We’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.