I was too young to watch the original run of Star Trek in the 1960s (no TV in the cradle) but when I was in elementary school in the early 70s, the show went into syndication. In New York it was running week nights at 6pm on WPIX channel 11. My parents let me watch it during dinner because I wouldn’t stop whining until they let me put the TV on.
I wasn’t alone in my fervor for the show. Back then, every kid loved Star Trek. We would all come to school in Star Trek shirts and pretend to do the Vulcan nerve pinch on each other. I had a Captain Kirk action figure and my older brother had a 12-inch model of the USS Enterprise hanging above his bed. Kids hoarded Star Trek merchandise in the seventies the way modern kids collect Star Wars memorabilia.
Star Trek wasn’t just the cool thing for the little kids. Even the teen age and college aged students of the 70s “hippie” culture wore shirts with pictures of Mr. Spock saying “Peace” while making his famous Vulcan salute (this was a commentary on the anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam War).
I was living in New York when the first ever Star Trek fan convention was held at the Statler Hilton Hotel (now renamed the Pennsylvania Hotel) in Manhattan in 1972, and I had a crying fit when my parents refused to take me. (I didn’t go to my first convention until the 80s.) I did have a college age relative who went with his girlfriend and I was so jealous when he came back wearing his “I grock Spock” button. (The slogan was most notably seen in the infamous William Shatner Saturday Night Live sketch, worn by a stereotypically nerdy Trek fan.)
On Saturday mornings in 1973, I was glued to the TV for episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, after which I’d go meet my buddy and we’d spend a half hour talking about the show. There was an abriged second season in 1974. It was around this time I bought my first Gold Key Comics issue of Star Trek (which ran from 1967-1978).
In 1977, my pal and I were in a state of glee when it was announced that a Star Trek revival series, which would have been titled Star Trek: Phase 2 was going to be produced, starring the original cast (minus Leonard Nimoy who didn’t sign on). Of course, that show never materialized because the massive success of Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope caused Paramount to change its plans and instead adapt Star Trek into the feature film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
When Star Wars first came out, it started many arguments regarding which was better—Star Trek or Star Wars. Even though I enjoyed Star Wars quite a lot, I was in the pro-Star Trek camp. I was vexed to find myself in the minority and I was angry that most of the kids in the neighborhood seemed to be deserting the Enterprise in favor of the Millennium Falcon. (Traitors!) Even though I liked Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, no one could replace Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in my youthful affections.
I had the lucky break of getting to see ST: TMP for free on its opening day in 1979. I was in Junior High School at the time and my school was progressive enough to have an alternative literature class called Science Fiction in Literature, where we read only classic sci-fi stories from people like HG Wells and Jules Verne. My teacher was a big movie fan and he arranged for us to go to see several films during the term, including Time After Time and Star Wars Episode 5: the Empire Strikes Back. He paid for all of us. (Cool teacher!)
Even though Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was disappointing, I was so blown away at seeing my favorite characters on screen that it didn’t occur to me until months later how bad it actually was. (It didn’t help me in defending Trek as being better than Star Wars.) Fortunately, the sequel Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) was infinitely better, and it reignited the Star Trek vs Star Wars battle when people started asking “Who’s the best sci-fi villain—Darth Vader or Kahn?” The Wrath of Kahn was the first film I ever saw more than once in the theaters. ( I went to see it three times.)
The following year, I got my first VCR for graduating high school and the first film I bought was The Wrath of Kahn. (To be fair, the second was Star Wars). I lost count of how many times my buddies and I re-watched that VHS tape but we eventually wore it out until the image started to get fuzzy. My pals were also big Trek fans and we went to see all the original cast film on the opening weekends. We liked The Search for Spock; we loved The Voyage Home; we hated The Final Frontier and we loved The Undiscovered Country.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation was first announced in 1986, old-school fans were split on the idea. Some were psyched at the idea of the Trek universe expanding with new characters, while others (that would be me) were irate at the idea of trying to make Star Trek without Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly and the rest of the original cast. (Blasphemy!) When ST: TNG debuted in 1987, I initially felt vindicated (in the short term) because the first season was pretty weak. I felt I was proven right and annoyingly said “I told you so” to anyone who thought a Trek spin-off was a good idea. “This thing won’t last a year” I said.
Okay, I was wrong. The show got better and better each season and now I have to admit that ST:TNG was a great show. It ran seven years and opened the door for all the other spin-offs. Some of my favorite ST:TNG episodes were the ones that guest starred original cast members; Relics (which featured James Doohan as Scotty) and Reunification (where Leonard Nimoy appeared as Spock.) I dragged my girlfriend to see the first ST:TNG movie Star Trek Generations. (She wasn’t a huge Trek fan but she was enough of a casual fan to go.) Generations wasn’t a great film by any means, but it was fun to see Shatner and Patrick Stewart share the screen. Despite the fact that Stewart is the better all-around actor, it was Shatner who stole that film in his final appearance as James T. Kirk. I saw the other ST: TNG films but I never enjoyed them as much as I did the original cast movies. (I won’t go into the new JJ Abrams Trek films, except to say that I’m not a fan.)
My top ten personal favorite classic Trek episodes are (1) Balance of Terror; (2) Mirror, Mirror; (3) City on the Edge of Forever; (4) The Trouble with Tribbles; (5) Who Mourns for Adonis; (6) Conscience of the King; (7) Space Seed; (8) The Doomsday Machine; (9) The Empath; and (10) Journey to Babel.
So that’s my long history with Star Trek. Even as I write this, I’m watching a classic Trek marathon on BBC America. It’s been 45 years and despite a few grey hairs, I’m still that same 5-year-old kid whenever I watch an episode of Star Trek: the Original Series. There are some things that just bring you back to your childhood.