I vividly remember watching the two-hour premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was 13 years old. It was a Wednesday.
I had already begun an emotional investment in the series before that night. My dad had shown me some of the original series and movies; I enjoyed the universe and wanted to see more that wasn’t so “old”. I had also passionately followed news of the developing show long before the first episode aired. Fan mags (I believe my favorite was called Starlog) had been giving us production memos, casting updates and official announcements many months before the show premeired (it was the 1987 version of livetweeting its creation!). I remember first hearing there would be an android in the crew, and that we had made peace with our mortal enemies, the Klingons; one Klingon had even entered Starfleet! I remember taking in the riskiness and newness of the endeavor too. This was long before reboots and multi-series franchises became popular. It was, in fact, ST:TNG that helped blaze that trail. Grafting a new story onto an old one like this hadn’t been tried on this scale in mainstream entertainment before. It was a huge gamble.
I watched the first episode, and every one after it, for seven years. That’s age 13 until age 20 – a profoundly formative time. I fell in love with some characters, overidentified with other characters, and I really couldn’t begin to imagine how very different I might be as a person if I hadn’t adopted Jean-Luc Picard as a powerful role model and surrogate father (a choice I’m still quite thankful to my adolescent self for; my family of origin was an utter mess during my formation, and I could do a lot worse than aim for pleasing Picard). The crew felt like family.
For being a rerun whore, I’ve seen shockingly little of the show since it went off the air. I caught a few reruns perhaps ten years ago now, but at that point in my life I got entirely preoccupied with, well… some quality control hiccups I hadn’t noticed first time around. It’s possible – perhaps just a smidge possible – that there’s some wooden acting here or there. It may be true that a special effect or two might not have come together just right. Aaaand there might be a wrinkle or two in dialogue. Or plot holes the size of your average Klingon Bird of Prey. After 4 or 5 episodes of being distracted by those, my self of ten years ago stopped watching, chalking the series up to a child’s pleasure that didn’t hold up well. It felt a lot like how my honey describes his experience of the A-Team.
But I stumbled onto the show again just a couple of months ago (thank you, BBC America!). And what I’m struck by this time is the show’s heart, and what hidden gifts it gave me. I’ve been amazed by the depth of its reflections of my own journey and my own ethics over the years. I see just how formative the show was for me, how profoundly it has shaped my theology and politics. Some influences I have eventually rejected, but others are still there, as important anchor points.
I would really like to know more about how this show shaped me.
To that end, I’m about to take a journey. I’ll switch from the seemingly randomly ordered episodes broadcast on a cable channel to a chronological run-through of the whole series (thanks, Netflix!), starting at that fateful Wednesday-night encounter at Farpoint Station. I suspect that I’ll be writing here on the experience, but I don’t expect to focus on the plots, details or quality of the show. I want to explore the memories of my adolescent self, through a lens of narrative theology. I want to unpack the theological problems and social critique presented in the stories, and see how those themes have echoed through my own journey, over the 16 years since the show ended and left an impact on me.
Hopefully some elements of this exploration are compelling to you too, whether you’re a Trekkie, a Trekker, or don’t know a tribble from a tachyon emitter. I believe there are deep commonalities to be found in how our sacred stories can shape each of us. Please join me if you can.
Further edit: Star Trek: The Next Generation and all images from the series are copyright Paramount Pictures. My footnotes on images serve to highlight multiple fansites and databases of Trek lore. I’m making no money off of this website.