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Jammer's Reviews Latest Posts
  • 15 Feb 2024
    A Borg cube hovers ominously over the code for Jammer’s website. What does this mean? IDFK. It’s “art.” Or maybe it’s a metaphor for this blog being assimilated into Jammer’s Reviews. Death is irrelevant. I don’t know what the future holds for Jammer’s Blog, but I know that it won’t be what it has been […]
  • 02 Nov 2023
    "Old Friends, New Planets" seems to be an episode ripe for some sort of major character payoff, specifically around Mariner and/or Locarno. This seems especially true at the beginning of the episode when it smartly flashes back to 13 years earlier, where we see Locarno convincing his Nova Squadron team to take on the Kolvoord […]
  • 26 Oct 2023
    "The Inner Fight" might be the most plot-heavy episode of the season. It’s more adventure than comedy, and that ends up working in its favor, because it feels like more meat than fluff. It also has a character core that’s intriguing, although not outstanding. And it ends in a cliffhanger, setting up next week’s season […]
  • 19 Oct 2023
    I think maybe the modest goal of Lower Decks should be to use the Star Trek universe to tell fun, lightweight, comedic stories where the tone of the episode lands on something more pleasant than annoying. "Caves" does just that by employing two standbys: (1) The flashback episode told as a series of mini-stories, and […]
  • 10 Feb 2024

    The Chief Engineer of the USS Enterprise is famous for uttering the line "You canna change the laws of physics" but you can change the rules of the game.

    As we've already seen in the new Kirk Expansion Pack for Gale Force Nine's Away Missions, a new Beam Away feature has been introduced which can either be the greatest of gifts or a move that ends up with one less person on your crew.

    Scotty also brings something different to the mix but first let's dive into the characters themselves and see what new dimensions this quartet add.

    As the Commander in this set you would assume Scotty would pack the best Attack, Defence and Skill stats but that's not the case. He does have a triple advantage when it comes to his Engineering trait and with that heightened chance of success he could potentially add a Bonus Action to your team. That's a lot of firsts in one character so loading up your card deck will be a major skill in itself to take full advantage.

    Hikaru Sulu actually boasts the best basic stats in the team with three dice available for Attack and Defence. While he's still limited to stun, he does provide a re-roll to both himself and his opponent. Sulu also has a double Security trait again super useful for those skill tests and, more interesting is his ability to roll four Attack dice if you happen to have equipped him with an antique weapon - and yes, it's a definite homage to The Naked Time. That said, it means that choosing the Rapier for melee means he's got an advantage from a distance or close up.

    Uhura might not have the highest Attack ability but her double rolling Communications trait and chance to reroll on Operations terminal tests will provide a twist as long as you've packed the right objectives from the set. Probably a character you'll need to keep under guard which is where the traitless Mr Leslie comes into play. indeed, that's precisely what his character is designed for, rolling more dice if you're backing up another team member and I can't see why this would ever NOT be Uhura. Ironically (or probably more likely by full intention, Mr Leslie is the perfect redshirt although that does mean this set is oddly lacking in any medical backup. Given the higher abilities of his colleagues, Leslie does add a sense of balance to the group however Trek fans will probably be wondering where Nurse Chapel has gone. In fact on a check of the deck there's only ONE card which will help restore any damage this team receives so deck build wisely!

    But what of the rest of the pack? Well, there's lots to look at. There's more Beam Away tokens as we saw with Kirk (use that under advisement!!!) plus a rather cool little Tribble feature. Those fluffy annoyances can help players score more points if they've been deployed and started to spread but there are ways to remove them! Reading more into this, the Scotty team is ideal to deploy if you're up against a Klingon opponent as the Tribbles can give you some dice rolling advantages when coupled with the Beam Away feature. Again, it's worth digging into your cards to work out the best combination of Support/Mission to select.

    Out of the box there's that genius idea of a starter deck to get yourself acclimatised with the dynamics before mixing it up with the additional cards. In relation to the features of the set there are definitely a few sets of cards that players will want to have shuffled into the 20 cards available in each stack and there's absolutely room for customisation. However, I've yet to start mixing cards from each of the packs since they do seem tailored to each group straight out of the wrapper.

    This pack also boasts a lot of cards with additional points bonuses as well as a hefty one if you're into stealing cloaking devices or Doomsday Machines. In these instances managing to complete other missions will greatly increase your tally but make sure you do them in the right order to make the most of it. A lot of the cards are similar to already released packs, relying on team members completing skill challenges at particular terminals with more emphasis on their innate abilities and higher scoring traits. Of the two new Original Series packs this is my go-to thanks to the Tribbles and also thanks to the interesting mix of characters on the team. It's fairly balanced when you look at it person to person rather than being an average spread of stats across all four. That may well direct your play to pair them off and back each other up in a way that's not really been evident with Picard or Riker's Federation squads.

    There's also a nice "easy" goal as a Core Mission in which players can gain ten points for simply keeping characters in play - that's a potential 40 points for keeping out of danger so make sure Leslie knows!

    The Commander Scotty Federation Expansion is now available to pre-order from your Away Missions stockist!

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  • 09 Feb 2024

    With Christmas out of the way, your gaming fund is absolutely -

    Hold that thought because for fans of Gale Force Nine's Away Missions, there's a new pair of expansions about to drop that will no doubt catch your attention.

    For the first time stepping outside of The Next Generation's timeframe, Away Missions brings in The Original Series crew across two fabulous sets.

    Assembled on the transporter pad for the first beam out are Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Chekov.

    Now this could be classed as the more "run of the mill" Federation pack but there's a new feature on the cards that will certainly mix things up... and did in my first trial of the set.

    The figures are great. I know there's a very mixed bag of opinions out there around their styling but I think it really works and given their size the detail is pretty damn fine even down to the correct rank braiding on the shirt cuffs and dials on the teeny phasers. Some of the paint jobs we've seen on the previous sets are just phenomenal and I wish I had half the talent on display. Look forward to seeing these in all their glory!

    So to the pack; Kirk is an oddly average team leader on first glance but the chance to pick up some easy points on skills challenges thanks to that Command trait helps a lot. So too does his ability to re-roll an additional die in attack, skill and defence. Plus he integrates a lovely close combat attack adding two dice to his assault. At cover value not so good but once you can get him into tight situations Kirk comes into his own.

