For all Star Trek fans, as we age, there comes a time when we want to pass on our love of the show to our kids. We can't wait to see their smiling faces as they discover the show that opened our minds and entertained us so many times. And then, for some, comes the disappointment as the kids yawn, get up from the couch, and go do something else. Crushed!
So with this in mind, we are delving into the episodes best suited for introducing your kids to the franchise. Of course you must tailor this to your kids' personalities and interests, but these are all pretty good bets, covering different age ranges, sensibilities, and concepts.
Some will be disappointed at not finding the classic original series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" here, but there's a method to our madness: while the tribbles are fluffy and the dialogue funny, it takes a while to build, and kids may lose interest before we get to the "fuzzy miserable things," as the Klingons called them. And to dissect it further, while those familiar with the show find it hilarious to see an exhausted Kirk complaining like a cranky old man, it's somewhat less enticing for the pint-sized newbie.
So here, with our good luck and blessings, are 17 Episodes To Get Your Kids Into Star Trek.
17 The Game (The Next Generation) - all ages
A perfect one for the Pokémon Go crowd, this entry from The Next Generation has a perfect combination of kid-friendly ingredients: a video game everyone gets hooked on, and a rescue by a couple of kids and an android.
Okay, they're not quite kids, but they're the young 'uns for sure. Wesley Crusher, now in Starfleet Academy, comes to the Enterprise for a visit and encounters Ensign Robin Lefler, played to perfection by Ashley Judd. While the rest of the crew slowly falls under the spell of a game Riker brought back from shore leave, Wesley and Robin hang out and start to fall for each other. When the crew won't let up on telling them to play the new game, they not only do some technological analysis and determine that it's addictive, but also manage a great job of pretending they're playing, just to get everyone off their backs. (This is a useful trick for non-drinkers at parties, too.)
In the end, they need Data to help pull off the ship-wide rescue, but they stop the ship from being taken over by Ktarians and save the adults from their own folly.
16 The Gamesters of Triskelion (The Original Series) - all ages
This one has everything: bright colors, crazy outfits, combat, romance, green hair, and a guy whose eyes glow. Wait! There are also pain collars, a society gone wrong, and noble acts of courage, as Kirk steps up and takes responsibility for his landing party, his crew, and eventually an entire planet. He also risks everything for a principle we can all get behind: the end of slavery.
Kirk, Chekov, and Uhura are abducted mid-transport and brought to a planet populated with beings from all over the galaxy. They are trained to fight, threatened with collars that inflict terrible pain, partnered up with other "thralls," and told they will be sold to the highest bidder.
The bidders are three colored brains in a dome, and Kirk talks them into the gamble of the century: single combat will determine if his crew will ALL become thralls, or if the brains will change their entire society, and teach the thralls to live independent, fulfilling lives. Guess who wins!
Little kids and pre-teens will love this one, and will be yelling "100 quatloos for the newcomer!" for years to come.
15 Captive Pursuit (Deep Space Nine) - all ages
"I am Tosk."
In this first season Deep Space Nine episode, we meet Tosk, the first new alien from the Gamma Quadrant to visit the space station. Tosk and O'Brien bond as they work on repairs toTosk's ship and hang out at Quark's, where Tosk tells them, "I live the greatest adventure one could ever desire." But when Odo catches him trying to get into a weapons locker, Tosk is put in a holding cell.
Tosk's "adventure" is that he is born and bred to be hunted, and when Hunters show up and find him captured, they promise him a life of humiliation, on public display. O'Brien feels his new friend's pain, and helps him escape to his ship where the chase can begin again.
Why it is good for kids? Tosk looks cool, his friendship with O'Brien is fun, and there's a lesson there, both about respecting people (species) who are different from you, and finding ways around the rules when you need to. The final dialogue says it all.
"Die with honor, O'Brien."
"Die with honor, Tosk."
14 Scientific Method (Voyager) - older kids
This would be too scary for little kids, but it's a brilliant Voyager episode and will keep pre-teens riveted from the teaser, when Tom and B'Elanna are making out and then we suddenly see their skeletons as if through an x-ray, as they are being scanned and analyzed. It gets creepier from there. Strange symptoms start popping up with the crew and nobody can figure it why until The Doctor, hiding on the holodeck in a particularly amusing outfit, adjusts Seven of Nine's cortical implant with a way to see what's really going on. And what's really going on is that aliens no one can see are all over the ship, conducting scientific experiments on the crew.
