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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In 2011, Rod Roddenberry (Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry’s son) released Trek Nation – a documentary that feels like it took forever to come out. I remember first hearing about it sometime in 2002 (shortly after I first saw Trekkies) when Roddenberry Junior (here on referred to as Rod for clarity’s sake) wanted to make a film to combat the negativity he felt Trekkies may have had of Star Trek fans. There was an update here and there over the next 10 years, but nothing that gave me any confidence that it was going to be released anytime soon.
From what I have read, I guess a lot of that had to do with Rod not exactly knowing what he was doing making a documentary (he never made one before). In the end, the lengthy production period probably was the best thing that happened to it as it allowed Trek Nation to redefine its focus from the fans to what Star Trek is and, more specifically, who Gene Roddenberry was.
First and foremost, much of the information presented in the documentary doesn’t really do much to satisfy the hunger of the Trekkies as they would likely know much of what’s covered in Trek Nation. Newcomers to the franchise will likely learn a lot. Here is the thing that sets Trek Nation a part: even though it treads over well-covered ground, because it is Rod that is behind this film, it gave it a much more personal touch. It isn’t so much about the history of Star Trek, but rather Rod trying to understand his father who he wasn’t incredibly close to.
Rod was still fairly young when Roddenberry passed away and never really got to reestablish a relationship with him. Rod is surprisingly open about himself in the documentary by not blaming everything on his father and claiming that he really wasn’t the best of sons. It was through his discovery and understanding of Star Trek (which he never really got into prior to this) where he started to understand his father. Maybe it might come off as a vanity project, but I don’t care. That is powerful stuff. This is made even powerful given that the film doesn’t shy away at all from Roddenberry’s own faults as person.
As I mentioned above, the film doesn’t really go over anything new. However, what it does do that is to its benefit is that it was able to capture two key events in Star Trek’s history while they were happening. The cancellation of Enterprise and the rebirth of the franchise with 2009’s Star Trek. It would be easy to find articles or retrospectives of the events, but Rod was there filming and interviewing on the final days of Enterprise and connected with JJ Abrams discussing the Star Trek legacy (including showing him a message from Roddenberry guessing that Star Trek will eventually be reinvented with new actors as Kirk and Spock and filmmakers behind the camera).
As an aside, Trek Nation also features a very nervous Rod interviewing George Lucas (during the production of Episode III) who revealed he went to Star Trek conventions before the days of Star Wars.
While Trek Nation isn’t breaking any new ground, I do think it is a fascinating documentary to watch. Rod’s attempt to understand his father through understanding Star Trek gives Trek Nation a focus and identity of its own that couldn’t be done by anyone else. I don’t know if Rod has a future with documentary filmmaking, but Trek Nation is a home run.