Trek 50 – Star Trek Continues and the Future of the Franchise

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trek-50While we all enjoy the original 79 episodes, the animated series and six feature films, there have actually been more adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise. No, I’m not referring to the novels or various comic book runs. I’m talking about Star Trek fan films and they date back as far as the 1970s. Yes, the future is indeed now and Captain Kirk is very much alive.

To be fair, it really wasn’t until the last 15 years or so that fan films reached a level that they could be considered close to mainstream and were worth watching as well as being easily accessible. Starship Exeter was one of the pioneers in 2002, quickly followed by Star Trek: New Voyages in 2004. However, for this long-time Trekkie, the best and most enjoyable has been Star Trek Continues.

stc-ep-7Vic Mignogna is in the captain’s chair for this production, being involved with the writing, directing and, perhaps most importantly, playing none other than Captain James T. Kirk. Now, nobody can do Kirk like William Shatner, which is why Mignogna does not do a Shatner impersonation. He is tackling the role in his own way, paying homage to Shatner at times while bringing his own unique style to the role. He easily surpasses other actors like James Cawley and, most recently, Brian Gross, in that other fan series, Star Trek: New Voyages. In my opinion, Mignogna set the ship on the right course directly out of space dock.

Mignogna’s supporting cast can be a little bit of a mixed offering. Todd Haberkorn is good as Spock but he’s definitely no Leonard Nimoy (or Zachary Quinto for that matter). Chuck Huber’s Dr. McCoy is enjoyable as he channels some DeForest Kelley while putting his spin on the role. However, it’s the brilliant casting of Chris Doohan, the real-life son of the late James Doohan, in the role of Scotty that puts this series on a different level from the others. Add to that new cast member Michele Specht as Dr. Elise McKennah, the first ships counselor, and guest stars such as Erin Gray (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) and Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica). We’ve even been graced with the presence of Michael Forest returning in the role of Apollo (“Who Mourns for Adonais?”) at the age of 83 in the first episode, “Pilgrim of Eternity.”

stc-apolloAfter three pilot vignettes in 2012, Star Trek Continues has released seven episodes in little more than three years. All are written in the style of the original series, with brilliantly recreated sets, lighting and even the acting done in a manner so as to recreate the feel of the original series. Unlike other fan series that have tried to modernize their shows ever so slightly, Mignogna is treating Star Trek Continues as a true continuation of the original. For this Trekkie, it’s definitely what the doctor ordered.

stc-lolaniI met Vic Mignogna at Planet Comicon this past May. He stated that his original goal was to do a complete season of 13 episodes. However, in light of the recent lawsuit between CBS/Paramount and Alec Peters of Prelude to Axanar fame, he thought it was looking more like 10. Shortly after that, CBS/Paramount released their guidelines for fan films and it appears that it could mean the end of Star Trek Continues with the recent seventh episode. However, there are always possibilities. Star Trek Continues is the only official non-profit production, which may very well be its’ saving grace as Mignogna continues to work behind the scenes. Whatever happens, Star Trek Continues is still alive at the moment, with seven complete episodes to entertain.

star-trek-discoveryAll eyes are now on the future. On the big screen, we’re three films into the JJ Abrams universe. This past summer’s flick, Star Trek Beyond, didn’t do as well at the box office, leaving some to question whether or not a fourth film will now happen. Perhaps Trekkies have spoken and want a return to the original universe. They’ll apparently get that with next year’s Star Trek Discovery. CBS All Access brings Trek back to the small screen in May 2017. We know very little at this point but there are countless speculations online. I have chosen to wait and read the official announcements as it gets closer. But I am very interested.

For now, go to YouTube and check out the Star Trek Continues website to enjoy the complete series with more adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and all the rest. Oh sure, there are some flaws every now and then. However, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the human adventure is indeed continuing.stc-cast

Trek 50 – The Day My Wife Met Captain Picard

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trek-50It’s no secret that like many wives, Geri tolerated my hobbies. My constantly growing movie collection baffled her and for many years, she just shook her head at Doctor Who. Yet, as time passed, she was either assimilated or I wore her down, still not sure which. But the day I knew she had truly come to the dark side was the day she met Patrick Stewart and Dean Cain.

Now Geri had traveled with me down to Trek Expo on several trips. She loved meeting Yvonne Craig and getting a Batgirl autograph for Joey. She was impressed when Avery Brooks complimented me on my “wonderful family” as we got his autograph in a very long line. But it was our trip to Mega Con in Florida in 2013 where I saw someone who truly fit in with the rest of us nerds.

The entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation was there that day. It was Geri who encouraged me to get a cast photo signed by everyone, stating “When will everyone be together like this again?” The biggest guest was Patrick Stewart and I had wondered how talkative he might be whenever I finally got up in line (which took hours, the longest I’ve ever waited). Geri and I would take turns checking everything out, which is how she found the Earth-2 Justice Society artwork that graces my office wall, framed to her specifications. She would always spoil me with items I’d never ask for myself, such as the Deep Space Nine framed and autographed poster that now graces a living room wall. Yet, it was at Mega Con where she embraced her inner nerd in ways that made my heart sing.

geri-dean-cainAs we finally met Patrick Stewart and got his autograph, he smiled at me, I smiled back and said thank you. Short and sweet. But Geri? She started up a conversation about how we were there for marching band with our children. He was excited as he loved music and wanted to know more. I stood by with my jaw hanging on the floor as she was having a moment with Captain Picard. My second of jealousy turned to envy before I started to smile from ear to ear. And she was beyond excited.

And what happened while I was waiting in line and she just left on one of her trips around the convention floor? She had another moment. We used to love to watch Lois and Clark back in the day. Geri loved Dean Cain and he was there as well. She got in line and not only paid for an autograph, she got a picture with him and a big hug. I witnessed this from afar. Superman was hugging my wife! And she wouldn’t stop grinning!

Geri would never stop amazing me. She loved the Marvel movies and, after we moved to Kansas City, she became a big fan of all of the TV shows, good and bad. I miss my best friend more than words will ever come close to accurately describing. But I smile so easily remembering all of the fantastic times we had together. Love you and miss you so very much Geri!megacon

Trek 50 – My Dad and Our Times at Trek Expo

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trek-50On September 20, my dad would have been 85 years old. As you all know, my dad passed away back on February 17. His passing was the start of what has been a very rough year for our family. Yet, his passing is also one of celebration, for an amazing life he had, the lives he touched and for the inner child that very few saw. However, I saw that side and we connected on many things, one of which was Star Trek.

My dad really was a Trekkie at heart. Whenever he would hear news about William Shatner or read an article about Leonard Nimoy, he would call me. Most of the time, it was something I already knew but I never let on. God, how I miss those random calls. To most people, my dad was a business man or a deacon. They can never imagine him ever going to a Star Trek convention but he did. Now, on the surface he attended because he loved spending the day with me after so many years of us disagreeing on meaningless topics like religion and money. I say meaningless because in the end, those arguments never resolved anything and as we both grew older and wiser, the points we were trying to make faded away. But Star Trek was always the one constant that kept us connected.

trek-expo-98In 1998, my dad and I attended our first Trek Expo in Tulsa. We were both excited to see William Shatner in person. He was funny and entertaining but no autographs that year as the money tree needed a few more branches. We would attend together again a couple of years later with my son but it was the last four years, 2009 – 2012, that meant the most. We had the routine down to an art. I would go on Friday afternoon by myself, get some autographs and a lay of the land. Then, we’d both return on Saturday after having lunch together somewhere close by. Sadly, it was the only time of the year we’d ever do that due to distance and a crazy schedule on my part. I regret that but cherish those trips.

My dad would always get into Trek Expo for free because he proudly wore his Marine Corps hat and veterans were admitted for free. My dad always loved seeing the old stars he remembered, like Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar and especially Anne Francis. He loved when Leonard Nimoy came back and Shatner too. When the “old guys” hit the stage, Dad loved hearing their stories. He loved seeing all of the stuff and it was fun to see him get shocked at some of the costumes, the slave girl Leia in particular. And I fondly remember embarrassing him when Chase Masterson and I were innocently flirting with each other. I turned around and he was gone, shaking his head with a smile on his face.

dad-and-iThe last year we attended was also the last year for Trek Expo. The organizer died in 2011 and by 2012, the event had moved to a small hotel with no room and hardly any vendors or attendance. The following year, the event was canceled and probably for the best. My Mom and Dad had moved back to Kansas, making Dad’s attendance logistically impossible.

I still love attending conventions but I’d give anything for a trip back to a Trek Expo with my dad. It was a time for us to just to be kids, something my Dad never did very often. Whether it was playing on the ground with my Mego action figures, listening to the latest Power Records selection or watching Star Trek on a Saturday afternoon, my Dad was the coolest. He taught me to be a great father. I miss you Dad!

