40th Anniversary Show report from

By guest contributor Amy Ulen

   After months of anticipation, fans from around the world gathered at the Science-Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle to take part in Planet Xpo's Star Trek 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration & Conference on September 8, 2006. From the moment I arrived at the venue, with the sun glinting off the side of the EMP [Experience Music Project] casting dazzling patterns of color on the ground, I knew that this was going to be one memorable weekend.

Friday, September 8, 2006

   The fun began when I received my badge and conference program. The outstanding program artwork by William Stout depicted a comic book cover of an alien wrapping its tentacles around the Space Needle with the Enterprise swooping in to save the day. After opening the program and perusing the schedule, I was excited to see that Planet Xpo had provided the fans with two tiers of conference programming. In addition to the standard convention fare of presentations by the stars, photo ops, autographs, and dealers' room, this event also included a conference with panels of scientists, actors, authors, entrepreneurs, and artists. All the breakout sessions looked so interesting, I wished I could attend them all.

   Prior to the opening ceremonies, I hit the "Commercial Adventures In Space" panel featuring Charles Chafer, Pat Hoar, and Mike Laine. They shared the histories behind their various projects, including Chafer's meeting with Gene Roddenberry over lunch to discuss the goal of making space available for everyone. Roddenberry's ashes later flew on the first Memorial Spaceflight in 1997. Since then, five other rockets have flown and the next will carry our beloved James "Scotty" Doohan. The Celestis team brought the blue nosecone of the rocket to display throughout the weekend; little did we know on Friday what other surprises they had in store for us later in the weekend!

   My next stop was the JBL theatre where Kristine Smith was "Remembering 'Bones.'" Smith read from her book, "DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories" and fielded questions from the sizable audience. She had those members of the audience who were inspired by De to enter the medical or other helping fields rise and receive a deserved ovation. She told them that they were the legacy that meant the most to De, and when meeting a fan in the medical profession, he always signed their photos with "To the real McCoy from the reel McCoy!"

   Rushing back up to the impressive Sky Church, I was able to catch "The Physics of Star Trek" with Dr. Lawrence Krauss already in session. Using a poster of the galaxy, he demonstrated how a wormhole works and said, "We don't know if time travel is possible, but it is plausible." When it comes to time travel in Star Trek, he said, "I give the writers a B+, because I'm an easy grader." He explained that the transporter seduced him into writing "The Physics of Star Trek," because he wanted to create his own. In the end, he determined that "transporters aren't impossible just impractical." He closed his session by showing a series of Trek physics bloopers, which included scenes from TOS, TNG, and DS9.

   Prior to the opening ceremonies, an impressive array of writers took the stage to discuss "The Soul of Star Trek: the Prime Directive and Beyond." Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last few minutes of their panel discussion, because I was taking a tour of the VIP lounge with Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute. Meeting Dr. Shostak was one of the highlights of my weekend.

   After meeting our Masters of Ceremony for the weekend (Marc B. Lee and Richard Stevens), the celebration was kicked into high gear with the introduction of George Takei! Takei took the stage to a rousing applause and welcomed the thrilled fans to Star Trek's 40th birthday. "It feels so great to say, I'm 40!" A devoted fan called out, "You don't look a day over 30," and he replied, "Bless your blind heart!" His easy rapport with the audience instantly won us over and made the hour feel like a conversation between old friends.

   Takei shared the history of TOS cancellation and Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future that endures to this day. Roddenberry saw the Enterprise as a metaphor for "Starship Earth." "The strength of a starship lay in its diversity and not just the physical diversity of ethnicity/race that you saw but diversity of backgrounds, diversity of cultures, diversity of ideas and opinions ..." He then discussed the turmoil of the 1960s in addition to the Cultural Revolution and Cold War with Star Trek providing an idealistic vision of what the future could be. "The amazing thing is that idealistic picture that was seen as pure science fiction, pure political fiction ... you know, with a trusted Russian member of the leadership team working together with all the rest of us ... I mean, during the Cold War that was pure fiction. It was cultural fiction, social fiction ... in 40 years stop and think about it we do today, in fact, have a spacecraft up there that we call the International Space Station, and the crew from that space station is made up from people all over the world. And the most amazing of all is that we have a Russian and American working side by side.

