It is the 8th September 1966, and the now infamous words, “Space: the final frontier” are spoken for the first time; sparking the start of the science fiction phenomenon that is Star Trek. Initially gaining tepid reviews and modest viewing figures, that original show has gone on to spawn a franchise that includes: 5 television series, 13 movies, an animated series, books, comics, toys, and adoration in the hearts of millions of fans across the globe. So firmly embedded in pop culture that you will struggle to find someone, even if they have never seen the show or films, who does not recognise the Vulcan Salute, or not know that famous, if inaccurate line, “Beam me up, Scotty”. So, after 50 years, how does Star Trek continue to captivate us?
“the characters throughout the franchise’s history have always been rich and interesting”
For one thing, the characters throughout the franchise’s history have always been rich and interesting. Gene Rodenberry, the man who conceived the premise of Star Trek in the first place, always insisted that the characters of the show should represent the whole of Earth, and the universe that the ship was exploring. This lead to a multitude of extremely unique characters throughout the shows and films. The Original Series included a black woman as a crewman in Uhura, something unheard of at the time, as well as an alien in Spock, a character which CBS wanted removed for looking “like the devil”, but went on to become one of the most beloved in the series’ history. From there we had Klingons, Borg, Holograms, and Ferengi all taking leading roles and all possessing their own unique characteristics, which viewers could relate to, despite their alien appearances. Even the various Captains possessed their own motivations, never simply copying those that went before them.
Another major reason for the series’ continued success is due to its impressive story-lines. Science Fiction, especially that from the 1960s, was typically kitsch and light hearted. Though it could be argued the styling of the Original Series fulfilled this with its chrome sets and brightly coloured costumes, the stories mostly avoided this trope. Throughout its history Star Trek has touched on many sensitive topics other shows wouldn’t dare to, including sexism, racism, genocide, torture, religion, and many more. Indeed, the first interracial kiss aired on US television was between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura in the Original Series, whilst Chief Engineer Torres in Voyager watched first-hand the effects of a holocaust. This has kept the stories grounded and relevant, often with a moral lesson for viewers. That isn’t to say these morals are stuffed down your throat – indeed the writers did a very good job of blending serious content and humour, which helped ensure the show’s ranging appeal and relevance.
“through various mediums and generations of fans, the series has stayed fresh”
A final reason for Star Trek’s success is how broad the basic concept has always been, and how large and imaginative the universe has become. The initial idea of the continuing voyage of a ship was borrowed from the Western genre, which is what Rodenberry originally intended the show to be; a space western. Though Deep Space Nine and some of the films have moved away from this premise, this open world allowed the Star Trek universe to expand in such a way that there is now so much to keep exploring. 52 unique species of aliens have been created within the franchise, all of them with their own histories and cultures. Through various mediums and generations of fans, the series has stayed fresh and moving, though staying true to the roots that the fans love. There is no end point.
Star Trek has left an immeasurable impact on a great many people, leaving a legacy that carries around the world. So, with the new show, Discovery, due to start streaming on Netflix next year, all that is left to say is live long and prosper, Star Trek. Here is to another 50 years of boldly going where no series has gone before.