At this point, we’ve all been lured at one or another by the clickbait headline that says something like: “10 things you never knew about Star Trek!” If you’re a Star Trek fan or have just spent any time on the Internet, you’ve pretty much heard every story there is to hear and seen every meme.
But with almost 1,000 hours of canonical material, there is probably something about the phenomenon’s storied history you haven’t heard, or at least haven’t realized. Here are 50 of them, one for each year of the franchise, to help celebrate its birthday today.
1. First thing Picard does … is surrender
When “Encounter at Farpoint” hit the airwaves in 1987, it was a bold decision to replace the iconic American hero James T. Kirk with a British actor playing a French captain. And proving that the accusation of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” will last well into the 24th Century, the first order our French captain gives … is to surrender.
2. Jonathan Frakes became a good director because he was a bad actor
As a young actor on the early days on TNG, Jonathan Frakes is extremely good at being tall, handsome, and charming. Apparently that’s about the extent of his range though as he confessed to Whoopi Goldberg a few years ago that the reason he moved behind the camera is because “I wasn’t that good an actor.”
And honestly, his contributions behind the camera may be more valuable than anything he did in front of it.
3. William Shatner was not the 1st choice to play Kirk
Although both he and his bombastic performance style are now synonymous with Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, William Shatner was not the first choice to play him. Jack Lord was first approached and turned the role down. Lloyd Bridges was almost cast as the first Enterprise captain, Chris Pike. Bad for them, but good decision for fans (both men died in 1998).
Shatner and Bridges would later have the chance to team up to save the day on Airplane 2.
4. Kirk appeared in all but one episode
After his appearance in the second pilot, Shatner’s Kirk appeared in every episode and movie until his death in Generations, except one: The Animated Series episode “The Slaver Weapon”, written by sci-fi great Larry Niven. Spock makes up for his captain’s absence with some ludicrous space-karate against pink alien cat-people.
5. Eddie Murphy was almost in the whale one
So remember that one with the whales? The one everybody liked, with the kind-hearted whale scientist who was on 7th Heaven and Child’s Play? Yeah, her role was originally supposed to be played by Eddie Murphy.
Legend has it that when Paramount executives first approached Murphy to sign him up with the studio, he made them wait until he’d finished watching an episode of The Original Series. The actor was one of Paramount’s most valuable properties in the 80’s, thanks to 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop, so his presence in a Star Trek movie would have been great synergy.
It probably would have been ridiculous, but admit it: you would have loved to seen that Star Trek movie.
6. The intro to Enterprise is a perfect match
Star Trek: Enterprise deviated from its predecessors with an introductory pop song (Rod Stewart and Diane Warren’s Faith of the Heart) rather than an orchestral piece. Someone realized that it lines up perfectly with the intro to Perfect Strangers.
The reverse is true too!
7. One redshirt survived – more episodes than Sulu or Chekov
While the redshirt death is the Star Trek cliché of all Star Trek clichés, one redshirt managed to avoid an untimely demise every time he appeared: Eddie Paskey’s Lt. Leslie. He appeared in 57 episodes – which is more episodes than George Takei and Walter Koenig did.
OK technically he did die in one episode, but it apparently didn’t slow him down.
Paskey’s character had no official name until Shatner one day decided to give him one – after his own daughter, Leslie.
8. Dax played the Cat for the American Red Dwarf
With The Next Generation reinvigorating audience interest in science fiction, it inspired copy-cats. One of those was the British comedy classic Red Dwarf, which is set 3 million years in the future. In an utterly failed effort to translate the show for American audiences, Star Trek’s Terry Farrell (Dax) plays a hyper-evolved cat creature.
It doesn’t remotely work, but good for her for trying.
9. IDIC symbol was created to spread diversity … and make money
More popular nowadays than it was when first invented, the Vulcan symbol of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) symbolizes the perfect Vulcans’ celebration of life in all its forms.
