This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Fifty years ago five years after Yuri Gagarin flew into outer space and nearly three years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon the world got its first look at a future unlike any seen before.
On Sept. 8, 1966, NBC debuted a TV series, a science-fiction adventure called "Star Trek." It promised "to boldly go where no man has gone before," and over 50 years it has delivered making people imagine the future, think about the present, change how stories are told and invent new ways for fans to connect.
"I've looked at my life and where we're going I'd much rather go to the 'Star Trek' future," said Leigh George Kade, a Salt Lake City restaurateur and panelist on "Geek Show Podcast." "They've worked it out. There's equality there. There's no poverty there."
"It touches something in us that aspires to be our better selves," said Eric Allan Hall, of Midvale, who is well known within the fan community for his "Star Trek" cosplay.
Kade and Hall are among the many fans of "Star Trek" who will talk about the show at the fourth Salt Lake Comic Con, happening Thursday through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Several panels at this year's convention will focus on "Star Trek's" 50th anniversary starting with an opening-day appearance by William Shatner, the original Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, in the Vivint Smart Home Arena (after "Star Wars" star Mark Hamill's event).
It's only fitting, because without "Star Trek" and its devoted fan base, events like Salt Lake Comic Con wouldn't exist.
"Star Trek" fans, according to author and "Trek" archivist Larry Nemecek, "invented media cons and comic cons, beyond what literary science-fiction conventions had been. They showed what happened when you brought the filmed element in and created that kind of passion."
A cult hit • The fans have been instrumental in preserving "Star Trek" from the beginning. When the show's ratings faltered after its second season in 1968, fans mounted a letter-writing campaign that persuaded NBC to renew the series for its third and final season.
In the 1970s, as "Star Trek" reruns went into syndication, the show developed into a cult hit with fans trading information about the show through the mail.
" 'Star Trek' invented the internet before it was there, even when it was on paper and stamped mail," Nemecek said. "The demand that people had to be interlinked, and share canon information, was there and the internet came along later on and supplied a much better mechanism."
In 1977, something else came along to rejuvenate "Star Trek" George Lucas' "Star Wars."
"It has been said that if it wasn't for 'Star Wars,' we wouldn't have 'Star Trek' now," said Kerry Jackson, co-host of X96's "Radio From Hell" and host of "Geek Show Podcast." After the success of "Star Wars," other studios started looking for space-themed franchises and Paramount rummaged around and found it owned "Star Trek" after its parent company acquired Desilu Productions (the company founded by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) in 1967.
"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" brought Shatner and the rest of the crew back together in 1979. Five more films with the original Enterprise crew followed as did a new TV series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which premiered in 1987, ran for seven seasons and spawned four more movies. More spinoffs followed: "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (1993-99), "Star Trek: Voyager" (1995-2001) and a prequel, "Star Trek: Enterprise" (2001-05).
"They now talk about cinematic universes, and multiplayer massive universe games, and world building. 'Star Trek' was doing all that in the '70s and '80s and '90s," Nemecek said.
Not just stories • The stories of "Star Trek," fans soon realized, were not just exciting space adventures. They were allegories for problems human beings faced in the 20th and 21st centuries.
"It is, in veiled ways, really relevant to today, delving into things that resonate with us today," said Paul Gibbs, a Utah filmmaker and a film critic who writes at TheBeardedTrio.com.
Hall cites one episode from the original series, "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield," which featured feuding denizens of a planet where the humanoid population was half-black and half-white. The episode, Hall said, "symbolized the racial turmoil of the civil-rights movement."
One of Kade's favorite "Next Generation" episodes, "The Ensigns of Command," showed a human colony resisting evacuation before aliens were due to wipe out the colonists a story that paralleled ongoing disputes between Palestinians and Israelis, Kade said.
"They're dressing it up like science fiction, but it's all there," Kade said.
Damon Ricks, an Ogden insurance agent who's involved with Seventh Fleet, a Utah "Star Trek" fan group, said the beauty of the show lies in the diversity of the original Enterprise crew: American-born Capt. Kirk and Dr. McCoy, Lt. Uhura from Africa, Lt. Sulu from Asia, the Scottish engineer Cmdr. Scott, the Vulcan Mr. Spock, and the Russian navigator, Chekov.
"A crew from the entire world that embodies the Federation," Ricks said.
New life in reruns • Many fans trace their love of "Star Trek" not to its original run, from 1966 to 1969, but when the reruns aired in syndication.
"It was on every single day. I didn't miss an episode for years," Kade said.
"I would come home in the afternoon, and there was that wonderful hour-and-a-half of 'Batman' reruns and 'Star Trek,'" Jackson recalled.
Jennifer Wardell, associate editor and movie critic for the Davis Clipper, watched the reruns, thanks to her mother, "a pretty serious Trekkie," she said.