    Spock is the go-to for skills challenges whether or not he has the trait since he rocks an impressive three dice out of the box. His nerve pinch is also a close quarters winner but will stun rather than kill. It's an advantage over his phaser, emphasising this pack as one that will need players to be prepared to get right up to their opponents for maximum effect.

    McCoy's healing abilities are useful but rely on you again being close to another character (namely your own!) to regain some health. One note here is that McCoy is a big advantage in terms of the health regain over the Scotty pack which we'll come back to in that article.

    Crouching Chekov adds the muscle to the pack needs players to ditch Support Cards in order to take advantage of the re-roll Kirk gets for being Kirk. It's actually pretty balanced as a quartet with each character providing a different weight to the away team and potentially leading players to customise their cards to play to the higher stats of each one. That said, the fact that you're shuffling before dealing out five Support/Mission cards doesn't guarantee you'll be getting the right mix off the bat so think about packing in some easy wins just in case your combinations don't come to pass.

    All are able to make a move of four spaces to get around the board and that makes using turbolifts a lot easier in this gamer's opinion. They did come in useful to bounce around the boards and complete a few goals in round two.

    Packed into the box to help boost the abilities of the team we have additional bonus point tokens as well as counters for the new Beam Away move and Mind Meld.

    Taking your character out of play as part of a Mission Card direction, your character then only completes the directions on the card when you come to activate your following character. In the first run through I got to use this move twice and both failed spectacularly resulting in both Kirk and Spock being Neutralised during the second of the three rounds. Good luck to McCoy and Chekov for round three.

    In the box players also receive a new deck of cards. What I think is a fantastic idea here is that for the initial few run throughs there is a set 20 Mission and 20 Support card deck pre-built before adding in another set to customise your loadouts. This stops any horrible surprises but also means players can get to grips with that new Beam Away dynamic that can get your characters out of a sticky situation. For example, I had Spock cornered by Lursa and used it to drag him out of danger in the hopes that his return would mean I could beam him back to the transporter pad. Needless to say it didn't in this case.

    Some cards will provide the usual skill tests at a certain terminal on the board while others play to whether or not opponents are neutralised. Some do allow for additional bonus too including searching for specific cards to help your team or even require others on our crew to complete skills tests for the points that round. Nicely there are a couple (Hortas take note) that combo up your points should you have other missions already scoring.

    The theming of the deck is absolutely on spec too. Working in classic themes and episode titles, the Support and Mission decks offer a breadth of equipment, tactics and game changing interruption moves that will have you racking up points and hopefully keeping your opponent on their toes for the duration of those three critical rounds of play.
    There are joyously several focusing on Kirk's legendary fighting skills to give the captain even more of an advantage as well as gains in medical equipment and phaser lethality. That last one's a big winner since Federation characters can only stun! Vulcan Nerve Pinch is another good one you hope pops up since it can incapacitate an opponent in one go - very useful for a cornered Vulcan.

    Mind Meld is also Spock specific with the chance to use an adjacent character's trait for a Skill test - so just make sure you know who you're next to when it matters because it might be to your advantage.

    As said, Kirk and Spock are much more useful right up close leaving McCoy and Chekov to do some distance shooting although you will need to unify the team to get different challenges completed over the course of the two rounds.

    I do like this set and it's already seen more action than Picard but that's only because I've not unboxed Scotty just yet. In fact both of these sets are currently a bit of an "anomaly" since there are no classic villain sets to counter them and for timeline purists dropping Kirk and co onto a 24th Century ship against the Borg (for example) could almost be seen as franchise sacrilege. We can only hope GFN have some suitable baddies lined up in the wings... am I hearing calls for a certain Khan? Kor? The Gorn? Now there's a pack...

    The Beam Away function is one to use wisely but it's not the only new twist that's introduced in these expansions. Scotty's set has some interesting new bits I can't wait to try and I think the Chief Engineer himself might be a real dark horse of a character as the Mission Commander. But we'll come to that one next...

    The Captain Kirk Federation Expansion pack is now available from your Away Missions stockist!

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  • 11 Nov 2023

    The home of the secretive Section 31, the former penal facility's origins fitted right in with its use in Discovery.

    A little more squat than the spired Starbase One, this was another of the structures featured in Discovery's heralded second season and featured heavily in the conflict with Control.

    Following a similar construction trend to the Starbase the lower base and the underside of the landing platforms are metal in construction adding a good bit of weight and stability to the model.

    That said, it's actually a much more intricate piece than the Starbase. The lower section has an open area as a docking bay with a substantial weathering effect, rising up through a scaffold-esque structure into the main body of the station. The wear and tear effect on the model surface is even better than that on Starbase 1 hammering home that this is a really old piece of technology left out in space. The unevenness of the finish on that lower connecting stump is impressive too given how it forms around the supporting framework. You can see the rust and degradation almost as if its real.

    The stand actually holds the station on the underneath of the two asymmetrical landing pads (which, as is noted in the magazine don't actually make much sense!). They do add an element of functionality to the tower and are just as weathered and battered as the pieces that lie directly beneath them.

    The rib cage elements that then encase the central core seem to be slotted as a single piece down onto the body and there's a certain fragility to their form even though there's never a doubt to their sturdiness. These are again beautifully rendered with a fantastic ridged detail and markings which were almost indistinguishable onscreen but help bring this piece to life immediately.

    The central core continues the worn grid pattern that defined the lower support section rising up to another, smaller rib cage that circles the top, seeming to protect what you would assume is the command unit. There's also a piping element that sits to the rear and runs vertically almost mirroring a spine holding the ribs of the Section 31 base in place.

    It's a most unusual structure, emanating feelings of brutalism and a stark contrast to the more impressive and perhaps positive showmanship of the Starbase 1 spire. If I'm absolutely honest I'm not a huge fan of these two as starbase models and the designs leave me a little cold when compared to the classic nature of Spacedock or Regula One for example.

    However this is a striking, well presented and superbly finished replica that does just about Feverything right from the colours and subdued three tone hues that add to its ominous nature right to the way in which it is finely balanced both in terms of weight and plastic/metal ratio.

