Picard Will Make It So

24-Dec-19 9:30 AM by
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This holiday season, Star Trek is in a lull: except for the occasional Short Trek (and accompanying podcast episode of Transporter Lock), there's been nothing new for us to watch since the second season of Discovery ended in April.

But next year will be a very different story. Not only is Discovery coming back for a third season — one set further into the future of Star Trek's timeline than we've ever seen — but Patrick Stewart will return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard in his own series. A trailer that debuted while I was at KansasFest 2019, where we watched it on a projector. Several of my fellow geeks can attest to the three times I screamed — see if you can spot them:

Television has changed significantly since The Next Generation went off the air in 1994. Whereas Deep Space Nine pioneered serialized storytelling, nowadays it is commonplace and even the default. Picard's new adventures won't be neatly bottled episodes that end with a weekly reset button; we should expect his journeys to continuously progress, going where he's never gone before and then some.

But it's not just television that's changed; it's also Trek itself. Picard was captain of the last crew assembled by Gene Roddenberry himself, who believed that humanity has resolved its inner conflicts by the 24th century. The inhabitants of the Enterprise D largely got along, inviting viewers to join their spacefaring family. Two years after Roddenberry passed away in 1991, Deep Space Nine debuted, introducing a station crew that was distrustful, conflicted, lustful, and mysterious.

Which universe will Picard find himself in? From the trailer, not all is well within and without the Federation. Whereas our science fiction in general and Trek in particular was once largely optimistic, as seen in TNG, now it is more dystopian, as often seen in DS9 and even Discovery. Can a retired captain and a new crew hope to make a difference?

We have months in which to ponder that question before Picard debuts in 2020. In the meantime, we can look to our own present, set aside our worries for the future, and enjoy the holiday season. It's what Captain Picard would want.

TNG at 20: The Voyage Continues

26-Sep-07 6:00 PM by
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Twenty years ago this autumn, I was a sophomore in college. I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) with friends. While most of us were fans of speculative fiction, we had little idea of how entertaining and influential TNG would become.

I had grown up on the writings of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, but I had watched the original 1960s Star Trek only in reruns. During freshman year, I had fought for the dorm lounge television with people who preferred The Late Show With David Letterman over some old show with people wearing colorful pajamas, odd makeup, or both. But we were a small but dedicated band, and we made it to the stars. Among the friends I met then was my future wife.

Over the course of many late nights and foosball games, I learned about the United Federation of Planets, its Starfleet, and the Prime Directive that forbade its explorers from interfering in the internal affairs or development of alien worlds. The so-called "Wagon Train to the stars" combined Westerns with ray guns, and mythology with scientific speculation.

By the time TNG began, I was indeed a Trekkie — or "Trekker," as some prefer — having learned the cant among the franchise's fans: phasers, warp speed, and the Vulcan nerve pinch and salute. Of the eventual six movies with the space opera's original cast, the best two — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and IV: The Voyage Home — had already been released. Thanks to magazines such as Starlog and various "technical manuals," I learned about transporters and Jeffries tubes (the access tunnels throughout starships, named after an original series art director). Around Thanksgiving of 1987, I would attend my first science fiction convention, one run by Creation Entertainment in New York.

It's also worth remembering the context into which this Enterprise was launched — that, despite the success of multimedia franchises such as Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, there was little genre entertainment on television at that time. As we look forward to 2007's premieres of Heroes, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica: Razor, among others, note that 20 years ago, there was only Stephen Spielberg's anthology Amazing Stories, horror drama Friday the 13th: the Series, and another Earth-based movie spin-off, Starman. Weak visual effects, even weaker writing, and a lack of interest among mainstream viewers and networks had doomed all but the U.K.'s Doctor Who to short lifespans or syndication.

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TNG at 20: Where, Oh Where, Has My Little Spock Gone?

24-Sep-07 4:30 PM by
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It was the best of generations, it was the worst of generations. Finally, after so many years, Star Trek was returning to our homes. The excitement was tangible: the teaser clips showed this wonderful (albeit strange-looking) new Enterprise, one that made Kirk's Enterprise seem like the family runabout. But never mind all that — it was Star Trek!

However, not all was breathless anticipation. All our favorite characters were gone. (Or so we thought!) How could it be Star Trek without Spock? And what on Earth(!) was this rumor that a Klingon was part of the crew!

Nevertheless, when the big night finally arrived, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from the TV! In the opening sequence, I mourned the loss of the haunting theme from the original series and groaned at the politically correct change to, "Where no one has gone before…" And as the episode progressed, my fears deepened as it turned into the type of episode I always liked least — some omnipotent being ("Q") was playing havoc with the laws of time and space. I wanted science fiction, not fantasy!

