“Space: The Final Frontier.”
Whether you’re a fan of the Star Trek franchise or not, you’ve probably heard these timeless words. And ‘franchise’ is the right word. With seven television shows, ten movies, and countless novels (not to mention all the merchandising), Star Trek has been a dominating force in Science Fiction for over four decades. On May 8th, J.J. Abrams, creator of the hit TV show Lost, brings Star Trek back to the silver screen in dramatic fashion, hoping to breathe new life into the longest running Sci-Fi franchise in history. Abram’s Star Trek tells the story of how the famed crew of the Enterprise, including James T. Kirk and Spock, came together. Time travel, action, sexuality, and comedy abound in this summer blockbuster.
Obviously the die hard fans (known as ‘Trekkies’ or ‘Trekkers’) are excited for this new installation of the series, while also wary of the new film breaking away from canon. The Star Trek ‘universe’ has an immense, specific history and structure that every new show, movie, and novel has tried sincerely to abide by, in respect for the series and fear of retribution from fans. The new ‘Star Trek’ promises to stay within canon, though spoilers indicate the writers have found loopholes in the system.
In any case, the new film may turn off many non-fans who see the canon as baggage. Though Abrams ensures that this film is for everyone, the more knowledge one has of this ‘universe’, the more depth the film holds. So, with that in mind, I present to you a beginner’s guide to the Star Trek universe.
THE STORY OF STAR TREK
Let’s start from the beginning. Well, World War III to be exact. After the nuclear war ended in 2053, Earth was in a ‘postatomic horror’, similar to those seen in films like ‘Mad Max’. All that changed when Zefram Cochrane invented the warp drive in 2063, allowing travel beyond light speed. His test flight caught the attention of a passing Vulcan spaceship, leading to first contact with an alien species. With the help of the Vulcans, Earth finally pulled out of its neo-Dark Age and was united as one (United Earth).
The new United Earth Starfleet finished building it’s first true starship in 2053 and dubbed it Enterprise NX-01 [it’s travels are chronicled in “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2005)] . Enterprise established United Earth as a legitimate interstellar power and caused a revolution in local alien politics, paving the way for the creation of the United Federation of Planets ten years later. Headquartered in San Francisco, the Federation consisted of several planetary governments and grew to become known for its high ethics, humanitarian efforts, and comprehensive regulations.
The U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 (named after the experimental starship) was first launched in 2245. In 2250, Christopher Pike became captain of the Enterprise, eventually being promoted to fleet captain and handing over control to James T. Kirk in 2263. Kirk commanded the ship on a five-year mission from 2264-2269 [3 years of which were chronicled in “Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-1969)].
Kirk was promoted to Admiral in 2270 while the Enterprise went under a major refit. Kirk briefly took command of the Enterprise-A when an entity named V’Ger threatened to destroy Earth [“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)]. Kirk later retired, coming back to duty in 2284 and going on many more adventures with the Enterprise crew, which included Klingons, time travel, God, and pissing off Starfleet.
Kirk had retired again by 2293 when he encountered a temporal anomaly that eventually brought him to 2371, where he and Jean-Luc Picard stopped deranged scientist Tolian Soran from destroying a star being orbited by planet of 230 million people. Kirk was sadly killed in the process [“Star Trek Generations” (1994)].
The U.S.S. Enterprise-D was launched in 2363 with Picard as Captain [its travels are chronicled in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994)]. The ship was destroyed in 2371 as part of the altercation with Soran. Starting the next year, Picard captained the Enterprise-E until at least 2379.
Other notable Starfleet occurrences during the 2370s included Voyager getting stranded in the Delta quadrant for 7 years [Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)], and outpost Deep Space 9 regulating the first stable artificial wormhole, which went from the Alpha Quadrant (specifically the planet Bajor) to the Gamma Quadrant [Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)].
THE SCIENCE OF STAR TREK
The galaxy is split into four quadrants: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, & Delta. The majority of the familiar alien cultures are located in the Alpha and Beta quadrants, with several (including Earth) actually straddling the border. Quadrants are further divided into sectors.
Warp drives are engines that allow starships to go beyond the speed of light. Warp Factor 1 means light speed. Each Warp Factor is exponentially faster, with Warp 10 generally considered to be maximum warp by 24th century. In the 23rd century, Warp 8 was usually the fastest a ship could go.
Time travel is possible, though even by the 24th Century it’s not standardized, so it is still pretty rare. Ways to time travel, as seen in the franchise, include wormholes, black holes, traveling at warp speed around a star, entering into a nexus (a ribbon of specific energy), various warp drive malfunctions, and many other methods. By the 29th Century, time travel is controlled, and timeships are created.
Stardates are used throughout the franchise, since Earth time has no meaning in space. However, Earth-like sleep schedules are maintained on starships, with a ‘night’ crew helming the bridge on a regular basis. The stardates are notoriously arbitrary, as the numbers used are in no order what-so-ever.
Lots of “technobabble” is spoken in Star Trek, especially in the later shows and movies. Some of this science talk is real, but a lot is made up. Don’t get bogged down in it; they usually end up explaining it in simpler terms.
THE FEDERATION / STARFLEET
Starfleet is the military branch of the Federation. Federation starships have classes to signify their general design and registry numbers that act as license plate numbers . Starfleet vessels use the registry prefix NCC (such as NCC-1701), except when in experimental stage, in which they have a NX prefix.
