Where were you when Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired? I can tell you exactly what I was doing, and the impact it had on me, as vividly as if it were today.
I was alone, in my mother’s bedroom, watching the premiere on the spare television, while my mother, sister, and step-dad were in the living room watching something else. I sat on the floor, my legs against my chest, with arms wrapped around my legs, my chin resting on my knees, excitedly anticipating the opening title sequence. To 11-year-old me, this day was the most important day of my life.
When the opening title sequence began, I started to shake with excitement. I was in awe. The visuals for the opening sequence blew my mind. I began to recite the words, alongside Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The words that came out of my mouth were, “Its five-year mission.” But what came out of Captain Picard’s mouth were, “Its continuing mission.” My brain stopped. Out loud, with no one to hear me, I exclaimed, “It’s different! I wonder what else has changed!” I continued to recite the opening dialog. What came out of my mouth was, “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” What came out of Captain Picard’s mouth was, “To boldly go where no one has gone before!” I began to shake even more, and I had a rare burst of strong emotion.
I knew at that very moment that I would love Star Trek: The Next Generation just as much as Star Trek: The Original Series. Then, for the next two hours, as I watched Encounter at Farpoint, I sat completely mesmerized at all the things that were different, and happy to see many things that were true to the first series. Even more amazing to me was that this series had two characters for me to relate to, whereas Star Trek: The Original Series only gave me one character to help me feel less alone, and less alien, in a world full of humans. Star Trek: The Original Series gave me the character of Spock. Star Trek: The Next Generation gave me the characters of Data and Wesley Crusher. I was that child who was ridiculously intelligent, often telling adults what to do, and knowing that I was more intelligent than they were. I was also the child who is overly logical — which can come off as being cold, detached, and calculating — had huge difficultly understanding people and their emotions, issues socializing, and the child struggling to be “human.” As an adult, this still holds true.
I wanted to immediately share what I had just experienced. But, I couldn’t. My family was just not interested in science and science fiction. And my dad, who introduced me to Star Trek the moment I came home from the hospital, was over half a country away. I had to wait until I returned to school the next day before I could discuss the awesome that was Star Trek: The Next Generation.
My first conversation about this new series didn’t go exactly how I had hoped. For the rest of my class, Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first time they had watched Star Trek on television. They had seen most of the motion pictures, but they had no idea what I was referring to when I would draw parallels to Star Trek: The Original Series. Despite being slightly disappointed that they were not already fans of the series, I was glad that they liked their first experience with the series on television, and would continue to watch it with me, week after week. For the first time in my existence, I had people — the majority of my classmates — to discuss something about which I was passionate. I couldn’t talk to them about my love of math or science. I couldn’t talk to them about my love of ancient history. I couldn’t talk to them about my troubled home life. I couldn’t talk to them about my struggles with just being around people. But I could talk with them about my first love, Star Trek. Yes, this series was the most important thing to have ever happened to me.
Not only did it help me feel less alone through the creation of characters to which I could relate, but Star Trek is responsible for my love of science, technology, and knowledge. It is responsible for my ideas about social responsibility. It taught me that I was capable of anything, that nothing can stand in my way, that it doesn’t matter how bizarre of a creature I may be, I do have a place in the universe, and I am valued. Being able to finally share this series with others was a pretty huge deal. It was the one thing that connected to me to humans.
It wasn’t until somewhat recently that I became aware of just how different my Star Trek experience was compared to other people of my generation. First, I had thought that most people in my generation loved Star Trek: The Next Generation because they were already fans of the first series. I also thought that every one who is close to my age watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m always very surprised when they tell me that their introduction to the series was through a later series. Also, I had no idea that being a fan of Star Trek was the source of teasing and bullying. I was very lucky in that all of my peers were watching the series. They may not have loved it as much as I did, but they were watching it.
One thing I have found as I have grown older, is that many of my peers stopped watching the Star Trek with the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Many of them never went back to watch the original. And even though they enjoyed the second live-action series, they have mentally labelled the series as a “childhood show,” and not something intended for adults. Maybe that has to do with it premiering when we were in grade six, and the final episode airing when we graduated. I’ve even had family members tell me, “It is so cute that you still love Star Trek,” as if it is something I was suppose to outgrow at some point.
I could write forever about this series and why I love it so much; why it is so important to me. There will never be enough words. I’m not even sure that adequate language has been invented. For me, Star Trek is part of the very fabric of my being. It is the only thing of which I consider myself to be a fan. Without it, I’m not sure I would have survived many aspects of my life. Without it, I may not be in my current relationship. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to relate to my peers. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to have many important conversations with my boys. Without it, I would be lost.
The day Gene Roddenberry died was the first and last time I was ever truly saddened by the death of a celebrity. He was the only person to positively impact my life outside of teachers. He left behind a legacy that has, and will continue to live long and prosper.
What was your introduction to the Star Trek franchise? How has Star Trek impacted and influenced your life?