Star Trek

views updated Jun 11 2018

Star Trek

A worldwide science-fiction pop culture triumph, Star Trek has become a veritable empire of movies, television shows, novels, comic books, fanzines, clubs, conventions, board games, video games, and memorabilia. Star Trek began as a television series originally conceived by writer-producer Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) in the early 1960s. Airing on NBC from Fall 1966 through Spring 1969, Star Trek episodes chronicled the adventures of the twenty-third century starship Enterprise, serving the interplanetary Federation on a five-year mission to "explore strange new worlds" and "boldly go where no man has gone before."

Initially assembled at Desilu Studios, the series took shape with significant help from the actors, all of whom had the sense that they were involved with something quite new and important. Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) was the young, handsome leader of the mission, the youngest captain in the history of Starfleet. Though occasionally headstrong and impetuous, and with a weakness for beautiful women of all races (and all species), Kirk was an inspiring and resourceful leader, often the most popular character of the show. Rivaling and sometimes surpassing Kirk in popularity was Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), a native of the planet Vulcan, where emotions are suppressed in an attempt to achieve complete objective logic. Spock's tapered eyebrows and pointed ears were at once sinister and fascinating, like a hybrid between a devil and an elf. Spock was particularly interesting because he was half human; though raised as a Vulcan, he was torn between the rigors of logic and the "irrational" pull of friendship and love. The third major character was Dr. "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), a curmudgeonly and quick-tempered older man. McCoy had little patience for the impossible idealism that often accompanied Kirk's confidence, and even less patience for the self-importance that often accompanied Spock's self-restraint.

The other prominent members of the original Enterprise crew were a deliberate mixture of races and nationalities, as Roddenberry felt an accurate vision of the future must depict humanity as having transcended ethnic and political strife. Montgomery Scott—"Scottie"—(played by James Doohan) was the ship's Scottish engineer; he could push the ship beyond its limits and work miracle repairs. The Japanese Lieutenant Sulu (George Takei) and the Russian Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) were the ship's helmsmen. The African Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) was the communications officer.

Star Trek was originally conceived as a rather dark and serious show, but it quickly became much more than this. There is a great variety in the original Star Trek episodes: tragedy, comedy, mystery, romance, action, adventure. Among the most popular humorous episodes is "The Trouble with Tribbles," during which some members of the Enterprise crew purchase some cute, round, fur-covered creatures known as tribbles from an intergalactic merchant, only to discover that the creatures multiply at a rate fast enough to threaten engulfing the entire ship. Often voted the best all-time episode is "The City on the Edge of Forever," a time-travel drama written by Harlan Ellison and co-starring Joan Collins. In this heart-wrenching episode, Kirk is forced to choose between saving the life of the woman he loves or forever altering the natural course of history. Other popular episodes feature the Enterprise in conflict with the Federation's redoubtable alien enemies, the warlike Klingons and the scheming Romulans.

The 1960s Star Trek is justly famous for its social commentary. A few episodes, including "A Private Little War," offer thinly veiled criticism of Vietnam by showing the problems of getting involved in other nations' internal struggles. Indeed, Starfleet's "Prime Directive" is that no technologically advanced society may interfere with the normal development of a more primitive society. Other episodes promote racial harmony and equality; the exciting "Last Battlefield" episode shows a planet of racists engaged in a futile and self-destructive war. A few episodes, including "A Way to Eden," critique the communal counterculture: intergalactic hippie types are seen spoiled by drugs or foolishly deluded into thinking they will find a perfect paradise. Overall the show is upbeat, suggesting that many of the problems of twentieth-century Earth will ultimately be solved. The tradition of social commentary in the episodes of the original Star Trek series carried into the later Star Trek series, which have examined issues such as overpopulation, environmentalism, homelessness, drug abuse, bisexuality, and religious fanaticism.

The original Star Trek is also remarkable for its breaking of television taboos. Apparently, the show's being set in the future allowed it to get away with content that would have been unacceptable in a "real life" show. Many episodes feature scantily clad men and women, often in thin and flimsy outfits that seem about to fall off entirely; but as many of these men and women were "robots" or "aliens" the network censors allowed them on the show. Star Trek was also historic in condoning interracial (or even inter-species) love. The fine "Plato's Stepchildren" episode (aired 1969) features television's first interracial kiss, between Shatner and Nichols.

