I am a first generation Star Trek fan. TOS (The Original Series) debuted about a year before I was born and concluded when I was almost two years old. I watched the show after school while it was in daily syndication in the mid-1970s, along with my other favorite show at the time, Batman starring Adam West.
Back then, kids could easily discover Star Trek in organic ways. The show was in syndication across the country on broadcast television. TAS (The Animated Series) aired on Saturday mornings on NBC. Trek-themed toys were in Toys R Us. Trek comic books were floating around. And the Star Trek movie series debuted in cinemas in 1979, thanks to the popularity of Star Wars.
Flash forward to today, and Star Trek is more easily available than ever before. All of the TV series are available on Netflix, and most of them are also available on other streaming services. The exception is Discovery, which is available only on CBS All Access. Meanwhile, at any point in time, most or all of the 13 Star Trek movies are available via various streaming platforms.
The irony is that while Star Trek is widely available, the franchise is not so easy for kids today to organically discover or plug into. The most recent “Kelvin timeline” movies enjoyed some box office success, but certainly nothing approaching the levels of other popular movie franchises. Meanwhile, the first new Star Trek TV series in 12 years, Discovery, is available exclusively on the CBS All Access streaming platform, which has relatively few subscribers compared to other streaming services. All of this is to say that Star Trek is not exactly top of mind in pop culture these days, especially among kids.
A Galaxy of Competing Universes
Even for kids who are predisposed to like science fiction, scores of other franchises compete for their attention, especially as compared to when I was growing up. Today, including both TV series and movies, a kid has an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the sci-fi and fantasy arenas, including:
- The Star Wars extended universe of movies and TV series (including new series arriving soon on Disney’s forthcoming streaming service).
- The Marvel extended universe of movies (about 50 films since the year 2000) and TV series (around 13 in the past 10 years).
- The DC Comics extended universe of movies and TV series.
- The Harry Potter extended movie universe.
- The Tolkien movie series (Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, the latter of which will soon also become a TV series on Amazon Prime).
- The Narnia movie series (which will soon also become a TV series on Netflix).
- Game of Thrones (for precocious kids).
- The Expanse TV series.
- Battlestar Galactica (the original and the SyFy reboot).
- The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead (with an expanded universe of more shows and TV movies coming soon, per AMC’s recent announcement).
- Planet of the Apes.
- The Terminator movie series (to which James Cameron is returning as producer to reboot the series).
- James Bond (25+ movies to date).
- Transformers movies, shows and toys.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Stranger Things.
That’s just a small fraction of the competition, from off the top of my head. In the era of Peak TV and mammoth movie franchises, where the amount of content and distribution channels has exponentially exploded, Star Trek is just a lonely voice in the crowd. And that’s without even considering Fortnite and other video games which most boys are obsessed with.
In the current media landscape, most kids are unlikely to gravitate towards Star Trek left to their own devices (both literally and figuratively). Even if they do become aware of Star Trek, how would they know where to start, given the daunting number of Trek TV series and movies?
Passing the Torch
As a father who is passionate about Star Trek, I would like to pass down my love for the franchise to my kids and to teach them about why it is special and how it is different from other entertainment properties. My motivation for cultivating their interest in Star Trek is twofold:
- Watching Trek together, whether previous series or new ones, is an experience we can share together.
- As a fan, I’d like to do my small part in keeping interest in the franchise alive for succeeding generations.
When my daughter and my son were approaching an appropriate age to start watching Star Trek, I realized I would have to figure out a careful strategy for introducing it to them.
So, how did I end up going about this?
Before answering this question, for comparison, I’ll provide a brief recap of how I “onboarded” onto Star Trek (for a little more detail, see the introduction to my earlier post, FIRE Trek: Parallels Between the Financial Independence Movement and Star Trek):
I began watching TOS in daily syndication and eventually watched all the episodes multiple times. Around the same time, I watched The Animated Series.
- I watched every movie during its theatrical run (with repeat viewings later on home video).
- I tried watching TNG (The Next Generation) when it premiered but I aborted pretty quickly since I hated it so much. Eventually, I tried again, became a huge fan (it gets good in season 3) and watched every episode.
- I watched DS9 (Deep Space Nine) during its initial run, all the way through.
- Ditto for Voyager.
- I watched the first season of Enterprise as the episodes first aired and then bailed out and have never returned.
- I watched Discovery weekly (with my son) during its first season on CBS All Access as each new episode dropped.
As context for readers who may be Trekkies or Trekkers, my favorites series are TOS and TNG, whereas I consider the “best” series to be DS9. My favorite movie overall is The Voyage Home, but, more generally, my favorites are II, IV, VII, First Contact, Insurrection, and Star Trek (2009).
Without any further ado, below is how I decided to sequence Star Trek for my kids.
1) First Contact: The Original Series
Without much internal debate, I decided the best strategy would be to expose them to TOS first, for a couple of key reasons.
First, the show’s look is the most dated due to the advances in TV production and special effects since the 1960s. I think if you watch the higher production quality of any of the other series first and then go back to watch TOS, you may end up bringing an unfair bias against the show.
Second, the show introduces nearly all of the core themes and technologies of Star Trek, including the most iconic characters in the franchise. Once you become familiar with Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the crew, the stage is set for you to enjoy not only the original cast Star Trek movies (#1-6 in the series) but also the most recent movies from J.J. Abrams set in the alternate reality Kelvin timeline (#11-13).
