It was almost 50 years ago that Gene Roddenberry began developing Star Trek and its tales of the ever-rational United Federation of Planets (which values connection and communication above conquest) and noble, shining Starfleet (which devotes its powerful engines to exploration and insight).
Those concepts launched one of the most persistent mythologies in American pop culture (on television alone there have been six series with 700-plus episodes over 30 years) and they seem to echo also in Trek Initiative, a just-announced venture from Roddenberry Entertainment that is taking a Starfleet approach to the a unruly universe known as the Internet.
“We have wanted to do something to unite all of the fans for years,” says Rod Roddenberry, son of the late Star Trek creator. “There’s tons of information out there. We don’t need to provide content, we just need to unite them. Whether it’s fan films, fan fiction, just people connecting to talk about the future … we wanted to provide a place where people from all walks of life can connect over a passion for Star Trek or a passion for the future.”
Announced at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, Trek Initiative is a sleek new portal that aims to connect and curate the vast amount of Starfleet content that fills the cyber constellations. The site represents the new partnership of Roddenberry Entertainment and Wikia, which is already in Federation space in a big way — its Memory Alpha is among its 31 Star Trek sites representing 11 languages, 165,000 pages and 9.4 million page views per month. But Eric Moro of Wikia frames this new enterprise as an agent of unity (like Roddenberry, who’s nickname was The Great Bird of the Galaxy) not as some cloaked predator (like those Romulans and their way-cool Bird of Prey ships).
“In true Wikia fashion, this goes back to the fan community, that’s really what it is all about,” Moro says. “Working directly with the fans that have just huddled with this franchise and supported it for so long … there are a lot of sites out there that cover Trek well and there’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel there and compete with them.”
Ah, so this is the Neutral Zone. It may be needed since, unlike the Jedi universe (which is funneled through Lucasfilm and StarWars.com) the voyages of Trek are not as cleanly centralized. CBS Entertainment, for instance, handles the considerable licensed merchandise tied to the original series, even as Paramount Pictures has a new film version of the classic crew headed to theaters next month.
The wheels of the sci-fi vehicle are spinning like mad right now are these are heady days for Star Trek fans with the most anticipated Starfleet film in decades, the biggest video game roll-out in brand history, and a barrage of notable Trek retail releases and live events hoping to surf on the cosmic wave of interest.
But that said, there’s reason to wonder if Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future has more mileage in its past than in its future. It’s not just the directorial defection of J.J. Abrams, it’s the fact that seven years has passed since the last new Starfleet television episode. And, on a more philosophical level, Star Trek Into Darkness arrives in theaters next month as the least optimistic version of the Trek universe ever to reach the screen: If Trek’s signature trait isn’t on-board, how long can an ongoing mission persevere?
It’s interesting to note that substantial investment made a few years ago in an online resource and community steeped in the worlds and themes of James Cameron’s Avatar fizzled completely despite the fact that that movie is (at least as far as un-adjusted box office gross) the biggest movie of all time. That may say more about the connection fans had to Avatar, which was more about the game-changing visual accomplishments than the characters or story.
For Rod Roddenberry, the characters and heritage of Star Trek go beyond the crew of the Enterprise. His father, the first television writer to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, looms as large as Mr. Spock in the hearts of longtime fans. (Rod also happens to be the son of the late Trek actress Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who was also the familiar voice of the Enterprise computer in five different decades — the Siri of Starfleet.) “The name has its burdens but they are all self-imposed and the benefits far outweigh the burdens,” Roddenberry said this week. “I take it very seriously. The Roddenberry name means a lot to a lot of people and that has been transferred to me. There’s a responsibility and it means a lot to me and that’s why I’m so pleased to be doing this with Wikia.”
As for the future and his own optimism in it, the heir of the Roddenberry universe says things will work out fine as soon as the USS Enterprise gets back to its proper space — the small screen, which he sees as the most promising frontier if not the largest. “I think Star Trek belongs on television and while what J.J. has accomplished with the movies is fantastic and he’s done a great job with the characters and the canon, I think it’s really hard to make Star Trek be Star Trek on the big screen,” he said. “My definition of Star Trek is that it has to be more than entertainment; it has to have a moral dilemma. A lot of [the movies] are the cowboy in the white-hat and cowboy in the black-hat. So I’m excited for it [to get] back on TV, although that comes with apprehensions as well. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the one running the show.”