But there were highlights, too. It almost brought tears to my eyes when Admiral McCoy came aboard, providing a physical, connecting link to the past. (Little did we know that Spock and Scotty would also reappear.) The new Enterprise was a work of art, much more streamlined than the old model (so very important in the vacuum of space…), though it still suffered from the same inexplicable ability to provide seatbelts for the bridge crew! The computer still had the same wonderful "voice", another link with the past. The computer consoles were beautiful, as was Counselor Cleavage, err, Troi.

Eventually the episode ended, and for all my misgivings about the changes (Data was no Spock!), I knew I would be back next week. Well, mostly. I'm ashamed to admit I missed some of the early episodes, but a strange thing happened as the series progressed. I found I was growing to like the new characters in their own right, and I was enjoying their interactions and personalities. And an even stranger thing happened. My wife, a profoundly non-SF person, was also enjoying the series. (It didn't hurt getting to watch Will Riker each week!) They had managed to make the show appeal to more than just the Trekkies out there.

The rest (of the future of the future) is history. The Next Generation (and the other Star Trek spin-offs) were not the prime-time success in Australia that they were in the USA, leading to unusual broadcast schedules. I was often forced to watch or record episodes at midnight (or later!) — but watch them all I did. I grew to love the show, and like many people I believe it was the best of all the Star Treks. Certainly I grew to feel that the crew members were part of a family, one I was almost a part of myself. I laughed with them, worried for them, and yes, even cried with them. Picard was an outstanding captain — far better than Kirk, IMHO. Worf taught us all about "honor". And Data was a wonderful character for the scriptwriters to "play" with.

But he never did supplant Spock as one of my favorite non-humans of all time.

Peter Watson is old enough to remember watching the original Star Trek at home in Australia in glorious black-and-white. As a software engineer he gets to hang out with other people who know something about Star Trek. Visit his Web site at http://www.peter-watson.net/


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TNG at 20: To Everything, There Is a Season

23-Sep-07 11:41 PM by
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Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first Star Trek to enjoy a full, cancellation-free run. This October 2nd, its 176 episodes will be available in a new box set (watch the trailer, read the press release). Though $40/season is a fair deal, $278.89, after shipping, is still no small amount of change. And, as Trek Nation has been recently reminding us with their retro reviews, some entire seasons of TNG have not aged well.

There are many ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. Various fan collectives offer thematically-related content, so if you like time travel or Q, you're bound to be satisfied — unless you dwell on what these packages miss, such as "Future's End". For my money, The Jean-Luc Picard Collection is the best value, as I prefer episodes that offer not an anomaly of the week, but significant, focused character development. "Tapestry", "Darmok", and "The Inner Light" are worth their weight in latinum, and with the former two both coming from season five, perhaps that is the series' best season. Other fifth-season episodes "I, Borg", "The Perfect Mate" (another Picard episode, and one which first unites Patrick Stewart with Famke Janssen, prior to their X-Men team-up), Spock's return in the two-part "Unification", and the first half of "Time's Arrow" supports this theory.

But only with the new, complete DVD collection can you get all the above along with gems like "The Best of Both Worlds", "Yesterday's Enterprise", and "Relics" — so if you have money to burn, take the good with the bad and splurge on all seven seasons (plus exclusive features and documentaries). But if you don't, then what season (or fan collective) do you recommend, and for what episodes?


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

TNG at 20: T-Minus One Week and Counting

22-Sep-07 11:59 PM by
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October 4th marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. A year after Russia beat America into space, the White House responded with a document, Introduction to Outer Space, urging America to win this race:

The first of these factors is the compelling urge of man to explore and to discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to try to go where no one has gone before. Most of the surface of the earth has now been explored and men now turn on the exploration of outer space as their next objective.

"Where no one has gone before…" Gene Roddenberry took these words to heart, and less than a decade later, he went there — and brought the world with him.

His original Star Trek, which turned 40 last year, may not initially have been a commercial success; but its successor, true to its title, inspired the next generation of television viewers to look up. The passion the Star Trek franchise has stirred in its audience has proven timeless, and its impact on not just our popular culture, but on our scientific progress, is immeasurable. One space industry executive wrote, "We are in the commercial space flight industry and would like to testify that at least one out of two of all the actual entrepreneurs involved in this industry has been inspired by Star Trek."