So, starting when my daughter was around 10 years old and my son was around 9 years old, we began watching TOS. I showed them about 20 episodes (of the show’s 79), including my favorites along with other “important” episodes. My son watched a handful more on his own. He probably liked the series a bit more than his sister, but both of them responded to it, which naturally warmed my heart.
Which episodes should you show a kid? That’s pretty subjective, but as a general rule, you can throw out season 3 and focus on the first two seasons. You can’t go too wrong with the top 20 episodes from Hollywood.com’s Ranking of All 79 Episodes. Many other sites have similar lists.
Quite deliberately, the last episode I showed them was “Space Seed” (guest starring Ricardo Montalbán as the villain of the week, Khan Noonien Singh), which set the stage for us to move on to phase two of my plan…
2) Phase II: The James Tiberius Kirk Era Movies
Next up in my campaign to indoctrinate my kids into Star Trek was to watch most of the movies together.
Just about any Star Trek fan will tell you that the worst movies in the series are the first (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and the fifth (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) — so, I highly recommend skipping them.
Accordingly, my kids and I started the movies with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, shortly after we had watched “Space Seed.”
We followed up by watching Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
My son did later go back and watch The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier. He’s not a masochist, but he is a bit of a completionist. You may have noticed we DID NOT proceed to watch Generations which also prominently features Captain Kirk in the storyline.
Instead, after finishing the movies with the original cast, we watched the J.J. Abrams reboots (with a new cast playing the classic characters) in our home theater: Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness. Later, my son and I would see Star Trek Beyond in the movie theater shortly after its release.
3) Assimilation: Meeting The Next Generation
Next up in our journey towards fandom was the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I don’t remember the first episode we watched, but it was not the series premiere, “Encounter at Farpoint,” which I consider to be one of the worst of the series. The episode is worth watching only because it introduces some key characters and serves as a bookend for the final episode of the series.
Instead, we watched a sampling of episodes, maybe 15 or 20 — ones which I thought were noteworthy or exemplary. My kids took a few episodes to adjust to the new set of characters, especially Captain Picard as compared to Captain Kirk. In the end, however, they found it entertaining, and my daughter seemed to like some of the Klingon mythology. Over time, my son grew to like TNG’s crew more than the crew in TOS.
4) Return to Tomorrow: The Jean Luc Picard Era Movies (#7-10)
Now that my kids were familiar with the TNG cast of characters, we could go back and watch the TNG movies: Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis. If you would like to be more selective, you could easily skip the first and the last of this series.
5) Insurrection By My Daughter
Sadly, around this time, my daughter’s interests started to diverge, and she lost most of her appetite for science fiction and mega action movies. Despite my best efforts, she hopped off the bandwagon for the rest of the Star Trek journey.
6) Sunday Night Fever: Going to the DISCO & Hopping Aboard The Orville
In September 2017, after much fanfare, Discovery, the first new Star Trek series in 15 years premiered on CBS All Access (the first episode also aired on CBS main). While the show has been controversial among the fan base, my son and I immensely enjoyed watching it together each week after new episodes dropped. He had already soaked in enough Star Trek lore to appreciate the new mythology and recognize the puzzling divergences from canon.
Around the same time, The Orville (a TNG-inspired comedy from Seth MacFarlane) premiered on FOX, and we had great fun watching that together as well.
7) Resistance Is Futile: More TNG
As we’ve been waiting for the second seasons of Discovery and The Orville, my son and I have been further catching up on The Next Generation. Out of 178 episodes, I consider about 40 to be exceptional episodes, and we’ve slowly been working our way through them. I’ve seen most of these episodes only once before, when they first aired 25+ years ago, so watching them again feels like the first time in many cases. We have about a dozen episodes to go, and I am very much looking forward to rewatching the series finale, “All Good Things,” which (like many fans) I consider to be not only one of the greatest Star Trek episodes of all time, but also superior to any of the four TNG movies.
In January, we will continue watching Discovery (when season 2 premieres). After that, in the next year or two, we’ll try out the other numerous new Star Trek series CBS is planning for its All Access service, including the highly anticipated “Old Man Picard” series (starring Patrick Stewart) expected in late 2019.
I am not sure yet what I will do about Deep Space Nine and Voyager, as only so many hours exist in the day, especially when considering common sense limits on a kid’s screen time. Perhaps, we’ll move on in our journey and watch a cultivated list of episodes from those shows. Or maybe I’ll leave my son to explore these series on his own when he is older. TAS (which I like) and Enterprise (which I don’t) are definitely his own responsibility to watch or skip as he sees fit.
At this point, about four years into our slow-paced Star Trek viewing marathon, I consider I have done my duty and have succeeded in creating at least one new Star Trek fan on the planet. Even if Star Trek is not any more special to my son than are the millions of other franchises he also likes, it’s enough for me that Star Trek is in the mix — and that he has developed curiosity and excitement about its mythology.
How about you? Do you have a different notion about the best way to get kids into Star Trek? If so, please let me know in the comments.
(Note: I moderate all comments so you may experience a delay before your comment appears on the post. For any SPAMMERS out there, don’t waste your time submitting as I will reject your comment.)
Also, special thanks to Gary Anderson for use of his character fan art.