Star Trek: The Next Generation Showed It Was Possible To Catch Lightning In A Bottle Twice

As we’re getting ready for the return of Star Trek to TV (or rather Trek’s first foray into original streaming service) with Star Trek: Discovery, it’s a prime time to look back at Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was Star Trek’s first foray in a then-unique syndication format. Devoted fans already know that it’s the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The series is almost as beloved as the original Star Trek, but many overlook the fact that when it debuted thirty years ago in syndicated televisionit was dismissed automatically. Fans of the original show were understandably skeptical about Star Trek: The Next Generation ever since it was announced. After all, it did not feature Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the other beloved characters and the first promo images looked strange. A bald captain? Klingons are no longer the enemies of the Federation? Why did the new Enterprise look ungainly? What was the deal with those weird one-piece uniforms and lounge chairs on the Enterprise bridge? People wondered what the creator Gene Roddenberry must have been thinking when he developed the new Trek incarnation. Even Leonard Nimoy wondered if the show would succeed. Citing that it was impossible to catch lightning twice in a bottle, Nimoy turned down the offer to develop the show before Roddenberry was approached.

When it finally premiered in September 1987, let’s say that many fans were underwhelmed by what they saw. The first episode “Encounter at Farpoint” was interesting and gave the main characters good introductions. Plus, it introduced the omni-powerful entity Q into Star Trek lore and thanks to John DeLancie’s sardonic line delivery, the character stood out. But more importantly, the main star of the show Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, made a powerful impression. Sure, he was not the swashbuckling Captain Kirk, but Stewart made his character uniquely different from Kirk while exuding a commanding and thoughtful presence in the show.

Still, Star Trek: The Next Generation was nearly derailed in its wobbly first season. What handicapped the first Star Trek spinoff were poorly written scripts and characters. One of them was especially hated by fans, young Wesley Crusher played by Wil Wheaton. In many episodes he came off as petulant, self-important Gary Sue who was a critical key in many plot lines. Some episodes were incredibly dull and did not go anywhere. The early episodes aped the worst qualities of the original show where the Enterprise crew would visit a planet of the week and solve that planet’s problems. The made-up societies they encountered were just unbelievable and its people reeked of caricatures. The show also had a problem with coming up with interesting villains, aside from Q.

Yet, the show showed promise. As the first season drew to a close, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to find its bearings. The characters were better developed with the breakout being Data (Brent Spiner), who emulated the Spock position of being the outsider who questioned humanity. The stories also became more interesting as Star Trek first toyed with the idea of episodes-spanning sub-plots. In this case, a nefarious conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet and the first hints of the Borg, a cybernetic race that would not appear until the second season. It took some risks such as the above-mentioned conspiracy storyline that upset some parents for its violent content. There was also the killing off of a major character in the show (Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby), which was a first for Star Trek.

Fans began to come around and eventually embraced the Star Trek spinoff. Although the original show continues to be regarded as the best Star Trek show, it cannot be denied that Star Trek: The Next Generation has achieved its share of greatness through the season. It stood apart from its predecessor for being more thoughtful, for better exploring themes and characters and for its updated special effects.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was being developed it was supposed to have featured descendants of the original Enterprise crew. Thankfully, the show evolved away from that and went with all-new characters. References to the original show were extremely rare, which allowed the show to develop its own identity. It would have been all too easy to just continue the same formula, but Roddenberry knew that for the new show to succeed it had to follow a different path. That is why we’re celebrating the show thirty years later.

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Now as if to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a new Star Trek TV show will debut this month to pick up the baton. However, many fans are highly skeptical and dismissive of the new Star Trek: Discovery. The list of complaints continues growing as more details come to light, and many of them are valid. The core complaint is that the new show does not feel like Star Trek. But think about that, it’s the same gripe leveled at Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired. The new show seems like it will take Star Trek in a new direction, just like the first Trek spinoff did. Star Trek: Discovery may not hit a homerun at first, but fans should keep an open mind and show some patience when it premieres. It may find its legs and be as memorable and great as Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first Star Trek spinoff that proved it was possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Lewis T. Grove

 

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The Greatest Star Trek Hallmark Ornaments

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When it comes to ornaments, Star Wars may be the big thing given the abundance of Hallmark ornaments that are all over the stores now. However, Star Trek fans know all too well that their beloved franchise started the Hallmark ornament craze back in 1991 with the release of the original Enterprise ornament.

