57 years ago, a television show debuted to a doubtful audience in the throes of the turbulent 1960s.

TV Guide, a publication which was the watchword in all forms of televised media in the world before cable, didn’t have good words for Star Trek’s first episode, The Man Trap.

Star Trek in its best descriptions sounds something like this:

Star Trek was an American television science fiction series running on NBC television for only three seasons from 1966 to 1969 before being cancelled. Even more bizarre, after being cancelled it would go on to become one of the most popular brands of speculative fiction in the history of the American entertainment industry.

Created by American writer and producer Gene Roddenberry, the series was pitched as “a wagon train to the stars” more of a space western of exploration featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise, whose exploits featured them meeting new alien species. The leading sequence narrated by the show’s principal actor, Canadian, William Shatner, states its premise quite clearly:

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its mission: to explore new worlds to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Set in the 23rd century after humanity’s third world war, a world recovering from devastation, discovers warp drive, a technology which offered faster than light travel to a species in desperate need of new horizons. Their discovery of this technology draws the attentions of a relatively benign species, the Vulcans, who engage in a promising first contact and humanity takes its place among the stars.

These early voyages of the Starship enterprise introduced us to an eclectic but brilliant crew including the often too-charismatic leader, the aforementioned Captain Kirk, (William Shatner) whose bombastic and often over-acted role is one of the most memorable aspects of the show. He leads a crew on a relatively altruistic mission of exploration of the Alpha Quadrant meeting other species who vary in degrees of aggression from mild, such as the Andorians, to the most bellicose, the bloodthirsty, war-loving, honor-seeking Klingons.

Kirk’s right hand man, executive officer and scientific genius is the half Human, half Vulcan man of logic, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Calm, serene and supremely logical, Spock remains one of the most beloved and complex individuals of the franchise. While eschewing his Human heritage and cleaving strongly to the Vulcan tenets of logical thought and philosophy, Spock battles his mother’s influence in his life as he struggles with the strong emotional influences of his other crew members.

Doctor “Bones” McCoy is one of those influences. A highly-trained doctor, Dr. McCoy, nonetheless seemed to take great joy in trying to convince Spock to partake of his Human nature and the two of them act out a form of sibling rivalry as part of the first triad of Spock, Kirk and McCoy. Despite his gentle jabs at Spock’s Human side, McCoy is a country doctor, complete with an irascible bedside manner when stressed.

The crew intentionally cast as multicultural in a time when the very idea would have been considered anathema includes, Lieut. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols); Mr. Sulu (George Takei); Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig); and Mr. Scott (James Doohan), the engineer who controls the Enterprise’s transporter, and the ship’s mighty warp drive engines travel at incredible speeds to other worlds and beaming down to alien planets.

Ironically, the transporter was meant as a means of instantly moving from the ship to the planet to reduce production costs of using their shuttlecraft to reach the planetary surface of the many worlds they would visit.

Star Trek was revolutionary and made an imprint in the television viewing audience. But it was a show ahead of its time and after three seasons it ended due to low ratings. However, a few episodes spurred devoted fans to some of the earliest write-in campaigns and the show became a syndicated rerun which retained popularity for decades.

If you have been around Star Trek, you recognize it returned to prominence with its first feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Not the most astonishing film, uneven, ponderous and more than a little bit strange, it had a great budget allowing Star Trek to be as beautiful as anyone ever thought it could be. The film caused an explosion in fandom and eventually lead to Gene Roddenberry’s title as the Great Bird of the Galaxy to franchise greatness.

Star Trek is one of the most recognizable speculative fiction brands in television history. The show spawned a number of television, live action spin-off series, including:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–94)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–99)
  • Star Trek: Voyager (1995–2001)
  • Star Trek: Enterprise (2001–05)
  • Star Trek: Picard (2020–2023)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) would also have five other movies featuring the The Original Series (TOS) Star Trek crew.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

The next series of Star Trek

The Star Trek franchise films featured the crew of their second television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, featuring a different crew but a similar mission. This crew would serve for seven seasons and be featured in four films. The crew featured the cerebral leadership of Jean Luc Picard, the bombastic love machine that was Commander Riker, the displaced Klingon warrior, Lt. Worf, the ship’s Doctor, Beverly Crusher, a new role, the ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi, and the Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge.