But Leonard Nimoy insisted that Gene Roddenberry created the IDIC symbol as a cheap ploy to sell replica merchandise to fans. Nimoy was perhaps particularly annoyed by this because his likeness was being used to promote the tchotchke, but he was receiving exactly zero of the money for it. Live long and prosper… by using your co-workers to sell stuff.
10. Roddenberry also exploited the show’s song for profit
This would not be the only time Roddenberry would try to take advantage of the franchise for profit (exemplifying the Ferengi Rule of Acquisition that “exploitation begins at home”). After commissioning Alexander Courage to write the classic intro theme song, Roddenberry wrote lyrics to it so he could get 50% of the song’s royalties – without Courage’s consent or even knowledge.
Courage called it unethical (which it was), but in Gene’s defense he made enormous sacrifices for the show and wouldn’t really start making money from it until much later with the show’s success in syndication, movies, and (of course) merchandising.
11. Chakotay isn’t really an Indian
As part of the post-Dances With Wolves craze over the American Indian in the 1990s, Star Trek Voyager broke ground with the character of Chakotay, played by Robert Beltran. His Indian-ness is a constant plot point, although the character’s specific tribe is never mentioned – which may be a good thing because Beltran isn’t actually American-Indian. He’s Mexican.
12. But why aren’t there any actual Indian people?
So eagle-eyed fans may notice that despite consisting of around 2 billion members of the human race, there aren’t a lot of South Asians featured on the show. People may just chock that up to Hollywood casting biases, but clever Star Trek fans have another theory: super-villain Khan Noonien Singh and his ilk had rampaged across Asia during the Eugenics Wars in the distant future of the 1990’s, killing millions.
13. Wrath of Khan isn’t actually about A Tale of Two Cities
So if you’re like me, everything you know about the Charles Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities” comes from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. (Spock gives Kirk a copy of the book for his birthday.) But a story about the French Revolution informs the story quite a bit less than another classic: the biblically inspired Paradise Lost. The Marcuses are Adam and Eve (having “created life” with “Genesis”). Spock is the Christ-figure who sacrifices himself so others may live while Khan is Lucifer, having been cast down to hell by Kirk, who then would be…
14. Star Trek V really, really is about Shatner’s ego
Speaking of God-Shatner: at this point everyone knows that Star Trek V is a huge ego trip for Shatner, wonderfully typified in this video of him climbing the mountain.
But it’s on a scale of ego that even people who know it don’t realize. In contrast to the usually perfect society the franchise had shown us thus far, we see one where: 1) the Federation’s diplomatic mission has completely failed, 2) its ambassador there is a worthless drunk, 3) the flagship of the fleet barely works, 4) capable bridge officers are cartoonishly incompetent, 5) a brilliant doctor is incapable of curing, and therefore euthanizes, his own father, 6) NASA’s seminal Pioneer 10 is just target practice for Klingons, 7) and so on.
In essence, everything fails in the world Star Trek V… except Kirk. Who not only finds God but beats him in a fight.
This could all be why…
15. Gene wanted to sue Shatner over it
Roddenberry didn’t have as much of an impact on the movies as many fans may think, but that didn’t keep him from letting his voice be heard. He decried Star Trek V as “apocryphal” to his franchise’s canon and even went “as far as having his attorney Leonard Maizlish prepare legal procedures against Shatner.”
Alas things didn’t turn out as well for Shatner as they did for Nimoy because …
16. Leonard Nimoy was actually kind of a huge deal in the 80’s
Of course Mr. Spock is the beloved icon of Star Trek fans everywhere, but when he beamed into the director’s chair he was kind of a big deal for everyone. His opus Star Trek – “The One With the Whales” was the highest-grossing Star Trek film ever and, adjusted for inflation, second-highest grossing until 2009. It was also the 5th most successful film of 1986 (behind Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Platoon, and Karate Kid 2). In 1987, he directed the year’s best-performing film period in Three Men and a Baby.
Leonard was kind of a big deal in the 60’s too because…
17. Leonard Nimoy was nominated for an Emmy every year
Reflections about TOS are usually either “it was the greatest thing ever!” or “it was constantly under threat of cancellation!” Reality was probably somewhere in between. What was also real was Leonard Nimoy stealing the spotlight from the show’s lead. Leonard’s performance as Spock was nominated for an Emmy every year the show was on.