    I also love that asymmetrical nature which is almost never present in starbase design. There are lumps and bumps, structures that dominate to one side and give it a real one-off look. Its repurposed nature is something only seen here and this also marks a rare opportunity to look at what the Federation's prison system may have looked like.

    The magazine covers a very brief review of Control's actions in the season including its takeover of this very station before we embark on a good run of diagrams and drawings about its concept. This was a strangely long process but one that seems to have been very satisfying by its end even if the station would eventually be destroyed.

    A completists model if ever and definitely one that will appeal to Discovery fans because of its utter uniqueness. Not one I would choose to stick out on display but one that would create a few talking points in a Star Trek conversation if nothing else.

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  • 10 Nov 2023

    An absolute behemoth of a model, Starbase One needs a tall shelf.

    A stunning construction, the circular base and spire mark a truly amazing piece of design work that, even in this very small scale, is conveyed exceptionally.

    Perfectly docked in the cup-like stand, this is impressively stable and at every point the detail is just extraordinary. The whole structure is covered in white dots denoting windows and providing that essential concept of scale. In-universe this dwarfs just about everything and was featured in Discovery's superb second season before it made the 1000 year jump.

    Every piece has a layered feel to it with the lower elements jutting out past the hold of the stand. There's some lovely weathered/hatched effect work on the hull detail here which only appears at this lower point. Above this, the structure widens out into the larger docking ring marked with a series of eight arms to welcome ships. Again the edges of the ring are dotted with clusters of windows and an excellent, textured upper surface that not only provides a three-dimensional feel to the ring but also has some very well created weathering. This worn effect adds to the aging on the towering station.

    The docking ring and lower section add even more stability to the structure here as the large metal elements to which the plastic buttresses and tower are then attached. That choice makes the model atouch better since the ring section has that ridged effect in play.

    Visually it's one of the most striking of all the starbase/station products that Eaglemoss made. That huge spire section, which dominates two thirds of the model, is just as well weathered as the upper portion of the docking ring and fortunately it's not just a simple copy and repeat pattern as you take a look around the structure.

    The striking tower leads up to what can only be described as a mast marking its highest point. The pictures and images of the base from Discovery don't really allow for an indepth look at the structure although it does give an idea of the scale thanks to the array of docked starships we see there. Even then the size of this as a model is pretty overwhelming and there are only a few other pieces in the collection that come anywhere near. Those are probably the Sarcophagus Ship and the Section 31 starbase. Potentially the Jupiter Station creeps into this "supersize" category but nothing seems to do it quite so eye-catchingly as Starbase One.

    Build quality is also pretty decent. There are some evident seams around the edges of the docking ring but those are fairly minor. The central core of the station appears almost one single element although on a closer inspection you can make out the odd joint line and in some places a touch of digital decal sticking.

    It really is an impressive piece that might actually be too big to sit on some shelves due to its radius and height. At best this has to be about a foot from mast top to the bottom and then there's the additional height of the stand to contend with.

    In the box we also have the standard Discovery magazine which, in this case, directs readers attention to the design of Starbase One as well as its role within the second season of the show. The magazine contains a series of excellent concept work on what the exterior and interior could have looked like including the multiple environments that would have been contained given its gigantic proportions.

Soul of Star Tek Latest Posts
  • 09 Sep 2023

    On September 8, 1966 the first season of the Star Trek series began. It explored strange new worlds in the galaxy of imagination as well as in television storytelling. But 57 years later, I wonder if it is truly exploring anything more than its own mythology. Star Trek today seems more and more to be about itself.

    The new Star Trek shows display excellent writing, acting, directing and visual effects. It produces entertaining television. The current series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds seems to have tried to recapture that original innocence, with its premise, its stand-alone episodes and that thrilling variation on the original opening with updated imagery. But most episodes seem to explore mostly the styles of presenting the established (if visually updated) Star Trek universe—comedy, horror, mixing animation with live action, musical comedy. Star Trek now seems to comments on itself more than any outside world, real or imagined, including the self-consciousness of Lower Decks.

    Discovery tried to push the envelope at times, and bravely explores diversity and the internal life of a starship in a different way, though its obsession with feelings feels excessive at times (in my weaker moments I’ve referred to Captain Burnham as Captain Emo.) While season 4 in particular pushed Star Trek forward, even in this series, Star Trek mythology generated lots of story.

    It’s not that these shows lack values or significant content. And it's not that decades and hundreds of Star Trek stories should be ignored. But maybe the emphasis seems different. Strange new worlds aren't primary. At best the new shows are about the characters and their relationships and interactions within the canonical Star Trek mythology. They seem to be less about exploring the previously unknown, or involved with testing our assumptions against what is found out there. Character-driven drama with technobabble is not all of what Star Trek started out to be.

    Maybe it’s at least partly inevitable. When Star Trek began, nothing like it had been done on television before. The series invented its story universe with every episode, and so every episode was exploring the unknown. Perhaps it’s impossible to get back that innocence.

    For a lot has happened in 57 years. Back when it began, Star Trek’s content was shaped more directly by generations of science fiction and not quite two decades of television drama.

    Science fiction that followed Jules Verne speculated on new technologies and what might be found on other planets, both imagined from the basis of known fact and science. The science fiction that followed H.G. Wells used imagined technologies, phenomena and forms of life as metaphors to illuminate aspects of human life. (This is how Margaret Atwood divides it, and it’s a good starting point.)

    Following either progenitor, s/f writers also explored highly speculative science with cosmological and philosophical implications—everything from alternative archeology and anthropology (some of which has turned out to have some basis in fact) to implications of quantum physics and the additions and alterations over the years suggested by new astronomical and sub-atomic data.

    Just as the Star Trek series adapted technologies and protocols seen in earlier sci-fi movies and television shows, the stories followed both Verne and Wells in speculating on a possible future while telling metaphorical tales, some of which applied to urgent contemporary social and political questions.

    While some of these stories came from science fiction writers, a great many were created by veteran television writers, sometimes re-purposing plots found everywhere, from ancient drama and classic fiction to TV westerns and Captain Video. This was television drama, but westerns and other shows also often told morality tales, and so did Star Trek.