Over the years, Hallmark has made some truly beautiful Keepsake ornaments about Star Trek and that tradition continues. While the amount of ornaments available may pale when compared to Star Wars, there is solid demand for Star Trek Hallmark ornaments and it looks like it be with us for a long time.

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What makes these Star Trek ornaments so beloved are Hallmark’s attention to detail. Each ornament is a painstakingly accurate rendition of the ship or character. They can be displayed all year long on your desk or wherever, they don’t just belong on a Christmas tree, though they’re often the highlights of a decorated one. Fans also can look forward to the featured lights or sounds that many of the ornaments have. One advantage the Star Trek ship ornaments have over the Star Wars ship ornaments is that they light up. For some reason few of the Star Wars ship ornaments have this feature, they mostly just make noise or have dialogue.

enterprise-dThis light up feature has been with the ornaments from the very beginning and hopefully will remain with future ornaments. But one problem with the older ornaments (and this applies to the earlier Star Wars ship ornaments) is that they had to be screwed into the light socket of a Christmas tree light. There is a limit to how many ships you can do that with and it’s a real pain to yank out a light bulb, stick in the ornament plug then replace the bulb at the end of the Holiday season. Also the lights have changed over the years necessitating having to use adapters.

The newer ornaments instead come with batteries but now the ships won’t stay lit continuously. But it’s a good solution and Hallmark should give serious thought to re-issuing the older ornaments like the Romulan warbird or the Enterprise-E with this feature.

As long as there are the fans and the creators at Hallmark can come up with new ideas each year, the Star Trek ornaments will be a mainstay in any fan’s Holiday wish list.  And yes, they make wonderful gifts for Star Trek fans. Listed below are the ten best Star Trek ship ornaments and the ten best character/diorama ornaments.

Characters/Dioramas

TIE: 10. Arena (2013)/Amok Time (2010): Both ornaments feature Star Trek’s memorable battle music, perfect for the Holidays.

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9. Lt. Commander Worf (1999): The mighty Klingon is ready to fight in this striking pos and it’s one of the best sculpted character ornaments.

8. Star Trek Legends #1 Captain James T. Kirk (2010): What list would be complete without a solo ornament of Star Trek’s greatest captain?

7. To Boldly Go (2016): Good luck finding this one! Perfect diorama of to-boldly-goKirk, Spock and McCoy to celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary.

6. The Needs of the Many (2015): From the final moments of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock’s farewell to Kirk evoked the sad passing of Leonard Nimoy.

5.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (2007): This diorama ornament lets you relive the confrontation via viewscreen between the Enterprise and the Reliant.

4. Locutus of Borg (2005): What makes this ornament stand out are the bright lights of Locutus’ station, which goes well in a Christmas tree.

3. Transporter Chamber (2006): No one can stop pressing the button on this ornament to hear the sights and sounds of the transporter in action.

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2. City on the Edge of Forever (2004): The first Star Trek diorama ornament is still one of the best looking ones as Kirk and Spock dive through the Guardian of Forever.

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1. The Trouble with the Tribbles (2008): True story; yours truly inspired this ornament. Years ago I used to leave comments on the forum Trekbbs.com. Some of the threads were about a wish list for ornaments and I left a reply that Hallmark should recreate the iconic funny moment in “The Trouble With The Tribbles” where Kirk is flooded with hundreds of tribbles. Lo and behold, a couple of years later this ornament comes out and on another thread on the site about ornaments, I commented that someone at Hallmark must be reading the forum. To my surprise someone replied to my comment stating that he or she was a sculptor at Hallmark and usually perused the forum for ornament ideas. You’re welcome. I’ll take one of those rare convention ornaments as a reward, please.