Seven years of adventuring would have this crew face old threats (in better costumes) the Klingons and Romulans and new threats with terrible manners and terrifying technologies, the enigmatic Q Continuum and the nearly-irresistible might of the Borg Collective. They would also manage to have four films and a later spin-off featuring Picard and offering these heroes one last trip around the galaxy in the series Picard.

  • Star Trek: Generations (1994)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  • Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
  • Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Star Trek would transform itself again, with the original cast being reimagined in a JJ Abrams movie revision of Star Trek (2009), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), and Star Trek Beyond (2016).

Star Trek would find itself reimagined once again after the Abramsverse lost steam. It would pick up the franchise again with Star Trek: Discovery, which was a return to the past of the franchise, set before the TOS era, we find ourselves embroiled in the early conflicts set a decade before the Federation had begun its five year mission to explore the galaxy.

Discovery tweaks the technology, the stories, the relationships we had come to expect from the franchise, but also includes new sensibilities, new opportunities for representation and sexual exploration. Discovery introduces a machine intelligence as a crew member, intergalactic teleportation and a return of a secret militaristic force called Section 31 within the Federation dedicated to promoting the Federation’s Utopia, no matter what.

The crew of Discovery led by Captain Michael Burnam (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Kelpian First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and aided by the sinister and beautiful, Mirror Universe duplicate Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), would sacrifice themselves to save the early Federation, traveling to a time where the Federation itself no longer existed.

Star Trek: The Franchise would eventually loop back upon itself by revisiting the Enterprise 57 years later, with a legendary captain before James T. Kirk sat in the command chair. Reputedly one of the finest captains the Federation ever knew, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) in the last of their recent franchise additions, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Returning to Science Officer Spock (Ethan Peck), Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush), Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), Ensign Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and many other luminaries, we enjoy new missions to strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, with a crew as diverse as the stars and worlds as yet unseen by our modern eyes. Just the way I am certain Gene Roddenberry would have pictured it.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the animated aspects of this franchise, long overlooked even by the creator of the first Star Trek: The Animated Series which did not meet his demanding standards and may have been deemed non-canon. I consider this apocryphal, because the first animated series was everything Star Trek was supposed to be given its time constraints and tiny budget.

Later animated series include the uproarious and completely irreverent Star Trek: Lower Decks where we follow the antics of four young ensigns assigned to a secondary ship of the line, the Cerritos in the early 24th century. The Cerritos doesn’t do first contact. They do: Second Contact. They get the scutwork the Galaxy-class and Sovereign-class starships can’t get to because they are on the front lines of the Federation. The Cerritos and the other California-class vessels are the working ships, feeding the hungry, investigating lesser nebula, and fixing the elevators those other ships don’t have time for. But this is good for us. We get to see a part of the Federation we don’t normally get to see. The people who comprise it, who live in it and are the reason the Federation exists. We also get to laugh at the sometimes ridiculous ideas Star Trek’s house is built on and these four ensigns and their intrepid captain are no less Starfleet, despite their status.


A recently completed series which was designed for those unfamiliar with the Star Trek franchise or ethos was released for children called Star Trek: Prodigy, featuring a group of adolescents embroiled in a plot to destroy the Federation without any idea of the stakes. While the series has only had three seasons, the first two were amazing and the third, even if it is the last is clearly the kind of fine work the franchise has always held itself to.

Take that TV Guide. Star Trek WAS visionary. People just had to open their eyes and see the Universe as Gene did; as a place where infinite diversity could meet in infinite combination. Happy birthday, Star Trek, you are looking good at 57. Thank you, Lucille Ball, the fairy godmother of Star Trek, for believing in this wagon train to the stars and helping sustain this visionary property.

If you have ever acted in this series and I have not mentioned you, know that you are not forgotten. You are written into the DNA of our mutual humanity. I see you. If you have ever written a script or a book, if you have ever made or worn a costume, manufactured a Feinburger widget, built or lit a set, created a model, physical or animated, if you created a monster or a beloved overfed pet (yes David, I am talking to you) — Thank you.

You have sustained a beautiful dream, a dream worth having. And maybe one day a dream that can be realized.

Goodnight. One to beam up.


Thaddeus Howze
Thaddeus Howze

Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.