In the span of four decades, five television incarnations and countless motion pictures, the 23rd-century crew of the Starship Enterprise and the brave utopians of the United Federation of Planets have boldly gone where no one has gone before.
But now, with the franchise seemingly gone and no new Star Trek film or show in sight, the world’s most infamously obsessive fans have been forced to go where no Trekkie has gone before: off Trek.
“Trekdom has scaled back to its very core,” said Gabriel C. Koerner, an Emmy-nominated visual-effects artist and a man generally known as the Star Trek “superfan.”
But the time without Trek may, ironically, be the best thing to happen to the franchise, according to some.
“It may feel like a mourning period for a lot of people, but sometimes you don’t know until you look back and assess what happened,” Roger Nygard, director of the documentaries "Trekkies" and "Trekkies 2," said. “My guess is if history is an example, this will be a very fertile time for the fans.”
The final Star Trek television series, "Enterprise," (2001-2005) suffered from the ridicule of diehard and notoriously nitpicking Trekkies — or Trekkers, as they preferred to be called.
(Among its blasphemies: not including the words “Star Trek” in the title at first, not adhering to the fabulously complicated and contradictory established Trek timeline and including a theme song by songwriter-for-hire Diane Warren).
It couldn’t find a new audience, either, and by the time Paramount took it off the air in May 2005, its ratings were dismal.
On the silver screen, things weren’t much better. The first movie, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," started the whole process of reinvigorating a short-lived 1960s television take-off of “Forbidden Planet” with its surprise success at the box office in 1979.
Conversely, the latest movie, "Star Trek: Nemesis" seemed to close the book on the cinematic Star Trek world in 2002 with box-office returns — and reviews — that could be described as mediocre at best.
In some ways, the double blow of losing both Star Trek films and television shows may have been as big a setback to Trek fans’ self-esteem as William "Captain Kirk" Shatner's “Saturday Night Live” parody of Star Trek convention-goers.
The fan clubs are still out there, and the conventions are still being held, funny ears and all. But some Star Trek fan clubs have redirected some of their energies to other sci-fi shows, like the Sci-Fi Channel’s successful remake of “Battlestar Galactica,” which notably includes writers from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
“A lot of the fans have been tuning into shows like ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Stargate,’” said Denise Crosby, who was part of the original cast of and had an ongoing role on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (which ran from 1987-1994).
“It even spreads over to shows like ‘Lost.’ They find other stuff to latch onto in the meantime, although Star Trek remains the mothership, so to speak.”
And, according to Koerner, attendance at Star Trek conventions has been noticeably down, with some organizers forced to merge purely Trekkian events with those dedicated to other sci-fi and fantasy themes.
“[One convention organizer], primarily known for organizing Star Trek conventions, has indeed been refocusing its conventions into multi-genre-show events, because there has been a perceptible drop-off in Star Trek interest,” he said.
But rather than being morose about the lack of fresh Trek material, the fans actually seem to be embracing its absence.
“We went to eight countries and asked people what their predictions were for the future of Star Trek, not just a year from now but 50 years from now,” Nygard said. “The consensus was they should give the franchise a rest, overwhelmingly. They’d been wringing it out for so long, the ideas were getting less fresh, they needed a period of time to rejuvenate. Everyone expects it to come back, but in 10 years, eight years, giving it time to clean house and let some new ideas be generated.”
Crosby, who also hosted the “Trekkies” documentaries, blames the fans’ generally poor reception of the later films and series capitalizing on the Star Trek name.
“They started to feel it was just a sausage factory over there,” she said.
But the fans aren’t waiting around for the holders of the rights to the Star Trek franchise to get their next Trek fixes. Several groups have gotten together to actually create their own Star Trek episodes, available for free downloading on the Internet.
"The New Voyages," which recently boasts of being downloaded more than 1 million times, continues the voyages of the original Starship Enterprise’s five-year mission (which actually only lasted three years on NBC), with new actors playing out the roles of Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty in brand-new scripts and on sets that are dead-on mock-ups of the original.
George Takei — the original Sulu — and Walter Koenig — the original Chekhov — even made an appearance on an episode.
"Starship Exeter" details the adventures of another starship around the same time period in "Star Trek" history when Captain Kirk was a rocketman, and "Hidden Frontier," which follows a “Next Generation”-era starship and features plenty of computerized special effects, has received attention because it prominently features gay characters.
“The period of time after the first series was cancelled until “The Next Generation” was probably the most creative and fertile time for the fans themselves. Because they didn’t have a TV show and movies to quench their appetites, they had to create their own fan fiction, and that’s part of the reasons the conventions were born,” Nygard said.
“Despite the lack of new episodes, there was a creative burst among the fans. What you may see is a resurgence among the fans as they seek other avenues of expression. Some of those fan films are better than the show. The special effects, the writing, the exuberance exceed the show in some ways because the people creating it are so into it.”
Crosby, who doesn’t consider herself a Trekker and says she wouldn’t want to act in any fan films, says there will always be a place for Star Trek and its vision of an enlightened future for humanity, whether or not there are new episodes or movies.
“When we went to Serbia [for “Trekkies 2”], the first thing that was bombed was the radio and television stations, yet this group of fans was meeting and did anything they could to get their hands on old episodes,” she said.
“What that did for them was give them a really hopeful idea that in the midst of all this chaos and isolation and Milosevic wrecking their country, they said, ‘You know, even in the midst of this, we can overcome this. Humanity if greater than this, and there is hope. We’re not all barbarians.’
"When they told me that, there were tears in my eyes, and I realized that something that could have that effect on people is about a lot more than television ratings.”