Ships

10. U.S.S. Enterprise “pilot version” (2016): Another re-issue of the Enterprise is highlighted by its shiny gold covering to commemorate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary.

TIE 9. U.S.S. Enterprise-C (2015)/Klingon Battle Cruiser (2009): This Enterprise is the most underrated ship ornament, while the Klingon ship looks quite imposing hanging from a tree branch.

8. Romulan Warbird (1995): Its large size and greenish tones/lights make this one of the best looking Star Trek ornaments.

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7. Klingon Bird of Prey (1994): This ornament surprisingly blends in well in Christmas trees thanks to its colorful detailing and lights.

TIE 6. U.S.S. Enterprise (2006)/ Delta Flyer (2002): For those who couldn’t get the original Enterprise, and the Delta Flyer is the best of the obscure ship ornaments.

ds95. Deep Space Nine (2001): This larger than normal ornament allows you to hook on mini-ornaments of Star Trek ships to its pylons.

4. U.S.S. Enterprise-D (1992): Don’t bother with the 2012 unlit version, get this one instead, it looks awesome lit up.

3. U.S.S. Defiant (1997): A personal favorite recreation of one of the best looking and hardiest Star Trek ships.

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2. U.S.S. Enterprise-A (2005): The first ornament to require batteries to operate and a lovingly detailed replica of the best movie ship.

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1. U.S.S. Enterprise (1991): The one that started it all is still the best and most prized Star Trek ornament. Trying to find one at a reasonable price online or in a convention is a feat unto itself but it’s worth it because it’s the Holy Grail of Star Trek ornaments.  The other ornaments that followed may be more detailed and more refined than this Enterprise ornament but this one holds a special charm in its elegance and function. A definite must-have for any collector.

José Soto

 

Star Trek Vs Star Wars: Can’t We All Enjoy Both?

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Star Trek vs. Star Wars. It’s the ultimate geek debate, our version of Coke vs. Pepsi or the Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones. Which ship is cooler, the Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon? Is the Galactic Empire more powerful than the United Federation of Planets? Who’s got the coolest aliens?  Most die-hard fans insist that while you can enjoy both, you have to pick one over the other. That may be an extreme position because frankly, both Star Trek and Star Wars can be enjoyed for different reasons.

In a way, it is unfair to pit both beloved properties against each other due to their differences. This Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate becomes more of an apples and oranges argument instead of the previous analogies. That is due to the fact that comparing Coke against Pepsi is just arguing over two soft drinks that are very similar to each other.

Now Star Trek and Star Wars don’t share many similarities. One of the few is that they are both sci-fi adventures, but Star Wars focuses more on a space fantasy set in another galaxy while Star Trek is considered more grounded and realistic. That is the core difference between the two and it is enough to set both properties light years apart from each other.

As we all know Star Wars is basically a mythological tale in a sci-fi fantasy setting. It’s got all these fantastic visuals and fight scenes with spaceships and weird aliens, but Star Wars in its heart is a morality tale about family and the hero’s journey. That is why the Star Wars films resonate so much with audiences.

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On the other side of the equation, Star Trek is an optimistic look at humanity’s future where we are devoted to exploring the unknown for knowledge’s sake. Sure, the crew of the Enterprise will come across those pesky Klingons but Captain Kirk and the other captains aren’t military leaders but explorers. On the outside, their goals are to see what’s beyond the next star and the next one after, but the best Star Trek stories explore the human condition and are thinly veiled commentaries about what is going on today. And that is why Star Trek has a devoted fan base as well.

Some trolling fans will claim that Star Wars is more popular since it’s more in the public consciousness to the point that it is cool to be a Star Wars fan. But Star Trek is undeservedly looked down upon as being strictly for geeks. A closer look at Star Trek fandom shows that it’s appeal is widespread as well and has had a profound impact in our culture. The constant reminders of Star Wars as seen with all the merchandising and the new cranking out of films is not necessarily due to demand but Disney marketing. Can’t blame them though, the corporation spent billions to acquire the property and they want to get their money’s worth.