Over the years, the original Star Trek series has furnished its fans with a multitude of inside jokes. Drinking games have developed during which fans take one drink every time the show's most famous motifs are repeated: the ship's teleporting "Transporter" always breaks down; red-shirted security officers always die at the hands of evil aliens; Kirk always finds a way to talk attractive female aliens into bed; Uhuru always taps the microphone in her ear to get better reception across the light years; Spock and his fellow Vulcans greet each other with mystic hand-signals and with the words, "Live long and prosper"; after McCoy examines a dead body, he always turns sadly to the captain and says, "He's dead, Jim"; after a mission accomplished (and after the ship's Transporter has been conveniently repaired), Kirk radios his engineer and chimes, "Beam me up, Scotty." Yet all these jokes, along with the occasional silly-looking sets and ham-acting, have become a source of endearment rather than derision.

Despite the tremendous efforts of everyone involved with the show, and despite the high cost of close to $200,000 per episode, media critics considered the show a failure. Worse still, after some initially high Nielsen ratings, the show's popularity began to decline. Although fan mail increased week after week, the number of viewers appeared to be dwindling. NBC came close to canceling the show after the first season but relented after being deluged by letters written during a "save Star Trek " campaign organized by prominent science-fiction writers. But the show's second season still failed to capture high ratings. Again the show was nearly canceled, but again a "save Star Trek " campaign (this time organized by fans) saved it. The third season was the show's last, but the total of 79 episodes were enough to allow syndication.

In syndication, Star Trek became an immediate hit. Fanzines and fan clubs proliferated, enough to inspire the first Star Trek convention in January 1972 in New York City. In response to this burgeoning popularity, NBC revived the show as an animated series, featuring the original actors as the voices of their original characters. Unfortunately, though the animated show featured stories as complex as the live action series, it was aired for young viewers on Saturday mornings and thereby was misplaced. It was canceled after a brief 22-episode run from Fall 1973 into Winter 1974. Plans for a second television series were in the works, but after the spectacular success of Star Wars in 1977, Star Trek's new owner Paramount decided to make the show into a movie. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (directed by Robert Wise) hit theaters in 1979, and while it was not well-liked by critics or hardcore fans (mostly because of its extravagant special effects and emphasis on concept over character), the picture drew tremendous crowds and was a financial success.

Star Trek movies have since hit theaters regularly every few years. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, directed by Nicholas Meyer) was an action-packed adventure co-starring Ricardo Montalban and Kirstie Alley; it became both a critical and popular success despite the death of Mr. Spock in the film's final scenes. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984, directed by Leonard Nimoy) was another all-around success; the Enterprise is lost, but Spock is resurrected. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, directed by Nimoy) time-warped the crew back to 1980s San Francisco in search of a pair of humpback whales; possessing a playful sense of delight, it has become the most successful Star Trek film of all. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, directed by William Shatner) gave the crew a rebuilt Enterprise and sent them in search of an evil alien whom they mistake as God; the movie also purposefully suggested that the characters were perhaps getting too old to be adventuring in outer space. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1992, directed by Meyer), in which the Klingons and the Federation make peace, was the last film to feature the original cast.

Star Trek: Generations (1994, directed by David Carson) portrayed the death of James T. Kirk, and was also the first film to feature the second generation of Star Trek characters from the already-successful Next Generation television show. Star Trek: First Contact (1996, directed by Jonathan Frakes) was a multi-layered time-travel film showing Earth's first contact with an alien race. And Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, directed by Frakes) portrayed a power-struggle over a beautiful pleasure-planet.

The success of the first Star Trek movies inspired Paramount to produce a second television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, that took place 78 years after the first series. The new show (aired 1987-94) took a more contemplative and peaceful approach to its episodes; there was less action but more science and more diplomacy. Beautiful computer-generated special effects added further breadth. But as with the original series, a prime appeal of the second series was the emphasis on character. With families and couples on board a much larger starship, the show had a balanced "group" feel. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) was mature and digni-fied, while First Officer Riker (Jonathan Frakes) was suave and sturdy. Klingon security officer Worf (Michael Dorn) was often torn between his hereditary codes of honor and his duties serving the Federation, while android Lieutenant Data (Brent Spiner) struggled to compare his thoughts and his "emotions" with those of human beings. Major characters also included the empathetic Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), the young engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), and the doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). Some episodes featured Dr. Crusher's son Wesley (Wil Wheaton), the Ukrainian security officer Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), and the 500-year-old Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). Like the original series, The Next Generation offered fans a great variety of shows ranging from the very lighthearted to the very serious. Popular episodes feature the Romulans (now a major enemy of the Federation), the Borg (frightening and hostile aliens who resemble a cross between insects and robots), and the nearly-omnipotent alien "Q" (John DeLancie), who enjoys teasing the earnest but helpless humans.