Trek 50 – The Star Trek Anniversary Specials

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trek-50We’ve all seen a special on Star Trek…or two or twelve. There are interviews with familiar faces, the same stories told from different perspectives and, over time, from an aging and, sadly, disappearing cast and crew. In this 50th anniversary year, let’s take a look back at the some of the more well-known efforts from decades past to the present.

Leonard Nimoy: Star Trek Memories (1983)

This documentary is a rarity and quite unique. It was made in 1983 at channel 56 WLVI, then known as “Boston’s Star Trek Station.” Star Trek was a ratings success for the station and, as legend has it, Leonard Nimoy came up with the idea for the special. Running at about 50 minutes long, it covers Star Trek’s history up to that point, hinting at Spock’s possible return in the next film to be released the following year, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Essentially, this is a locally made show looking every bit of its’ non-budget. With Nimoy against an obvious green screen, there is a measure of charm. The clips certainly look a bit worn and rough, which is to be expected considering this was made prior to the 80s remastering of episodes and many TV stations were still using the worn-out original film prints. Still, fun for the time it was made, if not a bit dated. Available on YouTube.

star-trek-25Star Trek’s 25th Anniversary Special (1991)

This was the first big anniversary special and it still holds up rather well. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy host a look at both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Oddly enough, they rarely interact with each other. It comes across as a bit of a fluff piece and there is a certain amount of filler, such as the segment on LeVar Burton’s trip to NASA. When this originally aired, it was also paired with a top ten favorite episodes countdown hosted alternately by Shatner and Nimoy. I have vivid memories of watching this after my wife and I traveled the city collecting the 25th anniversary trading card set, which I still own. Available on VHS and YouTube.

st-memoriesWilliam Shatner’s Star Trek Memories (1995)

I think this is the glossiest and most enduring of all of the specials. It focuses on the original series entirely with great interviews. It really offers nothing new if you’ve been a lifelong Trekkie but it’s all done in a nice package. Sure, with Shatner hosting his ego is clearly on display. But ego aside, it’s a great opportunity to hear from those we’ve welcomed into our homes for years. It’s also great to see familiar faces long gone. Available on VHS and YouTube.

trek-30Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond (1996)

This is essentially a two-hour star-studded celebrity celebration that has high and low moments. Some are cringe worthy (Ted Danson being unable to say Bajoran or Joan Collins claiming to have been a Star Trek fan) while others are just painful (the camera focusing too much on Kenny G playing while the segment was supposed to be on special effects or the opera singer doing a rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine). Yet, there are some funny moments (Ben Stiller, when he was a rising star, singing from “The Way to Eden” or the Voyager/Frasier mash-up). Safe to say, it was the largest gathering of Star Trek stars ever. So great yet so sad to see those we’ve lost, especially James Doohan and DeForest Kelley. Worth a watch at least once as it definitely feels special, if not a little cheesy at times. Available on VHS and YouTube.

star-trek-4040 Years of Star Trek (2006)

This is the worst of the lot. Made by the Canadian version of SyFy, the Space channel, and hosted by Jonathan Llyr, the 45-minute special really offers nothing new. I liked some of the musical choices and there are a few different interviews but the annoying background music tends to drown out what the cast and crew are saying. Then, there are the poor production values on the Llyr segments, which are sadly quite laughable. It’s available on YouTube but this one is a bit of a pass for me.

shatner-nimoy-whitney50 years of Star Trek (2016)

CBS/Paramount dropped the ball in this 50th anniversary year. You would think with a new movie in the theaters and a new television series just months away, they would have pulled out all the stops. Sadly, we’ve been given nothing in the way of an anniversary special from the studio that holds the rights. So, the History Channel did their own. Now, I enjoyed this for the most part but some of their choices for interviews were odd. And, unfortunately, they apparently didn’t want to pay for the music rights, so we’re left with some cheap rip-off theme. The disclaimer at the beginning makes it pretty obvious they were on their own with no official approval. This is still available online for only a few more days as of this writing but it will apparently be released on DVD only on November 1. Not bad but we should have been given more.

trek-wallpaper-02-1-1280x686Building Star Trek (2016)

An honorable mention has to go to this new Smithsonian Channel special, which is a fun behind-the-scenes look at the restoration of the USS Enterprise model as well as a race to get original props for an exhibit in Seattle. There is also a look at how current technology is based on ideas originated by Gene Roddenberry and his crew 50 years ago. Well worth watching and probably the most entertaining “anniversary” special we’re going to get this year. It’s currently available on YouTube.