   "We had technology that was pure science fiction." Yet, today we have computers on every desk. "We also had another amazing science fiction device that we wore, and we could talk to people forever if we wanted and wherever we needed to talk to someone, we flipped it open and we talked. Well, in a few decades, that became a very real nuisance in our society." At this, the audience erupted into an appreciate fit of laughter and applause. Takei then related a bad experience he had at a movie theatre when a man's cell phone rang during a crucial moment in the film. Instead of turning it off, the man had a conversation. Takei glared at him in hopes that he would politely put it away, but the situation escalated to the point where the two men faced off, fists balled, and the man ended up spitting in Takei's face. The audience in Seattle gasped in disbelief at this shocking twist of events. "We talk about how wonderful it is that technology has improved our lives, but technology has also cursed our society. Good manners have gone down. Civility has deteriorated. And because of the computer, good grammar has disintegrated. Have you seen some of those e-mails you get with no capitals, no punctuation? And there's spell check yet they still misspell words. Technology is wonderful, but unless we are aware and work actively to maintain the level of civilization, technology can be a contributor to the erosion of our civilization, as well."

   Takei fielded questions for the remainder of the hour on topics as varied as the William Shatner Roast, his experience in internment camps, the current state of politics in the U.S., memories from the series and films, and a practical joke played on him by Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and Jimmy.

   The final question came from Rose, a 13 year-old member of the audience, who said, "I was wondering if you had any advice for ... you know how you've been talking about how technology is corrupting our youth and all and stuff. I was wondering if you had any advice for like, you know, kids!" Takei responded, "Well, you are the future, and we are looking to you to solve the problems that we are wallowing in today. I'm actually very hopeful despite the fact that technology is affecting your grammar and your good manners. I certainly hope that those of you from your generation who are aware of this situation will play a leadership role to uplift, maintain the standards we have ... we look to you to be the ones who are going to blaze a trail and boldly go where we literally have not gone before."

A Long Day's End

   The final panel of the evening was with Dr. Seth Shostak, Dr. Marc Rayman, Greg Bear, Jeff Greenwald, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, and Martin Cooper who discussed "The Show That Changed the World." This incredibly interesting group of scientists, authors, and an engineer had an energetic debate about Star Trek's true influence on science, technology, and society. My favorite quote of the evening came from Martin Cooper who sat quietly through most of the discussion. When he finally spoke, he said, "When I was young, the concept of being a dreamer was a very negative one. If you were a dreamer, you were useless. You didn't contribute anything to society. But Star Trek made dreaming legitimate, and I think that was a huge, huge contribution."

   The fans were promised two exclusive film events during the weekend, and we were not disappointed. The first was a film premiere of the Star Trek: New Voyages episode "To Serve All My Days," which was presented by Walter Koenig. Koenig said that he became involved with this project, "because, as far as I'm concerned, this was the first time I had an opportunity to really investigate the character [Chekov] and find out how he ticks." He was impressed with the script, written by Star Trek scribe Dorothy [D.C.] Fontana. Koenig then invited Eric Goodrich onto the stage to explain some of the postproduction elements that will eventually be added to the episode. The episode also starred Mary Linda Rapelye (as Ambassador Rayna Morgan) who was in the audience! After the episode showed, Koenig asked the audience for feedback, which was very positive.

   Although the fans enjoyed the New Voyages episode, they were also blown away by the "Of Gods and Men" footage! Tim Russ, Director, took the stage to introduce the principal actors in attendance: Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Garrett Wang, Alan Ruck, J.G. Hertzler, Gary Graham, and Crystal Allen. Nichols complimented all of the men and women on the other side of the camera who were "marvelous, wonderful, excited, excitable, exciting, and helped us along the way to find things that we probably would have missed." The moment the first trailer rolled, the fans were spellbound. The approving roar of the crowd was all the "Of Gods and Men" team needed to know they had a hit on their hands. Russ planned on fielding questions from the audience after the trailer and before showing us six more minutes of exclusive footage, but the fans were clamoring for more. He obliged and rolled the footage. I was impressed by the style of filming, which used in-your-face crash photography (think of TV shows like 24 and films such as "Man on Fire").