The Federation has strict codes and regulations, the most important of which is the Prime Directive, which states that members of Starfleet are not to interfere in the internal affairs of another species, especially the natural development of pre-warp civilizations. Of course, this has been broken from time to time.
Starfleet ranks follow current U.S. armed forces ranks. They are in descending order: Admiral, Captain, Commander, Lieutenant Commander, Lieutenant, Lieutenant (Junior Grade), and Ensign. There have been slight changes to this over the decades, but this is generally accurate.
Starfleet Academy is Starfleet’s training facility. It’s a four year institution with a rigorous application process. Non-Federation citizens can only apply if they have a letter of recommendation from a command-level Starfleet officer.
Throughout the 23rd and 24th Century, the Federation has dealt with many alien species, but here are a few more notable ones.
Vulcans – Co-Founding members of the Federation whose home planet is Vulcan. They were originally an emotional and violence race, until the philosopher Surak brought about the Time of Awakening in the 4th Century AD. Vulcans changed their ways and became a very logical and peaceful society who preached the suppression of emotions. Since then, their culture and technology have thrived, making them one of Earth’s closest allies. Vulcans are recognizable by their pointy ears and straight black hair. They have considerably longer lifespans than humans.
Romulans – The Romulan Empire has had a rough history with the Federation. Romulans are cousins to Vulcans, as they are descended from those who rejected Surak’s reforms. The Romulans are known for their xenophobic and violent ways, and thus a Neutral Zone between the Empire and the Federation was put in place in the 22nd century after a Earth-Romulan War. A treaty preventing the Federation from ever using cloaking technology was another result of this conflict. After Picard helped squelch a coup within the Romulan Senate in 2379, The Empire started working towards a better relationship with the Federation. Romulans are recognizable by their pointy ears and straight black hair, as well as a raised forehead.
Klingons – The Klingon Empire’s history with the Federation is even more troubled than that of the Romulans, though eventually a peaceful alliance was established. The Klingons and the Federation were at odds with each other until they made peace by signing the Khitomer Accords [Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)]. In fact, by the 24th Century, at least one Klingon was an officer in Starfleet (Worf). The Klingons are a warrior race, originally known for their barbaric ways, but eventually understood to be a proud, tradition-based culture. They are recognizable by their dark complexion, raised forehead ridges, and thick hair.
Borg – The Enterprise-D was the first Federation entity to discover the Borg. The Borg are a race of cyborgs from the Delta Quadrant. No truly single individual exists within the Borg Collective (with the possible sole exception of the Borg Queen), as they are linked into a hive mind. Their ultimate goal is perfection through the forcible assimilation of diverse sentient species and knowledge. As a result, they were among the most dangerous and feared races in the galaxy. Picard was briefly assimilated and the experienced haunted him for years.
THE CREW OF THE ENTERPRISE (2264-2269)
James T. Kirk ; (2233-2371) ; Captain – Brash, brave, and bedding women. The three Bs of Captain Kirk. A leader with passion, a sense of humor, and ability to think outside the box. Kirk demonstrated his unique way of thinking in Starfleet Academy by rigging the final exam, a no-win simulator test onboard the fictional Kobayashi Maru. [As described in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)].
Mr. Spock ; (2230-?) ; First Officer and Science Officer – Spock is a child of two worlds, with his mother being human while his father a Vulcan. He struggled in his youth to get control of his emotions and deal with his human side. As Kirk’s closest friend and confidant, Spock provided intelligent and logical solutions to the many dilemmas the crew had to face. In his years after his assignment on the Enterprise, Spock worked to bring reconciliation between Vulcans and Romulans.
Leonard McCoy ; (2227 – ?) ; Chief Medical Officer – As Kirk’s other closest friend, McCoy (who Kirk nicknamed ‘Bones’) gave Kirk a more human side to their dilemmas. As can be expected, McCoy would often get flustered at Spock’s apparent coldness to the situation.
Montgomery Scott ; (2222 – ?) ; Chief Engineer – A genius with a starship, and a wit to match, Scotty is the soul of the ship. Whether it’s getting the ship to do the impossible, or keeping his sense of humor in the face of danger, you can always count on Scotty to surprise you.
Uhura ; (2239 – ?) ; Communications Officer – Uhura is a highly trained technician and a talented musician. A caring woman who is proud of her African heritage.
Hikaru Sulu ; (2237 – ?) ; Helm Officer – Sulu is a loyal officer with a skill for fencing. He eventually captained his own ship.
Pavel Chekov ; (2245 – ?) ; Navigator – Chekov was the baby of the Enterprise, both in terms of age and experience. The Russian Chekov too was proud of his heritage.
Some of this information is controversial, as the franchise contradicts itself at times, and some info is only implied. But this is a good start. My goal is purely to get you up to speed for the new film, so I understandably gloss over or omit large chunks of (hopefully) unnecessary information. For more information on all things Star Trek, there are plenty of informative books, as well as a wiki website: http://memory-alpha.org
However, the best way to get up to speed on Star Trek is to watch it. Here is a complete list of movies and television shows for the franchise:
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
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)
Star Trek Generations (1994)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Last, but not least, is the comic book “Star Trek: Countdown” which chronicles the timeframe between “Nemesis” and the new film. It’s official since it’s written by the film’s producers and writers. I’ll have a full review of that in about a week.
So catch up if you want to! However, I get the feeling that even if you don’t know a subspace anomaly from a tachyon beam, you’ll still enjoy the new Star Trek.