Back in 1966 as mankind was on the brink of walking on the surface of a celestial body other than Earth, all things seemed possible. But even in that age of optimism, it was hard to believe that a low-rated science fiction TV show (that elevated the genre out of the kiddie realm by wrapping smart, mature morality plays and sharply drawn characters in shiny forward-thinking outer space trappings) could somehow create the foundations of both a franchise and a philosophy that would endure for nearly 50 years.
Yet here we are, five spinoff TV series, a dozen films, countless fan conventions, tie-in merchandise that multiplies like Tribbles and millions of devoted followers later. This week, BAM! POW! ZAP! landed at the Into Darkness premiere and other beam-down coordinates to open hailing frequencies with the voyagers who’ve seen the evolution of Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek from a cult curiosity occupying a small corner of the pop cultural cosmos to a vast and visionary universe of its own.
Leonard Nimoy (actor, Star Trek): "Gene Roddenberry was very complex, as you can imagine, and very, very smart. He really did believe in the potential of the human race. I think Star Trek for him was an expression of an idea: that you boldly go, and you do stuff. You explore and you find out things and you do things and you make things and you try to heal the universe, you try to solve problems. Essentially this group of people was sent out to explore, run into trouble and fix it."
Rod Roddenberry (son of Gene Roddenberry): "It's much more than just science fiction. It's much more than just entertainment. It talks about the human condition. It really explores the positive aspects and the negative of humanity and how we are worth saving, and how we are worth investing in….My father was extremely flattered and humbled by Star Trek’s success. But I don't think even he knew that it would go on for as long as it has."
Zoe Saldana (actor, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "It's the message, the very strong message of peace that Gene Roddenberry was inspired by, and that's what compelled him to create a show like Star Trek. And the fact that it's able to live almost five decades, and now it's recruiting more fans, more followers with the revamping of it – that makes me feel really blessed to be a part of this."
LeVar Burton (actor, Star Trek: The Next Generation): "I think Star Trek is about hope more than ever before – certainly in my lifetime. We need a sense of hope these days. Life is hard, and it's rarely fair, and Star Trek encourages us to be our best selves as we move forward, as we evolve. I think the Star Trek vision is brilliant. Gene Roddenberry was a huge visionary, and he was very human at the same time. The lessons that I learned from Gene and the legacy that he's left behind continues to be what I consider to be a shinning light for humanity…Another reason for the enduring nature of the Star Trek point of view is that it is inclusive, if nothing else. It is about diversity and inclusion.
"The biggest gift you get is the family. My cast mates on The Next Generation – they're my family. I met my wife during the show, we birthed our daughter, all in the crucible of this family. We have seen each other through births and divorces and deaths and transitions. I mean, these are the people that my daughter grew up with, her aunts and uncles."
Jonathan Frakes (actor, Star Trek: The Next Generation): "Gene’s belief and passion about the 24th century was so real. He said to me, 'Jonathan, in the 24th century, there will be no hunger. There will be no greed. And all of the children will know how to read.' And that stuck with me."
Karl Urban (actor, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "The most amazing part of being a part of Star Trek for me is every day going to work and getting the opportunity to work with the likes of this amazing cast and J.J. Abrams. It doesn't get better than that, and the fact that it is so well loved and so well appreciated is icing on the cake."
Alex Kurtzman (co-screenwriter, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "At the core of Roddenberry's vision was an optimism and a hope that even when you go into darkness, you'll emerge on the other side. And to watch the Bridge crew, as a family, face challenges and use their unique skill sets to solve them – everyone can see a version of themselves in some member of the crew."
Roberto Orci (co-screenwriter, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "Fans kept it alive. There was a renewal, always, of different people coming in after Roddenberry who were fans of it, and they just kept it alive with fresh blood and by chronicling everything and making all the details that made our lives hell. It's sort of handed down. There hasn't been one owner or creator since Roddenberry passed it on. And that's an incredible thing."
Damon Lindelof (co-screenwriter, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "We try to honor everything that came before us, but we're trying to put some kind of spin on it that feels fresh and new and exciting. J.J. [Abrams] certainly approaches this as more of an adventure series, and then we're also adding in the cool morality plays that Gene Roddenberry infused with the original Trek…It's become a real cultural touchstone now. It's a part of Americana, and I think we're looking for things that will bridge generations.
"Trek was something that my father started watching when he was in college, and then shared with me. We started watching it, and we were watching The Next Generation when I was in college. Trek has always made me smile, and I think it has the same affect on a lot of people."
Zachary Quinto (actor, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "Just meeting people all over the world who are affected by the work we do and are really excited about and supportive of it, I feel really grateful to be part of something that people are really interested in – and is good."
Winona Ryder (actor, Star Trek , and longtime fan): "I just always loved the philosophy of it. I remember I was really young, my older brother teaching me the philosophy – like, sitting me down. It really is this very sort of peaceful, very evolved philosophy – and plus, it was just a lot of fun! Who doesn't love Spock?"
Michael Okuda (graphic designer and technical consultant on all the Star Trek spinoff TV series): "We love the passion that it evokes in people. We love the results of that passion. We love that people will study science as a result, that people study writing as a result, that people study engineering. We love that people have literally become astronauts because they were inspired by Mr. Spock."
John Cho (actor, Star Trek , Star Trek Into Darkness): "I was at Griffith Park Observatory with my family and the telescope was closed to the public, but there was an astronomer in there who recognized me and said, 'Come on in.' And he said, 'I became an astronomer because of Star Trek.' It's moments like that that are the most special: when you realize that you're connected to something that's meant so much to so many people over generations. That is really moving. You don't get many chances in life to be associated with something like that."
William Shatner (actor, Star Trek): "A lot of people have come up and said that I’ve affected their lives, and I’m in denial about that. It’s like, ‘What are you talking about? Don’t let me affect your life. Let somebody who knows something affect your life.’ But even this astronaut [Commander Chris Hadfield] asked to speak to me because I affected his life – well, I as an actor playing a part affected his life. It is a sort of an accessory to the fact of being a celebrity that people don’t come up to me and say, ‘You’ve ruined me.’ I don’t hear the negative side. I hear people say, ‘I’m a doctor now because of you.'"