star Trek. And for me that’s its greatest message. It is one of hope and equality. It doesn’t matter what you are you can make a difference. I also think it gives a positive view of humanity. We’re not going to blow ourselves up. Humanity exists into the future.”
It also looks like Star Trek will be with us for years to come with a new series due to be released on Netflix in January. Good news, for the Next Generation of Star Trek fans.
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