Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, also known as the “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” passed away in 1991. His son, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry was only 17 years old. As a teenager, Rod never knew the impact his father had on the world, but as a man, he’ll find out.
Trek Nation is an enlightening documentary that details Rod’s trek across America to discover his father through the touchstones Gene left behind: his friends, his work and his influence. Including surprising, revelatory conversations with Star Trek actors, fans, family friends and some of entertainment’s most iconic figures, Trek Nation is a journey to understand one of the world’s largest cultural phenomena, the man behind it, and the legacy he’s left us all.
Trek Nation 7.75
eyelights: Rod Roddenberry’s personal journey. Gene Roddenberry’s story. the breadth of the interview subjects.
eyesores: the overstating of Rod Roddenberry’s mission statement. the limited exploration of Roddenberry’s life.
“Everything I learned about Star Trek, I learned from the fans.”
I know very little about Gene Roddenberry. Aside for the basics, I’ve been far more preoccupied with his main creation, ‘Star Trek’, than with the actual man behind the curtain. Despite his phenomenal achievement, Roddenberry remains a bit of a mystery to me.
Interestingly enough, his son, Eugene Roddenberry, Jr. (or Rod, as he generally known) also knew very little about his father. Though he was a larger-than-life creative force in our pop culture landscape, he failed to inspire the same type of respect and recognition in his home life.
To Rod, Gene and his spouse, Majel Barrett, were simply “mom and dad”. In fact, he didn’t even know that Barrett had recurring roles in the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, starting right at the beginning, in ‘The Cage’, the series’ original pilot, playing Captain Pike’s unflappable Number One.
As he grew up, Rod was preoccupied with other things, such as (ironically enough) ‘Star Wars‘. He wasn’t at all involved with Trek and even seemed to have grown rebellious and distant. It’s only after going to his father’s funeral on November 1, 1991, that he finally understood.
His father’s show had touched people. Lots of people.
And so it was that he got involved with his father’s creations, and in so doing went to his first ‘Star Trek’ conventions. The fan response to his father’s beloved ‘Star Trek’ moved him enough to want to understand the phenomenon – and in so doing, understand his father.
Hence ‘Trek Nation’.
‘Trek Nation’ is a documentary that Rod Roddenberry shot from 2001 to 2010, exploring his father’s life, the creation and development of the ‘Star Trek’ TV series and franchise, and its impact on people’s lives. Narrated by Rod himself, it takes us on a personal journey of discovery.
The film is rife with home movies and tons of archival pictures and footage of Gene, the shows and the conventions. It also features some terrific interviews with the likes of J.J. Abrams, D.C. Fontana, Jonathan Frakes, Stan Lee, Gates McFadden, Ron Moore and many others.
Some of my highlights include:
- D.C. Fontana talking about getting her start with ‘Star Trek’, of being one of the first female writers.
- Nichelle Nicholls wanting to quit after a year – that is, until Martin Luther King visited her, told her he was a fan, and explained her that her role was ground-breaking and too important to quit. That changed her mind.
- Will Wheaton explained how Gene stood up to fans for him, at a time when people were very critical of his appearance on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’.
- George Lucas talking about going to early Trek conventions and explaining how it’s the stories that made Trek (with their budgets, that’s pretty much all they could rely on!). Either way, what a coup landing this interview was.
Though the picture is hardly the most objective documentary I’ve seen, and Rod repeats himself a few times, I liked that he didn’t gloss over his father’s inadequacies, like his recurring infidelities (he even cheated on his spouse even 7 days after his wedding!) dispelling the myth for the man.
So, though, ‘Trek Nation’ has two objectives in mind at once, it does a creditable job of meeting both and doing so in a fairly comprehensive and critical fashion. It could have been much longer, obviously, but in light of its limited runtime (it’s not quite 90 minutes long) it’s rather satisfying.
And there’s always the extensive special features if that’s not enough.
Date of viewing: August 19, 2016