Denise Crosby played Tasha Yar in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After leaving as a series regular, Crosby returned to the show periodically to play Yar and her Romulan descendent Sela. Then in 1997 she collaborated with director Roger Nygard on Trekkies, acting as narrator and co-producer on the trailblazing documentary that took a serious look at the phenomenon of Star Trek fandom. The film was a hit, spawning a sequel (Trekkies 2) in 2004.
This week, Shout! Factory is releasing the 25th anniversary edition of Trekkies, restored on HD for Blu-ray and VOD. TrekMovie spoke to Crosby about Trekkies 25 years later, how fandom has (and hasn’t) changed, and how she feels about that TNG reunion on Star Trek: Picard.
25 years later do you see Trekkies as a historical account of fandom in the 1990s, or something that is still relevant today?
I think it’s more relevant than ever. When we initially made the film 25 years ago, these doors were just opening up. There wasn’t an onslaught of DC and Marvel movies. Comic Cons weren’t as huge as they are now. We hit it just when things were starting to open up and change. So I think it’s a great piece of representation for the beginnings of what we kind of take for granted right now.
In a new Blu-ray special feature, you and Roger talk about how you didn’t know anything about making a documentary before you started. How did Trekkies benefit from that naivete, and now with the benefit of experience and hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Well, ignorance is bliss sometimes and you’re very creative in what you’re doing. We first started out with a convention that I was invited to locally here in LA at the Airport Hilton. And by chance, almost all of the original Star Trek cast was going to be there because it was a benefit for the Motion Picture Actors Fund. So fortunately, in one shot we could get all of those interviews. A lot of luck fell into our laps. And Roger Nygard, the director, had never made a documentary before, but he certainly knew his way behind a camera. So we were just sort of making things up as we went along and letting our instincts guide us. We didn’t have the luxury of shooting a lot of footage so we were careful with what we were shooting. But we were looking at it right away and we started to see a pattern, a story unfold. And so it kind of revealed itself to us as we went along. I don’t know that I would do anything differently. We had such a great time making the film. I was lucky enough to have the trust of people and fans and my fellow actors to allow me to kind of jump in there with them.
How do you feel about concerns the doc could be making fun of Star Trek fans?
It was not the intention to make fun of anyone; quite the opposite. What gave me the idea to do this was that I had been going to conventions for about eight or nine years by that point and I was struck by the depth of what this show meant in people’s lives, but also the relationships and friendships and charitable intentions and the social messages and social justice that people got involved in. And that was all gleaned from this kind of inherent utopian vision of the future. And they were trying to emulate this in their lives. So when I would watch the media try to talk about Star Trek fans and Trekkies, it was always with a sort of note of derision. It was very easy for the newscasters on the 11 o’clock news to say, “Oh, everybody get your Spock ears out and join us in Pasadena for a Star Trek convention.” And they kind of snicker, having never gone themselves to any convention, by the way. So I knew that there was so much more to this. And the only way to really capture what I was seeing was to turn the cameras on the fans themselves and let the public in on who these people are and what it’s like at a convention.
That being said, you’re also making a film. So you’re going to seek out people who really bring an exciting sort of story out. You want the general population, but you want stars in this genre to kind of stand out. And so that’s what we did. The other thing we did along the way is we conferred a lot with Richard Arnold, who was Gene Roddenberry’s right-hand man and a historian for all things Star Trek. And we ran footage and ideas by him to get his view on how this or that would be perceived. Like, “Would this be offensive to anyone?” He was our kind of guide.
You are still connected to the fandom and still going to cons. So what do you see as the biggest changes and what’s the same since what we saw in Trekkies?
There’s certainly a lot more product. There is so much more Trek! There are three or four or five more series on now at the same time. There are so much more people watching. But what I’ve always loved is the generational sharing. It’s one of the few shows where many different ages can watch together and glean something from it. But the kind of experience you have going to a convention hasn’t really changed that much. People want to come and get their pictures taken or talk to you a little bit about the show. My favorite thing is always hearing from young women that are now adults, who were watching the character I played and really, something like a light bulb went off in their heads: “These things are possible for me… I can be a strong individual and succeed as a woman!” And that’s really pretty spectacular. Or they’ve gone into science. Like I’m going next weekend to the first Space Prize that’s being given. It’s a nonprofit foundation to encourage women and girls in high school to pursue careers in science and technology, engineering, arts, and math.
Being part of the launch of TNG you saw some of the first divisions between fans of the old and the new. Do you think things are the same today or has it become even more divisive?
You have to remember when we first were filming and we hadn’t aired any episodes yet, we had a lot of hostility aimed towards us. People for who this was their sacred cow. This show of Star Trek and Kirk and Spock and they just said this is not going to go over well. “You cannot do a next generation! This is this is sacrilegious!” And we, of course, as actors were just kind of scratching our heads. We have no idea what this was about or why this was so intense to people. So there’s always going to be that kind of argumentative kind of thing going on. Some people don’t like what J.J. Abrams did, other people love what he did. Some people are going to think Trekkies is making fun of the fans, other people go, “My god, we’re so grateful you did this movie.” It’s kind of inherent in what it is.
