Random Hulu selection: Trek Nation and a son’s quest for his father’s legacy


May 2. Tonight I watched Trek Nation, a documentary in which Eugene Roddenberry takes his own trek to learn about his famous father Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry died when Eugene was 17. Eugene knew him as a flawed and somewhat distant father. He hadn’t really understood the significance of his father’s creation. In fact, he’s more of a Star Wars guy.

Eugene visits Star Trek conventions and interviews fans to understand why the show is important to them. He interviews stars and crew who worked on various incarnations of the series asking about his father and about the impact of the show on their lives. I found it amazing how many astrophysicists and astronauts said that they had been inspired to their careers by Star Trek.

Gene Roddenberrys’ vision of the future was centered around a mankind’s quest for knowledge and the learning that occurs through open interaction between different life forms. Someone in the documentary points out that it is the alien characters who ask the questions that make human characters reflect on the traits that make us human. Star Trek appealed because of it’s characters, cool gadgets, philosophical bent, action and adventure plotlines, and social commentary. Star Trek projected a hopeful vision of the future.

Eugene Roddenberry interviews George Lucas, who sees Star Trek as an intellectual/mystery while Star Wars is more of a “space opera.” Eugene asks about Luke’s quest to know his father. Lucas says that in Star Wars the idea is that the son redeems the father.

The younger Roddenberry traces the evolution of Star Trek as a television show, through its syndication. The elder Roddenberry’s second chance came through the movies and the new series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Eugene discovers his father as visionary and philosopher. Apparently the older Roddenberry hadn’t talked much about his ideas or the show at home.

Roddenberry began to believe his own hype as a “visionary of the future.” He felt he had an obligation to portray a better future so in Next Generation  the 24th century hunger, greed, and illiteracy have been eliminated. Mankind has evolved beyond petty conflict. Given the need for conflict in storytelling this frustrated his writers. Eugene interviews Rick Berman who took up the mantle after Roddenberry’s death. Berman tried to respect Gene’s vision. Plotlines turned to internal conflict and personal growth.

Eugene and his mother both discuss the differences between the public Gene and the man they knew. They felt that Star Trek was much more reflective of his vision than the family of which he was a member. As Eugene interviews Wil Wheaton who played Wesley in Second Generation, we find out that Gene created Wesley to reflect himself as a young man. Wil talks about how nurturing Gene had been toward him. Eugene says that he didn’t have that experience with his father. “It would have been great if we’d gotten along, but that wasn’t how it was.”

J.J. Abrams was the first director of a Star Trek movie who had not known Gene Roddenberry. Abrams discusses all the baggage that comes with making a new Star Trek. He believes that the fact that the parts are great archetypes makes it easier to recast and carry on. Abrams admits that he hadn’t been a fan until he began working on the movies. The two discuss the baggage between fathers and sons, which is very much a part of the plotline of the most recent Star Trek movies.

While Eugene Roddenberry explains that his journey helped him understand the legacy his father left behind because of Star Trek, the documentary made me sad. Like many men involved in a grand enterprise, the elder Roddenberry seemed to be more occupied by his creation than his family. I don’t know that he’s shed all his baggage or redeemed his father, but the younger Roddenberry seems to have lightened his load a bit. Fascinating.

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