I have to admit, when Star Trek first aired September, 1966, I wasn’t even born yet. I didn’t begin watching it until it was on in re-runs when I was seven or eight. I watched it so much I can’t even remember how old I was, just that it was the first science fiction I recall watching and I fell in love with it.
I was more enthralled with Star Trek than any children’s show that was on. I watched it more than Sesame Street, in fact. I loved the adventures, the characters, and the gadgets. The show has been referenced as ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’ and that adventurous spirit was what initially caught my attention.
I don’t believe I watched the episodes in any particular order. I know they must have been aired in order but for me, I only recall a few individual episodes that drew me to the show time and again. I certainly was captivated the fate of Charlie X, the introduction of the Romulans, the mystery of Captain Pike and the introduction of Khan Noonien Singh, only a few of the elements that drew me into the story of Star Trek.
One of my favorite episodes was in the second season, “The Trouble with Tribbles”. I loved the encounter with the Klingons and I loved the Tribbles. It was lighthearted and perhaps that’s the reason I remember it so well. There have been many impactful episodes but the Tribbles were sheer fun while still bringing with them the serious concept of what the environmental factors are of a quick breeding animal on a space station. I loved them so much, I vividly retain the memory of spending an entire week in my art class replicating the animal with cotton balls, glue and foil.
Those memories are a recurring theme for me. Initially, I enjoyed the adventuresome nature of the show but as I grew up, I gained a more in depth understanding of the show. There were wonderful gadgets, transporters, stun guns, and communicators. There were alien races, like the Klingons and Romulans. The characters were amazing, so much so that even to present day, I can’t pick a definitive favorite. And I could geek over all those factors. But the reality is, those aren’t what make Star Trek so memorable and so compelling to me.
I have been to conferences and listened to interviews both online and in person with the actors of Star Trek. I could geek over those moments but what sticks with me is how over and over, they talk about the vision of Gene Roddenberry and each actor has such joy, such love for being a part of that vision. For me and what I’ve heard from those actors is that the message of Star Trek is one of hope, acceptance, and diversity.
If we examine the show, we can see the truth in that. The characters were from different walks of life and different backgrounds. There was a deliberate effort paid to have people of color on the show. Nichelle Nichols, in particular, is eloquent in speaking of that aspect of the show and why she chose to be a part of Star Trek, having been encouraged to do so by Martin Luther King Jr. The world of Star Trek was one where the human race had peace on Earth and there was very little strife or want. War was a thing of the past at least with other humans. It paints a picture of hope and encourages us to embrace peace.
For me personally, it allowed me the opportunity to visualize a world that was brighter, one where people’s differences no longer tore them apart but allowed them to build a better future, one where there was peace and prosperity. I embraced the message that it didn’t matter if you were different, all people no matter color, age, race, or creed have value and a place. It was a powerful message for a young woman, one who was awkward and different herself, to absorb.
It gave me the ability to befriend anyone, no matter how different from me they were. I learned to respect those differences and appreciate what I could learn from others. I believe it did the same for many of the people that watched Star Trek, both when it was originally on and as the years passed. We embraced the message that Roddenberry gave us. And we had hope.
Right now, the world seems dark. There has been conflict all around the globe. There is a lot of hatred of those who are different. There are places where those who are different are put to death or come under harsh laws. We still don’t have enough food for everyone. We still don’t have peace. And many of us are hated for the very things that make us unique, our color, our sexuality, our very identities.
It would be very easy to get discouraged, to lose hope. But see, this is where I believe Star Trek still has a voice and a message we all can carry forward into the future. We can look at the world in the show and we can decide that’s what we want our world to be. Star Trek showed us a world as we want it to be, as we dream it can be, as we hope it should be. And as people who’ve grown up with this show, we need to take that message out to the world and ask others to embrace it, to use that message to compel our own actions going forward.
That is the lasting legacy of fifty years of Star Trek, that by believing in a better way, we can build a better world. It might not be easy or simple. We might not be able to do it just by watching those old episodes. We may need to help those around us to see how important it is to value our differences. We may need to go out and fight for that future. But together, using the message we learned from a science fiction show from the sixties, we can change our world, build the future that we saw within our television screens. And just maybe it will happen long before another fifty years passes if we remember the message of hope that Roddenberry gave us. Just maybe we can create the world of Star Trek.