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When I was nine or ten, I sat down and rifled through my Mom’s collection of VHS tapes, almost entirely things she had recorded off TV. I quickly noticed that the majority of them were the final episodes of TV shows. MASH, Cheers, Family Ties. And among them was something call Star Trek TNG. The only Star Trek I knew at the time was the movie with the whales, which I liked, so I popped it in having no idea where it was about to take me.


poster for star trek next generation, featuring the faces of Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Maria Sertis, Michael Dorn, Brett Spiner, Gates McFadden, and LeVar Burton in costume, as well as the USS Enterprise D over a planet, and a Borg Cube in the backgroundAll Good Things..., the two-hour final episode of The Next Generation is largely considered one of the greatest final episodes of any TV show ever. It has influenced a generation of writers who, like me, were confronted with “the unknown possibilities of existence.” It also capped off seven years of a television show that did, for the time, the impossible. It not only revived the cult kitsch 60’s series Star Trek, but it reinvented what television science fiction could be. It ushered in a new paradigm, inspiring future shows to take us to strange new worlds, this time with better special effects and production budgets.


I had no idea who these characters were, what they were talking about, and really what was going on at all. The episode bounces through time, visiting the very first episode of the series (seven years earlier), and 25 years into the future, with the characters old and full of regret. And in all these times, throwing around worlds like tachyons, temporal paradoxes, and causality. It broke my brain, and I became obsessed.


a poster for the original Star Trek, featuring the faces of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelly, Walter Koenig, George Takai, and James Doohan in character, with the USS Enterprise above a planetLearning that there were 177 other episodes of this series was like falling into a mineshaft full of treasure. And not just TNG, but three seasons of the original Star Trek, seven movies - including the one with the whales - plus by that time there were three season of something called Deep Space Nine and a season of a show called Voyager? All things I could watch out of order, in syndication, taped off the local cable access channel at midnight? Even then, I could see my teen years evaporating into a cloud of technobabble, trivia books, and strong opinions about William Shatner.


Around 2004, both the larger culture and I seemed to get off the Star Trek transporter pad. We moved on. Trekkies certainly kept the flame lit, but the high-water mark seemed to truly be that final episode of Next Generation, with Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard pin balling through time, confronting his failures as a man and a captain.


And yet, Trek had become such a powerful cultural touchstone, either derisively or earnestly, it was impossible to escape. The rise of the digital era, with laptops and cell phones whose designers took direct inspiration from Trek, meant that we were increasingly living in a world that seemed like it was aligning with the show’s vision of the future. Kirk and Spock remained a seemingly universal reference. It was logical that it would rise again.


a shot from the 2009 Star Trek film, featuring Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho in characterJ.J. Abrams tried, with a trilogy of reboots, which saw movie stars like Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana play the classic characters, but they felt philosophically empty. Trek was always more about the metaphor than the explosion. In the era of Intellectual Property farming, and every company needing content for a streaming service, it was only a matter of time before Paramount went to warp with Trek again. Quentin Tarantino claims to have a script ready for a new film, as does Fargo series creator Noah Hawley. 


a poster for season two of Star Trek Discovery, featuring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Michelle Yoeh, Anson Mount, and Ethan Peck in character, with the Starfleet Delta bhind them, and the USS Discovery and USS Enterprise in the foreground.And so, 55 years after the original series first appeared on screens, we are now living in something of a Trek Renaissance. There are three new television series airing, with at least three more on the way. Discovery, which is filmed in Toronto, and is shortly to be spun off into the two additional series: Strange New Worlds (following a young Spock early in his career) and Section 31 (starring Michelle Yeoh). There is an adult animated series, Lower Decks, which follows the comedic adventures of the least capable members of Starfleet’s less-than-stellar ship. There is a children's animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy, coming in 2021. And, 25 years after the original airing of All Good Things..., Stewart reprised the role of Picard in the so-titled series where the characters are old and full of regret. How is that for temporal causality?


a poster for Star Trek Lower Decks featuring the animated characters of Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford with the USS Cerritos and various planets in the backgroundThis flood of new shows means that there is also a flood of new Trek materials available for libraries. Discovery’s fourth season will premier in late 2021, but all three previous seasons are available on DVD and Blu-ray. It has also resulted in a new series of novels from Pocket Books, a range of graphic novels from IDW, and the technical guides and deep dives that Trekkies have always loved. There is also a book all about the ship’s disgruntled cat, Grudge. Lower Decks season two started airing on August sixth, and season one of Lower Decks is available on DVD and Blu-ray


a poster for season one of Star Trek Picard, featuring Patrick Stewart and a dog standing in a vineyard, with a planet and a sunrise behind themPicard season two will premiere in early 2022, with season one available on DVD and Blu-ray. Picard has likewise inspired a new set of novels from Pocket Books, filling in the chronological gaps of the last twenty years. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray is a collection of shorts, called Short Treks, which serve as character pieces from all of the new series. Newly released is also the feature length documentary What We Left Behind, a look back at the making of the series Deep Space Nine


I don’t consider myself a Trekkie anymore. But, while I can’t rightly tell you what I had for dinner last night, I can tell you that the Enterprise-D had a cetacean operation station on deck 13, and that Klingons prefer to eat their gagh alive. The shows, their premise, and the philosophy of post-scarcity utopia they showcased is an enticing one. And one that I doubt the culture will be willing to give up on. I suspect that James Tiberius Kirk will take his place along side Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Wayne as a cultural figure that will last until the real world goes where no one has gone before.


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