"I didn't call myself a Trekkie," Wardell said. "I said I was raised Trekkie." (The argument over whether "Star Trek" fans are "Trekkies" or "Trekkers" is an old one and will not be discussed here.)
Wardell finally embraced her Trekkie-ness in 1999, with the conclusion of "Deep Space Nine" when she got excited because Rom, the hapless Ferengi who played second fiddle to his conniving brother Quark, was elevated to the exalted title of Grand Nagus.
"I realized I was just as deep a Trekkie as my mother was," Wardell said. "I was emotionally invested in these people's lives. I cared about them as much as anyone in any fictional universe."
Brooke Wilkins, a costumer at Hale Centre Theatre, started watching the original series in syndication but didn't get hooked until "Next Generation."
"It was the Crusher family that got me," Wilkins said. "There was this great doctor with red hair, and I had red hair."
Not long after, in 1991, Wilkins went on her first date, and she and her beau saw "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."
"It was super fun," she said. "We were both geeks. We had a great time."
After "Next Generation," Wilkins was in college and fell away from "Star Trek" for a while. " 'Star Trek' is secular humanist, and I'm fine with that," she said. "The Mormon in me decided, 'I don't have time for this.' "
She watched a few episodes of "Deep Space Nine," which focused on one species, the Bajorans, who worshiped noncorporeal beings known as The Prophets. Wilkins stopped watching because "I thought this is going to be a story about how these poor backward Bajorans grow out of their belief in a God," she said.
A couple of years after "Deep Space Nine" ended, a guy Wilkins was dating encouraged her to watch the series on DVD. "I was so wrong," she said. "I got re-Trekkified."
("Star Trek" and romance have intersected for Wilkins yet again. Three years ago, she met a guy at a fan convention in Las Vegas. They have had a long-distance relationship since, and in October, Wilkins plans to move to Florida to be with him.)
A new worldview • While Wilkins saw a positive religious message in "Star Trek," Jackson found in the franchise a philosophy that moved him away from religion.
"I learned more about the real world by watching and learning from 'Star Trek' than from any teacher or any religious leader," he said.
Jackson had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1992, and walking to the hospital waiting room to watch reruns of "Next Generation" became part of his therapy.
"I began to see what they were building on not just the mythology but the philosophy," he said. "We were no longer motivated by money, by greed. It seemed like there was no religion, either and that the myths had kind of held us back. That's when the atheism started to kindle [in me] a little bit."
Jackson said "Star Trek" "is and always has been the most progressive show on television." He cites the fact that "Deep Space Nine" gave us a black commander, Benjamin Sisko, in 1993, while "Voyager" had a female captain, Kathryn Janeway, two years later. (Some fans were disappointed that it took until 2016 for the franchise to have a prominent gay character when, in "Star Trek Beyond," Lt. Hikaru Sulu was revealed to have a husband and a child.)
"It feels like there's room for everyone in 'Star Trek,' " Wardell said. "Whatever personality type, there will be someone in one of the shows that is yours, that resonates with you and can be your entry into that universe."
Hall noted that so many other futuristic franchises such as "Planet of the Apes," "Logan's Run," "The Terminator" and "Mad Max" were "bleak and destructive and a battle of survival." On "Star Trek," humanity dodged the apocalypse.
" 'Star Trek' gives us a positive outlook for the future," Hall said. "We have overcome the problems that we have, and became better than we are now."
"Star Trek" has endured for 50 years and into the future, with the rebooted movie franchise and a new TV series, "Star Trek: Discovery," debuting next year because, Jackson said, "it's telling human stories. It's teaching you about life and love and what's important, but you don't realize it's teaching you these things … because you think you're just watching a space show."
Twitter: @moviecricket Salt Lake Comic Con info
Here's the important information on the 2016 Salt Lake Comic Con:
Where • Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City
When • Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 1-3
Registration • Opens at 8 a.m. all three days
Vendor floor hours • Thursday, 2 to 9 p.m. (opens at 1 p.m. for VIP and Gold passes); Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (opens at 10 a.m. for VIP and Gold); Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (opens at 9:30 a.m. to VIP and Gold)
Panels • First panels in Salt Palace are Thursday at 1 p.m. (not including the Mark Hamill panel at 11 a.m. and the William Shatner panel at 12:15 p.m. in the Vivint Smart Home Arena); Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m.; last panels start at 8 p.m. all three days
One-day passes • Advance prices are $20 for Thursday, $35 for Friday, $45 for Saturday (prices go up $10 each at the door)
Three-day passes • Advance prices: $70 for a regular Multipass, $95 for a Gold pass (includes early entry to the vendor hall, a collectible gold badge and a small collectible), $230 for a VIP pass (includes early entry to the vendor hall, collectibles, express panel lines, an exclusive print and a $30 photo-op voucher). Prices go up $10 each at the door.
Website • For online ticket and pass sales, schedules, cosplay rules and other information, go to saltlakecomiccon.com