Rating The Captains

Kish and I have been spending the last few months working through the Star Trek TV shows.  We began with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, after Richard recommended it as an interesting and thought-provoking show.  Kish, who just does not like science fiction and never got into the original Star Trek, gritted her teeth and agreed to watch a few shows.

To her surprise, and my surprise, too, Kish liked the characters and some of the plot lines on Deep Space Nine, so we watched every episode.  Then, after we finished that series, we turned to Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and now we’re on to Voyager.

star-trek-captains_610I think one of the things that we’ve found interesting about the different Star Trek shows is the different styles of the captains.  Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko, stationed out on the frontier, was brave, tough and aggressive, with a sense of humor and a ready smile and a very strong mystical side.  In many ways, Sisko is the most outwardly human of the captains.  The Next Generation‘s Jean-Luc Picard, entrusted with the command of the Federation’s powerful flagship vessel, was formal, reserved, and by-the-book, an intellectual who was far more comfortable mediating a difficult dispute between warring alien races than dealing with the personal problems of his crew.  (Thank God Counselor Deanna Troi was on board to deal with those troublesome personal issues!)  And Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, trying to unite a patched-together crew and get them home after being thrust 75,000 light years away by a powerful alien, is careful and decisive but with a decided warmth and obvious interest in the individuals who make up her crew.  Sisko, Picard, and Janeway all can deliver a reprimand, but she’s the captain who is most likely to take a moment to offer a compliment.

Which captain is best?  Kish started out advocating for Janeway, then switched to Picard, and now is thinking maybe it’s Sisko.  Each of them has their own style and their own strengths and weaknesses, and each of them engendered great loyalty among members of their crews for different reasons.  I think your choice might depend upon the specific circumstances.  If you had to select a captain to make a decision that would decide the fate of the universe, I’d definitely pick the careful, thoughtful Picard.  If you needed a captain to try to beat the odds and come up with an imaginative solution, I’d go with Sisko.  And if you had to pick a captain to be your boss and colleague, day after day, I think I’d opt for Janeway.

How do these three stack up against Captain James T. Kirk, the swashbuckling adventurer who invented the captain’s role on the original series?  Well, he’ll always be my favorite because he was the captain of my youth, but the episode-by-episode nature of the original shows and the movies never allowed his character to be developed with the same care and consistency as the others.  One thing’s for sure — if you were one of those anonymous red-shirted security guys who got killed every episode on the original series, you’d prefer anybody but Captain Kirk.

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Captain Kirk Vs. Mr. Sulu

Apparently William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk) and George Takei (Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu) don’t like each other.  In fact, they really don’t like each other.  It all relates to some comments Takei made a a comedy roast about Shatner, or to Shatner’s belief that he wasn’t invited to Takei’s wedding, or . . . something.

This is distressing news for people like me, who were fans of Star Trek.  We want to believe that the members of the Starship Enterprise crew got along like ice cream and apple pie.  After all, they were part of a united world where peace and science reigned and Earth was leading a United Federation of Planets in efforts to peacefully explore the galaxy.

Fortunately, every true Star Trek fan also knows that nothing is as it seems.  If you think about the plots of the episodes, you realize there are lots of explanations for the feud that allow us to cling to our cherished illusion that the crew members are all close friends.  Such as:  (1) We are actually living in an alternate universe where Sulu has a scar and Kirk is a bloodthirsty, marauding pirate; (2) Kirk’s body has been occupied by some kind of shimmering life force that wants people to fight because it lives on hate; (3) Kirk and Sulu are being controlled by an alien who turns out to be (a) a little child, or(b)  a chicken-like creature that is destroyed in a smoky meltdown after Kirk smashes his magic wand; (4) Kirk and Sulu are being controlled by phony Plato-like intellectuals who have consumed alien plants that give them the power to mentally direct the actions of other people; (5) Kirk and Sulu have been exposed to some virus that is making them old and cantankerous.

Oh, wait . . . they are old and cantankerous!  Too bad Bones is no longer with us to cure them.