He never won, alas, but that’s still an impressive sweep.
18. But Cartoon Kirk brought home Emmy gold
While TOS never won an Emmy, The Animated Series did. It won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment Children’s Series in 1975. That’s the only “major” (that is to say non-technical) Emmy that Star Trek ever won, although TOS and TNG did get nominations for outstanding series. I guess no one at the Emmy’s realized that Patrick Stewart was on TV?
19. Star Trek producer fired one of his Emmy winners
Of course Star Trek dominates the technical Emmys (make-up, special effects, etc.) but composer Ron Jones snagged a sound mixing award for TNG one year. He later went on to score the seminal Borg episode “The Best of Both Worlds”, which won both sound editing and sound mixing Emmys.
Jones released his score for the two-part episode as an album, which won the American Association of Independent Music’s Best Soundtrack Album of the Year award.
Regardless of his contributions, controversial Trek kingpin Rick Berman went on to fire Jones because his music was “too noticeable.”
Yeah. Noticed by people who were giving him awards and buying his album.
20. Yet it took 30 years to snag an Oscar
As primarily a television series, it’s not surprising that Star Trek hasn’t done too well with the Academy. (Some of that has been bad timing: The Undiscovered Country got crushed by Terminator 2.) It took until the 2009 reboot for Star Trek to finally win an Oscar for make-up.
Fans still complained relentlessly that the make-up failed to capture the spirit of make-up in The Original Series.
21. And Star Trek also won a Peabody once (randomly)
The Peabody Award, which is more commonly associated with journalism, was awarded to The Next Generation episode “The Big Goodbye” for raising the bar on syndicated TV. (That’s the episode with the gangsters. OK not that episode, but a different one.) According to the Peabody Board, the episode “set a new standard of quality for first-run syndication” in “all facets of the production.”
It’s the only episode of the franchise to be so honored. Keep that in mind next time someone knocks the first season of TNG.
22. But it hasn’t won a Hugo Award in over 20 years
The Oscars for science fiction, the Hugo Award is pure nerd gold. With TOS sweeping the nominations in 1968 and nine of the films earning nominations, Star Trek has a history of dominating them.
However, it’s just that: history. None of those films have won a Hugo and the franchise has not won an award since “All Good Things…”, the 1994 series closer for TNG.
Star Trek may be a victim of its own success. In popularizing sci-fi in the 1990’s, it created more competition for itself. Or it could be that the franchise ran out of dilithium a long time ago. Either way, I really want to see Star Trek: Discovery win a Hugo next year.
23. That time Shooter McGavin was a big damn hero
Actor Christopher McDonald is better known to audiences as the Happy Gilmore antagonist Shooter McGavin, but to Star Trek fans he’s the hero of one of the best episodes ever, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, where he takes command of the Enterprise C to save the universe in a hopeless battle against Romulans.
He also wins the heart of Tasha Yar. Which reminds me…
24. Tasha Yar was originally a rip-off of that Aliens space marine
You know that scene in Aliens where Bill Paxton says to the tough lady space marine Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” and she says, “No. Have you?”
So that character was initially supposed to be on TNG. Roddenberry initially envisioned a Latina security chief named Macha Hernandez, and they even considered just hiring Goldstein to basically reprise her role from Aliens. They didn’t go through with that idea, though, as DC Fontana pointed out that Goldstein “is not Latina. She is petite, blue-eyed, freckle-faced.” So they did the logical thing. They hired a Latin actress.
No, I’m joking obviously. But what happened was…
25. Tasha and Deanna were cast in the wrong roles
Originally Marina Sirtis (who is Greek, not Latin) was cast as the security chief while Denise Crosby was to play the ship’s counselor. But Roddenberry intervened and swapped the two because he felt Sirtis’s appearance was better for the “exotic” Troi.
