Where has Star Trek been all these years?

Star Trek Continues wrapped three years ago, and I missed it. If you're looking for the heart of Trek, here it is. It's pure woo, pure romance, and pure love.

I guess I’ve been hiding under a green-hued rock on a red-tinted alien planet. Here I am in 2021, and I just now found out that Star Trek fans have made the best rendition of the series since Jean Luc Picard played the Ressikan flute. “Star Trek Continues” wrapped about three years ago, a labor of love that lasted longer than the original series, and as long NCC-1701’s mission assignment. In that time, it produced just eleven episodes, each one filled with love, meticulously curated detail, and production values beyond what I ever thought a fanpic could ever achieve.

I am currently binge-watching all the episodes on YouTube, where they live free from the royalties, ownership tangles, and ugliness of professional studio productions. I knew I was back “home” when I forgot I was watching Vic Mignogna, Todd Haberkorn and Chris Doohan instead of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and James Doohan playing “Kirk,” “Spock,” and “Scotty.” The hardest character to adapt was Dr. McCoy, and it took a few episodes to get the right actor for the part.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes, Chris is the son of The Original Series actor James Doohan. And yes, he nails the voice of “Scotty.”

Somehow, I missed this series. It’s not surprising that I did. I am not the type to attend DragonCon, or do cosplay, and I don’t get into online gaming, so I simply didn’t know STC existed. My guess, by the number of views on the YouTube episodes, is most Trek fans also don’t know it exists. It’s easy to forget The Original Series, affectionately known as TOS, because of the hokey sets (by today’s standards), ridiculously cheap alien costumes (the Gorn anyone?), and sometimes inconceivably bad scripts. But when TOS clicked, it made history, and left an indelible mark on American culture.

I doubt that Vic Mignogna (pronounced Min-yan-yah according to IMDB) wanted to replicate “Spock’s Brain,” but he did pick some really good original episodes and craft some excellent stories around them. The “continues” part in the title is literal: the STC episodes either pick up where the original left off, wrap themselves around the 1960s version, or tell the story from another angle.

One thing I noticed is that STC doesn’t shy away from cultural issues, though the show doesn’t waver one iota from its 1960s roots. The dress, the hairdos, the banter, the sets, the props, and the big chonky backlit buttons are the same as I remember watching on Boston’s channel 56 in the days of UHF reruns when I was a kid. There is none of the slick computer graphics of The Next Generation, and so far, not a hint of the big screen voyages of the star ship Enterprise. It’s all TOS, down to the 4:3 box television format and leaving space for commercials with the proper bumpers. But it’s done very, very well, with new/old stories, a brimming cup of nostalgia, simply superb music, mixing, sound, lighting, costumes, and even the nuances of the characters and how the original actors played them.

As for the cultural issues, there’s a detectable, but subtle, American, Christian influence threaded through the show. Themes like slavery, freedom, war, racism, abortion, forgiveness, guilt, and God play out in the scripts, which Mignogna seems to have spent all his waking hours (and probably a lot of pillow time dreaming) crafting. I was very impressed, and whoever else has seen this series seems to agree, as IMDB users give it an 8/10.

I haven’t seen all the episodes yet, but it seems each one gets better than the previous one. The first two episodes are not as easy to digest, first because the actor portraying McCoy is so out of tune with the character, it’s a distraction; and second, because it’s not easy to watch such a faithful representation of TOS with other actors playing the central roles. By the third episode, that begins to wear off, and by the fourth, I was totally involved in the series. The shows may as well have been played by Shatner & Co. It’s that faithful—plus Chuck Huber plays a perfect McCoy.

In fact, Mignogna, Haberkorn, and Huber, to me, are more preferable to the J.J. Abrams reboot with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban. There’s no doubt that Pine, Quinto and Urban are fine actors, but they made those iconic characters their own, when Kirk, Spock and McCoy never really belonged in the ST:2009 timeline any more than Chris Hemsworth (Thor) belonged on the Enterprise playing Kirk’s dad.

The 2009 reboot died with the relatively poor showing of Star Trek Beyond, the untimely death of Anton Yelchin (as perfect a Chekov as I’ve seen), and the business end of movies yanking Pine out of reach for Paramount/CBS. So be it. The Beastie Boys were fun while they lasted.

