Discover the paradox of Star Trek: A pioneering wagon train to the stars that has evolved into an expansive, diverse, and ever-expanding cosmos of adventure and exploration.
Star Trek is a phenomenon, like a starship cruising at warp speed, which has journeyed far beyond its original destination. Yet, does it still remain anchored to its roots? After all, Gene Roddenberry, the creative mind behind this iconic franchise, initially pitched the show as a “wagon train to the stars.” This phrase wasn’t just a snappy tagline; it encapsulated the essence of what he wanted Star Trek to be — that is, a pioneering adventure into the unknown, just like the American Westward expansion.
In the mid-19th century, wagon trains would set out, carrying diverse groups of people to settle in new lands. They faced unforeseen challenges, encountered new cultures, and had to make tough moral decisions. Sound familiar? This is precisely the premise of Star Trek: a band of diverse individuals — humans and aliens alike — journeying through space. Along the way, they’re discovering new civilizations, and wrestling with ethical and moral dilemmas. In essence, Star Trek was designed to explore the human condition in a setting far removed from the socio-political constraints of its time.
This foundational theme continues to pulse through the veins of the Star Trek franchise. Whether it’s Captain Picard exploring new philosophical quandaries in The Next Generation, or Captain Janeway leading her crew through uncharted territories in Voyager, the spirit of exploration and introspection has never waned. Even in the darker tones of Deep Space Nine or the prequel narrative of Enterprise, the focus remains on characters navigating unfamiliar situations and reflecting on human nature.
But, just as the universe is in a constant state of expansion, so too is Star Trek. New movies and TV series like the reboot films and “NuTrek” such Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, and Strange New Worlds have boldly gone where no Trek has gone before. All the while, the aim of the new shows is to preserve those core elements of exploration, adventure, and social commentary; in all honesty, each of those shows do all of these things, but with a varying degree of success. It’s like the Trek franchise is traveling on a warp-powered wagon train at maximum speed, keeping its origins in sight even as it explores new storytelling frontiers.
Also, that “wagon train to the stars” analogy still strikes a chord with Trekkies. It’s often brought up in fan forums, podcast discussions, and analytical essays, serving as a reminder of the franchise’s roots and its ongoing mission. Yet, some fans and critics assert that Star Trek has transcended its original “wagon train” concept. They argue that the franchise has evolved into something more diverse, complex, and innovative.
Those suggesting that Trek continues to evolve aren’t wrong. Over the years, Star Trek has delved into different genres, tackled contemporary issues head-on, and expanded its universe far beyond the confines of a TV screen. Today, Star Trek isn’t just a show — it’s a vast cosmos of spin-offs, movies, books, comics, and games that’s growing exponentially.
So, what’s the final word on Star Trek’s identity? Well, it’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? On one hand, it remains forever linked to its origins as a “wagon train to the stars.” But on the other, it’s grown into something far more expansive, complex, and diverse. It’s a franchise that has managed to stay true to its roots while also exploring new territories, much like its starship crews. Trek has evolved, changed with the times, and continued to explore the potential and challenges of humanity. In essence, Star Trek is still that wagon train to the stars, just one that’s on a journey with no final frontier in sight.
Image created with DALL-E
This is one essay in a long series of “What I’m Reading” articles based on my copious notes from reading “Deep Space and Sacred Time” Jon G. Wagner and Jan Lundeen.