    Yet as the first full-hour network drama set in the far future, Star Trek was also open-ended: everything was possible in locations in time and space where no one had gone before.

    But seeds of the current situation were also sown back then. Gene Roddenberry believed that for a series with continuing characters set in the strange new worlds of the future, the show had to create and maintain a self-consistent story universe.

    So besides envisioning the basic template of as diverse a crew as he could get away with (or perhaps as diverse as anyone could imagine existing in a few centuries), as well as assembling talented collaborators and working carefully on how the series would look, GR did what Wells and other designers of alternative worlds knew to do: he made rules.

    Every week would bring a new story, but the technologies would have the same capabilities and work the same way week after week. There was a chain of command aboard the Enterprise, and a set a standard procedures. As much as possible for a starship warping through the galaxy, the Enterprise was grounded.

    As writers introduced new planets and new aliens, later writers had to honor the basics of those planets and characters if they used them in subsequent stories. (There were periods of adjustment but once the template was found—for Klingons, say—it remained consistent.) Events in one story might inform later stories, until a kind of backstory was created for the main characters and Star Trek as a whole.

    Some of the “rules” were set forth in the Star Trek Writer’s Guide, which was revised as the series went on (I have before me the third revision: 31 typed and mimeographed pages dated April 17, 1967.) It provides character background, technology and capabilities. Believability in action is stressed, but also meaning, the metaphorical layer.

    The rules were needed because each episode had a different writer and director. That’s also why actors playing the major roles became caretakers of their characters and what they did and how they did it. Together they created the Star Trek universe.

    That universe expanded with new crews in a new century, beginning with The Next Generation. A rich storytelling universe supported hundreds of stories for five main crews and sets of characters, over nearly 40 years.

    In the meantime, the Star Trek universe generated other stories, principally in a series of novels. Though officially permitted by whatever entity owned Star Trek at the time, these novels often went their own ways in terms of story and characters. It was I believe in connection with the novels that the concept of “canon” was first introduced. “Canon” was meant to denote all the aspects of the “real” Star Trek universe, at first defined as everything in the television and motion picture stories (but not the novels.)

    Canon is an interesting concept, and today it is a powerful one. While the dictionary defines it as a general law or principle, its second definition is a collection of sacred books regarded as genuine. The Star Trek rules and guidelines (commonly called its Bible), along with that long history of story, had become canon law.

    Those of us raised as Catholics recognize canon law as the fundamentals of the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. Violations of canon were serious stuff, heavily sinful. Canon was zealously guarded by Church hierarchy. Violating canon was heresy, punished by excommunication (an early version of being blocked,unfriended or ghosted—in other words, excluded and exiled.) Canon today seems to have become a real factor in what stories are told.

    But the hierarchy in charge of Star Trek is not the only arbiter. Star Trek’s relationship to the corporate entities that made the shows was always complicated. According to GR, he was constantly fighting against corporate control. That control seems to have become more pronounced at the end of the Berman era. Today Star Trek is seen as a valuable “franchise,” and the changes in corporate ownership in recent years has been dizzying. The switch to streaming is still fluid, as evidenced by recent cancellations and the abrupt changes in access to the catalog.

    But there is another factor strongly in play, with roots in the original series era. With GR’s connivance, fans organized to write letters demanding that the original series be renewed after the first and second seasons. After the original series left the air, fans organized Star Trek conventions. There had been science fiction conventions where some attendees wore costumes, but there had been nothing the size and specific focus of those Star Trek conventions in the 1970s forward. With the letter campaigns and especially the conventions, the phenomenon of fandom was born—not just for Star Trek, but for everyone.

    Fandom then acquired new tools for expression. Mostly through the bulletin boards on sites devoted to Star Trek, the Internet started to have influence, especially in the final years of Star Trek: Enterprise and the Star Trek: Nemesis feature film. The negativity on the Internet, together with low ratings and box office failure, ended in the demise of the Rick Berman era in 2005, and the lineage from Gene Roddenberry through Berman was broken.

    By the time of the J.J. Abrams features, social media was prominent. Abrams and then the creators of Star Trek: Discovery and other television shows paid closer attention to social media, made producers and stars more accessible, and saw conventions as potent promotional opportunities.

    Meanwhile, fandom (which may be defined as a subset of the more diverse universe of Star Trek fans) was becoming more aware of the business side of Star Trek. Online discussions were at least as likely to be about production costs and box office as possible meanings in Star Trek stories. Corporate, producers and fandom were growing more aware of each other, and engaging more directly.

    Today fandom is a real force in Star Trek and its storytelling. In particular, fandom engages in questions of canon. Variations are closely debated, and though some are accepted, others are condemned. Star Trek canon is not enforced only by a corporate Vatican but by a hyper-informed and vigilant fandom. This process is not all destructive, but it is consequential.

    All these past Star Trek stories, with their basic consistencies and through-lines, form a kind of mythology, and fandom is deeply engaged with that mythology, its familiar characters and events. Thanks to social media and the structures of the entertainment business today, Star Trek producers cannot afford to offend fandom too much. They depend on fans who operate in social media, and vote by means of streaming subscriptions. In this context, it’s all fan service.

    Gene Roddenberry respected fans and interacted with them at conventions. But he was very direct and firm that fans would not dictate Star Trek content. Today fandom may not write the stories, but it is one factor that may be limiting the storytelling.

    These seem to me to be the chief factors leading to my impression that today’s Star Trek is less about exploring strange new worlds or ideas and their implications, and more about itself and its own mythology.

    The apparent emphasis on character interaction over situation and ideas may be another important factor. Taken together, the character emphasis and the self-referencing tendency may help to explain my impression that current Star Trek gives much lower priority than in its formative years to really engaging with urgent concerns of today’s world by means of exploring strange new worlds. In sometimes awkward but sometimes revelatory ways, that’s what the original series and TNG did. That to a great extent is what inspired Star Trek fans in the first place.

    Today’s Star Trek shows have revisited and expanded on issues that past Star Trek stories explored, for a new audience. They have dealt to some degree with certain implications of technology, though they seem oddly obsessed with cloning.

