Thursday, September 08, 2016

Boldly Going

Apparently, today is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I knew it was this year, given that I was on the 50 Years of Star Trek panel at WorldCon, but this was the day the first episode aired. I wasn't around for that, but according to my mother, I was at least exposed to some episodes of what was probably the last season during its original run, since she said she watched it while she fed me when I was a newborn. So I guess I was a geek from birth.

I have vague memories of seeing occasional episodes of both the original and the animated series when I was a child. When the movies came out, my dad took me to the first two, and I went with my high school friends to the third. That outing was a pretty big deal for me, since it was one of the first times when I really felt like a "teenager." My best friends were older, and when one of them got a car and a license, it meant we could do stuff on our own, without relying on parents. We lived in a small town -- actually, all of us lived in the country outside that small town -- so seeing a movie meant going to the nearby city. When Star Trek III came out, we went out for pizza and then to the movie, and I felt very grown-up and independent.

But I really became a big Trek fan in my senior year of high school. We got a new TV station in our local area, and they started showing Star Trek reruns at 4 p.m. on weekdays. Both of my parents worked at the school, so that meant all of us were home from school to watch in the afternoons. It became a family bonding thing, our way of unwinding after school/work, and we got a lot of family inside jokes out of it. This was when I really got a sense for who those characters I'd seen in the movies were, and I started reading the novels, as well.

Star Trek was a big factor in developing my college social life. Early in my freshman year, I'd made some close friends I hung out with a lot, but I barely knew the rest of the people on my floor in the dorm. On the Friday afternoon before Halloween, I was supposed to go shopping with my friends to get Halloween costumes and party supplies, but then I discovered that my purse had been stolen from my dorm room. It turned out that the same thief had hit a lot of rooms (and was caught later that day), so the police were already set up in the lobby, taking reports. I was there, talking tearfully to the police, when my friends went by on their way to go shopping. I was stunned when their reaction was along the lines of "oh, that's why you didn't meet up with us, well, bye," so it was a case of adding insult to injury that they'd just abandoned me without showing any concern. On my way back to my room, one of the guys on the floor passed me in the hall (co-ed dorm) and noticed that I looked really down. He said the gang was about to watch Star Trek in his room and invited me to join them. It turned out that one of the local stations did that same 4 p.m. run my local station had done, and the whole gang from the floor gathered in the room of the guy with a TV to watch every afternoon. After Star Trek, they all trooped down to the cafeteria together for dinner. That got me involved with a whole new set of friends, some of whom I'm still in touch with.

Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered during my sophomore year, and I think we got 32 people crammed into a Jester Center dorm room (If you went to the University of Texas, you'll know what an achievement that was) to watch the premiere. We had to leave the door open and set up a fan in the hallway. The regular time slot for that series was 6 p.m. on Saturdays, so we added to our Trek viewing ritual. We'd go to dinner at 5 on Saturdays, then troop back upstairs to watch ST:TNG, and then we'd usually end up watching movies. I can honestly say that my college experience would have been radically different if it hadn't been for Star Trek and the way it helped form bonds with people who had common interests.

The other series came during my adulthood. I loved Deep Space Nine, and it was by far my favorite series of the bunch. I liked the more serialized storytelling and how "real" and three-dimensional the characters were. They were allowed to have flaws and conflict, something that hadn't been allowed as much in TNG. I was less enthralled with Voyager and bailed midway through the run, though I came back for the finale. I just lost interest in Enterprise somewhere along the way.

The movies have been a mixed bag. I loved First Contact, but most of the rest of the Next Generation movies were pretty weak. The last one of those, I didn't even see at the theater, and when I finally saw it on TV, I was glad I hadn't spent the money. I have very mixed feelings about the reboot movies. I kind of enjoy them while I'm watching them, though there was a great deal of in-theater snark about Into Darkness. The latest was the first of that bunch that really felt like Trek.

At any rate, it may just have been a TV show, but I think my life would have been different without it. Because of that show, I've met people and had experiences. I've been inspired. And, of course, I've been entertained. Not bad for a three-season show that began before I was born.

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