This wasn’t the weirdest example of an actor swap though as…
26. DeForest Kelley was the first choice for Spock
Back when Roddenberry was still developing the show, he initially approached DeForest Kelley to play “an alien who’s going to have pointed ears and a green color.” Kelley blew him off and told him he’d rather do a Western.
Luckily, Roddenberry found the right role for him later.
27. “He’s dead, Jim” – DeForest Kelley’s last performance
Kelley’s popular Dr. McCoy character appeared in almost every episode of The Original Series and all of the movies – but the actor died in 1999, long before any of his co-stars. If you want to catch his final performance as the Old Country doctor, it was in the 1993 video game Star Trek: Judgement Rites.
28. Sulu starred in the most controversial Twilight Zone episode ever
There are a lot of connections between Star Trek and the old Twilight Zone – both sci-fi shows from the 1960s – but perhaps the coolest is “The Encounter“, a 1964 episode where George Takei as a young Japanese-American squares off against a veteran of the WW2 Pacific Theater. It maturely and frankly deals with the issue of race following the conflict.
So naturally it was only ever shown once then pulled from the airwaves for 52 years.
29. And Enterprise did a clever Twilight Zone promo once
The two franchises remained intertwined – to the point of John Lithgow and William Shatner both joking about “There’s something on the wing of the plane!” on 3rd Rock from the Sun – to the point that when UPN premiered a new version of Twilight Zone in 2002 they had Commander Tucker explicitly reference the show in the preceding episode of Enterprise that night.
30. Star Trek invented the term “Bottle Episode”
The TV show Community popularized the use of the term “Bottle Episode” in the vernacular of TV viewers: an episode which only uses existing sets, costumes, props, and so forth to minimize cost and save money for more expensive episodes.
Now (because you’re reading this list) it shouldn’t surprise you that the term comes from Star Trek, which constantly had budget-stretching episodes to explore strange new worlds. It comes from the phrase “ship in a bottle.”
31. Kirk steals a time machine from Doc Brown
While we’re getting meta, did you ever notice that in Star Trek IV Kirk and Spock make a time machine out of the Klingon ship they stole from Christopher Lloyd in Star Trek III? You know – the guy who’d played Doc Brown the year earlier in Back to the Future?
32. That time Data almost made a fart joke
There’s this pretty decent first season episode called “We’ll Always Have Paris”, where an experiment gone awry is spewing extra time into the universe. The crew calls it a hiccup. (Yes, of course there is a Memory Alpha entry for hiccup.)
Data pedantically points out that analogy is wrong and almost says a better comparison would be a fart, but Picard cuts him off.
33. The book about Insurrection is better than the film
A frequent cliché is the phrase “the book is better than the movie.” When it comes to Star Trek: Insurrection, easily the most forgettable film in the franchise’s history, the book about how it was written is better than the movie.
Michael Piller’s unimaginatively titled Fade In details how “sausage is made” in Hollywood. He goes through the development process of his script, how his initial ideas needed to be changed to meet the demands of producers, the director, and actors (notably Patrick Stewart) then changed again and again to juggle budget restrictions and Hollywood egos.
His early concept for the film was to do a Heart of Darkness-style story, where Data goes native and becomes the villain that Picard needs to defeat. Alas that wasn’t the movie we got to see.
Piller, maybe the most important contributor to modern Trek, succumbed to cancer in 2005.
Fade In was never published, but copies have been floating around the Internet for years.
34. Seven of Nine kind of gave us President Obama
This is a weird one. Back in the day actress Jeri Ryan (Seven) was married to Illinois politician Jack Ryan, who was favored to win an open state Senate seat in 2004… until word came out during their divorce proceedings about some of the creepy sex stuff he demanded from her. A humiliated Jack was forced to drop out and the election went to a then-unknown Barack Obama, who leveraged the race to a plumb speaking spot at the DNC that year, then a US Senate seat, then the presidency.
Obama should have appointed Jeri administrator of NASA to say thanks.
35. Red Letter Media got its start with Star Trek reviews (and they’re brilliant)
OK so you’ve all probably seen the hour-long reviews of the Star Wars prequels by the YouTube channel Red Letter Media – honestly the reviews are better than the movies themselves. But the channel actually got its start doing reviews of the TNG movies.
