In spite of the fact that I was a mere 3 years old when it debuted in 1966, Star Trek is one of a small handful of TV shows that I can actually remember watching while on my daddy’s knee back during their original airings. (The others I remember from that era include Batman, The Green Hornet, Ron Ely’s Tarzan, Get Smart and, believe it or not, Mission: Impossible.) For that reason, I feel I am justified in considering myself to be a first-generation Trek fan; I may not have understood most of what I saw until I was re-watching it again in reruns years later, but by golly I was there watching and having fun watching spaceship flying around on my TV screen.

Now the reason I bring this up is this:

This past weekend, I decided to break out my DVD copy of Star Trek - The Motion Picture and watch it again for the first time in several years. Now understand that the DVD copy I have is of the special “Director’s Cut” edition where Bob Wise was allowed to go back in and tweak the film’s effects so that the film was more in line with his original vision. (Sort of like George Lucas did with Star Wars, but without the resulting controversy and fan disdain.)


I’m a big fan of the ST - TMP Director’s Cut. I thought it fixed a lot of what had been wrong with the original version of the movie. I saw the original version when it came to one of our local theaters in Kankakee, and as much as I had looked forward to seeing it I did come away somewhat disappointed. (To put it in some perspective: Earlier the same day I took Melissa to see ST - TMP at one theater, I had taken my two younger brothers to the other theatre across town were Disney’s The Black Hole happened to be playing. And may the Great Bird of the Galaxy forgive me, but I actually liked The Black Hole better. Four decades later I STILL get some grief from some of my fellow Trek fans over that.)

All that being said, one of the original scenes that was NOT recreated for the Director’s Cut was the scene of Scotty taking Kirk to the newly refitted Enterprise via space pod. And as I watched it unfold on my TV screen last Saturday, I was reminded of how much of an impact that particular scene had on myself and millions of other first generation Trek fans when we first saw it in 1979.

Though some may (and in fact have) claim otherwise, younger Trek fans simply cannot comprehend the depth of emotion that scene carried for us. You’ve never really known a time when there was no new Trek. Oh, sure, there was a four-year gap between the end of Star Trek Enterprise in 2005 and the first film in the J.J. Abrams reboot film trilogy in 2009. But that pales in comparison to the 10-year near-drought conditions that existed between the cancellation of the original series and the premiere of ST-TMP.

Younger fans during that four years had access to home video releases of not one but FIVE different TV series and a total of 10 theatrical films, as well as a steady stream of new novels from Pocket Books, tons of online fan fiction and all manner of comic book iterations, both old and new, from several different publishers.

During the period between June 3, 1969, and December 7, 1979, things were much different. Yes, we had the occasional Bantam Books paperback novel, and 61 issues of a Gold Key comic book that seemed to be released on a highly irregular schedule over a period of nine years; yes, from 1973 to 1974 we had the Filmation animated series; and yes, we had some fan fiction - some of it okay, most of it pretty bad.

But mostly what we had were the 79 episodes of the original series in syndication - over and over and over again, to the point where some of our mothers were threatening to wring our necks if we didn’t change the #%@! channel.

And then, in 1977, we had Star Wars - a much different kind of science fiction experience, to be sure, but one that in its own way honored the legacy that Trek begat. (George Lucas would later famously tell Gene Roddenberry, during a meeting of the two legends at a convention in 1987, that he would take a break from working on his early drafts of Star Wars to watch Trek reruns on TV.)

Comparing the two franchises is ultimately an exercise in futility because they are so different. One is straight-up science fiction; the other is an amalgamation of myth, western and sword-and-sorcery, all dressed up with the trappings of science fiction. But thanks to the success of Star Wars, cinematic science fiction was suddenly the hottest commodity it had ever been - leading, ultimately, to Star Trek - The Motion Picture.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Those Trek fans who look down their noses at Lucas’ creation and say snotty, vicious things about its fans should get down on their knees and sing an aria of hallelujahs for Star Wars

And so there I was on a cold Saturday night in December of 1979, sitting next to the girl I would one day marry and who at that point considered my interest in science fiction to be roughly akin to a mental disorder (don’t worry, she eventually saw the light), and actually holding my breath in awe and wonder as Montgomery Scott flew James T. Kirk around for a close-up look at a starship some of us had come to believe might never fly again. 


Say what else you will about Star Trek - The Motion Picture and its flaws. For me - and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt this way - that one scene alone was worth the price of admission. I was 16 years old and my sense of wonder had not yet become jaded.

Last Saturday, at the ripe old age of 56, I found myself momentarily transported back in time and remembered what that youthful sense of wonder felt like. 

It felt good.

It still does.

May it live long and prosper…

(Copyright © 2019 by John Allen Small)