It's viscerally creepy (which kids of a certain age always love), and it also raises moral questions about doing scientific experiments on sentient beings. Plus the bravery of Seven of Nine when one of the aliens sticks a probe in her and she has to pretend she doesn't see her is both terrifying and inspiring.
13 Infinite Regress (VOY) - age 9 and up
Jeri Ryan shines in this one, brilliantly juggling a slew of different personalities, from a raging, hormonal Klingon to a playful child. The story begins with Naomi ("sub-unit of Ensign Samantha Wildman") stalking Seven, wanting to learn how to become perfect like she is, so she can become the Captain's Assistant. Seven agrees to assist.
Seven suddenly starts exhibiting the personalities of different beings from all over the galaxy. One minute she's biting B'Elanna in a mating ritual, the next she's skipping through the hallways with Naomi. She’s a greedy Ferengi, then a logical Vulcan, then a terrified child. While it's fun to watch, things get dark soon enough, as Seven and Tuvok, via mindmeld, encounter and struggle against the personalities of people long gone, taken by the Borg, and assimilated, personally, by Seven when she was a drone. Seven's guilt over her actions and her memories of the terror of her victims may be too intense for younger, more sensitive kids.
In the end, Seven learns that the crew has made great sacrifices to save her, and she and Naomi find the beginnings of a friendship that will last (and entertain) throughout the series.
12 True Q (TNG) - all ages
You can't do a list of Star Trek episodes without putting some Q into the mix. It's a tough choice, picking just one, but this has the added bonus of Oliva d'Abo as Amanda, an intern aboard the Enterprise who learns, to her great surprise, that she's a Q.
Q himself is in fine form in this one, dripping with sarcasm, but showing Amanda the fun she can have if she uses her powers; a game of hide and seek that takes them to the outer surface of the ship and puts him waving at her from inside the warp core. He turns Doctor Crusher into a dog, and greets Riker, who Amanda has a crush on, with "Well, if it isn't Number Two." He calls Riker poop! What kid wouldn't like that?
Later, Amanda whisks Riker away, tries to force him to return her affections, but finds the experience empty. The romantics among the kids will identify with her completely, and then agree with her decision to explore her Q-ness and leave humanity behind ... on her own terms.
11 Yesteryear (The Animated Series) - little kids
We had to throw an animated series episode in here, but the quality of the animation alone is likely to discourage older kids from sitting through it. Despite legions of animated series aficionados, and some excellent writers behind the scripts, episodes occasionally feel like more of a parody than the real thing. But it has its appeal.
In "Yesteryear," written by Star Trek vet D.C. Fontana, a return trip to the Guardian of Forever erases Spock's existence, and no one but Kirk recognizes him. Spock uses the Guardian to travel back to his own history, pretending to be his cousin Selek and befriending young Spock, who is a bullied, confused kid. When Spock goes on a dangerous excursion as part of a Vulcan ritual, "Selek" goes after him, and eventually saves his life, restoring the timeline despite the fact that not everything has gone as it once did; he loses his beloved pet sehlat. But he helps guide a young Spock towards the Vulcan lifestyle, and thanks to his intervention, his mother's life is saved as well. Kids will love the gentleness of the ferocious-looking pet, and the idea that you can alter your own history.
10 Second Chances (TNG) - older kids
This is a great high-concept story for pre-teens, who love a good meaty premise to wrap their heads around. Sliding Doors may have gotten famous for its "what if my life changed at this moment" concept but "Second Chances" aired five years before that movie came out.
The Enterprise returns to a planet Riker visited 8 years earlier as part of another mission, and discovers his identical twin. The transporter --always the culprit!-- doubled him, sending one Riker back up to his ship and keeping one on the surface. The premise raises so many questions about what makes us who we are, and since most adolescent kids are struggling with that very question, perhaps for the first time (but definitely not the last), it makes for a thoughtful post-episode talk. There's the morality of what to do with the second Riker (who takes the name Thomas), the slight differences in personality due to their vastly different experiences, and the choices they make. A great intro to what makes Star Trek special; the exploration of ideas.