STC had its own share of tragedy. Playing Sulu with a passion and fun spirit was none other than Grant Imahara, who most people know from his years (as himself) on Mythbusters, along with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. The story of how Mignogna hooked Imahara, or Imahara lured Mignogna, depending on who is doing the telling, into this casting is in itself fascinating. What’s obvious is that Imahara was an enormously devoted Trekker, and thoroughly enjoyed playing Sulu, which probably cost him more money than he made doing the part. Sadly, Imahara died in July 2020 of a sudden brain aneurysm.

It’s the same devotion that drove so many other characters in STC. Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Troy on TNG, is the computer voice, which in TOS was Majel Barrett (later Majel Barrett-Roddenberry). Adam Dykstra, an animator who worked prominently for 29 years on The Simpsons, and for Disney on hits like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Bolt, Tangled, and Meet the Robinsons, is credited as “crewman” on STC.

Erin Gray, who co-starred in the 1979 shlock sci-fi movie “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” plays a recurring character “Commodore Gray.” Ryan T. Husk, who had a small role in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, played a security guard. Michael Forest, a longtime television character actor who played “Apollo” in TOS “Who Mourns for Adonis,” reprised the role in STC’s first episode. Lou Ferrigno plays—well, The Hulk, sort of—a well-spoken but also despicable big green guy, as a guest star. Juliard-trained John DeLancie, who played the wonderful “Q” in TNG, shows up as a guest star.

Michael Dorn (“Worf”) plays the computer voice in a looking-glass version of “Mirror, Mirror.” Daniel Logan, the kid who played Boba Fett in 2002 Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, shows up in an episode. Jason Isaacs, who played Captain Gabriel Lorca for two seasons on Star Trek: Discovery, and played Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2007, guest stars in one episode.

What do all these people have in common? They didn’t do it for the money, or the fame (God knows, nobody in STC is famous for doing it), for the career opportunity, or to elbow-rub with celebrity. They did it because they love Star Trek, and wanted to preserve, and extend at the same time, what TOS did. STC was filmed in Georgia—not Coweta County’s prestigious Pinewood Studios, but in a small studio in Kingsland, near the coast. Over five years, eleven episodes were produced. That’s two to three a year, when a production like TOS was slated to write, film, edit, and deliver 26 episodes per season.

No studio could ever make money on three episodes a year (not even NetFlix, with Stranger Things clocking in eight to nine “chapters” every two years). There’s only one reason STC exists, and that’s because it was made by those who love Star Trek, for those who love Star Trek, and to honor the original cast, crew, writers, and series.

That, they did, laddie.

If you love Star Trek, I can’t recommend this series enough. Let me quote one reviewer on IMDB.

This should be considered canon for 'TOS' (The Original Series). CBS doesn't know what a treasure has fallen in its lap here and they should take advantage of it.

They should back this series officially and continue the voyage. Yes, standard-def and all :)

It’s true. I enjoyed watching “Picard” last year, and look forward to another season. It got a bit preachy at times, but it was good seeing Patrick Stewart in the role again, great to see Brent Spiner as “Data,” and always good to see Jonathan Frakes playing “Ryker.” But that series failed to capture the spirit of Star Trek. It was trading on what had been in order to tell a new story, and the new story isn’t as good as the first time it was told.

With the Abrams reboots, again, they were telling a new story, trading off the first telling, which honestly was a whole lot better. There’s a reason why the hammy scene-stealing, scenery chewing performances in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were so good. It’s not because fans loved to see Shatner pop veins in his neck, or Nimoy’s stoic “Spock” sacrifice himself for his friends, or have Ricardo Montalbán parade around shirtless for two hours. It’s because the movie took one of the more interesting Star Trek TOS scripts and continued it, extended it, and brought it to a conclusion, in a way that fans could appreciate, without violating the characters or the story.

Other Star Trek reboots and follow-ons seemed to rape the story instead of make love to it. Fans rightly felt violated, not wooed. No such violations happened with STC. It’s pure woo, pure romance, and pure love. The results, though not as polished as the CGI-filled movies (but close!), or the CBS-money backed pay-to-watch permutations, are as trusty, powerful, and just plain good as anything the studios can produce. And all of that was done by fans, not guided by some audience-tested greenlight in Hollywood.

The folks who wear suits to work, dine at Spago, and catch limos to premieres should take notice. Where has Star Trek been all these years? In the hearts of true fans. If Hollywood wants to find it, they know where to look.

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