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The Star Trek Convention: Cosmos, Celebrities, and Causes

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprises. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man had gone before . . .”

 

The world’s most famous split infinitive became a part of our cultural identity fifty-one years ago. A show that almost didn’t get made, twice saved by the first fan-based letter writing campaigns. It was canceled after three seasons but continued in syndication. Now a half century later, there have been five televisions series (with a sixth on the way), an animated series, six movies based on the original series, four based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:NG), and the “reboot” films by J.J. Abrams referred to as the Kelvin Timeline. That’s a lot of Star Trek in five decades.

But it did more than entertain. It was different the previous space adventures that warned us that the cosmos was dark, dangerous, and out to get us. Star Trek is hopeful. It is a future where humanity survives its worse impulses and reaches out to take out its place among the stars. It also dealt with controversial topics, such as racial equality, war, and greed. They inspired both boys and girls to become scientist and astronauts.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of ST:NG, which continued the tradition, changing “where no man had gone” to “where no one had gone” to demonstrate this would be a more inclusive storyline. They also added the struggle of what does it mean to be human with the sentient android Data.  Women’s roles were even more prominent. For example:

  • Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) as the head of the medical department
  • Fleet Admiral Alynna Nachayev (Natalija Nogulich) as Captain Picard’s immediate senior officer, who will also appear on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (ST:DS9)
  • Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), a senior security officer
  • The mysterious Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), tending Ten Forward, a futuristic bar.

I was four when the first episodes Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS) aired in 1965, so I can say I literally grew up with it. I’ve seen all of the ST:TOS episodes at least twice and some maybe a dozen times, thanks to re-runs, video tapes, and now DVDs. When the opportunity arose, I went where I had not gone before, the Star Trek Convention put on by Creation Entertainment in Las Vegas at Rio Hotel and Resort. This year the event’s focus was the celebration ST:NG’s thirtieth anniversary.

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To say it was overwhelming at times would be an understatement. The convention center of the Rio was decorated with banners and photo backgrounds, where fans could pose and snap a selfie. A good number of attendees were dressed in simple to very elaborate cosplay. Three unique gallery displays attracted attention these included a set reconstruction of ST:TOS bridge; an array of props, photos, and a replica of Ten Forward from ST:NG; and presentation of props and costumes from new Star Trek: Discovery. Photo Ops and Autographs sessions with the actors were available, for a fee. There at least three panels going on simultaneously and there was the exhibition hall where you could shop ‘til you drop.

 

A fandom convention requires that many participants display their love with the flair of a peacock. The Star Trek convention was no exceptions. There were Star Fleet officers and denizens from the far reaches of the galaxy. The creativity and the eye for detail were impressive.

 

The gallery displays were well done and set up like small museums. They were well worth the short wait in line.

  • ST:TOS Bridge set: a recreation of the bridge with flashing lights and sound effects. You could tell someone put a lot of work into making it as accurate as possible. For a fee, you could have a photo taken of you seating at one of the stations, including the captain’s chair.

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  • ST:NG Ten Forward set: The set itself was rather dull just a beige and brown bar, but for a fee, you could have your picture taking with one of the stars of the show sitting at the bar. The best part of this room was the display of props, photos, and memorabilia from the shows seven-year run.

 

  • ST: Discovery: This gallery was filled with props, costumes, and photos from the new series. The sleek designs and elaborate detail each item showed an emphasis on detail that will not be lost on the screen. And as a bonus, you could have your picture taken in the commander’s chair, a gift from CBS.

 

Throughout the weekend there were opportunities to get autographs and photo-ops with some of the actors. Most of the time you paid a fee, received a ticket, and then waited in line. They had this down to a precision dance. For the photos, you waited in line, stood next to the star, flash, and you’re done. You’d return a few hours later and pick up your photo. For the autographs, you stood in line with the item you wanted to be signed and sticky-note with your name for personalization, you handed them to the actor, they signed, and off you go. With the numbers waiting there was no time for chit-chat.

As multiple panels were happening at once, and since I haven’t mastered the art of being in two places I once I chose carefully. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Q & A with Astronaut Mae Jamison – She spoke about how seeing Nichelle Nichols on ST:TOS inspired her to set her goal to one day go into space. She went on to discuss her current project, 100 Year Starship with the aim of interstellar travel within the next 100 years. (Ms. Nichols also surprised the audience by joining Ms. Jamison on stage.)