    But more powerful technology is no longer the chief source of urgent problems, if it ever was. Many of our concerns and our understanding of the world have changed in 57 years. We are much more aware of the roles of ecological factors and non-human life, as we are faced with the challenges of climate distortion and the imminent possibility of mass extinctions. We are more aware than ever of the dire consequences of a planet ruled by a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, with everyone else scrambling in uncertainty and insecurity.

    Engaging in such questions as race, the arms race and the nuclear age, cultural differences and such larger questions as a more complex reading of human nature, Star Trek formed its character: the essence, the soul of Star Trek. The commitment to retain that character by today’s Star Trek creators as well as viewers is heartening. It was the motivation for many over the years to become devoted Star Trek fans (whether or not they became vocal members of fandom.) But that commitment loses its power if it becomes the rote of canon. It has to be actualized.

    Perhaps I’m wrong about the current shows. My perspective is derived from watching Star Trek for all of those 57 years. That does not make me (in today’s terms) the target demographic, to say the least. Perhaps newer viewers see the same kinds of explorations, and feel themselves changed by them as we once did.

    But consider this possibility: at its best, Star Trek once engaged with the strange new worlds that illuminate our world—the world that television drama largely refused to examine. These were the urgent public problems and mysteries that most vexed us as viewers. Now Star Trek seems to live in the no-longer-strange old world of its own mythos. Mythologies can be defining and healthy, generating new stories and insights, but they can also become stultifying and irrelevant, until eventually they consume themselves.

  • 23 Jun 2023

    This is the ninth of a series of essays on the first ten Star Trek features, the Trekalog.

    by William Severini Kowinski

    Star Trek: Insurrection has become a problematic movie as the ninth in the original ten (or Trekalog) of Star Trek features. Even its title has become troublesome. (There’s no insurrection to overthrow the government in this story. We now know better what that looks like.) Though I have great affection for this film, I’ve been bothered by its shortcomings, from the first time I saw it in a theatre the week it was released in December 1998. I felt then it could have been a great Star Trek movie, as well as a brave one. In many respects, it dazzled me. I still believe thematically it remains a major evocation of the soul of Star Trek.

    This film, written by Michael Piller from a story by Piller and Rick Berman, and directed by Jonathan Frakes, has its fans. At the time it opened, critic Gene Siskel said it was the only Star Trek movie he truly enjoyed. (His TV partner, Roger Ebert, had a different view.)

    Others have come to value it over the years, or at least elements of it. Jerry Goldsmith’s score—especially the lovely Ba’ku theme—remains one of my favorites, and the acting, the characterizations, the humor gave it an attractive buoyancy. After many subsequent viewings, I’ve found more that’s annoying but I also retain that initial affection, and admire it even more for its courage.

    The conventional wisdom has become that it is more of a television episode than a movie. Insofar as I even know what that means, I take the opposite view: I think it tries too hard to be an action movie. Or more generally, it may simply be that the Star Trek features series started to run out of luck. Many if not most very good feature films have a pretty long history. They may have been conceived five or eight or ten years before they get made. Even some sequels take years to develop. But Star Trek movies rolled out at a faster pace—every two or three years. They typically emerged from assembling bits and pieces of screenplay drafts, often at the last minute, with lots of different imput. This fortuitously resulted in some excellent films. Unfortunately that kind of luck doesn’t always appear.

    But before wallowing in the details, the most important element of this movie is the core story, the principles that are at stake. In special features interviews for the first expanded DVD of this movie, writer Michael Piller said that he wanted to move away from the darker Star Trek (not only the previous feature, Star Trek: First Contact, but the ongoing television stories, particular of Deep Space Nine) and the darker path science fiction had been taking in general in the 1990s, to revive the optimistic spirit and idealistic modeling of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. “I wanted to do one for Gene,” he said. So Insurrection pivoted on a moral issue with a real world history, as well as portraying a society that emphasized a different aspect of the soul of Star Trek.

    The title sequence—set to that lilting but slightly unconventional Goldsmith theme—depicts a happy, healthy and busy agrarian society with some pre-industrial mechanisms. But we quickly see hidden observers, Starfleet uniforms and unknown aliens (the Son’a), just before violence disrupts this peaceful day. The android Data has seemingly gone berserk, and has deliberately unmasked the hidden observers. He also appears to be wounded.

    Meanwhile the Enterprise-E is far away, on yet another minor diplomatic mission (“Does anyone remember when we were explorers?” Captain Picard asks.) After being contacted by an Admiral Dougherty requesting Data’s schematics, and then a brief conversation with the Admiral about Data apparently gone amok, Picard (against the Admiral’s wishes) diverts the Enterprise to the distant planet involved, in an untraveled pocket of the galaxy called the Briar Patch because its environment disrupts starship technologies.

    Maneuvering a shuttle and a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan, Picard and Worf disable Data, and Geordi La Forge learns what went wrong: Data had been attacked and engaged his ethical subprograms. But why was he attacking the Son’a and Federation personnel—everyone but the Ba’ku on the planet?

    Picard and an Enterprise team beam down to free the unmasked observers Dougherty tells him are hostages. They find instead peaceful, calm and intelligent villagers, treating the “off-worlders” as guests. Picard soon learns that the Ba’ku are warp-capable but have chosen a life without advanced technology, on this welcoming planet.

    Picard and the Ba’ku investigate what Data found that got him shot: a holo-ship, programmed to simulate the Ba’ku village. When several Son’a attack them, Picard realizes what is happening: a conspiracy to transport the Ba’ku onto the holo-ship and abduct them. “You go to sleep one night in the village. Wake up the next morning on this flying holodeck transported en masse. In a few days, you’re relocated on a similar planet without even realizing it.” But the question remains: why?

    By now some of the Enterprise crew are feeling and acting oddly. Riker and Troi are re-igniting their old romance, Worf is showing signs of going through Klingon puberty, and Picard himself feels a burst of vitality and exuberance. Having danced his way to a mirror to examine his jawline, he realizes what is happening, and returns to the planet to speak with Anij and the other Ba’ku, who confirm that the “metaphasic radiation,” a quality of the rings around the planet that continuously regenerates genetic structure, is keeping them young and even improves their health. Just being in orbit around the planet is enough to affect the Enterprise crew. Three centuries earlier, the Ba’ku left a war-torn planet and searched for an isolated haven to establish a peaceful culture, ending up here.

