You know, I’ve been asked that infamous question about Trek, “What has made its’ popularity last so long?”. Sure, there’s the whole thread of non-racist, inclusive characters throughout the various series. But I tend to shrink from that answer, as it has become a bit cliche. So what’s my answer?
It’s the stories. And not just the big topics, but the smaller, more intimate tales. Two of my favourite episodes, “The Doomsday Machine” from the original series and “The Wounded” from Next Gen, are both ripping good yarns with technology and starship combat aplenty. but at the heart of both episodes are two captains. One has lost his crew, the other lost his family in an enemy raid. Both seem as if they’ll make it through, but the first goes suicidal and the later nearly restarts a major war. And the wonderful part of both episodes is the care taken by the writers to handle their mental conditions. Long before the acronym “PTSD”, and in the case of the Original Series episode not that long after British ww2 soldiers were punished for “Lacking Moral Fibre” (their version of battle fatigue or shell-shock), both shows took the time to show that not all fighting men are John Wayne. Most are no different from the rest of us – they can crack up, or they can bury their emotional turmoil until they believe it’s gone for good. But war changes all who are involved, and in ways we may not recognise until too late.
Sure, Trek can get preachy sometimes. It can also get lost in pathos or just some truly horrific writing (see “Spock’s Brain” from the Original Series, or most of Season One of Next Gen), but it is Trek’s ability, shown throughout all the series (especially the Animated Series, which I can’t recommend highly enough), to serve up entertainment that can sweep you up in the story, and leave you enlightened just a tiny bit afterward.
So here’s to another 50 years of Star Trek. May the new show, and (God, I’m gonna hate myself for saying this) the new movie series, continue to carry the torch forward. And may Trek truly, in those famous words, Live Long and Prosper.
p.s. Sorry about the “Wookie breath” comment last night. Friends shouldn’t let friends blog while stoned on Vicodin. 😉 )