By: Dénes and Timothy House
What We Left Behind was first conceived by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr as a way to help the actors involved in the show feel better about the reception it had received. When DS9 first aired, it was a show ahead of its time that bucked the trends in the television industry, even within the Star Trek franchise. Fans were initially leery of the show’s darker tone and the fact that it was set on a space station rather than on a starship, exploring space. As a result, some of the funnier parts of the documentary involve the actors reading viewer responses “Mean Tweets”-style, many of which brutally slammed the show and even the actors’ individual characters. At the time it was made, studio executives were nervous about anything that deviated from the traditional Trek “house style,” and continually second-guessed the writers and producers, who persisted in making the show that they wanted to make despite the constant challenges.
But the documentary took on a life of its own, in large part because producing it required crowdfunding. The resulting film is a piece designed to appeal to the two target audiences: those involved in the show’s production, and die-hard fans of the show. At times, it feels very “inside baseball.” If you have not followed What We Left Behind‘s journey to the screen, a lot of its contents may feel alien to you, as it were. But, if you are a long-time “Niner,” this will be a welcome trip down memory lane, and you will learn things you never knew before.
Of special interest to fans of the show is a writers’ reunion. Five of DS9’s key writers were brought together to brainstorm and break down a theoretical season eight, episode one of the show. These sequences, spread throughout the film in a somewhat jarring manner, are fascinating and a lot of fun to watch, especially if you’re interested in how a team of writers works together. It’s also full of surprises. Deep Space Nine as a religious sanctuary? Nog as a Starfleet Captain? A new Starfleet vessel designed by John Eaves? It’s very cool, but as Ira Steven Behr says, just don’t get too comfortable. It’s Deep Space Nine. Anything can happen.
Because the documentary focuses almost exclusively on interviewing people involved in the production of the show and its fans, it doesn’t have a lot of outside perspective. It would have been nice to hear from more objective television historians, or producers of rival shows, or maybe even folks who didn’t wind up liking the show. There is one person interviewed in the special features who said he didn’t like it, but he’s the exception. Because of all this, the documentary can feel a bit self-congratulatory in spots.
On the other hand, some of the best parts are when folks involved were allowed to express their frustrations and heartbreaks. Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat) talks about his anxieties that resulted from a lack of positive feedback from the writers, and in the documentary’s most poignant section, Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) talks candidly about the circumstances surrounding her departure from the show. While the producers are proud of the way the show handled most contemporary social issues, they give themselves less than stellar marks for their handling of sexual identity and LGBTQ+ characters.
We first saw the film during its first limited release in theaters through Fathom Events, on a big screen with surround sound and dozens of fans, and it was a magical experience. The film is shot in glorious high definition, and (nearly) every scene used from the show has been remastered to match. It looks gorgeous in ways that are hard to describe; it almost looks like a different show. Of paramount interest (and to much fanfare) is a fully remastered CGI space battle scene from the sixth season episode “Sacrifice of Angels,” which is immersive and explosive and awesome. Our recommendation is that you do your best to watch the home video release in conditions that replicate the theatrical experience as closely as possible. Invite your friends over, watch it on as big a screen as you can, and crank up the volume. You’ll be glad you did.
Our version of the Blu-ray is the Special Edition version of the home video release, available exclusively from the Shout! Factory webstore. A standard retail version and a backer-exclusive version also exist. The Special Edition contains a second disc featuring an interview with Dennis McCarthy and Kevin Kiner, composers of the music for the show and the documentary, and an extended version of a roundtable look at the making of the doc, which appears in shorter form on the first disc and was included at the end of the theatrical release. (TrekMovie previously published an article detailing all the special features on every edition of this release.)
This edition of the Blu-ray contains a staggering seventeen deleted sequences from the film, as well as seven additional featurettes of varying lengths and quality of content. Some highlights include an alternate introduction featuring a TV historian and the mysterious “Mr. F,” humorously looking at the history of the show, and more clips of testimony from fans recorded at Star Trek Las Vegas, on the streets of Los Angeles, and submitted online.
The best of the deleted scenes include “The Toughest Episode,” which gives you a deep appreciation of the hardships involved in filming a makeup-heavy action show on a tight budget and an even tighter schedule; “Nog’s Sisko Encounter,” where Aron Eisenberg (Nog) movingly talks about what it’s like to work with Avery Brooks (Benjamin Sisko) as an actor; “The Death of Baseball,” a moving tribute to writer and co-creator Michael Piller and his creative process; “The Gift of Anger,” detailing a memorable experience on the set of “Far Beyond the Stars,” one of the series’ best episodes; “One Last Punch,” in which Marc Alaimo tells a jaw-breaking story of his last day of filming; and “Those Fuzzy Tribbles,” which is exactly what you’d expect, a loving tribute to our personal favorite episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations.” These deleted scenes and many more are the best part of the special features, and quite enjoyable.
There’s an “Intro from Ira and the Gang,” which basically tells you what the special features are; “Behind the Scenes of the Variety Photoshoot,” a montage of DS9 actors reuniting and hugging while dressed in immaculate outfits; the theatrical trailer for the doc; and “A Musical Reunion,” a fantastic conversation between two gifted composers on their process and mutual admiration.
The roundtable look at the making of the documentary, which appears in abbreviated form on the first disc and a more extended version on the second, is worth watching once for folks who followed the documentary’s road to production. It offers a lot of behind-the-scenes detail, but is not something you’ll revisit again and again.
Packaging and Production
Shout! Factory’s release is packaged in a standard two-disc Blu-ray clamshell box, with the requisite wraparound liner. The liner features a small poster of the Deep Space Nine station on the inside.
The menu screens are nicely produced, although our copy had a programming glitch that showed up when trying to select many of the menu options. We are not sure if this problem is widespread or just endemic to our particular copy.
As major fans of the show – Deep Space Nine is our favorite Trek series of all time – this is a must-have for our collection. We are glad to have seen it in the theater, but are also happy to be able to rewatch it from time to time. Certainly if you did not get the chance to see it in the theatrical release, the $30 price tag may seem steep, but that’s the equivalent of two tickets to the movies, and it’s worth the cost to see the interesting and satisfying interviews and content.
For more casual fans, some may find that the documentary feels a bit pieced together, reflecting the fact that it was filmed in bits over a period of several years. It doesn’t walk sequentially through the history of the show, so there are stories from all throughout the production placed side by side. If you know the show well, you’ll be able to follow it, but viewers who are new to DS9 may not be as clear on the sequence of events. To be fair, this was always the intention, and the documentary was never meant to be an objective view of the series for newcomers seeking an introduction to it.
Clearly, the documentary is a labor of love for the fans who crowdfunded it, Ira Steven Behr who produced and directed it, and the many artists who contributed to it. Fans who love the show will get a lot out of the film, and will enjoy the nostalgia and wonder of this trip down memory lane.
…Oh, and Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys) is a hoot, from start to finish. To the very, very finish. Watch the credits.
What We Left Behind is available now in the USA on Blu-ray and on digital (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play). It’s available internationally in many countries on iTunes. For a full list of countries click here.