    Picard now realizes that the planned Ba’ku abduction has something to do with the “fountain of youth” effects of the planet’s rings. He vows to prevent it, and in explaining his reason to Anij, Picard states in plain language the moral core of this story: “Some of the darkest chapters in the history of my world involve the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a large one. I’d hoped we had learned from our mistakes, but…it seems that some of us haven’t.”

    Those forced relocations and related behaviors (up to and including genocide) have happened multiple times on every inhabited continent on Earth, from ancient days through our own time in the 21st century. Many would observe that they are still happening.

    But the instance Michael Piller said was foremost in his mind when he wrote this script was the removal over several centuries of a series of American Indian peoples, most graphically represented by the Trail of Tears that resulted from what was literally called the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Cherokee, Seminole and other tribal groups were driven from their communities in the southeast (near where gold was discovered) and forced—including force-marched—thousands of miles to reservations in the West. Thousands died of starvation and disease along the way, while others perished shortly after their arrival.

    Later, in his confrontation with Admiral Dougherty, Picard asserted that removal “will destroy the Ba’ku, just as cultures have been destroyed in every other forced relocation throughout history.” Relocation and related oppressions certainly destroyed American Indian cultures that had flourished for many centuries.

    In this confrontation, Dougherty makes the case for kidnapping the Ba’ku. The Son’a have developed a way to extract the youth-preserving qualities of the planet’s rings but the process would render the planet “uninhabitable for many generations.” They will deploy the huge, eye-catching particles collector, with technology the Federation can't duplicate. But the planet (oddly, it is never named) is in Federation space, so for this mission the Son’a and the Federation are partners, sanctioned by the Federation Council.

    After Dougherty parries his proposals to delay the procedure for further study of alternatives while the Son’a and Ba’ku share the planet, Picard lays it on the line: “We are betraying the principles upon which the Federation was founded. It’s an attack upon its very soul.”

    Though there are technical interpretations of how the Prime Directive does or doesn’t apply, Picard is consistent in his assertion about history. For him, the nuances of “non-interference” are based upon a hard-won founding principle, which in a TNG episode he spelled out to his crew: “We are not invaders. We are explorers.”

    The distinction is basic, and a huge change. Historically, explorers were the scouts for invaders. Again, we have to look no further than the Americas. Explorers, financed by governments and commercial interests, returned with news of lands to inhabit and resources to plunder and bring back to Europe. Columbus thought the friendly natives might make good slaves.

    When the Federation was founded, it committed to not repeating this history, to respecting the cultures and the lifeforms on planets it explored. A number of Next Generation stories were about this very subject.

    This is what Starfleet’s Prime Directive is really about. It is what makes the Federation different, not only in the fictional universe it inhabits, but in our universe as a vision of justice, diversity, and respect for all life. It is as Picard said, an element of the Federation’s soul, and a major expression of the soul of Star Trek that has inspired so many for generations.

    Dougherty counters: “Jean-Luc, we are only moving six hundred people.”

    “How many people does it take, Admiral, before it becomes wrong?” Picard replies. “A thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? How many people does it take, Admiral?”

    With its swelling music tag, this speech is a popular moment with many Trek fans. Personally I feel this choice of tone makes Picard sound too pompous and self-righteous—he’s not really asking the question, he’s being indignant. It’s no wonder that Dougherty dismisses his objections and orders him to another part of the galaxy. But his point is solid—and controversial.

    Many people, evidently including some members of the cast, see sense and maybe a more persuasive case based on the numbers: Dougherty said that the regenerative properties of the rings’ radiation could benefit billions. Doesn’t helping billions justify moving six hundred people (and probably sacrificing their current perpetual youthfulness, perhaps condemning them to imminent death)? Don’t the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

    By positing billions against 600, this script forces a hard look at the core principles. Doubtless the European invaders thought timber from American forests for sailing ships and other purposes, as well as crops like tobacco, would benefit millions in Europe, and therefore justified getting rid of the cultures of hundreds or thousands living in those forests and on those lands that were in the way. Just as they justified the Trail of Tears because gold would help their country’s economy, and therefore more people.

    Invasion and exploitation always justifies itself on supposed principles, as long as they don’t get in the way of the invader’s gain. What may look like a sensible calculus is usually a convenient rationalization for greed, based on greater military power and (almost always) assumptions of racial and cultural superiority. Even the implication that the Federation can do what it wants with this planet because it is in "Federation space," (and apparently the Ba'ku who live there don't have to be consulted) is a species of imperialism.

    Picard had allowed himself to be swayed by this calculus before, in the seventh season episode “Journey’s End,” as described in an earlier post. In that story it was young Wesley Crusher who rebelled against the forced relocation of a group of American Indians. Perhaps it was this incident, augmented by the youthful idealism and rebelliousness revived by the rings, that reminded Picard so forcefully of the costs of violating this principle—as well as the price of upholding it.

    The rest of the story involves Picard and his core crew—the Magnificent Seven—and their championing of the Ba’ku. There is a final twist—the discovery that the Son’a and Ba’ku are the same race, the grotesquely aging children against their perpetually youthful parents. The Son’a’s motives are revealed to include revenge.

    There are also a few scenes involving the Ba’ku culture, particularly two conversations between Picard and Anij, as they grow closer. In essence, Anij talks about fully inhabiting the present moment, without reviewing the past or planning for the future. “You explore the universe,” Anij says to Picard. “We have discovered that a single moment in time can be a universe in itself, full of powerful forces. Most people aren’t aware enough of the now to even notice.”

    Here on Earth, mindfully exploring the present moment is a both meditation technique and its intention, developed in Zen and other Buddhist practice, only recently adapted in American and European contexts. A different approach to valuing the present moment was a theme in Star Trek: Generations, where it was a consequence of mortality, rather than a lesson of immorality.

