In Part Two of our three part series, Remember Me, TrekMovie takes another look back at Star Trek nostalgia. The Mission Log podcast, which you can now find on TrekMovie.com, has taken on the immense challenge of picking apart Star Trek one episode at a time. What does this perspective teach us about Trek’s past, present, and future? What makes Trek good, how do different incarnations of Trek appeal to different kinds of fans, and how might a look at Trek’s past help us figure out what’s coming next? Hit the jump for Part Two.
Proving the importance of toys for brand awareness, John Champion’s earliest memories of Star Trek are playing with the Mego action figures when he was 5.
That combination of the toys and the cartoon was what got him hooked.
“I just remember that Star Trek was always on or catching glimpses of the cartoon here or there,” said Champion. “I also remember things like the little records that came with the comic book. Just that image of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in bright colors on the bridge was indelible.”
Trek would become an important part of his life – notably when he auditioned for the role of Wesley Crusher in New York in 1986. Nowadays his involvement with the franchise is primarily as co-host of the popular Star Trek podcast Mission Log, a weekly podcast which is reviewing every episode and movie from “The Cage” to “These Are the Voyages …”
Among all the websites that explore Trek nostalgia, Mission Log is notable as the only one carrying the Roddenberry name. Its executive producer is Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr., who captured attention in 2011 with his documentary Trek Nation, which explores the franchise from the unique perspective of The Great Bird’s son.
Champion met Eugene Rodenberry through his day job as a videographer – producing extras for DVDs/Blue Rays and a 40th anniversary special in 2006. Champion’s co-host on the show, Ken Ray, is a long-time podcaster most famous as the voice of the Apple-related podcast Mac OS Ken.
All the galaxy’s a stage
The show’s main focus is exploring how the Trek philosophy evolved over time.
“For a lot of fans, what they love and appreciate is the vision for the future and the philosophy that it espouses about mankind,” Champion said. “By going in order, we’re learning along with the audience, putting ourselves in their shoes. We’re building a stage for what the Star Trek philosophy really is.”
This allows them to ask a variety of questions, such as:
- When did the glimmers of that philosophy start to show up?
- How did it get shaped over time?
- What did it end up with at the end of an episode, a season, a series?
- Do we start to see a thread, a line, of what they were trying to say over all?
In terms of capturing the Trek philosophy, one of Champion’s favorites is the “Corbomite Maneuver,” because the conflict with Balok forces the Enterprise crew to live up to their ideals.
“It shows the crew facing fear with a sense of wonder,” Champion said. “Balok is a monster who wants to kill them, but when he’s hurt, they face their fear and beam over, and just try to help him because that’s what they do. They’re there to help, to learn, to explore, even though it might be dangerous. It’s more important to them to live up to that ideal, look at something that’s not like them and decide what to do.”
He listed other episodes that are fan favorites for a reason, such as “City on the Edge of Forever,” which is a great romance, great science fiction, a great what if, great character study –to see Kirk Spock and McCoy as ego, super-ego, and id – but “it’s not necessarily great Star Trek.”
“I still love it. I still get choked up at the end,” he said.
New fans and new civilizations
If a young person or new fan asked Champion where to start with the franchise, his response would depend on what drew them in. If it was the excitement of the JJ Abrams movies and the charm of the characters, Champion says just start at the beginning.
“Shows tend to not start out at their best – but Star Trek did,” he said. “The first season strikes a nice balance between action, humor, and just ‘knock out’ stuff.”
If a new fan is turned on by the idea of the philosophy, Champion recommends somewhere in the middle of TNG – “where they got good.”
(Sidenote: My recommendation would be “Booby Trap.” It’s the most TNG episode there is – a great introduction to Geordi, Picard, O’Brien, and the holodeck. The central theme is that technology can never replace human instinct. AND some of the best music of the franchise. Vintage.)
Let’s see what’s out there … again?
Mission Log has been underway since August 2012. Those of you who are good at math will have calculated that, by doing only an episode a week, the podcast’s mission will be a little more than five years: Champion estimates they’ll finish their run in 2026. But before that happens, Champion would “put money on there being a new series.”
The question of what such a show would look like is one we’ve speculated here at length. And, of course, like any good Trek fan, Champion has his own ideas.
“It would not focus entirely on spaceship and battle. There seems to be a lot of fans who think Star Trek needs to be about war and conflict,” he said. “At its best, it’s about people. It’s about characters you can get behind. It is about exploring the ways that we live up to our ideals.”
And sometimes, not all looking at the camera at the same time
The key to good Trek is situational conflict, not armed conflict.
“Regardless of whether it’s live action or animated – and it could be very effective animated – whether it’s serialized or anthology, whether it’s OS era or TNG era or something entirely different … I think that what we have to do is make a case for the characters and for who we are as human beings,” Champion concluded. “That’s what’s special about Star Trek.”
What are some of the best examples of Trek nostalgia you know? Tell us and share links in the comments below.