Well, here it is at last: COVID couldn’t dim it and revisionists couldn’t dent it.
It’s the day, and the kickoff of reflections and celebrations, to mark the birth centennial of The Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry: Aug. 19, 1921, one hundred years ago.
For all you lurker mundanes out there, Gene is of course — quite simply— the creator of all things Star Trek. Specifically, what we now call the Original Series first pilot-filmed in 1964 and running 1966-69, then The Next Generation in 1986-87 — with a fan movement of historic, game-changing proportions that demanded the return of the “failed” series to movie form and, eventually, an entire universe of storytelling.
But why and how did that get to be so huge? THAT’S what we’re celebrating today, and this year.
It’s why NASA has a special #Gene100 panel at 11 am PT / 2 pm ET across all its channels, led by Gene’s son Rod with George Takei along with astronauts and more across NASA.
I’d also point you to a very special (and personal, for me) The Trek Files episode this week … and today’s tale told for the daily bite-size sci-fi history podcast, Sci-Fi 5, also at Roddenberry Podcasts.
In turn, THOSE moments and many more are why today Rod and partner Trevor Roth announced a bio-pic feature film project about Gene from screenwriter Adam Mazer (You Don’t Know Jack), now in the works!
We don’t need to see Gene as a guru of the ’70s, the martyr of the ’80s, the lost icon of the ’90s, or the flawed Mad Men-era white guy of the revisionist Aughts.
Here on his Centennial it’s enough to acknowledge how powerful is the “Roddenberry Vision,” still. And how audiences will always be flocking, as we all still strive for what he saw for his and our future.
So, the fact that younger fans decades after his passing may not be as familiar with that vision and its source is exactly why we set aside the time to celebrate and reflect:
— The popular 100 Days of Gene quotes read by the Trek family and celebrity Trek fans , and the limited Quoting Gene podcast to deep-dive them;
—The ShopStands special Roddenberry Centennial charity merch items — which end TOMORROW, Aug. 20! —that benefit the 350.org climate-fighting group and The Trevor Project working to protect and support the LGBTQ Community
Today is about both the boldness and game-changing look of Gene’s storytelling vision… as well as the subtext of the story he is telling:
A far-future realm of humans living across space with new friends … because we found a way to respect each other as celebrated individuals and cultures that didn’t destroy ourselves first — and allow all the magical evolution of technology needed to get us there.
Generations of folks ever since 1966 adore the idea of that dream, and its vision of hope and diversity — and yes, going boldy to new life and strange new worlds… many of which, as we know, are really more about the unexplored mysteries within ourselves as much as those light-years distant.
Grand statements, yes — but in race-torn, class-based and a newly atom-armed Earth often at war — or poisoning its environment and atmosphere — it was all still a radical notion, much less subtext for a serious series set 300 years in the future.
Look, if the seed that Gene Roddenberry planted in the strident ’60s had merely bloomed as a popular, deep-rooted entertainment property, that would be something.
But we all know why we’re here, why we mark this day—why I’m writing this and you are reading it: It’s about something far more massive and radical. And subversive, knowing it was delivered amid the toothpaste and car commercials that paid for it:
Gene’s Star Trek fired hopes and dreams of a better, more perfect future for a 20th and 21st century audience inspired by actually seeing reflections of themselves in his characters —including viewers still left far behind on justice, respect and security. His Star Trek was as much about a freedom from hate and want as much as it was about the simple excitement of an gleaming, high-tech future among new neighbors in the stars. Gene was just trying to say: We don’t get to “B” if we foolishly blow up “A” first.
That optimistic embrace is what grabbed the kids (and many of their parents) in 1966 — and every Trekkie, Trekker and Trekfan since then. That’s why we’re aboard her!
And all from a dreamy-eyed beat cop’s son, an El Paso native transplanted to Hollywood as a kid in the 1920s and finding his way from his dad’s world to the on-camera magic of his adopted city’s most famous product.
And who, along the way, was excited by air travel — in combat and commerce alike — enough to be a real-world hero of both, both during and just after World War II.
All the while just trying to make his way in the world, carrying all the personal flaws and shortcomings that we all battle — in relationships, in self-care, in income anxiety and our place in the world. From a failed marriage to a happier second one amid not the cleanest of transitions, Gene was looking for his own more perfect and secure future, as well.
He eventually found it, in the years before his death in 1991 — when many more creators stepped up over the years since to keep the Star Trek flame alive. Still more millions came to the stories as fans — and the ideas that made it all so unique and still revolutionary, even decades later.
Make sure to check the roddenberry.com page for #thinkTREK celebrations to come as this #Gene100 year moves on.
Trek well, indeed. Thanks, Gene.