The Movie Watcher’s Guide to Star Trek


An Introduction

It’s been more than 40 years since the original Star Trek series was on television, and about 15 since The Next Generation left the airwaves. Sure, there have been three other series (i.e., Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise), but it’s safe to say that with the upcoming release of J.J. Abrams’ re-imagined Star Trek movie that some people out there need to brush up on their Trek knowledge.

Consider this to be a Star Trek primer for newbies or those who haven’t watched much Trek recently. This isn’t for Trekkies, and it certainly isn’t for Trekkers. We won’t be detailing how to read a star date. We won’t be handing down schematics for a warp drive engine. And we certainly won’t be teaching you to speak Klingon. There’s plenty of other web sites for that.

And now, we shall boldly go where so many have gone before…

The Original Series: Roddenberry’s Dream

trek-kirkspock-tosIn the 1960s, television producer Gene Roddenberry developed a science fiction television show that was groundbreaking at the time. In interviews, Roddenberry described the series as a “Wagon Train to the stars,” and the now-familiar opening narration details the Enterprise’s mission to “explore strange, new worlds” and “seek out new life forms and new civilizations.”

The series established a future history of Earth in which humans developed warp drive (i.e., faster-than-light travel) on April 5, 2063. It was at this point that the Vulcans, a peaceful and highly developed race, made first contact with the Earthlings after detecting the warp signature. Over the ensuing years and under the guidance of the Vulcans and other races in the galaxy, the human race calmed down its violent nature and entered into an enlightened age. In the 22nd century, representatives from Earth joined with more than 150 worlds to form the United Federation of Planets.


Starfleet is the military arm of the United Federation of Planets. However, instead of existing for profit or conquest, Starfleet uses its technology to reach out to other civilizations in the galaxy. Starfleet vessels use matter and antimatter directed into dilithium crystals for power, and huge nacelles on the outside of the ships can then warp space, achieving faster-than-light speeds.

Cast of Characters

trek-trek-toscastJames T. Kirk (William Shatner), Captain – Kirk is the hot, young starship captain whose brash nature lands him in hot water with his superiors. He often joins his team on missions, leaving the ship in the charge of the highest ranking officer (usually Spock, but Scotty and even Chekov have been known to be interim captain). He’s also a womanizer who usually ends up making love to anything that has breasts – whether it’s human or not.

Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Science Officer – Born of a human mother and a Vulcan father, Spock is constantly struggling to keep his emotions buried deep inside. His Vulcan upbringing has taught him to rely on logic above all else, and he is often at odds with the hot-headed Dr. McCoy.

Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Chief Medical Officer – The emotional foil to Spock’s logical mind, Dr. McCoy generally hates space travel and the technology that he must endure to work on a Starfleet vessel. Dr. McCoy is best known for using a salt shaker to scan a person’s body for medical needs.

Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan), Chief Engineer – Scotty knows more about the U.S.S. Enterprise than anyone else in the universe, and he loves his ship dearly. In fact, he once got into a barroom brawl after a Klingon insulted his beloved starship. Scotty has the uncanny ability to work miracles in engineering, often saving the crew from certain doom by getting the dilithium crystals working or the warp drive back on line at the very last second.

Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Communications Officer – Hailing from the United States of Africa, Lt. Uhura is well-versed in many languages. Don’t let the miniskirt fool you. Her command of Starfleet communication is unparalleled.

Sulu (George Takei), Helmsman – Sulu pilots the Enterprise. He is an expert in fencing and ancient weaponry, although he usually just counts down the doom clock aloud as the Enterprise faces certain doom.

Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), Navigator – The young cub of the Enterprise crew, Chekov first showed up in the second season of the series. He’s just a teenager and has much to learn.

Key Species

trek-vulcanHumans – If you don’t know what a human is, you need serious help.

Vulcans – This race of beings honors logic above all other forms of impulse. As a species, Vulcans are incredibly proficient in science, and over the centuries they have become stoic leaders in the Federation. While they like to pretend they do not have emotions, they simply repress them. The only time it is considered appropriate for a Vulcan to show emotion is during pon farr, the male Vulcan’s version of going into heat which happens every seven years and precedes mating.

trek-romulansRomulans – Biologically very similar to Vulcans, these two species share a common ancestry. This species evolved when a rogue group of Vulcans left their home world, rejecting the teachings that called for them to purge all emotions. Eventually, they settled their own planet known as Romulus. Romulans are a bloodthirsty, warring race that went unnoticed to the Federation until the Enterprise encountered them during its initial five-year mission (in the episode “Balance of Terror”). The Romulans and Klingons once enjoyed a shaky truce during this period due to the fact the model of the Romulan Bird of Prey was broken in the studio. For budgetary reasons, the Romulans were then seen piloting Klingon vessels.

Klingons – The original bad guys of the Star Trek universe, the Klingons are an aggressive, savage race that respects honor the way the Vulcans respect logic.

The Original Captain

In the original pilot, the captain of the Enterprise was intended to be Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter). While Spock was in the show as the science officer, the second-in-command was a woman, played by Roddenberry’s future wife, Majel Barrett. After some meddling by the network, Star Trek was re-worked with Captain Kirk in charge. What was left of the pilot was edited into the two-part episode “The Menagerie,” giving Pike his lost and much deserved story.