After seven seasons, it was decided that The Next Generation be replaced by a new show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (created largely by Rick Berman and debuting in 1993), whose characters inhabit a space station rather than ship. The station is precariously situated at the edge of the Federation near an intergalactic "wormhole" through which all manner of alien spaceships frequently pass. Besides accommodating their alien visitors, the Deep Space Nine crew faces the challenge of a conflict raging in their sector between the empire of the Cardassians (reptilian Federation adversaries) and the inhabitants of the planet Bajor. In later shows the crew faces the threat of the hostile Jem'Hadar alien troops and their masters in the "Dominion." The look and mood of the show is darker than in the earlier shows, but the optimistic vision remains. The characters include widower Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) and son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), the Bajoran first officer Kira (Nana Visitor), the unscrupulous merchant Quark (Armin Shimerman), the symbiont-hosting alien Dax (Terry Farrell), and the shapeshifting officer Odo (Rene Auberjonois). As in the earlier shows, the Deep Space Nine crew is a harmonious mixture of peoples: Sisco is black, the ship's doctor (Siddig El Fadil) is an Arab, the operations officer (Colm Meany) is Irish, the botanist (Rosalind Chao) is Japanese.

With Deep Space Nine still intended to run a full six or seven seasons, in 1994 yet another Star Trek TV series debuted, entitled Star Trek: Voyager (also created largely by Rick Berman). As in the first two series, the characters serve on board a space ship, but this ship is lost light years from the Federation and must find its way home. The Voyager crew must also deal with internal Federation rebels known as The Maquis, some of whom serve on the Voyager bridge. Crew members include the scientist-captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), Native American officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran), ex-convict Lieutenant Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), youthful Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang), Vulcan Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ), half-Klingon engineer Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), holographic-projection "Doctor" (Robert Picardo), chef Neelix (Ethan Phillips), telekinetic Kes (Jennifer Lien), and part-Borg Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). As with the preceding series, there is an underlying sense of optimism about the future, but also a broad variety of episodes that deal with serious subjects such as personal versus professional loyalties, legitimate versus illegitimate forms of authority, foreign (or alien) codes of ethics, and the loss of families and loved ones.

In all its manifestations, Star Trek has made an incalculable impact on American culture. Social critics have viewed Star Trek as something of a modern mythology basing itself on the future rather than the past. Few Americans exist who have not seen at least one Star Trek movie or television show. The stars of the original Star Trek series have virtually become national legends, regularly featured on talk shows or as the subjects of biographical articles, books, and documentaries. NASA named one of its space shuttles "Enterprise" in tribute to the show. World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking appeared on a Next Generation episode, as did Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. In the late 1990s, Star Trek television shows are seen in more than 100 countries worldwide and viewed by an audience of 30 million each week. There are more than 63 million copies of Star Trek books in print, and every newly-released Star Trek novel has been a best-seller—making this the most successful series in publishing history. There have been more than a dozen different Star Trek comic book series since the early 1970s, and there are thousands of Star Trek websites. There have been Star Trek museum exhibits, and there is a permanent "Star Trek: The Experience" museum/spaceship-simulator at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas.

There are many reasons for Star Trek's successes—the deep and compelling characters, the charismatic actors, the intelligent themes and plots of individual shows, the consistency of the future technologies and devices, the believability of the future universe. Perhaps one of the most important reasons is Star Trek's positive vision of the future. Star Trek shows and movies are an inspiration and hope for a twentieth-century world dealing with crime, homelessness, ethnic strife, and AIDS. In the twenty-third century, Earth has solved all its biggest problems. Political and racial harmony is so strong that warfare no longer exists. Understanding and altruism are so universal that money is no longer necessary. Sickness and hunger have all but vanished; humans live to age 130 and beyond.

For hardcore fans, Star Trek has truly become a way of life. Costumes from each of the television series are available, as are the tools of the trade—"phaser" weapons, "communicator" radios, and scientific or medical "tricorders." Nearly every science fiction shop in the country carries tribble dolls and Klingon dictionaries. The biggest Star Trek fans—"Trekkies" or "Trekkers"—have become something of a culture of their own, the subject of serious sociological studies as well as condescending satires. Trekkies are occasionally stereotyped as overweight nerds, but are in fact a very diverse bunch, as ethnically mixed as Star Trek characters themselves. Trekkies are the only fans listed in the OED, and they have become so numerous that, by the late 1990s, during every weekend of every year there is a Star Trek convention held somewhere in the world.

