Gene Roddenberry would have been proud. More than 50 years after production commenced on Star Trek: The Original Series, his groundbreaking creation continues to live long and prosper. On Saturday afternoon, 6,000-plus fans filled Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con for the panel Star Trek: Celebrating 50 Years. Moderated by Bryan Fuller, who later showed a teaser video that revealed the title of the upcoming series to be Star Trek: Discovery, the panel featured William Shatner, Jeri Ryan, Scott Bakula, Michael Dorn and Brent Spiner.
Fuller told the fans, “I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be a Star Trek writer. So, being here today is a dream come true.” He challenged the crowd to “think about the promise of Star Trek” and to consider “What we can all do to get there.” Then he addressed the stars at the dais beside him. “They’ve represented the faces of the future,” he observed, “for the 50 years of Star Trek.”
For the better part of an hour, Fuller posed questions to the actors about their experiences on Trek and about the enduring power, societal impact and popularity of the franchise. He then opened the floor to fans who asked questions of their own.
Shatner was asked if, assuming Kirk’s death could be “undone,” would that resurrection interest him? “Hell, yeah,” he replied with a pure Shatner delivery. Fuller, citing the TNG episode “The Measure of a Man,” queried Spiner as to his thoughts on the state of the world.
Spiner said, “I think Star Trek in general has been about individual rights and about respecting everyone, no matter who or what they are. We’re living in a world right now where that sort of respect is being challenged not only all over the world, but in our country. It’s disturbing. I think a lot of our politicians and a lot of our fellow citizens could take a page from Star Trek and have more respect for humanity.” Bakula said, “I continue to be hopeful that, even when it gets dark, we as a species will figure things out.”
Next, a fan thanked the assembled talent for “bringing such a beloved and progressive show to the world, and then addressed her question to Fuller. She wanted to know how Discovery would pick up those threads. “The new show has to continue to be progressive,” he said. “It has to push boundaries. It has to give us hope for the future.” He also revealed that Discovery will be “telling stories like a novel,” in what he referred to as “chapters.”
Other anecdotes from the panel:
Fuller, while prepping got Discovery, spoke to astronaut and TNG guest star Mae Jemison, who told him that seeing Nichelle Nichols on TOS had inspired her.
A young man stepped up the microphone to ask a question and some in the crowd booed mildly when they saw on the screen that he was sporting a Star Wars shirt. “We can like both,” the fan said, a statement repeated by Fuller. Ryan agreed, saying, “Inclusion. Gene’s vision. Exactly.”
Everyone offered interesting answers to a question asking about the actors’ favorite bits of Trek tech. Dorn chose the PADDs, while Shatner went with the communicator and Spiner selected the replicator, a choice that led to a heartfelt conversation about just how unnecessary real-world hunger, especially in the United States, could and should be. Bakula joked that Enterprise didn’t have many cool gadgets, but he shared an affection for the “glow in the dark blue gel” that the cast occasionally slathered on each other in order to decontaminate themselves.
And on it went, with plenty of laughs, thoughtful memories and more. Spiner and Dorn politely declined to do their infamous dueling Gregory Peck imitations, while Ryan addressed the difficulties of joining Voyager mid-run and replacing a departing character. Near the end, Fuller compelled everyone in the audience to hold hands as one, and he encouraged everyone to “make a promise to leave this room with love, to leave this room with hope.” He also led a moment of silence for Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin and all those involved with Trek whom we’ve lost over the years. And then, to cheers, Fuller introduced a video that revealed both the latest great Trek ship, the U.S.S. Discovery (NCC-1031), and the Star Trek: Discovery logo.
Though the main public event ended there, Fuller and the actors then headed into another room for a half-hour press conference, during which they were joined by Discovery co-producers Heather Kadin and Rod Roddenberry, and fielded questions from the media.
And that was followed by a short red carpet session during which they posed for photos separately and together, and fielded a few more questions from the journalists on hand. The highlight of the press conference was an expansive, thoughtful 5-minute rumination by Shatner on Star Trek’s legacy which touched on dinosaur bones and the Greeks, a few of his books, Stephen Hawking, science fiction as mythology, dilithium crystals, an executive/Trek fan who lent him a private jet, and more, all based on a so-called “mere television show” that’s lasted 50 years and counting, and has changed the world. “That’s what the meaning of Star Trek really is,” he concluded to extended applause from his fellow actors, Fuller and the assembled journalists.
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