During a time of paranoia and fear, when friends can easily turn against each other and an entire culture can become xenophobic, it takes courage to continue engaging with the world and boldly going where no one has gone before. That battle between hope and fear, the struggle to keep exploring even when suspicion and distrust suffuse the air we breathe, is the prominent theme of the latest high-profile Star Trek fan film, the two-part Pacific 201.
Written and directed by Eric “EC” Henry, Pacific 201 opens with a memorial service in a Starfleet chapel and an investigation by Starfleet Intelligence. Commander Alisa Vandre (played by Margaret Herbener, who also served as the film’s line producer) is haunted by the events she has recently experienced but must answer difficult questions about how her captain, her ship, and many of her crew members were lost.
Flashbacks follow the crew of the U.S.S. Pacific (NCC-201), a Starfleet science vessel investigating a mysterious planet in the year 2200, after the end of the Earth/Romulan War. While Commander Vandre and Science Consultant Lt. Lucy Rader (Lindsey Williams) are making potentially exciting breakthroughs on this planet, they must suddenly evacuate when the planet’s anomalous energies begin to threaten the ship. The evacuation is an exciting action sequence that comes almost seven minutes into the film, livening up the sedate pace—especially when their distress call is answered by a Romulan vessel.
The 38-minute crowdfunded film makes excellent use of the nearly $32,000 that was raised. The story is ambitious, the production design is top-notch, and the visual effects, props, music, and costumes are excellent. The look of the film is probably its most successful feature. The uniforms, featuring nautical sweaters with mission patches and Starfleet insignia patches and division colors lining the shoulders, look like present-day Royal Navy’s “woolie pullies” with a Star Trek: Enterprise flair.
Scenes are filled with new ships, original Romulan and Starfleet capital ship designs, and new shuttles as well. The Pacific herself is a handsome vessel, bringing a modern-day naval feel to the essential Starfleet components. The visual effects are well done and feature a few surprising elements for a fan film, including the compositing of actors and sets into ship windows, even in closely shot sequences. We get extended views of early 23rd-century Earth, both in Starfleet and civilian locations. Some bits show the seams of a low-budget production, but many scenes would stand up proudly in a mainstream television production. The handheld props have attractive new designs, some with professionally inset computer graphics.
The sets are small but serviceable, with an emphasis on physical buttons and switches; the engine room of the Pacific is particularly good. But close inspection again reveals the budgetary restrictions the production labored under. My favorite set-related bit was for a scene where a crewmember uses a pair of binoculars to locate the Romulan vessel from a sort of conning tower with large windows because the sensors were down. Because… why not?
The music is excellent, and includes a choral rendition of the Federation Anthem (only heard in canon during one episode of Deep Space Nine) to which Henry has attached poetic lyrics, forming a moving “Starfleet Hymn.” The sound mix has a few dodgy sections and there are occasional microphone issues, but the areas where Pacific 201 has the roughest go of things are with the acting and the pacing of the film.
The film’s lead, Margaret Herbener, is able to bring genuine emotion to scenes where she gets to move around some and is at her best in Part Two, but she loses energy during the glacially slow interrogation scenes at Starfleet Intelligence, of which there are too many. Conversations follow the standard two-shot over-the-shoulder back and forth style of editing and directing with little variation. Lindsey Williams does a fine job as Lt. Rader, and Luke Leone (who also serves as one of the film’s music composers) is good as Geoffrey Lawrence. But the rest of the cast performs about on a par for most fan films, with more enthusiasm than subtlety.
Fan films are all about love for the source material, and Pacific 201 has that in spades. Clearly, cast and crew gave their hearts and souls to make an ambitious and thoughtful Star Trek story. As with all fan films, certain parts work better than others, but the overall package is a fun and interesting tale of adventure, science, and hope.
Watch Pacific 201
Behind the scenes on Pacific 201 with EC Henry
Pacific 201 seems to have as a theme the need to go beyond fear as a motivator. How do you feel that theme resonates in our world today? Are there other themes you hope fans will pick up on in the film?
I think in general, Star Trek is strongest when it appeals to basic, universal human issues. And I think the themes of Pacific 201 are timeless and applicable to a variety of scenarios. When I wrote the script five years ago, it seemed to be speaking to certain issues that were pertinent in 2015. And it’s amazing to see how the themes only became MORE relevant in 2020. It’s my hope that even in 2025, or 2030, the message is still meaningful, regardless of current events.
