Star Trek celebrates its 50th birthday today, standing as one of the most beloved (and profitable) science fiction properties of all time. Its 50-year run is a pretty incredible achievement — especially considering the fact that, by all rights, this franchise shouldn’t still exist. Cancelled after just 3 seasons, the original series (TOS) could have easily gone the way of dozens of other sci-fi stories of its time that had great ambitions, yet just didn’t find the right fit for its audience.
But Star Trek didn’t die. In fact, you might argue that the franchise is as strong and vibrant today as it ever was. The original show has spawned 13 films and 726 episodes of space exploring television so far, along with troves of related media, conventions, fan art, and more. With a new series in the works in Star Trek: Discovery, a blockbuster movie still in theaters, and promise of another film in the near future, the sci-fi institution is showing no signs of stopping.
Today, on its 50th anniversary, we look back on one of the greatest sci-fi franchises ever created and attempt to examine why, still to this day, we all want to keep boldly going where no one has gone before.
Diversity and inclusivity
Star Trek fans span generations, encompassing a wide swath of demographics, and a big part of that is due to the franchise’s ability to show a unified culture on earth as not only a grand ambition, but also a plausible one. The original series especially, which premiered in 1966 during the height of the civil rights movement, was popular among all types of Americans. Civil Rights leader Dr. martin Luther King Jr. was a fan of the original series and praised it for it’s inclusive representations. The series featured an African American woman, an Asian American man, a Jewish man playing the role of an alien, and a Russian teenager as integral main characters.
Gene Roddenberry’s vision of such a diverse future was an important message at the time, and remains so today, especially considering how people tend to view the world given current events. This emphasis on diversity and inclusion has endured throughout the franchise’s 50-year span. The most recent film, Star Trek: Beyond, and the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series both feature openly gay characters, women, and people of color in important roles, and every other series features similar diversity, including examples like Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine, and Kate Mulgrew as Captain Jane Mulgrew in Star Trek: Voyager.
These qualities were not only important to creator Gene Roddenberry, but to past and present cast members, writers, and showrunners, as well. Most notably, Sir Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Jean Luc Picard in The Next Generation series and films, has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights, especially with regards to stopping abuse and violence towards women. While there have been a few examples of storylines trivializing issues concerning race, sexuality, and gender, they’re largely the exception. Star Trek is special for its subtlety in normalizing equality and spreading its humanist ideals over the past five decades.