   Later, I had a chance to speak with Tristan Barnard, Principle Photographer, who is a filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. Like Nichols, Barnard showered the crew and cast with accolades. When I asked him about the Director of Photography for the film, Barnard exclaimed, "I cannot say enough about Doug Knapp, his integrity, kindness and professionalism was a testament to his body of work. We quickly found that working together was seamless." Soon our conversation lit upon Sky Douglas Conway who, in addition to organizing the Planet Xpo conference, is the film's producer. Conway also wrote the screenplay with storywriters Jack Trevino and Ethan H. Calk. "Sky is a man with a vision much like Gene's. He wants to carry on the legacy of Star Trek and contribute to Gene's world any way that he can; he is a man with vision and passion," enthused Barnard. Our interview was cut short when Barnard had to leave with Toby Brusseau, Second Assistant Director, and Tim Russ to attend a private VIP toast in the Blue Room before heading to the Space Needle for the gala celebration.

   The evening ended with a gala celebration and toast on top of the Space Needle. Although it was a bit of a logistical nightmare moving people through the autograph room to the elevator and up to the observation deck, most people were patient and used the time in line to mingle with other fans. When we arrived up top, the glasses of champagne were served and Rod Roddenberry toasted his father in a moving tribute. George Takei and Walter Koenig followed suite offering their own toasts to Gene Roddenberry's legacy. The toast was followed by a beautiful composition of Star Trek themes composed and performed by world-renowned oboist, Brenda Shuman-Post. The evening was capped off with a concert by the Klingon metal band, Stovokor, and a free drawing of valuable merchandise for all gala ticket holders.

   Star Trek's 40th anniversary came to a close at midnight and a flood of emotions swept through my tired body. Because I hadn't yet entered the world by September 8, 1966, I've never known life without Star Trek. As I closed my eyes with the sad realization that the anniversary was over, I had to smile knowing that I still had two days left to celebrate "the show that changed the world!"

   Although the 40th anniversary gala on top of the Space Needle was a special event, it pales in comparison to the formal banquet and awards ceremony on Saturday night and the grand finale Sunday afternoon.

Star Trek Legacy Awards

image courtesy Star Trek.Com. © 2006

   After a full day of panels and actor presentations on Saturday, September 9, the EMP Sky Church was transformed into a banquet hall. Billed as the highlight event of the weekend, the formal banquet provided fans with the opportunity to mingle with Star Trek actors and other conference presenters. Each ticket holder had a table number and some fans had the good fortune of sitting at a table with an actor or other dignitary. Unfortunately, my table (17) was half empty without a celebrity in sight, but my disappointment didn't last for long because my tablemates (Frankie, Billy, Phil, Lisa, and Woods) were so interesting. We shared in a fantastic hour of conversation during the banquet prior to the evening programming, and I was once again reminded that Star Trek fans are some of the most wonderful people on the planet!

   After the meal, several guest speakers entertained the crowd, including Tim Russ, J.G. Hertzler, John Billingsley, Garrett Wang, Dr. Seth Shostak, Gary Lockwood, Richard Stevens, Walter Koenig, and Rod Roddenberry. Marc B. Lee then introduced the Star Trek Legacy Awards which "recognizes those individuals who, inspired by Gene Roddenberry's powerful vision of the future, have made a significant contribution toward creating a future worth living: a future that is full of optimism, hope, excitement and challenge. A future that proudly proclaims man's ability to survive in peace and reach for the stars as his reward." Sponsored by STARTREK.COM and Planet Xpo, the Star Trek Legacy Awards were given to three exceptional individuals.

   George Takei presented Martin Cooper, the father of portable cellular telephony, with the first award for his contributions to worldwide communication. In a very moving tribute, Nichelle Nichols accepted the award on behalf of Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to go into space, who was unable to attend the banquet. Walter Koenig presented the final Star Trek Legacy Award to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and Blue Origin. In his acceptance speech, Bezos thanked his parents (also in attendance) for their undying support. Bezos is a life-long Star Trek fan and shared the paper communicator and tricorder he made as a boy, which his mother saved for him. He also let us know that he is passing on his love of Star Trek by showing photos of his own children watching an episode of TOS!

   As the evening drew to a close, Nichelle Nichols took the mic and introduced Wende Doohan who thanked the fans for their continued support of her husband, James "Scotty" Doohan. She invited us all to visit the Celestis booth to compose a tribute to Doohan who will be aboard the next two memorial space flights; the first of which will launch in October.

   The final surprise of the evening came from the UP Aerospace team who invited all banquet attendees to sign the blue nosecone of the SpaceLoft XL that had been on display during the conference. The rocket carrying all our signatures will launch on September 25.

