If you've never dived into the Star Trek universe before, you may wonder why anticipation is running so high for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, due in theaters on Friday. A kid on a motorcycle, a guy with pointy ears, some Scottish dude, ships swooshing through space: what's the big deal?
Beyond the early raves, the new Star Trek holds the promise of delivering more of what Star Trek fans have come to demand: cool moments, the kind that make you smile or gasp or nod your head or yell "Yes!!" in a crowded theater. (Guilty as charged on the last one.) The original series, created by Gene Roddenberry, featured a distinctive, multi-racial crew that treated each other like family and dared to ask: "Why?" For example, the episode "The Devil in the Dark" asked: Why did that monster attack? What led up to it? What does the monster want?
The best, coolest moments in the movies that eventually followed were the ones that relied on those two essential elements: the characters and the questions. Here are my seven coolest Star Trek moments, with special meanings noted if you aren't familiar with the franchise.
1. "KHAAANNN!!!!" (from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) is constantly being hailed for his intelligence. He has a unique ability to think outside the box in order to solve problems, but when he's marooned on a dead planet with the prospect of being buried alive, courtesy of the wrathful Khan (the great, late Ricardo Montalban), all he can do is furiously shout his adversary's name. What makes it cool: We rarely see the calm, collected Kirk lose it entirely. His vulnerability and impotence in the apparent face of death make him all the more human.
2. Inter-Species Kissing (from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
The interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in the third season of the original series ("Plato's Stepchildren") was groundbreaking on US television; incredibly, anti-miscegenation laws were still being enforced in 16 states until the Supreme Court struck them down the year before. With a nod to that kiss, Captain Kirk kisses Martia (Iman), only to later discover that she's an alien who can shape-shift, expanding the kiss from an interracial one to an inter-species smooch. What makes it really cool: When Martia fights Kirk and shape shifts into his double, Kirk says, "I can't believe I kissed you," to which she/he replies, "Must have been your lifelong ambition."
3. FBI Interrogating Chekov (from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
This environmental-themed comic adventure is filled with jokes and playful banter between Kirk, Mister Spock, and Doctor McCoy and is therefore probably the most accessible installment for newbies. In the original series, the supporting characters only rarely got opportunities to shine, which it why it was such a pleasant surprise to see Chekov (Walter Koenig) get to make the funny, first asking for directions to the "nuclear WESSELLS" and then in a brief encounter with the FBI. What makes it cool: the whole movie is a classic fish out of water tale (in more ways than one), but Chekov had always been portrayed as stiff and humorless, a stereotypical Russian character as a holdover from the Cold War. His befuddled exasperation in dealing with the FBI -- even the frustrated way he tries to use a phaser -- highlights his straight and narrow thinking.
Imitating Channeling Spock (from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
Another thing you should know: McCoy hates Spock. Well, "hate" is too strong a word, but the straight-talking yet kind and empathetic Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is constantly clashing with the cold, logical Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). McCoy is more like a folksy country doctor, and Spock is like a poker-faced accountant. Thus, there's a devilish, impish look in his eyes when he briefly
imitates channels * Spock's voice and behavior at a key moment. "Did I get it right?" Yes, you did, Doc! What makes it cool: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
5. "Fly her apart then!" (from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Another supporting character gets his shining moment. Previously, Ensign Sulu (George Takei) was primarily known for saying "Aye, aye, Captain, full speed ahead." He was a rock-solid loyalist, but boring, without much to do except loyally follow orders. Finally elevated to the rank of Captain, he's still stuck away from the action for most of the story ... until he gets to issue the memorable order noted above. What makes it cool: We always knew the subjugated Sulu had it in him to command a starship; it was thrilling to hear him bark that command with such authority.
6. The Entire Ending (from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
I won't give it away, but newcomers should really watch this movie first among all the previously-released installments. What makes it cool: In counterbalance to Captain Kirk's fury, referenced above, the concluding scenes amply demonstrate his intelligence. It also showcases the warm relationship between Kirk and Spock, as well as deepening our respect for Spock's consistently logical behavior, while reminding us that he is half-human.
7. Tour of the Enterprise (from Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
I don't recommend the first movie version to start with because of its glacially-slow pace and the silly yet serious nature of the plot, but the slow pace actually works in its favor during this early sequence. Kirk returns after a three-year absence to take command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which has been recently rebuilt and floats in dry dock. For fans, the ship looks beautiful and glowing, the ideal of what it should look like. For newcomers, it's an introduction to a versatile spacecraft build for speed. What makes it cool: Kirk's eyes as he beholds the ship that he loves. And the knowledge that his next adventure is just beginning.
Please share your coolest Star Trek moments. Let's see who will be the first to come up with a cool moment from the only one of the first six movies that I left off the list ...
[Note: Introductory thoughts on the original series gleaned from the fascinating, though sadly out-of-print, 1968 book The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry.]
* UPDATE: Blast! Betrayed by memory and IMDb, I got this wrong; thanks to commenter DC for kindly pointing out my error. I still think the idea of Spock's voice coming out of McCoy's mouth is pretty cool!