Have you kept up with the new shows? Like there is an animated comedy bringing back a lot of classic characters.
Just a little bit. I don’t follow it fully enough. I know that some people reached out to me with Lower Decks and they were talking about Armus and brought him back and people were really thrilled about that to get some righteous justice with him. I’ll check in with a couple of the actors if I can catch it. I love so many of the actors on the new shows that I’ve known personally and worked with, like Sonequa [Martin-Green]. I worked with her on The Walking Dead so when I was up in Toronto I came to visit the set. But there is so much, I couldn’t possibly watch it all.
You must have heard the news that they’re bringing your TNG co-stars back for the next season of Picard?
I did hear that, yes. Because people keep asking me if they’re going to have Sela back. But there are no plans for that. Certainly, if they ask, I’ll definitely do it, but I’ve never been asked.
Unfortunately, the season has been shot and that is the last season.
Oh, okay. Well then, that ship has sailed. I don’t really follow it, though. I have never seen Picard. I don’t watch much of it, to be honest.
I know you have talked about how you were miserable and that’s why you left TNG, so I understand if you don’t want to talk about it again. But now seeing this reunion, do you ever look back and wonder if you could have done something differently to make it work, maybe talk to Gene [Roddenberry]…
I did talk to Gene. And he said it’s never going to change. He said the show is going to focus on Picard, Data, and the first officer. “That’s what it did in The Original Series, and that’s what I want to do for this one.” He said, “I don’t want you to leave, but I get why you would want to leave.” It’s never going to be about the other characters. Once in a while, you’ll get a storyline. But TV was changing very much so in the ‘80s. When you had big casts, you had multiple storylines. Hill Street Blues was sort of the first kind of benchmark for that. And again, in the ’80s I was in drama school and nobody was aspiring to be on a TV show. You have to frame it in not this day and age. Now, television has the best storylines going on and great series, but in the ‘80s, television was where you went to because you couldn’t get a movie, or you couldn’t get a Broadway play.
So you have to really put it in context. The last thing I wanted was to stand around for seven years in that same position in that same suit going “Aye aye, Captain.” Right? It’s not what I went to drama school for, and that’s not what I dreamed of doing. I think you got to take your shot, whether it works or not, but owe it to yourself to do it. And what nobody could foresee, was that in the middle of the second or third season, Gene passed away and Michael Piller came on board and pretty much changed things around.
Right, now everyone gets an episode or two a season…
Yeah, or gets a storyline. I certainly didn’t want to be the star of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I wanted to have some sort of meat on the bone there.
Are you saying that if Michael Piller was running the show, you wouldn’t have left?
Oh, you can’t, who knows? I don’t know. I think it changed though when he came on board. So, I don’t know. For me, it was the right decision to do. Because I feel like I’ve continued. It’s like I never really left. I came back in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” I came back as another character entirely. I made Trekkies, I made Trekkies 2. So I kind of got the best of both worlds, really.
Speaking of Trekkies 2, can we expect an upcoming anniversary release of that in HD and Blu-ray from Shout! Factory?
Oh, let’s hope so. That would be wonderful! They’ve been so great and so supportive. We finally got to do what we had been waiting to do. We want the film back out on all the platforms and streaming and this beautiful new version. And I certainly would be very happy to have that happen.
And now for the obligatory Trekkies 3 question… Any chance that is going to happen?
[Laughs] Roger and I have some ideas and we would love to do it. We would certainly bring it into the present day. And there’s a lot still to cover. And we would check in on some our superheroes from the first one. So, fingers crossed, you will see that.
Do you have an angle on what you might focus on?
Again, we would let the fans you drive that. I’m curious about what you asked me about which was: What are the differences now? And kind of measure it against our own experience and our own film from 25 years ago, I’d also like to go to some places we haven’t been to like in Asia and India see what kind of Trek presence is there. And, again, I would like to revisit some of the people who stand out in the first movie.
Trekkies returns on Tuesday in HD
Trekkies: 25th Anniversary Edition will be released in HD on Blu-ray and Video on Demand on Tuesday, May 24th. The 25h anniversary edition is based on a new 4K scan restoration. The Blu-ray includes a new documentary featurette, “A Trek Back,” with the film’s narrator Denise Crosby and director Roger Nygard.
Trekkies features interviews with hundreds of fans, along with a number of notable Star Trek veterans including James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, Kate Mulgrew, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, Brent Spiner, and George Takei.
The Blu-ray can be ordered for $18.98 at ShoutFactory.com, or for $16.09 at Amazon. Starting Tuesday can buy a digital version for $16.99 or rent it for $4.99 via iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your digital media. It is expected to be eventually be released for streaming, but no date or details are available.
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