—Dave Goldweber

Further Reading:

Asherman, Allan, and Kevin Ryan, editors. The Star Trek Compendium. New York, Pocket, 1993.

Bjorklund, Edi. "Women and Star Trek Fandom." Minerva. Vol. 24,No. 2, 1986, 16-65.

Blair, Karin. "Sex and Star Trek. " Science-Fiction Studies. Vol. 10,No. 2, 1983, 292-97.

Dillard, J.M. Star Trek: Where No One Has Gone Before. New York, Pocket, 1996.

Harrison, Taylor, et al, editors. Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Boulder, Colorado, Westview, 1996.

Jindra, Michael. " Star Trek Fandom as a Religious Phenomenon."Sociology of Religion. Vol. 55, No. 1, 1994, 27-51.

Okuda, Michael, et al, editors. The Star Trek Encyclopedia. New York, Pocket, 1997.

Reeves-Stevens. The Art of Star Trek: Thirty Years of Creating the Future. New York, Pocket, 1997.

Richards, Thomas. The Meaning of Star Trek. New York, Doubleday, 1997.

Shatner, William. Star Trek Memories. New York, Harper Collins, 1994.

Solow, Herbert F., and Robert H. Justman. Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. New York, Pocket, 1997.

Worland, Rick. "Captain Kirk: Cold Warrior." Journal of Popular Film and Television. Vol. 16, No. 3, 1988, 109-17.

Star Trek

views updated May 29 2018

Star Trek


Although not popular during its original run in the late 1960sit was cancelled after three low-rated seasonsthe television program Star Trek developed a cult following that is still vibrant forty years later. Over the years, fans have appreciated the Star Trek sagas compelling stories and characters, idealistic and progressive view of the future, and confrontation with relevant political and cultural issues.

Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, and the NBC network launched it in September 1966. The show centered on the twenty-third-century pangalactic travels of the USS Enterprise, the flagship of Starfleetthe military sector of the United Federation of Planets. The composition of the Enterprise crew itself was a social commentary on the advancements in civil rights and the nascent, albeit modest, recognition of gender equality. The ship was commanded by a white male, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), but his supporting crew was considerably more diverse than the casts of other contemporary television shows. Using the fictional Star Trek universe, the shows episodes addressed the controversial issues of the late 1960s, including the Vietnam War, the cold war, and race relations. The show also broke new ground, most notably in featuring the first televised interracial kiss. Despite Star Trek s critical success, NBC cancelled it in 1969 because of low ratings.

Cancellation after only three seasons would be the death knell for most television programs, but Star Trek s cancellation marked only the beginning of one of the most successful science fiction ventures ever. Almost immediately, Star Trek reruns aired in syndication, earning high ratings and drawing new fans, known as Trekkies or Trekkers. This fan base grew larger and more organized, and in 1972 Trekkies began holding Star Trek conventions. The shows actors, writers, and producers, along with thousands of fans, attend these conventions to discuss Star Trek, to trade memorabilia, and to socialize. With this demonstrable level of support, in 1979 Paramount Studios released a movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was produced by Roddenberry. The movie reunited the original cast, and it allowed the Star Trek legacy to continue. Throughout the 1980s subsequent Star Trek movies tackled social issues; for example, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) was a parable on environmentalism and species protection.

Star Trek s increasing popularity gave Roddenberry the opportunity to create a new television program, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which debuted in September 1987. The Next Generation featured the twenty-fourth-century crew of the Enterprise, commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). As with the original Star Trek series, The Next Generation addressed important political, cultural, and social issues of its time. Anticipating the end of the cold war, the United Federation of Planets made a lasting, albeit tenuous, peace with its former archrivals the Klingons. In addition, The Next Generation reflected advancements in gender equality that had been achieved since the 1960s; whereas the original series relegated women to supporting roles, women in The Next Generation served as ships doctors, security chiefs, and even admirals. The Next Generation episodes also addressed sexual orientation, the struggles of subjugated peoples, and ethical issues concerning animal experimentation. Unlike the original series, The Next Generation was well funded and highly rated, and it aired for seven seasons. Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 and did not see the full run of The Next Generation, but others ensured that the Star Trek legacy would continue.