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  • The Women of Star Trek – Moderated by Gates McFadden, the women discussed the changing role of women as reflected in characters of the Star Trek franchise. One panelist said that when she saw Whoopi Goldberg on ST:NG for the first time she called out, “Mama, Mama there’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid.” This young woman is now volcanologist (Just to be clear, she clarified she studies volcanoes not Vulcans).
  • Remembering Leonard – A brief film documenting the actor/director Leonard Nimoy’s life and his struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The feature was beautifully presented with remembrances from his wife, children, and grandchildren.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Panel – several members of the cast (Rene Auberjonois, Nana Visitor, Terry Ferrell, Armin Shimerman, Aron Eisenberg, and Max Grodenchik) sat on the couch and talked about their time together. It was generally expressed the end of the show was bittersweet because they didn’t want the show to end but it had run for seven seasons and hundred and seventy-six episodes, it was time to move on.

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  • A Science Trek – Scientists from Cal Tech spoke three times over the weekend about the search for planets, especially Class M planets like Earth, and the upcoming solar eclipse. They are finding more planets within the “habitable zone” every day, so we are getting closer to being able “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.”
  • Star Trek: Discovery – Four hours were devoted to introducing the newest Star Trek series, Discovery. Panels included storyline, actors, creatures, and comic/novel tie-ins. This show will be a bit different. First is the time line, Discovery will take place ten years before ST:TOS and shortly after Star Trek: Enterprise. This means we could see a young Sarek (Spock’s father) or Christopher Pike as a new graduate from Star Fleet Academy. The second is the focus of the stories will be below decks, where most of the franchise focused on events on the bridge this one will be following a young woman whose role on the ship wasn’t revealed, only that she is human but raised on Vulcan. The third, and most controversial, is that it will air on CBS All Access subscription service in the United States. Yes, we will have to pay to watch it.
  • Various stars gave one-on-one Q & A sessions, including George Takai, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Rene Auberjonois. Brent Spiner and LaVar Burton interviewed each other. This gave them also a platform to promote their favorite causes. For example, Mr. Auberjonois and Doctors without Borders; Mr. Shatner and Hollywood Charity Horse Show raising funds to support equine therapy groups; and George Takei and his support of LGBTQ organizations. These sessions whether in the large main hall or one of the smaller venues were full of stories, laughter, and few tears.

The exhibition hall was full of everything Star Trek, from clothing and toys to memorabilia. It was best to visit first thing in the morning as fewer shoppers were filled the aisles. I bought a few things. As I forgot to bring any earrings, I had to buy some Star Trek chevron ones. There were also tables where some actors were doing autographs in addition to the previously mentioned ones. I visited with Nichelle Nichols, James Darren, and Michael Doran.  As this time was less pressed, it was also a time for a short conversation. My favorite vendor was the girls at LLAP (Live Long and Prosper). This small business founded by Leonard Nimoy and his granddaughter Dani, offered some well-made t-shirts, jewelry, and memorabilia. A portion of all proceeds goes to COPD research. Dani, her mom Julie (Leonard’s daughter) and their friend, were warm and friendly. I don’t usually bond quickly with people, but when I said my farewells at the end of the weekend, it felt like saying goodbye to family.

 

Overall, the convention was well organized with a variety of events to keep everyone entertained. Creation Entertainment puts on several conventions for different fandoms throughout the year with ticket prices that vary depending on the perks you are willing to pay for. For example, general admission will get you into the venue space permitting (if all the seats are full you miss that event.) Gold level, on the other hand, gets you reserved seating in the front of the auditorium, autographs and meet & greets. I went with Copper level, so I knew I had a seat halfway back for the panels, like Sir Patrick Stewart, if all the general admission seats were full. But I could help feel like I was “nickeled and dimed” as some events required an additional fee to attend, even for the Gold level (Captain’s Chair Level, they were included). When you spend $400 or more to attend a convention, it’s disappointing when you get there and find you can’t attend all of the activities without additional cost.

The Rio Hotel and Resort was a lovely venue. Situated on the other side of Interstate 15 from The Strip, it was a more relaxed location. During the summer on Thursdays they show a movie by the pool under the stars, this week it was Galaxy Quest, which I enjoyed watching again. The only issue I had was the daily $22.99 “resort fee” added on to my bill that I was never told about until check out. When I made my reservations, the only amounts listed were the room and taxes.

It was a fun but tiring weekend. I’m glad I went, but would I do it again? Probably not. Though not as crowded as San Diego Comic-Con, it was significantly more expensive.  I think I would prefer a smaller fan convention. My hope is next year to visit the San Diego Who Con (a Doctor Who convention) or Gaslight Gathering (a Steampunk and Victorian convention).  Though another smaller Star Trek convention isn’t out of the question.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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