To The Stars

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I want you all to know that for two decades –without requesting it — my truck license plate was 1701. Just like the Enterprise!

I played hooky yesterday morning, watching a Star Trek movie on TV just like I had nothing else in the world going on. This may have been the first Saturday since we got serious about moving that I’ve done anything like that.

I saw that Star Trek: Generations, which handed the movie franchise off from the original cast to The Next Generation, was airing on IFC (“Always on, slightly off”). I’m sure I’ve seen this movie at least 20 times — doing math shows it came out 25 years ago — but I don’t recall when I last watched it. I remembered enough to know what was going to happen next in nearly every scene, but I watched it anyway, using the commercial breaks to take care of animals, laundry and breakfast.

But mostly I just watched the movie, the one — ha! — in which Captain Kirk dies (name ones he doesn’t die in, and those are the ones in which Spock meets his end). William Shatner, who at 88 is still on TV, now pitching a cleaning machine for his CPAP, resisted the notion that his character would be killed off in this movie, and he even wrote a novel (located somewhere in this house) afterward that showed a way forward yet once again for the invincible Kirk.

But Hollywood didn’t bite, and Captain Kirk, as played by Mr. Shatner, never rode again. Of course the character didn’t go away, and now shows up in new movies embodied by Chris Pine channeling William Shatner.

As I was watching Kirk in his death throes yesterday morning, I was trying to decide if Mr.  Shatner was right, that perhaps Kirk didn’t have to die. It wasn’t really necessary for the storyline, although Star Trek — and lots of other movies — loves the notion of the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the order.

For the sake of the franchise, though, I think Kirk’s demise was required. You can’t have Jim Kirk out there clinging on if you want your franchise to be headed by Jean-Luc Picard.

[During one of my college astronomy classes, instead of taking notes I was busily writing a satiric dialogue set on the bridge of the Enterprise. While I remember this as being extremely clever, it was lost to the ages ages ago, and the only line I can remember is Sulu or Chekov reporting “Klingons on the screen, sir,” and either Spock or Kirk responding, “Well, get them off.” Oh, and Kirk had epaulets even when his shirt came off (as it often found cause to during the actual show).]

And now it’s Patrick Stewart who won’t let go, and I see there’s a show where the 79-year-old is reprising his captaincy. It’s on CBS All Access, and I refuse to be held hostage by every network out there that wants to charge me extra for questionable programming, so I can’t tell you if Stewart’s still got it or not.

I read an autobiography by William Shatner, who has written several. This was the one written after he learned that his Star Trek castmates (other than Leonard Nimoy) really didn’t have much use for him. He went back to them (one of them, and I don’t remember which one, didn’t care to talk to him at all) and asked them why, and then he put it in the book. Warts and all.

My biggest takeaway from that particular book, however, was not in-fighting among actors who all seem to measure their worth by how many lines they got in that week’s script, but Mr. Shatner’s drive to continue working to be able to support himself and his family.

His father, a tailor in Canada, often derided Mr. Shatner’s career choice, assuring him he would never make a living as an actor. So strong are those impressions from one’s parent that even as Mr. Shatner moved from fairly regular work on Broadway and then into the anthology shows so prominent in early television onto superstardom as James T. Kirk, followed by eponymous cop TJ Hooker and then lawyer Denny Crane (Boston Legal), he remained convinced that his craft was illusory and likely to go away. Which is probably why he pitched Priceline and now So Clean. If you’re not working the money will evaporate.

I didn’t watch Mr. Shatner’s other shows, although apparently I’m now of the proper demographic to watch shows where So Clean for CPAPs is heavily advertised (along with walk-in bathtubs and Colonial Penn life insurance), but I’ll assume he invested himself in these other, newer characters. While the shows were popular with others if not me, they came with a more limited shelf life than Star Trek, and Denny Crane is never going to be the living legend James T. Kirk has been for more than half of William Shatner’s life.

So whether the Powers That Be didn’t want William Shatner driving the USS (United Star Ship) Enterprise around the galaxy after 1994, it doesn’t really matter: he flies on in our hearts. Mr. Shatner didn’t need to write his fanfiction novel showing a way forward for him: it was there all along.


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