    Later Anij demonstrates the ability to slow time down, or at least the perception of time. (Making the water drops visible as they fall, or the hummingbird’s visible wings may remind some viewers of effects of a certain herb, and of spending seeming hours watching smoke curl under a lamp.) The Ba’ku insights may suggest the value that can be derived from different “alien” cultures, even small and isolated ones, like Tibet (though forms of Buddhism are prominent in many Asian countries.) Perhaps what the Ba’ku have to teach would be more valuable than what the rings of their planet can offer.

    Though our own (often small) Native cultures were crushed before many of their profound insights were known or understood, some of those cultures made deep impressions on the dominant culture, and that continues to happen. For instance, the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Confederation of tribes existed democratically, probably for longer than the United States has so far. Contacts with Founding Fathers and others, some scholars say, meaningfully influenced the idea and structure of the United States. In turn, it influences the United Federation of Planets, though the Haudenosaunee had a different Prime Directive than Starfleet: In every decision, consider the impact on the seventh generation to come. (For us, seven generations takes us into the 23rd century.)

    .M. Dillard’s novelization, published to coincide with the movie’s initial release, was based on a slightly earlier version of the script, but differs in plot details mostly in a different ending, in which Ru’afo escapes the collector but plunges into the rings, speedily becoming younger and younger until he disappears. Apparently this was changed during shooting when that ending didn’t seem to be working. The actual ending is disappointing: Picard and the villain climbing and fighting against a ticking clock to get to a control panel replicates the Generations climax and there are similar scenes in First Contact, while the blue background (meant to be the rings outside?) screams unfinished visual effect.

    The Son’a’s appearance is different in the novelization—not the wrinkled wraiths we see on the screen but with surgically thin baby smooth skin, and ostentatiously adorned in robes and jewels. Perhaps this was too close to a Hollywood reality. Apart from their skin stretching salon, just about the only remnant of the Son’a’s conspicuous love of luxury is the incongruous sofa that is Ru’afo’s command chair on the bridge of his ship. (In the film, the Son’a have two alien slave races: the Ellora, who look like Vegas showgirls in body paint, and the Tarlac, who resemble the aliens in Buckaroo Banzai.)

    Apart from some Harlequin romance level descriptions, Dillard does elaborate on motives and intentions. The duck-blind observation of the Ba’ku, in her interpretation, was itself always a ruse, to mask the secret of what the Son’a and Admiral Dougherty were up to. It takes an extra step to realize this from the actual movie, for the only hint I got was the implication of Dougherty saying the Ba’ku originally came from elsewhere in space (and hence weren’t covered by the Prime Directive), suggesting he mus have known they weren’t a pre-warp society that required secrecy to study.

    Towards the end, when Admiral Dougherty learns the true relationship of the Son’a and Ba’ku, Dillard has him realizing that Ru’afo was primarily seeking revenge, and that he never intended to share the youth-giving technology or its fruits with the Federation. Similarly, Picard has a flash of recognition as he confronts Ru’afo on the collector: just as he had been driven by vengeance against the Borg in the events depicted in Star Trek: First Contact, so Ru’afo was obsessed with revenge against the Ba’ku who had rejected and exiled him. Even though revenge seems the default motivation for Star Trek movie villains, this movie might have benefited from such clarifying moments.

    Dillard also elaborates earlier on Picard’s thoughts from his initial confrontation with Dougherty. He reasons that the Federation would probably need no more than a few years to figure out a better way to benefit from the cellular regeneration effects of the rings, and that the Son’a were rushing things for reasons of their own. He doubts that the full and true plan had ever been presented to the Federation Council. Clearer indications of Dougherty’s and Picard’s suspicions and realizations in the movie (perhaps as Dillard developed them) might have added texture and interest to the movie’s story, making it more of the unraveling of a mystery.

    I don’t want to belabor what I experienced as flaws in the film. Every film has flaws, but some are serious enough—or there is an accumulation of them—to weaken the credibility and flow of the movie, or to engender confusion and raise questions, all of which are harmful when they take the viewer out of the story. My disappointments are no doubt heightened by my conclusion that this could have been the best of the TNG features.

    My first impression that this was a movie that just missed being really good was based on what seemed to be a confusing rhythm, a sense that, despite some slow scenes and comic moments, it just rushed on, with no rhythm but momentum. I felt it needed more pace; it needs to breathe. It’s not as if running time was a problem—this was the shortest of all Star Trek features.

    I felt this most acutely on first view in the cut from Geordi’s viewing of a sunrise—the first time in his life he’d seen one with normal vision, due to the planet’s regeneration effect. In his original commentary to First Contact, director Jonathan Frakes noted the temptation to cut off a scene too quickly just to keep the movie moving. The quick cut from the sunrise and Geordi’s eyes to an overview of orbiting ships was jarring, and to me trivialized what could have been a more powerful moment.

    I was also taken out of the flow by elements of the story that didn't seem credible, like the simpleminded plan to relocate the Ba’ku (they weren’t going to notice they were no longer on their planet, with its hills and sky?) or Data and the others in their invisibility suits tromping around supposedly undetected, as if the Ba’ku had no other sense but sight.

    I was always uneasy with the portrayal of the Ba’ku, though the actors rescued it for me. Subsequent viewings suggest why they seem less credible than symbolic: their gracefully styled but rigidly earth-tone clothing, their uniformly pristine village buildings-- more elegant versions of a Phoenix suburb (as Marina Sirtis suggests in a recent commentary) and (as Jonathan Frakes notes) their unbroken whiteness.

    Then there are the missed opportunities, including a clearer sense (perhaps from a single point of view, like Picard’s) of the contrast between the trivial hurry of the Enterprise greeting a new Federation member, and the slower, fuller life on the planet, absent phaser fire. Another is the assertion that deploying the collector would destroy life on the planet for generations, implying for more than its people. So even if the Ba’ku were removed, all other planetary life would be destroyed, an act of geocide that would have been a major concern in a TNG episode. (And if Ru’aflo didn’t misspeak when he said “everything in this sector will be dead or dying," on more than one planet.)

    I get the impression now that not everybody making this movie was on the same page, contributing to a lack of clarity and pace that can prevent viewers from just riding along on a voyage, with its ups and downs, sidetracks and problems solved together. Confusion and disagreement about the core issues probably also contributed. Even in the third season of Picard, Captain Shaw’s erroneous if funny description of this movie’s events, particularly that it was Picard who violated the Prime Directive, suggests this confusion, as well as how the story might be whispered about at the time so that the Federation saves face.)