The Next Generation s success led to more movies during the 1990s featuring the cast of The Next Generation. By 2006 there had been ten Star Trek movies. Additionally, The Next Generation s success spawned two more television series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (19931999) and Star Trek: Voyager (19952001). Neither show took place on the Enterprise, but each continued with the basic Star Trek themes; for example, at a time when few television programs featured women in charge, a woman commanded the Voyager ship. In 2001 yet another Star Trek series, Star Trek: Enterprise (20012005), was launched. This show took place in the twenty-second century, during the early years of the Enterprise and Earths entry into the United Federation of Planets. Low ratings and less popularity among fans brought the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. Although to date there are no more television programs planned, Star Trek remains part of the American cultural lexicon, with academics using the show as a vehicle for their social criticism (e.g., Johnston 2002; Roberts 1999). Reruns of the television programs and movies remain popular, and Star Trek conventions are still held worldwide.

SEE ALSO Science Fiction; Television


Johnston, Steven. 2002. The Architecture of Democratic Monuments. Strategies 15: 197218.

Roberts, Robin. 1999. Sexual Generations: Star Trek The Next Generation and Gender. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Star Trek Web site.

Steven Tauber

Star Trek

views updated May 23 2018

Star Trek

In the daunting arena of space exploration, there is a tendency to wonder where the path that humankind is taking will lead us. Does the future hold the promise of fantastic new technologies that will be used peacefully for the benefit of humankind? Or will those technologies end up in the hands of a society that is not mature enough to wield power responsibly? The Star Trek television series and movies conceived by Gene Roddenberry participate in this debate by providing an optimistic view of humans in the future. In Star Trek 's version of history, humankind achieved an end to war, poverty, and disease on Earth shortly after the invention of warp technology, the principle that made it possible to travel faster than light.

Throughout history, people have built bigger and better telescopes and seen farther into the universe, but despite all of these exploration attempts, humankind has not made contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. People look into the night sky and wonder whether there are other civilizations out there. If there are, the vast distances between worlds make it seem unlikely that it will ever be possible to interact with those civilizations. Since Albert Einstein's theories suggest that it is impossible for a person to accelerate to the speed of light, it would take hundreds to thousands of years for people on a spacecraft to reach a planet in another star system by conventional means.

The warp technology of Star Trek, however, allows a spacecraft and its inhabitants to travel many times faster than light by moving through subspace, a theoretical parallel universe in which Einstein's theories do not apply. In a matter of hours or days it is possible to travel from one star system to another by creating a warp field that allows a spacecraft to slip into subspace. With the immense distances between civilizations no longer an issue, humans on Star Trek interact within a universe populated by an array of alien species.

The success of the Star Trek series and movies reflects genuine public interest in humankind's future in space. The writers added realism by weaving plausible scientific theories into the fabric of the Star Trek universe. The technologies behind the warp engine-powered starship, wormholes (theoretical bridges between two points in space), and transporters (devices that can convert matter to energy and vice versa) are all based on scientific theories. For this reason, it is natural for the audience to view these things as believable future manifestations of today's science.

Another key to Star Trek 's appeal is that it presents such an optimistic view of human society's future. It shows a world in which humans are no longer at war with each other. Food, resources, and transportation are available at the touch of a keypad. This hopeful portrayal shows a human civilization that has survived its technological adolescence, matured, and been enriched by alien cultures, one that thrives in a well-populated intergalactic neighborhood.

see also Antimatter Propulsion (volume 4); Communications, Future Needs (volume 4); Faster-Than-Light Travel (volume 4); First Contact (volume 4); Interstellar Travel (volume 4); Lasers in Space (volume 4); Movies (volume 4); Roddenberry, Gene (volume 1); Science Fiction (volume 4); Teleportation (volume 4); Wormholes (volume 4).

Jennifer Lemanski


Berman, Rick. Star Trek: First Contact. Paramount Pictures, 1996.

Okuda, Michael, and Denise Okuda. The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future. New York: Pocket Books, 1997.

Star Trek

views updated May 29 2018

Star Trek

The science-fiction series Star Trek lasted just three seasons during its original network run from 1966 to 1969, but it has gained eternal life in reruns, in multiple spin-offs, and as a feature-film series. The intergalactic adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and his crew aboard the Starship Enterprise touched a chord with millions of fans worldwide searching for intelligent, imaginative science fiction.

