Star Trek: 40-Year History
The legend impacted multiple generations
In its more than 40-year history, one that has impacted multiple generations, “Star Trek” has carved out an iconic place in modern pop culture as the only ongoing story that encapsulates the awe, wonder and bold audacity of the human desire to reach for the stars. With the indelible opening words of the original 1960s television series, “Space, the Final Frontier,” a succession of journeys were launched across the cosmos that did and, to this day, still celebrate the thrill of adventure, the pioneering spirit of exploration and the drive to create an ever-more amazing future full of possibilities. The daring and provocative voyages of the Starship Enterprise, and the many ships that would soon follow in her flight path, have appealed to the stargazer in all of us, and our hopes and dreams that technological and cultural advances will bring out the best of our humanity.
The original TV series was not a hit when it first aired, but later caught on like wildfire among the ever-growing legion of fans who responded to its compellingly funny, contentious, charismatic personalities and its five-year mission to peacefully engage new worlds and cultures. But how did that mission begin? What brought together this disparate group of brash, brilliant, ambitious young men and women and drove them to explore new frontiers? And how did they forge that special chemistry and sense of purpose that would inspire so many discoveries and fantastic adventures for years and even centuries to come?
For director / producer J.J. Abrams, going back to the beginning after more than six television series and ten feature films was the only way to forge into the future. His vision was to literally start fresh, beginning with James T. Kirk and his one-day First Officer, the Vulcan Spock’s advancement in the placePlaceNameStarfleet PlaceTypeAcademy and their extraordinary first journey together.
Abrams came to the project with great respect for series creator Gene Roddenberry and all that “Star Trek” had achieved as the creator of an archetypal modern myth and cult phenomenon. However, he also wanted to take the story where it had never been before: making a state-of-the-art action epic about two heroic leaders as brash young men in the making.
“I was a fan of the original series, although I was never a Trekker,” says Abrams. “Yet I always felt there was something that had not been done with `Star Trek.’ There have been ten movies, but this is the first time that a movie has dealt with the fundamental, primary story Gene Roddenberry originally created in 1966.” Abrams continues: “What I hope with this movie is that you never have to have seen anything about `Star Trek’ before to really enjoy a comical, romantic, suspenseful adventure, but that it also does proud the lasting, brilliant world that Gene Roddenberry created. The brilliant thing `Star Trek’ brought to the world was a dose of optimism and I hope this movie continues in that tradition.”
While many anticipated a total re-boot from Abrams, he was excited to go in an unexpected direction, heading way back, as it were, into the never-seen 23rd century launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise. When he brought the idea of a “’Star Trek’ origin story” to producer Damon Lindelof, with whom Abrams (along with Jeffrey Lieber) created the contemporary television phenomenon “Lost,” the producer was instantly taken by the idea.
Explains Lindelof, “For me, the idea that no one has ever told an origin story for Kirk and Spock and all these characters was very cool. We had a great conversation about how this crew of people might have come together and learned to sacrifice certain parts of their personalities to get along. It was really fun and, next thing I knew, Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman were writing a script.”
A fan of “Star Trek” since childhood, Lindelof believes the story’s premise and characters have continued to be so relevant for so long because they capture something essential about the space travel mythos: the sheer hopefulness of it. “Most stories we see now about the distant future are bleak, dismal and dystopian. The incredible thing about the initial `Star Trek’ television series is that it was so energetic, optimistic and cool. It presented the future the way we’d like to believe it will unfold. It’s a future to aim for.”
That view, he felt, was a great match for Abrams’ exuberant style of character-and-action-driven storytelling. “J.J. brings innovation to everything he does, but also brings an ability to boil a story down to its most human elements and translate hugely complicated production challenges into something with mass appeal, and that was all necessary to go back to the beginning of `Star Trek’ with today’s cinematic technology,” says Lindelof.
Adds executive producer Bryan Burk, who has also collaborated with Abrams on “Lost,” “Alias” and “Cloverfield”: “We envisioned this `Star Trek’ as a truly grand adventure about two very different men whose destiny is not only to become true friends, but iconic partners, guardians and explorers.”
Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov, who oversaw the line production, concludes: “The film for me became not only a new look at the `Star Trek’ universe, but a kind of cross between `The Right Stuff’ and the original `Star Wars.’ It has that fresh, imaginative, intergalactic storytelling, but is also very grounded in the idea of young men and women with a lot of heart and camaraderie. When you add J.J.’s mastery of action and love of scope, you have something very fun and entertaining.”