9 Move Along Home (DS9) - all ages
This is a much-disparaged episode of Deep Space Nine. It aired early in the first season, and at first seemed to indicate a possible set-up for the show in general: since the station is next to a stable wormhole, every week a new alien would pop out and the story would begin. That didn't end up being the way the show worked, but since later seasons evolved into a dark, continuing storyline about the Dominion War, those episodes are a harder sell for a kid who's getting his or her first exposure to the show.
Aliens arrive, get cheated by Quark, and get even by forcing him to play a game in which his players turn out to be Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Bashir. While Quark crumbles under the responsibility, we watch the four of them travel through the game as they solve puzzles, chant rhymes, face danger and frustration, and make their way through a confusing series of challenges. It's a great way to learn about our still-new characters, engage kids in a backstory-free concept, and get them chanting "Allamaraine," if that's your thing.
8 Macrocosm (VOY) - older kids
This one's for the older set, as it's much too disturbing for younger kids. Janeway and Neelix return from an away mission to find the ship dark, the crew missing, and giant germs flying through the corridors. For the kids who like a little scare and a bit of gross factor, they'll see little bugs flying out of Chakotay's neck, and Janeway, in full-on badass mode, grappling with one of the creatures (which are super creepy by the way), and then stabbing it to death. It's sort of like Alien light, without all the deaths and gore, because Captain Janeway saves everybody.
The whole episode is a perfect way to show off how our compassionate Captain can get tougher than anyone else when she needs to, save the ship, and defeat the monster. There are some talky moments when the Doctor explains what happened that set the germs loose on the ship, so it's not all action, but it should be a great one to show kids who like a bit of a horror movie vibe. And in the end, Janeway gives Ripley a run for her money.
7 Yesterday's Enterprise (TNG) - 9 and up
A first class Next Generation episode, "Yesterday's Enterprise" visits an alternate timeline in which Tasha Yar never died, and the Federation is at war--and it's losing. Only Guinan knows something has gone awry, and she has to convince Captain Picard to trust her vague "something's not right" instinct over the evidence in front of him. She's especially jittery around Yar, since restoring the timeline means Yar won't be in it.
Yar figures out, from Guinan's reaction, that her destiny was to die. A ship has emerged from the past and the Enterprise must send it back, so she asks for a transfer so she can go down fighting this time, since she knows she doesn't have a future with the Enterprise anyway. Reluctantly, Picard agrees, and it would have been a great send-off for her had she not been captured by Romulans. But that's another story, and another episode.
Older kids will like seeing the darker side of Star Trek, and the moral conundrum of sending a ship back into battle when you know it's going to lose, for the sake of history.
6 Disaster (TNG) - younger kids
Kids will like this one because there are kids in it, and adults will like it because the crew gets separated and each character gets a chance to shine. Captain Picard is taking three young science fair winners to the astrometrics lab when the ship is disabled by a quantum filament. Communication is cut off, as are all the turbolifts, which is especially problematic since Picard and his three charges are stuck in one of them.
Crusher and La Forge are in a cargo bay trying to prevent an explosion, Ro and O'Brien are on the bridge advising Troi in her first command, Riker ends up traveling through the ship's crawlways with Data's head, Keiko goes into labor in Ten Forward with Worf at her side, and Picard turns the kids into his officers, handing out pips from his collar and getting them to climb the ladder out of the damaged turbolift before it crashes.
Be warned: there's a slightly gory death at the beginning, and we do see the baby with the cord attached when Worf delivers her. (Welcome, Molly O'Brien!)
5 Cost of Living (TNG) - younger kids
"Cost of Living" takes two of Star Trek's more annoying characters, pairs them up, and makes them both sympathetic and compelling. Lwaxana Troi can be a bit much, sometimes, and Alexander, son of Worf, can be a brat (and still sort of is), but this episode makes us sympathize with both of them, and Majel Barrett gives a particularly nuanced performance.