They’re not quite as polished as the prequel reviews, but they’re absolutely worth a watch (and they’re much lighter on his running “gag” of killing prostitutes).
36. Ron Moore started Battlestar because of Voyager’s shortcomings
There are those in the Trek community who feel that Voyager never lived up to its potential of showing the crew really dealing with tough situations, isolation, and limited resources. Preeminent among those is Ronald D. Moore, a TNG/DS9 writer who left Voyager because of the bad taste it left in his mouth. Luckily Moore would wash that taste out with the minty freshness of Battlestar Galactica, wherein his crew really dealt with tough situations, isolation, and limited resources.
And saying “frak.” A lot.
37. Leonard did the best Q and A for fans
So you don’t have to go to a lot of Star Trek conventions to realize one can only plumb the depths of untold stories for so long before they’ve all been told. Recognizing this, Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie developed a stage routine where their two characters, Spock and Q, had a lively debate about life, the universe, and everything (which at the time included the impending Y2K).
It was a great gift to fans… and a lot more interesting than watching that video where the door doesn’t open (yet again).
38. Roddenberry considered Wil Wheaton the son he never had
Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene and heir to the Star Trek empire, did a wonderful documentary a few years ago called Trek Nation, which is really more about his coming to terms with his long-lost father than it is about Star Trek. Rod, who was born when Gene was 52, had barely any relationship with the man.
There’s a painful sequence where he’s talking to Wil Wheaton and realizes the actor got to be more of a son to Gene than he ever did. Ouch.
39. A secular devil teaches Kirk about sacrifice and forgiveness
There’s this remarkably unusual episode of The Animated Series called “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” where the Enterprise meets an extra-dimensional creature named Lucien, whose people put the crew on trial as revenge for the Salem Witch Trials and Kirk volunteers to sacrifice his life for Lucien to save him from condemnation in limbo for eternity. And Lucien turns out to be the actual Lucifer that the Judeo-Christian devil is based on.
All this in 25 minutes on a Saturday morning children’s television show.
40. Idea of a prequel has been around since 1968
Prequels, reboots, and re-imaginings are commonplace nowadays, but would you believe that the idea of a prequel with young Kirk, Spock, and McCoy has been around since before The Original Series went off the air? Roddenberry first introduced the idea at the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention.
The idea came up again in 1991. Alas we had to wait until 2009, when this kind of thing happens all the time.
41. Guinan was Picard’s great-great-great-great… grandmother
This year Whoopi Goldberg attended her first ever Star Trek convention. To the crowd in Las Vegas, she shared that – in her actor’s mind – she had always envisioned that her long-lived Guinan character had been an ancestor to Patrick Stewart’s Picard (however many greats it took), which is why the characters were so close and she took such care to mentor him.
42. Ron Howard’s weird brother was an alien bartender
This one a lot of you may know already, but legendary actor-turned-director Ron Howard has a kind of weird brother named Clint, who shows up from time to time in Ron’s movies and elsewhere in front of the camera. His first big break was as an innocuous alien named Balok who gives the crew an adult beverage called tranya.
As a grown man, Clint would reprise the role at the Shatner roast.
It’s… it’s an unusual watch.
43. The Borg were supposed to be insects
The Borg as a villain are now pretty ubiquitous, with any imposing square building compared nowadays to a Borg Cube. The threat of assimilation has become more and more real, with technology permeating our lives in ways that could not have been conceived in 1988.
But they were originally supposed to be bugs.
The reasons they went the cyborg route is chocked up to budgetary constraints and a Writer’s Guild strike, but I think we can all agree this is was a better alternative. Bugs are certainly alien, which can be scary (like the Alien-franchise xenomorphs) but the Borg are humans who abandoned their humanity for technology, which is scarier. Now excuse me while I open six more browser windows and IM with my roommate instead of talking to him IRL.
