Hollywood is chock full of mega franchises, but few are as enduring and popular as Star Trek. Launched in 1966, the brand has become one of the most iconic in the sci-fi genre thanks to its collections of memorable characters and thrilling stories of exploring the final frontier and going boldly where no one has gone before. With multiple TV series, several feature films, and a presence in many other forms of media, everyone has their favorite iteration of Star Trek and it’s hard to see the property falling out of the zeitgeist any time soon.
Whenever a franchise that’s still going strong approaches a milestone such as a 50th anniversary, there are those who are wondering why it was able to remain at the forefront for so long, when its competitors fell off relatively quickly. As one might expect, it’s something that the original Captain Kirk (William Shatner) has been asked about frequently, and he had some interesting thoughts on the matter during San Diego Comic-Con 2015.
During a panel Thursday to promote the upcoming book “An Autobiography of James T. Kirk”, Shatner addressed the notion of Star Trek approaching the big 5-0. According to him, the reason why it’s still so beloved isn’t because of the show itself or the actors. The fans and the community they’ve created over the last five decades is what made Star Trek what it is today:
“When asked that question all through the years, I would reply that it was the quality of the show, the writing. Maybe it was me. And then I began to examine it more closely. I wrote a book called ‘Get a Life.’ I examined the audience. I began to understand that people came to conventions to see each other. There was a community there. And then I did a documentary and I came to understand that people go to science-fiction cons because there’s a mythology involved. And science-fiction has a mythological component to it in which it’s placed in the future and obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen. The writers seek to give you an answer and that answer may please you or not. But if it does, you subscribe to it and you begin to honor it, and now it becomes part of your mythology.”
It’s a very interesting and thoughtful response to consider. Shatner does make an excellent point that the passion the fans have for the material is the biggest reason why something like this can go on for so long. Arguably, that’s more important than the actual quality of the product. Yes, Star Trek wouldn’t have been able to acquire that loyal fan base if the Original Series wasn’t great, so that’s not to say good writing isn’t pertinent. However, the fans’ dedication to the brand is what can help it get through the dark times. After the failure of Star Trek: Nemesis, Paramount wouldn’t have been willing to green light J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot if they weren’t confident that the fans would be there to support it.
Part of the reason why stuff like Star Trek resonates with so many people is due to that mythology Shatner’s talking about. Sci-fi works, be they Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything in between have a component of escapism to them that allows viewers to be transported to awe-inspiring new worlds with fascinating creatures and cultures to explore. Everyone dreams of being an astronaut, so there’s an undeniable appeal to shows and movies like this that allow us to live vicariously through characters like Captain Kirk and go to the far corners of the universe.
Regardless of the quality of the various Star Trek programs, the premise and mythology has always been strong to warrant more adventures and keep interest high. Hopefully next year’s Star Trek Beyond will be one of the better ones and the franchise can continue to live long and prosper.
Star Trek Beyond will be in theaters July 8, 2016.