What was the most exciting aspect of making this film for you?
I think building and shooting on a physical, 360-degree bridge set was definitely the most exciting aspect of production. It’s amazing how transportive something like that can be. One moment, you’re in a bare garage with a concrete floor and the next moment you’re standing on the bridge of a starship. It’s really exciting and super satisfying to know that you had a hand in building it from nothing.
The Pacific is a ship design with strong ties to Trek design lineage but certainly has its own feel, as well. The solid bussards, the cool blue lighting color scheme, the abundance of greebles that look functional. What was important to you about the ship designs in Pacific 201?
The two main influences behind the design of the Pacific were NASA and the Navy. So you’ll see a healthy blend of both International Space Station and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in there. And that goes beyond mere aesthetics because it actually illustrates an underlying issue that the story addresses: the tension between the scientific and the military roles of Starfleet. The Pacific is both a warship and a science ship. What are the difficulties in harmonizing that approach? What were the obstacles that Starfleet needed to overcome to arrive at the happy medium that they seem to have found later in their history? Pacific 201 explores that issue a bit, and I think it was important to carry that theme into the design of the movie as well.
Part One starts off at a funeral for crew members lost in the Pacific’s most recent mission. It features a lovely song of mourning. Was that an original song, or had you found it during the course of production? How important was music to the making of P201?
The melody is actually from Deep Space Nine, where it’s presented as (presumably) the Federation Anthem. I thought it would be interesting to add some historical context to the piece, by retroactively making it the “Starfleet Hymn” inspired somewhat by the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”—and using lyrics from the poem that President Ronald Regan quoted after the Challenger disaster in 1986. That poem, called “High Flight,” was written by John Gillespie Magee, and had some beautiful lyrics that fit quite well with the melody from Deep Space Nine:
“And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
Some might have a bit of an issue with us using such a religiously oriented piece, but I think there are a number of reasons why it fits. After all, Kirk’s Enterprise had a chapel in TOS, and Scotty played “Amazing Grace” at Spock’s funeral. These religion-tinged ceremonies are clearly not forgotten in the future of Star Trek, and I thought it would be interesting to explore that often forgotten aspect of canon.
The uniforms in Pacific 201 have a sort of Royal Navy-meets-NX-01 feel to them. Who designed the uniforms? What was important to you about the uniform design?
I designed the uniforms, but “design” is a bit of a strong word. They’re essentially “wooly pullies” with NX-style division stripes on them. Which was kind of a eureka moment for me, because I was drawing dozens of different designs, and not liking any of them. Turns out the ultimate design was the simplest one. It almost perfectly bridged the gap between ENT and early TOS, and the moment I made a digital mockup of the concept, I knew I had found the right design.
How does Pacific 201 work within the CBS fan film guidelines?
From the very beginning of production, Pacific 201 was pretty much already following the principles that would later show up in the official CBS fan film guidelines. That is, even when we weren’t obligated to, we were already setting Pacific 201 apart from official Star Trek. We had completely new ships, uniforms, characters, an unexplored time period, and we never called it “Star Trek”— it was always Pacific 201 from the very beginning. So when the guidelines hit… the main problems that they caused for us were with runtime. Our script was about an hour long, and we had to cut it in half to abide by the guidelines. And… that was probably a blessing in disguise. It forced us to reconsider what the core of our story was, and strip away all the unnecessary fluff. I think the final story was actually stronger for it.
You do fantastic videos on YouTube working through some of the more arcane details about Star Trek and Star Wars, among other things. What appeals to you about the Star Trek universe? What was your first exposure to Trek? What made you a fan? What is your personal favorite Trek?
Thanks! I love making videos like that, and I’m glad you like them too! It’s really hard for me to nail down exactly what it is about Star Trek that grabs me. There are so many compelling angles — the characters, the world, the themes, the rich decades-long history… all of these things contribute to my love of Star Trek. And of course, I grew up with Star Trek. I can’t even remember the first time I watched it; it’s essentially always been a part of my life, so I’m sure that contributes to my lifelong love of the franchise. I think after all these years, TOS holds the dearest place in my heart. All the ideas were so new and fresh, and it remains an awesome source of inspiration — and perhaps our chief source of inspiration for Pacific 201.