Star Trek 40th Anniversary Grand Finale

   It was difficult to imagine how Planet Xpo was going to top all the other phenomenal events of the weekend especially the Space Needle gala and the Star Trek Legacy Awards during the grand finale on Sunday afternoon, but they gave us a hilarious show that had the audience crying tears of mirth and joy! Watching the actors truly play with one another in such a relaxed and supportive environment is a treasured memory that I will not soon forget.

"My Kingdom for a Kirk" by Jack Trevino

   The radio play opened with the narrator, Gary Lockwood (a la Rod Serling), introducing "J.J. Abrams" (John Billingsley) and Rod Roddenberry who were preparing to audition the role of Captain James T. Kirk for the new movie. Lockwood warned that the eight actors vying for the captain's seat came directly from "The Trekkie Zone!"

   Abrams frantically called out to his secretary, "Miss Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), has Matt Damon returned my call?" Unfortunately, he had not, so Roddenberry asked what happened.

   "You know that little Denobulan slime devil actually had the audacity to demand I pay him $30 million just to play Kirk! The nerve of the guy... $30 million. So, I told him to get Lost!" Here Billingsley broke character and said to the audience, "It notes there should be a reaction from the audience here." The audience obliged with laughter and groans over the bad pun.

   Miss Rand soon admitted George Takei for the first audition. J.J. got his name wrong but quickly corrected himself saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's Takei as in toupee." This joke, as seen on the William Shatner Celebrity Roast, started an ongoing joke about name pronunciation throughout the rest of the play.

   Takei told Abrams that he knew J.J. was looking for a captain who was "strong and courageous, who would explore the galaxy with a new zest and zeal, a captain who will inspire a whole new generation of fans ... I even have a title picked out, 'The Adventures of Captain Sulu on the Excelsior'!" This warranted a huge cheer from the audience who would love nothing better than to see Captain Sulu fly again. Alas, Abrams was looking for a Kirk and asked if Takei could do Captain Kirk, and George responded with his Kirk imitation, "Can ... I ... do ... Kirk? Who ... doesn't ... do ... Kirk?!"

   The next actor to audition was the beautiful and sultry Nichelle Nichols. Nichols gracefully adjusted the placement of her chair on the stage, stood and turned to the audience and said, "I never turn my back on my fans." This garnered a huge ovation from the audience. She, too, mentioned the Takei/toupee joke and George replied from off stage, "Oh my."

   Nichols tried to convince Abrams that Kirk should be recast as a woman. "Women have been recast in male roles for years now. Hello, can you say Starbuck...as in Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica?" After the fans whoops and hollers died down, Nichols purred, "I think that's all I need to say." Rodenberry expressed his concern that a female Kirk would pose a romantic problem with Spock. Nichols simply stated, "Possibly, but he'll just have to keep up with me."

   Abrams insisted that he wanted a Shatner-type Kirk, so Nichols said, "If it's Shatner you want, sugar, it's Shatner you'll get." She then launched into her impression of Shatner to approving screams of delight from the audience. Her audition ended with a big kiss from Rod!

   When it was Walter Koenig's turn to audition, Abrams cried out, "Hey, I know you! Bester from Babylon 5." Koenig introduced himself as the actor who played Chekov, and Abrams responded, "don't tell me you're here to audition for Captain Chekov." Matter-of-factly, Koenig replied, "J.J., please, who do you think I am George Takei? That's Takei as in Koenig." Both Roddenberry and Abrams said, "We know! We know. Like toupee." From off stage we heard a deep, "Oh my."

   Roddenberry asked him if he was there to audition for the new Captain Kirk, and Koenig exclaimed, "I'm here to tell you that recasting an all new American Captain Kirk is wrong. It's all wrong! It's wrong!" Without hesitation, Koenig instantly switched into a Russian accent and said, "What you need is a Russian captain. Captain Kirkov!" After the audience's laughter faded, Abrams told him to get out because they are looking for a new Kirk.

   Not wanting his audition to end, Koenig moved his chair to the edge of the stage and did his best impression of Shatner singing "Rocket Man." Although some of the lines were difficult to hear through the screams of laughter and applause by the audience, Koenig finished the song while running off the stage. Rod called after him, "Have a safe flight, rocket man."

