With last week’s release of Star Trek Beyond, TrekMovie’s Laurie Ulster takes a look back at the lead up to the film that began Trek’s foray onto the silver screen, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
As we inched closer to the premiere date of Star Trek Beyond, I started time traveling.
One minute it’s June of 2016, and I’m counting the days until I see the new movie. I’m hoping it’ll be great, worrying that it won’t. The next minute, it’s 1979. I’m thirteen, and I’m standing in line outside a movie theater that hasn’t opened for the day yet, waiting to see the first show of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I’m full of excitement, and some of the same combination of hope and fear that I’ll have again in 2016.
I was born the same year Star Trek was, so by the time I was old enough to watch it, it was already over. I saw it all in syndication, multiple times a day (back before DVRs and streaming TV), but everyone on it had moved on and nobody talked about it anymore. The Animated Series was barely a blip on my radar; I don’t think it even aired where I lived. (One of you readers will know; you always know.) But I was obsessed, which made me a lonely nerd. You want to try being an adolescent girl who was into Star Trek in 1976? I didn’t think so.
For those of you who grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation, or in that golden era when there was a movie and two TV series in production at the same time, it’s hard to imagine. But there was a long time when I thought it had all passed me by, the way the Beatles did. I bought the books and the Inside Star Trek album, I ordered Posterbooks from catalogs, but merch was scarce. The most active world was the fan fiction one; long before the internet, you’d have to track these things down and then mail them money orders (if you were in Canada, which I was), and they’d arrive, months later, made mostly of construction paper and staples, but giving me a window into the world of fandom I wasn’t sure really existed until I held it in my hands.
And then one day, on the back of a comic book, I saw it: an ad for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It may have been a full year before the movie came out, or at least it felt that way, but I knew it was coming, and so I waited. And waited. It wasn’t like now, when I can scour the web and Twitter for updates, getting snippets of footage, watch a trailer over and over, and feel the world of fandom all a-quiver in anticipation. It was just me, and a picture on the back of a comic book, stuck to the wall of my bedroom with Sticky Tack.
On December 7, 1979, with my mother’s permission, her cousin and husband took me away from school for the day. We got to the theater hours before they opened. We were not the only ones there, a revelation to me. I remember looking up at the marquee, still the kind where someone had to climb up on a ladder and put the letters up one by one. WILLIAM SHATNER. LEONARD NIMOY. No way, I thought. But there they were.
These days, when you watch that movie, it seems pretty bloated. The pace is slow, the story takes forever to unfold, and they milked those expensive, beautiful visuals for all they were worth. They circled around and around the Enterprise until we were almost dizzy. I drank in every slow, sweet moment. I’d read about Persis Khambatta shaving her head, I knew who Will Decker’s father was, and I laughed at every word out of McCoy’s mouth. I didn’t know that Ilia and Decker were giving us the origins of the Troi-Riker romance, but I got all the subtext; who better to understand doomed romance than a 13 year-old girl?
The pace was perfect for a fan like me. We clapped at the jokes, cheered at the arrival of each character, whispered about Kirk’s new seat belt, and recoiled in horror at the transporter accident, then secretly celebrated because it meant one thing: Spock was coming. Slow? It wasn’t slow at all. It was a gift to be savored.
I don’t get that same sense of excitement about movies like I did that day, but I’ve gone to see every single Star Trek movie on opening day ever since. We closed on our house the day Nemesis came out, and after we signed the papers and looked at each other in astonishment, wondering why we still didn’t feel like grown-ups, my husband and I went to see the movie, then moved the next day. I’ve skipped work (and taken co-workers with me), I’ve rearranged plans, I’ve gone to events. Each one is exciting, but that feeling I had before that first movie remains unmatched.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be that kid again. I was at the Star Trek Beyond premiere at Comic Con in San Diego. The movie played on an outdoor IMAX screen, accompanied by a live orchestra. The cast and crew came out to introduce the movie, and when they were done, the orchestra started to play and we were treated to a spectacular light show and fireworks. My heart swelled and rose out of my chest, and the movie started, and I thought, just like I did in 1979: here it comes.
Just before the end of the movie, I looked up. We were at the marina, outdoors, and I realized that we were really watching Star Trek under the stars. I was sitting next to an astronomy expert, and he saw me looking up at the night sky. “That red one is Mars,” he told me. Ever that sensitive 13 year-old, I wondered if he was kidding me, but he was sincere.
“See the one above it? That’s Saturn.”
This was it. This was everything. I was watching Star Trek under the stars, under the planets I’d never known I could see before. I’d flown to San Diego for this one night event, was leaving the next day, and every dollar I spent and every moment of my planning and travel was worth it. I suddenly saw the possibilities of my own life, of the fact that it doesn’t matter how old I am or where I am, there is always the possibility of more.
So I’m doing a lot of time jumping these days. I’m a kid, alone, loving a show that nobody cares about anymore. I’m with a group of friends, in the ’80s, watching the first episode of TNG and being won over to Picard by the end of the two-hour premiere. I’m in my 20s, meeting James Doohan at a video store in New York. I’m helping Chris Kreski with William Shatner’s books. In 2016, I’m watching a new movie with 5000 other fans. Canada, my homeland, has Star Trek stamps and coins. There’s a new series in production, shooting in my hometown. Who would’ve thought? So maybe I’m 50 years old now, and introducing my kids to the franchise, but at the same time, I’m that 13 year-old kid again, looking up at that marquee in wonder.