“It was only when I got older and more mature that I began to appreciate the depth and the intellectual side of ‘Star Trek,'” says Roddenberry, who was 17 when his father, Gene, died.
Such an idealistic worldview can be a resounding sell-out to today’s audiences, plagued by hateful politics, violence, war, and dreadful warnings about a rapidly warming planet. But that’s a change that Roddenberry, an executive producer with the new show, welcomes.
“It’s going to go back to the formatting of the original series. It’s the kind of thing we have to go out to give ourselves hope,” he adds. “I understand that this is just a TV show, but it inspires countless people to live a better life.”
What we can expect in the new series
“Our Uhura is young. She starts as a cadet,” Goldsman says. “Where does she come from? What decisions did she make to allow her to be in the Navy and become the heroine we know she is?”
Another big change is in the captain’s chair. The character of Captain Pike is very different from Kirk, Goldsman says.
“Jim Kirk is a young boy’s fantasy about a ‘Star Trek’ captain,” says Goldsman. “He is brash, impulsive – he knows the rules but does not follow them. He is a girl. Pike is a thoughtful man with sense who creates consensus.”
In contrast, subsequent versions of the show, such as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” contained some characters who were morally compromised or sometimes made decisions that were at odds with their values.
“I’m looking for the original series with a budget for the 21st century,” says Robinson. “If they can combine sophisticated stories with beautiful special effects and 1960s ‘Right Stuff’ energetic storytelling, then I’ll be over the moon.”
Why hopeful storytelling is never outdated
One of the unspoken questions in the new series is one you will not see on many of the series’ discussion forums: Will Star Trek’s optimism and emphasis on inclusivity feel outdated in today’s cynical world?
It’s hard to have faith in humanity by looking at news headlines. Racial, ethnic, and political divisions seem as deep as the outer realms of space itself.
Then again, feel-good, inclusive TV series like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Ted Lasso” found a large audience in the pandemic, a trend many attribute to audiences starving for hopeful stories.
“Dark times require hopeful storytelling,” Goldsman says. “Optimism and faith in a better future are necessary for many of us.”
Goldsman says it’s a myth that the original “Star Trek” was sent in a gentler era that was very different from ours. He cites 1968 as an example.
“We were at war,” he says of US involvement in Vietnam. “The civil rights movement was still in its own intense moment of conflict. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed, not to mention the looming nuclear threat. The country was quite fractional. The ’60s were a tumultuous time.”
“The Star Trek’s futuristic world allowed it to solve some of the most explosive questions of that era in a way that no other series could,” says author Robinson. The composition of the Enterprise crew was in itself a call for tolerance, he says.
“It’s metaphorical storytelling that allows you to take science and imagination to look at your own community,” Robinson says. “He [Roddenberry Sr.] talked about race by having a Vulcan instead of a black guy. ”
The ‘restless soul’ of ‘Star Trek’s creates
It’s a minor miracle that Star Trek’s creator was so hopeful about humanity. He saw and experienced so much tragedy during his life. Roddenberry Sr. was born in El Paso, Texas, and died almost as a small child when his house caught fire. A passing milkman rescued him.
And yet Roddenberry imagined a compassionate and harmonious world of the future that was very different from the one he lived in.
How can someone who has seen so much tragedy be so optimistic?
Robinson, the author, pointed to a quote from musician John Lennon.
“Lennon said the reason I continue with peace and love so much is that I’m really angry,” he says. “Maybe you’re looking for what you need yourself. Gene was definitely a troubled soul.”
Roddenberry converted his pain into a vision of the future that still inspires millions more than 50 years later. Phrases like “Live long and prosper”, “Beam me up, Scotty” and “warp drive” are now part of popular culture.
And so is the “Star Treks” humane message that lives on in the new show.
“If people say, ‘Why does’ Star Trek’ still exist?”, I’ll tell you why, “says Roddenberry Jr.” It’s because it’s the idea of appreciating all the things that are different and not just tolerating them and that these are the differences we are going to grow from. “
The response to “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” will reveal whether that vision still resonates with humans, or whether the barriers to cynicism and hatred are now too high for even the USS Enterprise to rule through.