    Yet a lot of the pieces are there: the exodus from the village, the Enterprise space battle, the transporter and holoship trickery on the Son'a, the hummingbirds. Some fans reacted against the humor, and the change in characterizations. I enjoyed all of that. (Sure, Data in the haystack was sappy and forced, but so goofy that isolated it remains an awkward highlight.) The Enterprise crew didn’t need an alien virus to get a little silly, as in The Naked Now/Time—just an infusion of youth. It’s fun watching these actors do humor, and do it well. In this (as well as other respects) it reminded me of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when the Kirk Enterprise crew loosened up. It also turns out to be a kind of preview to aspects of the TNG characters as they appear in Picard season 3.

    If the viewer gets swept past the incongruities, then the buoyancy and the scenery in this movie combine for a bright ride. There are plenty of incidents, a fine romance for Captain Picard and Anij (though their kiss got cut entirely) and along with the main cast there are solid performances by F. Murray Abraham (Ru’afo), Anthony Zerbe (Admiral Dougherty) and Donna Murphy (Anij) as well as Gregg Henry (Son’a Gallatin),Daniel Hugh Kelly (Ba’ku Sojef) and a very young Michael Welch (Ba’ku child Artim.)

    Director Frakes had approached First Contact’s Enterprise scenes as a horror story, using some traditional horror movie moves. Those scenes were dark—often literally. Everyone—from Paramount to Rick Berman to Patrick Stewart, credited for the first time as a producer, wanted something lighter for this film. So this time Frakes directed an action adventure out in the bright daylight, like a western. That final shot of the seven Enterprise officers all lined up, capped the reference to The Magnificent Seven heroes defending a helpless village.

    The CGI is now a little outdated (this was the first Trek film to use it exclusively) but the Briar Patch is visually stunning, and the action scenes are fun. Despite its reputation, this movie didn’t do so badly at the box office, either. It’s too bad that it couldn’t more seamlessly bring together its moral center, the story and the mood, as did its model predecessor, The Voyage Home.

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1928 Audrey Gelfand is born.
1940 Jim Baikie is born.
1941 Alice Rawlings is born.
1947 Stephanie Beacham, Stephen Goldin, and Ab Mobasher are born.
1950 Barry Kivel and Gil Mosko are born.
1954 Denise Deuschle and Brian A. Vouglas are born.
1958 Damaris Cordelia is born.
1959 Brett Davidson and Gerry Sackman are born.
1960 Michele Echols is born.
1963 Grace Harrell and Heidi Smothers are born.
1966 Nathan Crowley is born.
1967 The New York Times publishes NBC's fall 1967 schedule, with Star Trek listed as airing Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 pm. Charles S. Chun, David McGrath, and Cecelia Specht are born.
1968 Karen Robinson is born.
1969 TOS: "The Cloud Minders" airs. Daniel Dvorkin is born.
1970 The Eleventh UK Story Arc concludes in TV21 & Joe 90 #23 with the sixth of six installments.
1974 Mario West is born.
1977 Bernd Perplies and Brandon T. Snider are born.
1982 Last strip of the eleventh comic story arc is published.
1984 Design patent for the USS Reliant is issued.
1985 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock premieres in Uruguay.
1986 Fifth day of filming on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
1987 Michelle Horn is born.
1989 Second day of filming on TNG: "Q Who".
1990 Makambe Simamba is born.
1991 Noah Lamanna is born. Second day of filming on TNG: "Half a Life".
1992 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country premieres in Japan. Third day of filming on TNG: "Imaginary Friend".
1994 TNG: "Eye of the Beholder" airs. Sixth day of filming on TNG: "Emergence". Sixth day of filming on DS9: "The Maquis, Part II".
1995 Last day of filming on DS9: "The Die is Cast". Star Trek Monthly begins publication with Star Trek Monthly issue 1.
1996 First UK airdate of TNG: "Attached". Second day of filming on VOY: "Basics, Part I".
1997 Star Trek: First Contact premieres in Portugal. Fifth day of filming on DS9: "Soldiers of the Empire". First day of filming on VOY: "Scorpion".
2000 Third day of filming on VOY: "Muse". Paramount Home Entertainment releases Next Generation volume 3.1 and Voyager volume 6.1 on VHS in the UK.
2001 VOY: "Workforce, Part II" airs.
2002 Fifty-eighth day of filming on Star Trek Nemesis. Romulan Senate scenes are filmed today. Third day of filming on ENT: "Fallen Hero".
2003 Second day of filming on ENT: "Regeneration".
2005 Second day of filming on ENT: "These Are the Voyages...".
2006 Pocket Books Star Trek: New Frontier novel Missing in Action published. Star Trek: Voyager - String Theory novel Evolution published.
2011 Jay Crimp dies.
2012 Thirty-third day of filming on Star Trek Into Darkness.
2016 Lee Reherman dies.
2019 DIS: "Light and Shadows" airs.
2022 Kirk Baily dies.
Unknown year Avaah Blackwell is born.

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  • 21 Oct 2023

    Presented in this special photostudy is a compilation of selected imagery from The Greg Jein Collection Auction Exhibit that was set up at the Heritage Auctions headquarters building in Dallas, Texas in preparation for the historic auction event which took place last weekend and garnered over $13.6 million in total sales. The Academy Award and Emmy Award nominated model builder and special effects artist Greg Jein was an avid lifelong fan/collector/expert on Star Trek: The Original Series and his memorabilia collection featured some of the most iconic screen used pieces from this first Star Trek televison series, which shall be a primary focus of the following imagery. A total of 132 lots of TOS props, costumes and production material were part of the Greg Jein collection, including 6 extremely rare landing party hand props and no less than 6 William Shatner Original Series costumes. An auction of this magnitude with respect to Star Trek:TOS memorabilia will simply never be seen again.

    Special thanks to my friend and fellow Star Trek fan David Wendelburg, who attended the auction in Dallas, and very graciously supplied all of the exhibit photography that is shown in this article. Just click on any of the images below to view an enlarged version ...

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