When Star Trek: The Next Generation (STNG) first came out, it was shiny, high tech, and a million times more polished than the original series — which although still classic, was looking awful dated. STNG just felt more futuristic, and glossy.
Now, of course, it looks almost as silly as the original. The special effects and props look obviously fake, and the crude CG in the credits could be more convincingly animated by any 10th grader today, with a decent computer. But despite its age, and the campiness that time has foisted upon it, something still happens to me when the model Enterprise creeps across the star-lit screen. When Patrick Stewart’s noble, classically trained voice narrates the Captain’s Log setting up the episode’s cold open, and then the theme music soars in triumphantly, it still inspires — over two decades since the show first came out — a sense of wonder, at the scope of what we don’t know.
Star Trek captures adventure and a spirit of hope that I think influences the politics and ideals of most sci-fi fans — maybe more than we recognize. Its a collective dream about a time, some day in the distant future, when petty quarrels about health care are long since solved, and wars over resources or ideals are a distant embarrassing memory, because people have long since learned how to solve these things without violence. When each individual’s contribution to society is toward pursuing an exciting and challenging unknown together.
Its unfortunate that we don’t live in the world that Gene Roddenberry imagined — one which likely looks a lot more like the one God intended for his kids, than what we’ve muddled ourselves into. Its unfortunate that our technological research leads us to more efficient killing machines, instead of toward the vast galaxy that God made for us to explore and learn. Its unfortunate that such sci-fi is the realm of geeks and nerds, and maybe a few ridiculous idealists, who understand that the future should hold excitement and adventure, not fear and uncertainty. Its unfortunate that so many people are so terrified of cultures different from their own, that they could never function in the kind of cross-cultural environment that the creators of Star Trek so carefully illustrated.
And, with TV shows starting back-up again this fall, its unfortunate that there’s no one out there doing anything remotely like Star Trek, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. When I recently settled into my couch to re-watch a campy episode of the final season of STNG, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if people could just stop arguing selfishly — if we were driven not by greed, but a pure sense of wonder at the majesty of God’s handy work — and set our minds on truly appreciating the scope of the universe God made for us, and the companions he created to explore it with us…