Did Star Trek Change Your Life?

Illustration for article titled Did Star Trek Change Your Life?

Fans get so passionate about how JJ Abrams has changed Star Trek because oftentimes Star Trek has changed our lives in some way. Why is this franchise so life-transforming while others are not?


Rarely do you hear people saying that The Simpsons changed their lives, even though it is a long-running franchise. And you don't see people getting teared up as they remember the first time they saw Terminator, even though that franchise hasn't quit since the early 1980s. Why does Star Trek stay with people as a source of personal inspiration?

I can't speak for everyone, but I will offer a personal confession. I grew up without a television set in my house, so I was never exposed to the original Star Trek series except through the movies. Which I saw, and liked, but they didn't deliver any soul-stirring moments of revelation. But then I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with a group of friends right after college. It was the third season, when things really got good on the show, and I was drawn in absolutely.


It was a tough time for me when I started following the adventures of Picard and crew. I had just begun a really difficult course of study in graduate school, and I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to be doing with my life. I'd always had a rocky relationship with my family, to put it mildly, and I'd finally had the nerve to kick them out of my life for good. So I was trying to deal with those giant questions in life, like "Who am I?" and "What is my quest?" Most especially, I was trying to find friends who would treat me better than my family had.

I guess I was looking for models of community, and that's why Star Trek: The Next Generation lodged itself so deeply in my heart. I wanted to believe in a world where people who weren't family cared for each other, the way the Enterprise crew did. I wanted to think that the future would bring me adventures that weren't always just about smashing things up, but sometimes dealt with rather bookish topics like ethics and geopolitics. I'm a little embarrassed to admit how closely I studied the behavior of the crew and tried to imitate them in my new life as a grownup. I loved how they were very professional and rational, despite their strong emotional ties. When they were upset, the answer was always "do the work" or "solve the problem," not "mope endlessly." I can't tell you how many times I've told myself "do the work" when all I wanted to do was cry. And it's always helped me get through tough things.

I did find a few friends through Star Trek. One of my best friends for many years was a major Trek fan whom I met the year I discovered TNG. But it wasn't like I found a fan community who became my new family. It was more that Star Trek helped me imagine how I wanted my friendships to be, and then I found those friends in the usual places: In school, at work, at my volunteer job, or randomly at a show.

Star Trek: TNG is the reason I bought my first television set. It's also the reason I keep doing difficult things, even when the odds seem stacked against me.


So yeah, I get it when people freak out over how Abrams changed Star Trek - he's messing with a story that helped them through difficulties, or just kept them from getting too bored.

At the same time, I think we all know that stories exist in a specific time and place. I'm not sure that Star Trek: TNG would capture my heart in the same way if I were to see it now for the first time. And even if Abrams were to mangle my TNG canon the way he did with the original series, I don't think it would be life-shattering. Why? Because there would always be the original TNG, the one I saw twenty years ago that changed my life. Even if Abrams or whomever decides that his Picard likes disco and Data should marry a gynoid.


The fact is, stories are meant to be retold. You may like them less in the retelling, or you may suddenly like them more (hence the phenomenon of rebooted Battlestar Galactica). But nobody can take away the stories that changed your life. Those are always going to be yours, untouched, until the space worms nibble your ganglia. They will keep inspiring you, and keep being meaningful. Hopefully, new stories will come along that mean something to you later in life, or that spur you to action in a way you never expected.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's a difference between personal stories and public stories. Star Trek is a public story that belongs to the world, for better or worse. (OK let's not get into a copyright discussion right now - you know what I mean.) You can't control what happens to a public story. You can't stop slash fiction pervs like me from writing dirty stories about Spock, and you can't stop nerds like JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman from blowing up Vulcan.


But then there's your personal Star Trek, the story that matters to you. For me, Star Trek: TNG is always going to be a personal story about finding community and solving problems even when it hurts. This, I think, is what powers the fandom of Star Trek. It's a rich enough public story that it can spawn zillions of personal stories, all very real. Fandom is made in personal byways off the public tale, in the strange little alleys the story builds in its viewers' minds.

And ultimately that's why I have no fear that Star Trek will get retold, often badly. What matters most is the personal story, which lives safely in my brain, far beyond the reach of Abrams and his reboot crew.


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You bet! Where would I be today without Luke's precarious travels to fight evil, or Yoda's wise advice on life and the Force.