Lwaxana and Alexander do visit a particularly annoying holodeck program, where they encounter various creatures that you kind of want to punch in the face (and Worf eventually does). But it doesn't matter: kids will enjoy this one and adults will too, in spite of themselves. The b-story about danger to the ship takes a back seat, with the focus on soon-to-be-married Lwaxana, and the father-son struggles of Worf and Alexander. When Lwaxana and Alexander start escaping to the holodeck--and, significantly, away from everyone else--you don't blame them one bit. It's an episode about dreams and compromise, responsibility and friendship, and also gives us some amusing bonus moments, like sausage tea (which Lwaxana still drinks!), Lwaxana calling Worf "Mister Woof," and, for the win, Worf in a mud bath.
4 Shore Leave (TOS) - all ages
The crew beams down to a planet for shore leave, and McCoy, taken with the lush, green environment, starts thinking about "Alice in Wonderland." Next thing you know, he's confronted with a white rabbit who's running late, followed by a little girl who asks where he went. From there, more members of the landing party find their thoughts coming to life, and while some are harmless enough, like Kirk's (oddly boring) old flame and Academy tormentor Finnegan, others are not: they encounter a lecherous Don Juan, a samurai warrior, a Japanese fighter plane, and a hungry tiger.
It's a fun one all around, especially when we learn that the planet is really a giant amusement park for advanced beings--like a much happier Westworld--and none of the dangers can harm anyone permanently. We want to go to there.
3 The Best of Both Worlds (TNG) - older kids
For kids who are already going to big screen movies and aren't easily scared, this will make them want to watch every other episode of TNG; it's just that good. Also, they won't have to wait all summer for the conclusion of the two-parter, like the rest of us did when it first aired in 1990.
It's sci-fi at its smartest, but never dull, as the Borg finally reach Federation space and the battle begins. The stakes are global, as they start destroying Starfleet's finest ships and threaten to assimilate everyone, then get deeply personal when they abduct Captain Picard and transform him into Locutus. The single tear we see fall from Jean-Luc Picard's eye during his transformation reveals both that he is still in there, and that resistance is futile.
While the Borg now have all of Picard's knowledge, he also now has theirs, so the Enterprise crew gets him back and uses his insight, with help from a wired-in Data, to defeat the Borg. The losses are great, but the Federation triumphs, and kids who love a good sci-fi story will be on the edge of their seats.
2 I, Mudd (TOS) - all ages
This is high on the list because it's full of silly fun. Our normally serious crew is suddenly forced to put on a show to save themselves from becoming the docile pets of thousands of androids, who are planning to take their ship, zoom over to Earth, and domesticate humanity. It doesn't really sound that bad, but the crew is having none of it.
The only way to foil the androids is by being wacky, so they ham it up. Scotty and McCoy play imaginary instruments while Uhura and Chekov dance. Scotty pretends to die from too much happiness and Kirk delivers a silly soliloquy with his foot perched on Scotty's "dead" body. Even Spock gets in on the action with an invisible bomb, and declarations of love, then hate for identical androids. Being illogical wins the day, helped along by Spock's words of wisdom. "Logic is a little tweeting bird, chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers that smell bad."
There's nothing scary here, either. Even the "danger" isn't particularly threatening, and there are lots of laughs.
1 Rascals - all ages, but especially little kids
"Rascals" is 100% guaranteed to win over younger kids, which is why it's at the top of the list. In a transporter accident that, like pretty much all transporter accidents, makes no scientific sense whatsoever, four crew members--Picard, Ro, Keiko, and Guinan--are transformed into children. This was a script nobody wanted to do, and marked Adam Nimoy's (son of Leonard) directing debut. Ignore the haters, because it's a great episode once you get past the initial premise. The casting is impeccable; it's almost as if they really did transform these adults into the kids they once were. David Tristan Birkin (young Jean-Luc) played Picard's nephew Renee in an earlier episode, and Isis J. Jones, who played kid Guinan, also appeared as a young Deloris in Whoopi Goldberg's Sister Act that same year.
The kids end up saving the ship, and they do it by BEING kids: they use toys and sneak around to get a step ahead of the Ferengi who have taken over the ship, and Picard gets some one-on-one time with Riker by pretending he's his son. "He's my number one Dad!" he says, adding an embrace, after accidentally referring to him as Number One in front of their captors. Ro learns to appreciate childhood for the first time, and stalls re-entry into adulthood by drawing pictures with grown-up-again Guinan. A perfect intro for the under-10 crowd.
The newest series in the franchise, Star Trek: Discovery, is scheduled to premiere on CBS later this year.