Tuesday Trekkin’: “The Ages of Trek.”

Well, here I go…trying to resurrect yet another “irregularly recurring” blog feature that fell by the wayside while I was working on Other Things.

For those who’ve missed previous installments, “Tuesday Trekkin’” is pretty much just another excuse for me to babble about some aspect of Star Trek fandom. These evolutions often involve me yammering on about a fondly remembered bit of funky merchandise, anniversaries, “milestones,” or important dates in franchise history, convention memories, or whatever else tickles my fancy on any given day.

The “Tuesday Trekkin’” moniker is something of a salute to a pair of friends, Dan Davidson and Bill Smith aka “The Hosts of the TrekGeeks Podcast.” Over on Facebook, they have a fan group, Camp Khitomer, devoted to all things Trek where all are welcome to join in their positive vibes and community. They also like to push a #TrekTuesday hashtag over there, inviting members to share updates, links, and/or pictures celebrating their fandom, so this feature is definitely offered in that same spirit.

What’s up this time around? I can’t honestly call what follows “deep thinking,” but it is something to which I’ve given more than a few brain cells. In the beginning, it was an exercise in helping understand and bridge the gap that seems to grip different segments of Star Trek fandom from time to time. I’m old enough that I was born while the original series was still in production, but I didn’t actually watch the show until it was in reruns in the early 1970s. Despite this being my absolute favorite of the bunch, I consider myself a fan of the entire franchise. I may not love every incarnation or show or film on equal terms, but I can honestly say I’ve found something in each of them I enjoy and have no problem recommending to others.

I also know that every series or film is someone’s first; their entry point into Star Trek and Star Trek fandom. They’re going to come at it differently than I did, and they’re going to take from it things I didn’t consider or which simply resonate with them in ways that don’t or even can’t with me. That’s one of the wonders that is something like this, which has been around for more than fifty years and still works at reinventing itself in ways the creators hope will reach modern audiences.

There’s a sweet spot somewhere in all of that, where appealing to new viewers won’t alienate older fans, and from person to person that spot will have different locations within this evolving mass of storytelling. This isn’t a judgment; wherever, however, and to what degree one embraces their fandom is an indivual choice. The only really bad choice is not to understand this reality.

TL;DR? “Like what you like, and let others do the same.”

With that in mind, it’s worth mentioning that hey! There’s a brand new Star Trek TV series bowing this very week!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the fifth series to premiere on Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) since September of 2017. Okay, sixth if we’re counting the Star Trek: Short Treks series of vignettes…and we probably should because why not? Each of the previous shows: Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy – has attempted to present Star Trek in a different way, pushing and pulling on whatever has passed for a “Star Trek template” to this point.

With that said, this latest incarnation is in many ways something of a throwback; a return to the kinds of stories one finds in episodes of the original series, The Next Generation, and Voyager. Captain Christopher Pike, James Kirk’s predecessor, commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise from the original show? A ship, sets, uniforms, and props that evoke the style of that series from my childhood, but amp’d up with 21st century production design? Stories touching on characters, aliens, and other bits of lore (and, dare I say it, “mythology”) that have been around pretty much since the first pilot was filmed in 1964, while also striking out on its own to fill in some gaps in that very same lore? I’m listening.

The imminent arrival of this new series had me thinking yesterday about something I originally pondered back in late 2020. It was after reading an article written by Eric Pesola for Tor.com: “Fandom and the Future of Star Trek.” Before you endure any more of my yammering, I recommend reading Eric’s piece, because it absolutely provided much fodder for contemplation.

One of the things Eric posited in his article was this:

“Some fans consider the period from TNG’s debut to the release of Nemesis to be Star Trek’s Golden Age—a time when there were new films in the theaters and fresh Trek on TV. I propose that this current era is Trek’s Silver Age (to borrow a term from the comic book world), in which we get to explore the new and different facets of the franchise brought to us by Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, and future shows like Strange New Worlds, Prodigy, Section 31, and more.”

The notion of fans separating Star Trek into different “eras” isn’t new, of course, but I found myself taken with the whole idea of using sing the “_____ Age” monikers to distinguish these different periods. I’d never really considered using such terms, but after Eric laid it out like that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I couldn’t possibly be the first person to think along these lines, but that didn’t stop me from coming up with an initial stab at finding the different lines of demarcation. I first wrote about this on my Facebook page at that time (November 2020) and after reviewing that post I decided to tweak what I came up with to produce my so-called “definitive version.”

Note: Like Eric, I decided to borrow from the world of comic books when it came to separating Star Trek storytelling into these different “Ages.” Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, etc. For me, the different “eras” (more or less) start and end in alignment with the biggest changes or updates to the basic premise as well as in public perception of the franchise. One “Age” isn’t supposed to be perceived as being better or worse than another. With that in mind, here’s where I landed:

1966-1987 – Golden Age: the original series, animated series, and the first four Star Trek feature films along with any novels, comics, and other stories featuring Captain Kirk and company published during this era.