Captain Kirk and the Prime Directive

Often, Captain Kirk bends or outright breaks the rules of the Federation, most importantly the Prime Directive, which states that no Federation representative is to interfere with the healthy development of cultures on other worlds. Even though Kirk is known in Starfleet as a rebel, when he breaks the rules it usually works out for the best.

Social Engineering – “I’m Giving It All I’ve Got, Captain!”

trek-roddenberryLike many science fiction writers before him, Roddenberry (pictured right) used Star Trek to examine social issues that people were facing in the 1960s. It was not uncommon to see thinly veiled allegories to racism, sexism and even socialism in the series. In fact, many will remember the classic episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” with Frank Gorshin in which two races whose only difference is the color of their faces fight an endless war.

Roddenberry continued to use his show as a way to discuss politics and other social issues, introducing the Russian character of Pavel Chekov after being criticized by Pravda for not representing the country who had pioneered space. Chekov became known as a symbol of peace between Russians and American during the Cold War.

Roddenberry also chose to make the symbol for the United Federation of Planets to emulate that of the United Nations, in order to further show his progressive thinking. The Federation’s charter also mirrors that of the United Nations.

And while everyone remembers that Kirk once banged a green chick, more importantly, actor William Shatner shared the first televised interracial kiss with Nichelle Nichols.

The Movies

trek-kahnStar Trek has come to the big screen ten times prior to J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the series. However, in order to not confuse you too much, we’ll just deal with the movies that featured the crew from the original series.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Robert Wise directed this uber-serious, effects-laden film in the inaugural trek to the big screen. The story finds the crew of the Enterprise is sent to investigate an electromagnetic cloud in space that is destroying ships. Although it made a profit and is respected by film buffs and Trek fans, its grim tone doesn’t quite fit in with the other films. Budget: $35 million; Domestic gross: $82 million; Worldwide gross: $139 million

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Considered by many to be the best Trek film to date, this second installment follows the superhuman Khan (originally seen in the episode “Space Seed” from the series). After being stranded on a barren world, Khan hijacks the enterprise and plans to take control of the Genesis device to use as a weapon against Starfleet. Budget: $11 million; Domestic gross: $79 million; Worldwide gross: $97 million

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – At the end of the last film, Spock died fixing the deadly radioactive leak in the Enterprise, and the crew ejected his body into space. When Spock’s father comes seeking his katra (i.e., his essence of mind), he soon learns that Spock had transferred this into Dr. McCoy’s mind. The crew of the Enterprise return to the Genesis planet to reunite Spock’s mind with his body, which has been regenerated. Budget: ?; Domestic gross: $76 million; Worldwide gross: ?

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – In the fourth installment, the Enterprise saves the whales! A mysterious probe has appeared in Earth’s atmosphere in the 23rd century, beaming a signal into the ocean and causing havoc on the planet’s communication and weather systems. The only chance for the planet’s survival is for the Enterprise to travel to the 20th century and bring soon-to-be-extinct humpback whales back to the future to communicate with the probe. Budget: $27 million; Domestic gross: $109 million; Worldwide gross: $133 million

trek-nicholsStar Trek V: The Final Frontier – After a very successful fourth film that was directed by Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner proceeded to rape the franchise with this utterly incomprehensible and nonsensical tale about Spock’s half brother looking for God at the end of the galaxy. Oh, and the 57-year-old Nichelle Nichols (pictured right) has a nude scene, so best avoid this one at all costs. Budget: $28 million; Domestic gross: $52 million; Worldwide gross: $70 million

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryWrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer gets back on board with this solid return to greatness of the series. When a planet-crushing explosion wipes out the Klingon mining moon of Praxis, the Klingon Empire faces extinction. It’s only hope of survival is to form a truce with the Federation. However, a rogue Klingon threatens to sabotage the truce, framing the Enterprise leadership in the process. Budget: $27 million; Domestic gross: $75 million; Worldwide gross: $97 million

Star Trek: Generations – Only partially about the original series, this inaugural film of The Next Generation finds a suspected dead Captain Kirk joining forces with Captain Picard to stop a madman from destroying civilized planets. Budget: $35 million; Domestic gross: $75 million; Worldwide gross: $118 million

How Things Have Changed

trek-abramsWith J.J. Abrams reaching for a brand new audience with his new film Star Trek, he has made several updates. First, there are no Klingons in this installment. The bad guys are the Romulans, although they don’t look very much like Vulcans, save the pointy ears.

Abrams has brought the essential characters back to their heyday in Starfleet. Spock seems to be the only respectable one while Kirk is a party animal and Uhura is way sexier than anyone ever remembers her from the show. As well, Abrams and writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci maintain a certain level of continuity with the original series — though if we wanted to give up those details, that would be spoiling the film. We can say this: It’s there, so just pay attention.

As well, as our reviews from Cole Abaius and Neil Miller have explained, Abrams might very well have gone where no Trek director has gone before, making a movie that is not only right with die hard fans, but could also be a major mainstream success. At least that is our logical conclusion. The rest is yet to be seen.

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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