   The next audition consisted of two Vulcan actors, Tim Russ and Gary Graham. Russ dryly stated, "Logic dictates that if a new Kirk is being cast, a new Spock cannot be far behind." Graham continued, "We propose, as you Earth men say, that you kill two birds with one stone. Preferably one of Shatner's kidney stones."

   In frustration, Abrams cried out that he is searching for a new Kirk. Russ proposed "that in addition to Spock being Vulcan so should Captain Kirk." The two Vulcans performed a slow and deliberate scene about Klingons attacking sans emotion. Rod soon reclined in his seat and started snoring! Moments later, someone yelled from off stage, "Hey, they're recasting the 'Dukes of Hazard' down the hall!" Russ and Graham instantly broke character and ran off the stage shouting, "Yee haw!"

   Miss Rand informed J.J. and Rod that someone claiming to be the evil Captain Kirk was waiting to audition. Abrams looked up and said it wasn't an evil Kirk but Garrett Wang who played Harry Kim. Wang replied, "It's Garrett Wang, as in it's wrong for you guys to keep saying Takei like in toupee." From off stage Takei piped in, "Oh my! It is not wong to say Takei like in toupee! Oh my."

   Roddenberry tried to convince Wang that he couldn't be an evil Kirk because, as Harry Kim he had done so many kind and gentle things for people. Wang assured them that he was now an evil Captain Kirk. J.J. asked, "Can you play a dirty, low-down snake in the grass?" Wang replied, "No, I'm an actor not a producer." He then went on to describe all the bad things he can do like writing a bad review of the last Star Trek movie for the academy newspaper and leaving the reed cover off his clarinet so it would dry up over night.

   When he realized he wasn't evil, he decided to take a new tact in auditioning for the role. He started by imitating George Takei introducing Shatner singing "Everybody's Kung Fu Fighting!" Wang then launched into his Shatneresque impression to the amusement of the crowd!

   Abrams finally kicked Garrett out and asked Miss Rand to bring in the Klingon who had been eating all the chairs in the waiting room. J.G. Hertzler entered growling and snarling and sat down with a Klingon yell ... that nearly scared Grace Lee Whitney out of her seat! "Tell me, you didn't listen to that nonsense that Russ and Graham were saying about re-imagining Kirk as a Vulcan did you? It's poppycock. Pure poppycock! Everyone knows the new Kirk should be a Klingon ... me! Argh!!!" The audience showed their approval through shouts and applause.

   Not wanting to upset the Klingon, J.J. offered him a different role. "J.G., I have a role on Lost which you would be perfect for. It's a monster on the island that tears the castaways into tiny little pieces." J.G. contemplated the offer saying, "Ah, tiny little pieces. That's a role I could sink my tooth into ... Yes, I could do the monster Shatner style. Yes, I saw T.J. Hooker ... monstrous. Simply monstrous." Upon the request to call Abrams next week, J.G. shouted a line in Klingon and left the stage followed by audience applause and laughter.

   As Alan Ruck entered for the final audition, Roddenberry started telling him what a huge fan he was from Ruck's "Ferris Bueller" days. Ruck immediately stopped him saying, "it was 20 years ago. I've played a lot of roles since then." Rod quickly changed the subject. "First off, you know we're not casting for Captain Harriman." Ruck replied, "And why would you be? That makes no sense."

   Abrams ran down a laundry list of the various auditions (with one final "Oh my" from Takei), and Ruck sympathized with his plight. He assured J.J. that he had a good idea for the next film: "The galaxy comes face to face with its greatest enemy called the Rooney. Of course, there's only one captain strong and brave enough to defeat them ... none other than Captain Cameron." Although Ruck didn't look happy about it, he promptly switched to Cameron's voice from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"! "Now, listen here Rooney, I've never been so insulted in all my life ..." He continued with a variation of his monologue from the movie to the sheer delight of the audience.

   The play ended with J.J. throwing his hands up in frustration and shouting to Miss Rand, "Call Matt Damon, I'll pay him $30 million!"

   As the cast, along with writer Jack Trevino, received a standing ovation, many fans from the audience grabbed the pages of the script that had been playfully tossed aside by the actors. I'm certain they will keep these souvenirs as a reminder of an incredible finish to a spectacular weekend. I'm disappointed that this was Planet Xpo's last show, because it was the best conference/convention I have ever attended, and I definitely would have made it a point to go to another.

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