1987-2009 – Silver Age: Star Trek: The Next Generation along with the remaining original cast films as well as the TNG movies, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Also included: all novels, comics, games, and other narratives across all of the series which were published during this period.

2009-2017 – Bronze Age: The three reboot/”Kelvin Timeline” films, as well as novels, comics, games, etc. across all series (of which there’s quite a bit of that material published within this window).

2017-present – Modern Age: Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, Strange New Worlds, and the other shows (and films) in development but not yet broadcast. Also, books, comics, games, etc. from any series, which of course are continuing to be published right alongside the new TV productions.

Some notes:

First, none of this is intended as a judgment on value or quality of anything regardless of where it’s placed, and I’m not interested in reading someone’s attempt to subvert what I have here for such purposes, so consider this a gentle warning at the outset.

For the sake of simplicity, I used “canon” Trek as anchor points to denote the different Ages. Once we start drilling down into the different runs of Star Trek comics, novels and other narrative fiction from various publishers, gaming storylines, and so on…that way lies madness. A “Multiverse of Madness,” one might even say.

I felt the span of time for the “Golden Age” was important, so as to highlight the continuing interest the original series (and yes, the animated series) enjoyed during this period. The original show was in reruns every day somewhere in the country if not the world, so public awareness of it was still strong and was one of the contributing factors leading to its eventual revival. We might’ve had a new TV series in 1978 if not for Star Wars, and opinions and theories vary as to whether this might have been a good or a bad thing. Somewhere, there’s a universe where Star Trek spin-off shows are all titled Star Trek: Phase __. This, along with the ongoing publishing and other merchandizing efforts (questionable calls and all) as well as the conventions that were a big deal during that period, are worth recognizing.

Following on this, I opted to change my original breakdown so that rather than kicking off the “Silver Age” with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I instead included the first four feature films in the “Golden Age” and extended that period from 1979 to 1987. During these years, it was still all about Kirk and the gang even though they’d made the leap from TV reruns to the silver screen. I’ve decided Star Trek: The Next Generation needed to kick off the “Silver Age” because it really was something of a great leap forward for the franchise; proving lightning could indeed be caught in a bottle at least more than once.

Which led me to deciding there should be no gaps between my different “Ages” the way it’s done in the comic book world (6-year gap between the “Golden Age” and the “Silver Age,” for example). This is because throughout every “Age,” books, comics, games, and other means of presenting “a Star Trek story” were present, helping to scratch the Trek itch for many a fan. I consider it important to factor this into the discussion, both as a fan of such material from an early age and – yes, I’m biased – now as a creator of it. There’s a good bit of “expanded universe” stories from the years after the original show and before the first film (whether or not you choose to include the 1970s animated series, and really…why don’t you?), and several metric tons of it between 1979 and today. It’s interesting to note that – just as comics did while reinventing or reintroducing characters during one Age or another, Trek “expanded universe” offerings were (and are) of course required to reset/change lanes/etc. as necessary and appropriate upon the arrival of a new film or TV series. For a recent example, I direct you to the recent Star Trek: Coda trilogy.

Similarly, comics have changed up things as characters continue to appear within their pages decades after their debut (Superman and Batman comics have been going strong for 80+ years, yo), while still holding on to the broad strokes, key milestones, and other matters of import from their respective mythologies. The “origin stories” for Batman and Superman, for example, along with their relationships with family, friends, and adversaries, and so on are largely the same as when they were introduced in the 1930s, with allowances made for modern storytelling sensibilities.

I feel it’s important to keep similar thinking in mind when considering the sheer width and breadth of stories comprising “the Star Trek universe,” whether we’re only taking what’s on screen or opening up things so we can include “expanded universe” material. Despite the contributions of literally thousands of people across six decades and with all things considered, by and large Star Trek‘s internal mythology still manages to hang together pretty well.

(Click to Biggie Size)

Many thanks to Eric Pesola at Tor.com for inspiring me to ponder this notion. Yes, I freely admit I seem to have given this way too much thought.

Fine. That’s enough rambling for one day. As always, feel free to chime in down in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Trekkin’: “The Ages of Trek.”

  1. This Modern Age of Star Trek is certainly unique. We currently have five series in simultaneous production! Plus, of course, all the extra-canonical storytelling and scuttlebutt of more canonical entries to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Our thoughts are similar but our nomenclature is different. I prefer to use the terms the “Roddenberry Era” (1966-86), the “Berman Era” (1987-2005), the “Abrams Era” (2009-16) and the “Kurtzman Era” (2017-present). There’s some overlap, of course; Roddenberry created TNG but was out of it after two seasons and it really became Berman’s show; Bryan Fuller co-created Discovery with Kurtzman but was similarly out of it before it even premiered.

    Liked by 1 person

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