Though Kirk, Spock, and McCoy marked the beginning, it was Picard, Riker, Data, and company that cemented the franchise in our hearts and souls. And we here at Showbits cannot fail to observe the beginning of that golden era.

September 28th marks twenty years since Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired. To commemorate this historic anniversary, we'll be blogging about Star Trek every day this week, culminating on Friday. We'll be providing news, retrospectives, analyses, and more. They'll be fun, nostalgic, thought-provoking, and who knows what else. So please join us on this wagon train to the stars… The sky's the limit!


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

There Can Be Only One

17-Jun-07 10:04 AM by
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The only question Weird Al ever thought was hard was "Do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?" Now Star Trek fans have an opportunity to answer that question for themselves and garner some neat toys in the process.

"Kirk vs. Picard" is a fanfic contest, hosted by fan site FanLib.com and sponsored by CBS and StarTrek.com. In it, George Takei and Wil Wheaton host video segments that describe four scripts (by Star Trek writer Andre Bormanis) that bring Picard and Kirk against each other. All four involve some sort of temporal travel, be it the Guardian of Forever, cryonic suspension, or even the return of Khan (but no Temporal Cold War). Once fans select script, a scene will be presented, with fans invited to write how the scene will play out. Voting will then be held to determine the best scene to adopt into the story's canon before moving on to another round. Authors of the winning scripts will be eligible to win grand prizes.

Too much effort? Simply signing up for the contest and casting your vote will enter you in a drawing to win prizes, which may include MacBooks, iPhones, and more.

Despite posting about it here, I'm not excited by this contest. The videos by Takei and Wheaton are stilted — why can't they look at the camera? — and the scripts seem forced. Besides, does anyone really care which captain would win in a fight? Certainly it isn't as important as the great Mike vs. Joel debate. Can't we already tell that the story will end with both captains cooperating to a common goal, in true Starfleet fashion, and then a giant "reset" button being pushed, returning them to their respective eras?

But just because the contest isn't for me doesn't mean it isn't for everyone. May the best geek win — and may the Schwartz be with you.

Star Trek Boxing

09-Jun-07 3:59 PM by
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Star Trek episodes can be had in so many digital formats, it's overwhelming. On DVD alone, should you buy a season set, series set, or selected "best of" set? Whatever you decide, it's nice to have options, and Paramount is more than happy to line their coffers by offering you those choices.

Now at StarTrek.com is a survey to determine the contents of the next two box sets. This survey was originally offered last year, and whether it's been opened again intentionally or accidentally is unknown — but it's still a fascinating look at the themes and figures of Star Trek.

The survey proposes that The Captains Collective Edition and The Alternate Realities Collective Edition will join those earlier sets that focused on Borg, Kirk, Q, and Klingons. (Apparently the Jean-Luc Collection has been retconned?) The questionnaire presents a predetermined list of Archer, Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and "other captains" (or first officers acting as captains) episodes and asks you to select your favorite five in each of the six categories, or suggest your own. The survey also accepts suggestions of alternative reality episodes to include with the eight Mirror Universe episodes.

Finally, the survey offers the open-ended opportunity to suggest themes for other new box sets. Here are mine:

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It's Better in the Original Klingon

06-Jun-07 12:06 PM by
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Courtesy TrekToday.com comes the news that Patrick Stewart will star in a modern-day filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Captain Picard in Las Vegas reciting William Shakespeare?… Well, two out of three ain't bad.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Bard — he almost kept me from graduating from high school — but I find his works more palatable when correlated with my preferred media of musical and film. Engaging in five community theater productions a year, I enjoyed my most recent experience participating in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate — a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. (But I've not seen the more modern, less musical adaptation of his classic tale, that being Ten Things I Hate About You.)

I extended this penchant for connections and adaptations a few years ago, when I took a remedial college course on Shakespeare and his work. The professor offered us a number of topics on which to write our term paper, but none of them were about Hamlet. Having learned the prince's famous monologue from watching Johnny Carson, I noticed three movies take their titles from the soliloquy: To Be or Not to Be; What Dreams May Come; and The Undiscovered Country (Star Trek VI). I focused on one and produced a paper comparing Hamlet to Jack Benny's role in his 1942 comedy (not Mel Brooks' 1983 remake). The paper, entitled "Your Country or Your Life", was fun to write and even more fun to present — with selected clips from the film — at a regional Shakespeare conference.

So I guess my qualm isn't with the material, but with the presentation. Put it in a more popular, easily consumable format, and I'll happily bear witness to the staying power of the Bard. But as originally written? Give me The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) anyday.