Star Trek 1979

In 1979 I graduated college so to all outward appearances I was an adult. However, seething under the surface of this grown up was a rabid Star Trek fan who had closely followed the rumors of a big screen production of the old show. Several of my classmates anticipated reliving the wonders of life in Star Fleet ten years after the show was cancelled. Funny how most of the engineering class had that in common. Could it be why we went into that technical discipline in the first place?

Anyway, the rumors proved true and Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted on December 7th. Critics announced that they were underwhelmed even though some admitted to being intimidated when applause arose for each actor’s name as it appeared on the screen at the premiere. They didn’t understand the significance of what they witnessed. This was like a religious experience. Old friends long absent had returned after there was great doubt that we’d ever see them again.

Recently the movie was on TV. I stumbled across it as I surfed channels and caught it near the beginning. Comparing it to subsequent movies I happily noted that Kirk looked like Kirk and not TJ Hooker. I got drawn into the story again. Wait, that would be a gross understatement. I was more than just drawn in. All the feelings that I remembered having when I learned there would be a movie returned. Some might call it nostalgia but it felt more like some kind of homecoming.

If you’ll remember the plot, an enormous cloud of energy threatened the earth. It passed through the Klingon Empire on the way and made mincemeat out of three Klingon Battle Cruisers. In other words, it was nothing to be trifled with. Only one ship was in a position to intercept it. Yes, you guessed it. It was the Enterprise. The only problem was that it was in an orbiting space dock undergoing a major upgrade.

Kirk, an admiral by now, convinced Star Fleet Command to return him to the Captain’s chair of the Enterprise. He also mandated that the final refit schedule be compressed from 20 hours to 12 to have more time with the cloud while it was farther from the Earth.

With the Enterprise’s transporters down, Scotty shuttled Kirk from an orbiting space station over to the starship. Great reverence went into this sequence as they toured the outside of the iconic vessel. It probably bored the critics but true fans devoured every second.

Anyway, the Enterprise left space dock early and shortly thereafter ran into trouble for leaving space dock early. Thankfully, Mr. Spock boarded the enterprise in transit to help balance the engines and avoid getting caught in another wormhole. As they engaged warp drive again the familiar roaring pitch of the engines increased as they accelerated. On a tense bridge Sulu announced each warp drive factor that they safely surpassed to get up to speed. Finally, cruising at Warp 7, Kirk winked at Chekov and it felt like he was winking at me as a father figure might. Why did it make me feel that way? That’s when it hit home. That’s when I realized the lofty place I hold for these characters in my heart of hearts.

Kirk and company eventually come to know the invader as V’ger. It was only in the final moments of the movie that they discover that V’ger is actually Voyager 6 which had been enhanced by a planet of machine intelligence to fulfill its original mission. That mission was to transmit all its data discovered on its voyage to earth. Simple right? Not so fast. At the last moment V’ger decides it wants more than just a cold upload. It wants to intimately (and destructively) merge with its creator, with humanity. Thankfully, Commander Decker, not from the original cast was available to take the fall. Or was it a rebirth? We are left guessing as the Enterprises emerges from the glare of a symbolic dawn as V’ger and Decker merge in an erotic digitized coupling.

There have been better Star Trek movies but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the first one. After all, it built a failed TV series into a franchise with movies, merchandise, TV series and who knows what else to come. Not a bad legacy for an idea that sees mankind with such an inspiring potential.



  1. Wow. Found you on twitter, and followed your link to this post. I, too, am an engineer, and a Star Trek fan (not to be confused with a trekkie) The whole series of movies has been like a homecoming – reunion of sorts for me as well. (I have to say that I prefer TNG to the orginial series, so the more recent movies mean more to my sense of welcoming an old acquaintence into my living room. Thanks for the memories.

  2. I really enjoyed your post. I have the 1979 film version on DVD of the director. I was also very moved by the film.

    • The more time that passes, the more I realize what a gem it is.

      • My first characters were Brick Bradford, Flash Gordon and then ST. All this inspired me to write my SF .. My blog is in Portuguese, but there is the Google translator …

        • Finally saw the movie at the IMAX yesterday. Aside from the ovaolred of being in the front row seats, I really enjoyed it. Being a long time trekker, I think they did a good job with this “reboot” of the franchise. The characters played off each other really well, the action was standard sci-fi but well done, great CGI, and it was fun! Sure, I had some niggles too. They played a little fast and loose with the tech. Transporting onto a ship in warp light years away? C’mon Also, what looked like factory space on board the ship(s) and having a standard push/lock door on an ice planet (with a little ewok gnome, but that is another story) seemed a bit incongruous. Also, have Spock “Prime” (is that like Optimus?) come in an save the day like Gandalf was a bit of a crutch. I’m not sure yet how I feel about Spock and Uhura being an item too. I do like how Abrams kind of gave things a bit of a “Galactica” look when shooting the space sequences, though not so much that it was uber obvious. All in all, worth seeing in the theater, esp. in IMAX, and a good start to a hopefully reinvigorated series. Let’s face it, these guys will be going to Star Trek conventions for the rest of their lives!

  3. Great post Michael. As a die-hard Trekkie myself I get the same buzz as yourself when seeing the best sci-fi show ever. I love TNG, but nothing beats TOS 🙂 I never understood the poor reception ‘The Motion Picture’ got, I thought it was fantastic, not just as the return of my heroes, but it’s a great sci-fi film in its own right and should be regarded as a classic.

  4. The Gorn Captain says

    Imagine JarJarAbrams having a sequence in his idiotic drivel he calls Star Trek aimed at actually pleasing real fans (like the Enterprise in dry dock sequence from TMP) rather than his low-brow lens flare junk. It would never happen. Instead the new “films” piss all over real Star Trek. If I could get that idiot in my clutches it would take much more than a cannon with diamonds to stop me. Hisss!

    • I must say that JJ has a darker view of the Federation than Roddenberry. Kind of a departure from the original intent of its creator. Watch out for falling boulders. 😉

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