Make it so

Trekkies–or “Trekkers,” for the purists!–this one is for you.  I was going to wait until Sunday for the next post; my plate is rather full from now until then.  But then my daughter-in-law sent me a link to an online article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I just had to write something.

The original Star Trek, with Captain Kirk and crew, only went three short years before it ran out of dilithium (I know, you have to be a fan to appreciate a remark like that), only later going on to achieve near cult status in syndicated reruns.  Looking back, it may seem like pretty primitive stuff by today’s science fiction standards, with people running around the galaxy sporting primary-color pajamas (I’m sorry, but even in the new movie franchise version, those uniforms look way out of place against that shiny new high-tech bridge) and a zap-first-ask-questions-later attitude.  But we have to remember that in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry had a hard time selling the series to network officials, because it was deemed too high-concept.  That’s part of the reason so much of the series was more like an intergalactic Western than true science fiction: it’s what the network thought would sell.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was cut from a different cloth.  Next to TNG, the sets of the original series look like they were constructed from recycled cardboard (and that was still light years beyond Lost in Space).  Over its seven-year run, TNG racked up an impressive number of technical achievement Emmys.  (You couldn’t say the same for Starfleet.  Throughout all the Star Trek spinoffs, they never seemed to be able to build a very rugged starship.  Anytime the ship got bumped around a bit, the control panels would explode and hurt people.  Imagine the ruckus if that happened in your Toyota.)

And Jean-Luc Picard was a serious captain, always my favorite.  (If you must know, my favorite episode is The Inner Light, from season 5.)  Maybe it’s because the series debuted just after I finished my doctorate, when I was getting my feet under me as an academic: Picard was the only captain that I could imagine being a seminary professor.

Except for one thing: Roddenberry’s universe was one in which even out to the furthest reaches of space, most interspecies problems could be solved by a firm adherence to liberal ideals.  That’s not to say that those ideals were necessarily misplaced–Picard was a far better diplomat than Kirk, who liked to blow things up to get people to deal with reality.  But this was a universe in which God was conspicuously absent, except when needed to pose a problem for the Prime Directive.

I suppose it could hardly be otherwise.  I still enjoy watching Star Trek reruns, exploding panels and all.  Some episodes are more thoughtful than others: they’re simply good stories, with well-drawn characters and imaginative human drama.  We can, I think, appreciate some of things such stories celebrate: courage, loyalty, honor, the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of one’s principles.

But let it also be said: we should be unfailingly glad to live in a universe in which omnipotent being doesn’t take the form of Q.  And that makes all the difference.