Star Trek was the brainchild of producer Gene Roddenberry (1921–1991). A fan of TV Westerns (see entry under 1930s— Film and Theater in volume 2), Roddenberry patterned the weekly one-hour drama after the popular adventure series Wagon Train. The show debuted in September 1966. Veteran actor William Shatner (1931–) played the brash Captain Kirk. Leonard Nimoy (1931–) played his ultralogical first officer, the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock. Along with their fellow crew members, composed of different ethnic and personality types, Kirk and Spock explored the universe and encountered aliens both friendly and hostile. The warlike Klingons and the cold-blooded Romulans emerged as regular villains on the series.

The show developed a sizable cult following, but its audience was never big enough to justify its special effects budget, and NBC cancelled Star Trek in 1969. The show remained popular in reruns, however, and as a series of big-budget feature films, beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The actors from the show, particularly Shatner, became beloved pop-culture icons (symbols) and were seen in many commercials and TV guest appearances.

Twenty years passed before Star Trek returned to television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3). A second series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, debuted in 1987 and ran for seven seasons, becoming the highest-rated syndicated show in TV history. Two other spin-off series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, also enjoyed long runs and high ratings. A new series, Star Trek: Enterprise, set in the years before the original show aired, debuted in the fall of 2001.

The dedication of Star Trek's fans, known as Trekkies, continues to make the series a truly global phenomenon. By the turn of the twenty-first century, Star Trek was being seen around the world in seventy-five countries. Countless Star Trek fan clubs exist, many of which have their own Web sites. Every year, Trekkies flock to various Star Trek conventions held in hotels and city centers around the globe.

—Robert E. Schnakenberg

For More Information

Altman, Mark A., and Edward Gross. Trek Navigator: The Ultimate Guide to the Entire Trek Saga. New York: Little Brown, 1998.

Okuda, Michael, Denise Okuda, and Debbie Mirek. The Star Trek Encyclopedia. New York: Pocket Books, 1994.

Schnakenberg, Robert E. The Encyclopedia Shatnerica. Los Angeles: Renaissance Books, 1998.

Solow, Herbert, and Robert H. Justman. Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1997. The Official Star Trek Web Site. (accessed March 20, 2002).

Star Trek

views updated May 21 2018

Star Trek

A short-lived television series fueled by the creative genius of Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek aired for three seasons, from 1966 through 1968. Set in the twenty-second century, the central theme of the science fiction series was the exploration of outer space. Its story lines revolved around the space travels of the ship U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. The ship's mission, as announced in the opening moments of each episode, was "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

The decisions and actions of Captain Kirk, a Ulysses-like character portrayed with casual offhandedness by William Shatner, were the series main focus; however, several supporting characters who comprised the heart of the Enterprise crew became hugely popular as well. The most prominent of these ancillary characters was Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy). A pointed-eared being from the planet Vulcan whose native populace embraced a behavioral standard of stoic, emotionless rationality, Mr. Spock was known for being able to achieve a Vulcan mind meld with any living creature merely by touching the base and side of its head. Other characters included Montgomery "Scottie" Scott ( James Doohan), the ship's chief engineer; Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the ship's communications officer (one of the first African-American woman to land a featured role in a television series); and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), the ship's chief medical officer who was the emotional opposite of Spock, with a personality as impassioned as Spock's was passionless.

Though Star Trek produced an original corpus of only seventy-nine episodes, the fictional world it sketched attracted what are generally acknowledged to be television's most fervent and loyal fans. First known as Trekkies and later Trekkers, these fans stubbornly supported the series long after its demise. They organized Star Trek conferences and became famous for investing considerable money and effort to create their own Star Trek costumes. This intrepid and indefatigable fan support eventually attracted new monies and energies to the Star Trek phenomenon, which spawned an animated television series, numerous books, six full-length feature films starring much of the original cast, and eventually three spin-off television series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.

By their intense commitment to the series and its characters, Trekkers revealed the extent to which mass-mediated entertainment could take on a religious function for at least part of its audience base at the end of the twentieth century.

See alsoSpace Flight.


Brasher, Brenda E. "Thoughts on the Status of the Cyborg: On Technological Socialization and Its Link to the Religious Function of Popular Culture." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64, no. 4 (1996): 809–830.

Jindra, Michael. "Star Trek Fandom as a Religious Phenomenon." Sociology of Religion 55, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 27–51.

Brenda E. Brasher