2022 marks the year the Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would have turned 101, and though 30 years have passed since his death, it’s fair to say the legacy he created for himself is thriving. Creators have not only added to his work over the last 50 years, but his franchise has cemented itself as one of the pillars of science fiction storytelling. While he is considered the father of the utopian future, he was not always happy with the way his vision changed over the years, taking issue with various elements of The Next Generation. Thus the question arises: how does modern Star Trek live up to Roddenberry’s vision?

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What is most interesting about this question is that it’s not looking into whether he would have liked the new shows, as the answer would most likely have been no. Before his passing in 1992, Roddenberry had already become disillusioned with what producers and writers were doing with the TNG, culminating in the episode “family” from season 4. The episode focuses on the crew of the Enterprise trying to get back to some sense of normality after their fight with the (back then still scary) Borg and the assimilation, and subsequent de-assimilation, of Captain Picard. Roddenberry apparently hated the episode, supposedly for not being “24th century” enough.

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When Roddenberry first created Star Trek, it was with the intention of showing a utopian vision of the future, one where all the so-called “evils” of modern society had been eradicated. He created the Federation, and a world that ran based on principles and self development rather than money, but more importantly one where the issues surrounding ableism, discrimination, and racism were all but irradiated. People of the future were supposed to be perfect, and that went doubly for Starfleet and Starfleet captains. This went so far as them being aesthetically perfect too. The perfect captain for Roddenberry was Kirk, with his handsome physique, and strong jaw lines. On this note, he apparently wasn’t a fan of casting Patrick Stewart as the leading role in TNG, (neither was lifelong friend Ian McKellen, apparently)calling him a “bald, middle-aged Englishman” — far from the supposed “perfect” man of the future.

"Family," then, was highlighting everything that Roddenberry didn’t want Star Trek to be, showing what most people would describe as vulnerability and relatability, where he would call flaws. To make things worse, the episode showed the turbulent relationship Picard had with his older brother, and that all was not well at Château Picard. In Roddenberry’s mind, domestic friction should not happen when everyone is perfect, going against everything he wanted the show to be. It is worth noting that the older Roddenberry got, the more issues he took with choices like this. Perhaps a younger version of him would have been happy with this storyline, but the older version surely wasn’t.

Things changed quite a bit after TNG with the start of Voyager and Deep Space 9, two programs that began after Roddenberry’s death. Many Trekkies believe this was a good thing, as they believe that Roddenberry would have hated what they did to his brain-child. DS9 especially would have irked him, as the show highlighted the corruption and dark underbelly of the Federation, showing them to be far from the perfect utopia Roddenberry had wanted. Both programs showed their respective main characters getting their hands dirty to do whatever they had to for what was right. This would have annoyed the man who legitimately made a rule during the first season of TNG stating that none of the main characters would enter into conflict themselves.

This continues into the very modern iterations into the franchise, with Picard,Strange New Worlds, and most importantly Star Trek: Discovery, a show filled with the gritty realism the other shows fail to fully portray. It shows a petty humanity, one of humans who have failed and who are struggling to survive a violent universe, who rely more so on luck than they do technological or societal advancements. While, according to fans, the show did get better, it is still tarnished by its first season, which was at heart a story of war and mediocre action sequences. Roddenberry wanted the Federation to be what everyone in the universe should strive to be. In his vision, conflict and issues arose from those not “advanced” enough to adopt humanity's new values, not the idea that the Federation was potentially as bad as anyone else, or that it really is human to err.

While it’s easy to state the many reasons why Roddenberry would have disliked modern day Star Trek, it’s not quite fair to say they don’t still uphold his original vision for the show. As Roddenberry became less and less involved with the shows, they changed in order to survive and appeal to mainstream audiences. In a lot of cases, this meant that they veered away from substance and relied more on action. But at their heart, every Star Trek series has focused on the philosophy of kindness. Every series has contained valuable life lessons about doing the right thing no matter the cost. Roddenberry's vision is present within them all, each and every time a moment of empathy or kindness is shown, from choosing not to fire at a supposed enemy, to sacrificing oneself to save soundless others. It is perhaps not that the humans of the future are perfect like Roddenberry wanted, rather, that they continue to try to be — a lesson that humanity can learn well before the 24th century.

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