As we gear up for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek on September 8, the Houston Press boldly goes in search of those who have turned their passion for the landmark television series into a mission.
After Star Trek ended in 1969, die-hard fans were relegated to the cold darkness of the cancellation zone, feeding the void with a few video games, a documentary and an animated television spin-off.
That all ended in 1979 with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, satiating our hunger for sci-fi, at least for a little while, but also leaving us with some unanswered questions.
Why was Captain James T. Kirk, now Chief of Starfleet Operations, content with a desk job? Spock, eager to shed himself of human emotion, was taking part in the kolinahr ceremony. Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy had left the service completely. There was a clear disconnect between where these characters were at the end of the television series and where The Motion Picture picked up.
We checked in with Vic Mignogna, who is connecting those dots and answering the questions through the fan-produced webseries Star Trek Continues. Mignogna, who lived in Houston for 20 years and now parks his truck (still with Texas plates) in Los Angeles, sits in the captain's chair in every sense of the word, including playing Kirk on the show.
“What the hell could have possibly happened to make Captain Kirk give up his ship?,” asks Mignogna. “Spock has gone back to purge emotion. What the hell? What traumatic event happened to him? And here's the cherry on top: In all the [subsequent] movies why was the logo of Starfleet Command the Enterprise delta?” Every constitution-class starship in the Federation was lost or destroyed, except for the Enterprise; Kirk was the only commander to bring his starship and crew back to Earth.
Mignogna is no stranger to the entertainment industry. Between Houston and Dallas he's voiced 300 animated series and video games. About seven years ago the woman who runs his 23,000+ member fan club pointed him to some guys who had built a Star Trek set and were making episodes. He played a few roles, acting and directing, rekindling that childhood passion for the show, though the amateur production left him wanting more.
“I loved Star Trek since I was a little boy,” says Mignogna. “Not only could I do it more professionally, but I could also fulfill that childhood dream I had of playing Captain Kirk.” About three and a half years ago he assembled a team of actors he had met along the way at convention appearances. “I funded the entire episode myself to the tune of probably 70 or 80 thousand dollars. Renting the building, sets, flights, hotels, food.”
While Mignogna still dabbles in all aspects of the production – with credits as executive producer, producer, composer, film editor, scriptwriter – through a series of crowdfunding campaigns the production has swelled, with new set construction, a large cast and crew, and seven episodes in the can.
The goal of Star Trek Continues is to fill in the missing plot lines, to seamlessly connect the ending of the series with the beginning of the first film. “Based on the stardates, they were well into the fourth year of their five year mission,” says Mignogna. He receives hundreds of script submissions, but he's very selective about what's accepted, often handling rewrites himself.
“What was special about the original series were the stories,” say Mignogna. “The kind of endearing, thought-provoking, thematic stories about social issues and the human condition.
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“Star Trek Continues is my love letter to Star Trek. In my mind, Star Trek is the most iconic series in television history. It has impacted more in our society than any other show,” says Mignogna.
He says that the show gave us a vision of a future for humanity that is bright and optimistic, where we have somehow learned that what we can accomplish together is more important than our own personal agendas.
“You only have to look around the world today to see that we need that more than ever.”
Don't miss the cameo by Rod Roddenberry, who appears as a crewman in one episode, connecting one more dot back to the series created by his father, Gene Roddenberry.
Episode 7, Embracing the Winds, has its world premiere on September 2 at Salt Lake Comic Con, followed by a screening at Fan Expo Canada and the Internet release on September 3. View all the episodes online at startrekcontinues.com.