In Pluto’s Bad Luck Orbit

Pluto’s had a tough time of it.  It’s the loner of the solar system, orbiting in the cold regions of the Kuiper belt, far away from the warmth of the Sun.  It’s got the same name as one of the more pointless Disney cartoon characters.  Then, in 2006, it was exposed to the sizeist biases of scientists who decided that it should be embarrassingly downgraded from a planet to a “dwarf planet.”

But recently things were looking up for poor Pluto.  Two more moons were discovered in its orbit, bringing its total to five.  In the lunar satellite category, therefore, Pluto kicks the butts of those haughty, full-scale planets like Earth and Venus.  And then a naming contest for the new moons got underway, and people became interested when William Shatner — also known as Captain James T. Kirk, of the starship Enterprise, on Star Trek, the original series — suggested that one of the moons be called Vulcan, after the home world of his fellow Star Trek character Mr. Spock.  Vulcan was the top vote-getter by an overwhelming margin, and Pluto must have thought its luck had really changed for the better:  it would have a moon with a name that people would actually remember and that might, in some far distant time of routine space travel, become a kitschy tourist attraction as a result.

Alas!  Pluto’s luck could not hold.  The International Astronomical Union vetoed Vulcan, concluding that it was used elsewhere in astronomy and that Vulcan, the Greek god of the forge, was not sufficiently associated with Pluto, the god of the Underworld.  So, instead of Vulcan, Pluto will be orbited by Kerberos and Styx.

It must be depressing for Pluto to constantly be reminded of its grim, land of the dead namesake, and it’s got to be even more depressing to now be reminded of a mediocre ’70s rock band.  Cheer up, though, Pluto!  It could be worse!  Your new moon could have been named Kansas.

To Boldly Go . . . To A Theater Near You

The next installment in the venerable Star Trek franchise is called Into Darkness and will be released this summer.  The official trailer has hit the theaters.  Richard and I saw it when we took in The Hobbit a few weeks ago, and it looks awesome.

I think the original Star Trek characters — Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, and Sulu — are in very good hands with J.J. Abrams at the helm, and the new cast is excellent.  In the first Abrams-directed episode, the film changed history and thereby veered away from the Star Trek back stories that would otherwise have limited the possible story lines in the new version.  I expect Abrams to spring all kind of surprises, and that sounds good to me.

The new film looks like it takes a long and pointed look at the arrogance and overconfidence of one James T. Kirk, and that’s a story that definitely needs telling.  I can’t wait!

Khaaaan!

I’m waiting for the new Star Trek movie.  It’s apparently being filmed, but the producer and director are keeping everything tightly under wraps — the better to surprise us when the movie is finally released, they say.

So, I’ll have to wait a while to see the new Star Trek 2 — whatever it might be called.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to enjoy the original Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, with one of the greatest William Shatner as James T. Kirk scenery-chewing scenes of all time, as an agitated Kirk screws up his face before bellowing his anger out to the universe beyond:

45 Glorious Years Of Star Trek

45 years ago — on September 8, 1966 — Star Trek first beamed across the airwaves of American television sets.

On that day, viewers first began to know Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Uhura, and the other regular members of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley became well-known faces and names.  Equally important, fans were introduced to the inspiring concept of the United Federation of Planets, with its concepts of brotherhood, and science, and peaceful exploration and coexistence with alien races.  The series offered the promise that better days lay ahead, when the human race could move beyond the racial division, strife, and savagery of the 20th century and realize its true potential.

Has any TV show been more influential to our society than Star Trek?  Not only did it captivate legions of devoted fans, it created a durable franchise that spawned multiple TV shows and movies that populated various points in the back story and front story of the original series.  It also introduced a host of sayings and gestures — “Live long and prosper,” the Vulcan split-fingered greeting, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and the Vulcan neck pinch, among others — that became, and remain, deeply engrained in popular culture.  The show’s vision of future vessels and devices also influenced design of military vessels and technological concepts.

For all of its influence and inspiration, Star Trek was, at bottom, a pretty darned good TV show.  (OK, some of the episodes stunk, but the good shows were really good.)  When 4:30 came on a weekday afternoon on the Ohio State University campus in the late 1970s, you’d find countless students — me and Flameface included — gathered around their TV sets, cold beers in hand, ready to watch once more the familiar, classic exploits of Kirk, Spock, and Bones and revel in being part of their world.