It’s fruitless trying to compare the two in a competition, Star Trek and Star Wars are appealing for different reasons. A well-rounded person will see the merits of both properties and enjoy them for different reasons instead of cooking up Star Trek vs. Star Wars scenarios. Still comparing the two live-action sci-fi giants is a fun exercise that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Just be grateful that we all have the opportunity to enjoy two well-produced properties. So, sit back and be transported where no one has gone before in a galaxy far, far away.

Lewis T. Grove

Top 50 Star Trek Episodes, Part 3: Episodes 10-1

 

 

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As we continue the celebration of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, it’s only logical (pun intended) to countdown the top 10 episodes of the original Star Trek series. Strange as it sounds, it was both hard and easy to pick out the ten best episodes from the most phenomenal sci-fi TV series of all time. While the episodes listed in the three-part Top 50 countdown were classics in their own right, these particular ten stood out from the rest time and time again, and will probably continue to do long into the future. Most of these rankings may seem natural and obvious to many readers, but it’s just a testament to the strength and timelessness of these Star Trek episodes.

10. “Shore Leave” Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), commanding officer of the starship Enterprise, leads a landing party to an unusual planet where one’s private thoughts become reality. While this leads to many wish-fulfilling moments, such as Kirk’s reunion with a lost love, the planet’s nature creates dangerous situations like attacks from a medieval knight, a samurai and a fighter plane.

McCoy in shore-leave

At times whimsical with a generous dose of the perilous “Shore Leave” was one of the more unique episodes of Star Trek and predated the ubiquitous holodeck shows of the spinoffs, but better done. Not only did the episode place our heroes in offbeat scenarios, but “Shore Leave” provided some curious insights of our heroes.

9. “The Corbomite Maneuver” This episode is a classic example of how a First Contact scenario might play out between human and alien and how it can potentially lead to disaster. In reality, this was the second Star Trek episode produced for the actual series and it shows. The production of Star Trek looked a bit different like the velour uniforms and Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) harsher makeup.

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Despite that, “The Corbomite Maneuver” is a standout classic because of the strength of its script. Upon encountering a mysterious alien presence Captain Kirk is forced to play a guessing game with the unknown alien who tests the Enterprise and its crew. Even though Kirk’s strategies are indeed impressive, what’s more unforgettable is the episode’s conclusion when the nature of the alien and its motive are revealed.

8. “The Trouble With The Tribbles” As one of the most popular episodes in any Star Trek, “The Trouble With The Tribbles” is also the funniest and for good reason. It’s still as much fun to watch today as it was 50 years ago (well, 49 to be exact, it first aired in 1967).

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The Enterprise arrives at a Federation space station visited by belligerent Klingons feuding with the Federation over the claim of a nearby planet. As Kirk tries dealing diplomatically with the Klingons and the bureaucratic station heads, adding to his headaches is an infestation of furry animals called tribbles. Loveable at first, the balls of fur over-multiply and besiege the station and the Enterprise. The episode is famous for its many humorous moments, especially the iconic scene where Kirk is buried in a pile of multi-colored tribbles as he gets to the bottom of a mystery involving the station’s contaminated grain stores.

7. “Space Seed” Here’s the landmark episode that introduced Star Trek’s greatest villain, Khan Noonien Singh, played with great aplomb and gusto by Ricardo Montalban.

Khan and his cohorts were genetically enhanced superman/despots from the 20th century who were cryogenically frozen and revived by the Enterprise crew. Once thawed out, Khan’s ambitious nature drives him into an escalating battle of wits with Captain Kirk. This culminates in Khan with his allies seizing control of the Enterprise and capturing the ship’s crew. Of course, it’s up to Kirk to free his people and defeat the genetically superior despot.

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Due to Montalban’s captivating performance, Khan clearly left a huge impact in Star Trek mythos and is why the villain was the clear standout in “Space Seed”. Kirk has faced many villains but Khan was his most dangerous and mesmerizing opponent. As we all know, Khan was so unforgettable that he had to return to Star Trek years later with the most popular Trek film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

6. “This Side of Paradise” What starts off as an intriguing mystery and quickly turns into a romance with an unlikely lead: Mr. Spock. “This Side of Paradise” opens with an Enterprise landing party investigating how colonists on a radiation-filled world are still alive. The answer soon comes in the form of symbiotic spores that infect the Enterprise crew.