44. Memory Alpha is basically the greatest wiki ever
There’s a saying that the three things that created the Internet were porn, the military, and Star Trek (so sex, violence, and nerdery). The online Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha is not just one of the greatest fan wikis but one of the best wikis period. It’s been around since 2003, contains more than 40,000 articles, and has been translated into Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, and Swedish.
Meanwhile, most articles over on Wookiepedia have flags like this:
45. Star Trek actually wasn’t the first interracial kiss
This one surprised me when CNN reported on it last year, and it’s a bit disappointing. The first interracial kiss on TV was not, in fact, Capt. Kirk and Lt. Uhura, but rather six years earlier when a black man and a white woman kissed in a televised play of “You in Your Small Corner” in 1962. This was on British TV so, technically, Star Trek was still the first interracial kiss on American TV.
Also this kiss appears to be an entirely consensual expression of love and affection rather than an act of telekinetic humiliation by alien super beings. But that sounds less charming than “first interracial kiss!”
46. The modern convention was created by two 14-year-olds
So at this point over-the-top entertainment conventions with hordes of cosplayers and celebrity zoos are commonplace. On one level I think everyone who goes to a con these days realizes that Star Trek created the modern convention system, but I don’t think they realize that the Star Trek fans who created this system did so when they were 14.
Queens schoolboys Adam Malin and Gary Berman started Creation Entertainment way back in 1971, mainly for comic book creators, but quickly started doing Star Trek cons as well. They weren’t the only ones doing conventions, but they’ve certainly become one of the biggest names on the convention circuit since then. Did I mention they were 14?
(TrekMovie interviewed Gary a couple months ago on our podcast, the Shuttlepod.)
47. Pretty sure JJ was riffing on Seinfeld, not Trek
So JJ Abrams admitted that he was never really a Star Trek fan and didn’t have much knowledge of the series. That came through pretty clearly in Star Trek Into Darkness when Spock delivers the famous KHAAN! yell. Because when Zachary Quinto does it, I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be him channeling the Shatnerian rage of the initial yell…
I think he’s making a Seinfeld joke.
48. Spock loses his mind a lot
The episode “Spock’s Brain” is a pretty famous one. It’s the one where Spock’s (wait for it) brain is removed and the adventure is trying to get it back inside his skull. It’s one of those “so bad it’s good” episodes best enjoyed with a nice glass of tranya.
The same idea would be revisited in Star Trek III when his mind (or soul, I guess) needs to be re-fused with his resurrected body.
But the best example of where Spock’s marbles get lost and then found has got to be from The Animated Series episode “The Infinite Vulcan” where a mindless Spock receives a mindmeld from, of course, a giant cloned version of Spock. (Written by Walter Koenig, incidentally.)
49. Patrick Stewart compares a fictional character to Hitler – and it works
At this point, comparing Hitler to people in the Internet is such a cliché that it’s become the Hitler of the 21st Century. In the 24th Century though, Patrick Stewart’s Jean-luc Picard discusses philosophy and pre-determination with a time-traveler, wherein he asks what if a baby who is going to die becomes “the next Adolf Hitler or Khan Singh.”
I didn’t even blink the first several times I saw this, because one is history’s greatest monster and the other guy sold Rich Corinthian Leather, but Stewart sells it so amazingly well that you don’t notice the difference because to Picard they’re both monsters.
And remember, in seven years, this guy got exactly zero Emmy Nominations. #EmmysSoStupid
50. The Motion Picture is actually better than most people realize
This one was as much a surprise to me as anyone else. TMP is regularly panned and is seen as contributing nothing to the series except setting up Wrath of Khan. There’s the old joke that it’s so slow they should call it “Star Trek: The Motion-less Picture.”
But it’s actually beautifully directed, wonderfully scored, and possesses both a campiness and a grandiosity that fits the tone of the original TV show better than any of the other movies. Seriously, give it a second try (on as a large of a screen as you can find, it was made to be seen and heard as a grand cinema experience). I decided I needed to revisit it after losing an argument about it on our podcast, The Shuttlepod. Even after 50 years, this old franchise can still surprise you. The human adventure is just beginning.