Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Great Bird Says Goodbye

Those were my second and third conventions. My first was many years before, in 1976 in Washington, where I met Gene Roddenberry. I was supposed to interview him for a scruffy alternative weekly, but Majel Roddenberry was with him, with those incredible blue eyes and all tanned in a backless summer dress. I was so dazzled I forgot my questions. Gene and I did talk but I was useless. I saw Majel at the Scotty convention, but those eyes got to me again and I never told her this story. Now she’s gone, though her voice will once again be heard, as the Enterprise computer in the new movie.

That Star Trek itself didn’t end is largely due to the continuing involvement of Majel, GR and members of the original cast. They were advocates at conventions from the beginning, especially in the years when no new Star Trek was being made. Over the years, Majel and the actors formed a bond with Star Trek fans that goes both ways. “In a society with so much violence and stupidity,” Walter Koenig told me, “ the conventions are an oasis, where you can find some genuinely good people who believe in humanity and respect the rights of others.” “Because the fans are loyal to Gene’s dream, “ Nichelle Nichols said to me, “we are loyal to the fans.”

Gene Roddenberry died shortly after Star Trek VI was completed. Nichelle wrote that GR was more involved with VI than he had been with the previous few films, but he had strong objections to parts of it. On the DVD, Trek producer Ralph Winters said he escorted GR to a private pre-release screening. He was in a wheelchair, with a blanket for warmth in the air-conditioned theatre. Winter left him there for awhile, and came back for him at the end. He reports that GR enjoyed the film. One of Shatner’s books leaves a different impression (he claimed Roddenberry called his lawyer to demand changes.)

It could be that they are both right. I imagine that even though parts of it made him angry, he did in fact enjoy watching it. He probably knew this was the last original cast movie, and he probably realized the precarious state of his own health. If he was left alone in that theatre, it was just him and the characters he started on their life’s journeys. He was there in the dark, as he had been so many times since his boyhood, looking up at heroes on the screen. Except these were heroes that to some significant degree came from within him, and were by now part of him.

He saw them foil a plot against peace, and restore the faith of a visionary peacemaker. He saw them gather together on the bridge of the Enterprise, going off together forever into the brightness of a star. When they looked out, they were looking at him, who brought them into the world, into the universe of story. I can’t help but believe that at some moment in that dark screening room, GR and Star Trek said their goodbyes.

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