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The spores give the infected a feeling of unproductive bliss, including Spock who is now able to express his feelings with an unrequited love, Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland) who he reunites with on the planet. Meanwhile the rest of the crew quickly abandon their duties and plan to spend the rest of their lives on the spore-infected world.

The focus on Spock and his newfound romance was an outstanding highlight thanks to Nimoy and Ireland’s excellent performances and a wonderful, romantic score. It was truly heartening to see Spock finally letting his hair down and experience a brief moment of happiness even though the plot’s conclusion was poignantly bittersweet.

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Set Phasers to Fun: Celebrating Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

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Star Trek has gone boldly where no franchise has gone before. The iconic Trek celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 8th and the TV show has paved the way for science fiction and modern technology. It’s hard to pick a favorite series, movie, ship or character from the phenomenon that has survived five decades.

Star Trek (the original series), The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise. Has any other franchise produced five television series as Star Trek did?  Each show has had its own challenges led by different captains: James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Sisko, Kathryn Janeway and Jonathan Archer. There was also an animated series based on the original show back in the ’70s. Many stations are running Star Trek marathons and specials like the Smithsonian channel’s Building Star Trek. But it doesn’t end there. CBS plans to launch a Star Trek: Discovery, a new series slated for streaming on May 2017.

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The big screen has seen 13 films. Star Trek the Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, (Yes the even numbered films were better) Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond. Surely, there will be more.

Getting back to Star Trek, the original show was light years ahead of its time. Modern technology is moving at warp speed and catching up to some of the gadgets used on the original series. iPads/tablets were always signed off on by Captain Kirk. Siri and talking computers are common now. Communicators are like flip cell phones. In fact, Think Geek is releasing a communicator cell phone for the anniversary. It works off your current bluetooth cell phone.

Denise Crosby and fan

Besides watching the specials, series or movies there are many events to celebrate the occasion. Star Trek conventions are drawing huge crowds. The cons are a lot of fun and resistance is futile at the vendors’ tables. The conventions feature actors from all the series and movies. Vendors have a huge selection of uniforms, props, collectables, shirts and other merchandise. One company, Simplicity Creative Group produces a Star Trek series of dress uniform patterns called Make it Sew. The Star Trek: Mission New York convention featured a mock-up of the original Enterprise bridge for photo ops and a virtual reality gaming zone.

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The U.S.S Intrepid is hosting the Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience. Like the conventions it features original costumes and props from the series and movies. You receive a watch-like wrist band that keeps track of your tour. You can play games, beam up in a transporter and take photos on a replica of the Next Generation bridge. When you are finished you can have your quiz results, Starfleet diploma and a video of yourself beaming up in the transporter emailed to you. The Intrepid also features a life-size Galileo Seven shuttlecraft perfectly placed next to the NASA Enterprise shuttle.

The Experience and the con is just a sampling of how Star Trek’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated. The U.S. Post Office has released a new Star Trek inspired forever stamp series in honor of the 50th anniversary. These stamps were presented by Walter Koenig at the Mission New York convention.

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Since 1991, Hallmark has released highly detailed Christmas ornaments of the Star Trek ships designed by Lynn Norton, as well as famous characters and scenes. For this year’s golden anniversary they released a gold TV pilot version of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

It’s music for your Vulcan ears, Star Trek the Ultimate Voyage is a live concert featuring a symphony orchestra playing a score set to footage from the classic Star Trek films and TV shows. The tour has played in over 100 American cities.

For fans who enjoy cosplay, M·A·C cosmetics has launched a Star Trek make up collection of astral hues. The cosmic women of Star Trek made the series immortal, their powerful sense of style sent space-age fashion to a new frontier and M·A·C lets you dress the part.

It’s not logical to miss out on the anniversary celebrations. Star Trek has flourished for 50 years. May it keep going strong. Live Long and Prosper Star Trek!

Article and Photos by Jim McLernon

Enterprise photo by José Soto