Today’s Movie Monday entry is for every Star Trek fan out there — and considering our audience, you’re probably one of them. Go where no man has gone before in Rod Roddenberry’s “Trek Nation.”
As any student of pop culture knows, Star Trek is a staple. It’s actors, catchphrases, and messages of hope and diversity define the second half of twentieth century television and continues to resonate today. Trek Nation is not only a documentary about the life of series creator Gene Roddenberry, but also a personal journey as it is his son, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr. who made this film.
Star Trek, as a series, does not lack in documentary offerings. Many of them center on the fans, as the phenomenon of the series is most keenly seen and felt both in convention halls around the world and in the private events of the lives it has changed for the better. The fans are no doubt present in this film, but I found it to be a far more interesting and honest look at the icon that Gene Roddenberry has become. Rod admits straight up that he and his father were not buddies, were often at odds, and that Gene’s style of living his life had some negative consequences for his family. However, since Gene died when Rod was 17 and at the height of his adolescent disdain for his father, the result was that Rod the grown man did not know him well. Unlike many others who have lost parents at a young age, Rod now has the benefit of hours of audio and video footage, photographic documentation, and first-hand accounts of the legion of people who worked for and with his father. Growing up, Rod wasn’t even aware that his mom, the great Majel Barrett, had even been on Star Trek – to him, she was just mom. Rod said he didn’t even realize how many people would be at the funeral, and was shocked to hear the many, profound ways Star Trek has permeated lives and even saved them.
Rod did not watch the show until he was older, and asserts that “everything I learned about Star Trek, I learned from the fans.” He interviews some famous fans, not just those involved with the show like Ron D. Moore, Nichelle Nichols, and DC Fontana, but Stan Lee, Rob Zombie, Seth MacFarlane, and even a trip to Skywalker Ranch to chat with George Lucas. All of these tidbits, coupled with Gene’s interesting personal history – for example, I had no clue he was a WW2 pilot who crashed in the Syrian desert and was one of only 11 to survive – gives the viewer a deeply personal glimpse into The Great Bird of the Galaxy. To think how close we came to a world with no Star Trek! The very horror. Some of the other things that come to light show how Gene was a regular person just like everyone else, with some pretty significant flaws. I was saddened to hear of his serial cheating, which certainly must have been hard on Majel and Rod. To deal with it openly takes courage on Rod’s part, and I found his candor throughout this journey to be quite courageous, especially since he is sharing it with the multitude of Trek fans.
Trek Nation primarily discusses The Original Series and The Next Generation, as those were the series’ in which Gene was directly involved. One portion I found particularly interesting was to hear that Picard, Riker, and Wesley were the three stages of Gene, and represented his growth into adulthood. I had never thought of it that way, but it certainly works. Rod also pops in to chat with Scott Bakula in the final days of Enterprise, and shows JJ Abrams (who knows a bit about father-and-son baggage if all of his television work is to be believed) a clip of Gene from 1986, in which he states that he wouldn’t mind seeing a young Kirk just meeting his crew, and new, young stars in the iconic roles. Abrams seemed very glad to see that, and said that being involved in Star Trek is both “a gift and a burden.” I can see that point of view for reals, as I am in the camp of Trekkies who does not view Abrams’ reboot as real Star Trek, since to me there is only one Kirk, one Spock, etc. no matter how well the newcomers perform in their roles. It did make me cut them a tiny bit of slack, but let’s not get carried away! In the end, however, I’m glad to know that Gene is smiling down on it all.
Verdict: Highly recommended for hardcore Trek fans, and more casual fans looking to know more about the birth of the show and its creator. It includes a few things we’ve all heard before, such as Nichelle Nichols’ Matrin Luther King Jr. anecdote, but they are important things worth repeating. As a lifelong, diehard fan, I still managed to learn new and extremely interesting things. There were a few awkward transitions (which seemed to focus on a star projector/camera in…a planetarium? Those were odd.) and Rod still seemed a bit uncomfortable with the level of fame his father occupies. The latter, however, only serves to underscore the Trek Nation’s honesty and heart.