(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, July 28, 2005)
Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, son of the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, is currently at work on Trek Nation, a documentary exploration of Trek’s legacy as well as his own complex, sometimes difficult relationship with his father. Rod recently spoke to us from his home in LA.
OC Weekly: Do you prefer Rod or Eugene?
Roddenberry: Well, it’s complicated. These days, I think I prefer Rod. My given name is Eugene Roddenberry, but that can confuse people, especially when you’re getting into merchandising and things like that.
I’m a big Trek dork, and I call myself a Trekkie. I know there’s this controversy in fandom about whether we’re Trekkies or Trekkers, or whatever . . .
I think it’s nonsense. That Trekker stuff is people wanting to make themselves sound cooler. “I’m not a dork! I’m a Trekker, not some Trekkie.” Well, I’m a Trekkie, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
Okay. What’s the current status of Trek Nation?
We’re going to look at the rough cut in a few days. We’re submitting the film to Sundance, and we won’t hear back on that until mid- to late December.
I’ve read early PR stuff saying you were going to talk to some huge names for the film, people like the Dalai Lama and Steven Spielberg. . . .
We didn’t get the Dalai Lama, but Spielberg hasn’t said no yet. The people at his office keep saying he’s interested, but we haven’t been able to set up a time. We did get a lot of really big names, though: George Lucas, Dennis Rodman, Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, Tammy Faye Messner . . .
Hang on! Tammy Faye? Wouldn’t Trek be a little too secular humanist for her?
Well, we didn’t just pick people at random; we wanted contrast. See, people have this idea of Trek fans as 35-year-old guys living in their parents’ basements . . . and I just moved out of my mom’s place, so I can relate. But we wanted to get past that stereotype and show that Trek transcends all those high school stereotypes: that yeah, nerds are into Trek, but so are jocks, so are the hot chicks. We found a biker gang, and they were Trek fans. We have a couple of Playboy models in the film, and they’re complete Trekkies—they really know their shit. Excuse my language.
What was your take on the two Trekkies documentaries?
I was inspired by Trekkies, but in the opposite way. See, I was a late bloomer as a Trek fan. Growing up, I was into The Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky and Hutch, and frankly, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about Trek. It wasn’t until my dad’s memorial service, when I heard these stories about how Trek had changed so many lives, that I really started to understand and be proud of what he’d achieved. He’d really changed the world, in a way that’s more than some politicians manage. I think this film tells a story that’s fairly universal, about a son struggling to understand his father. You can relate to that if you’re a son or a daughter, especially if your parent left you before you were old enough to ask the questions you’d maybe want to ask.
As I understand it, Star Trek: The Next Generation is the last of the shows your father was directly involved in before his death. What do you think he would have thought of the Trek shows since then?
Well, I don’t want to put words in his mouth. He might’ve felt like having caught lightning in a bottle twice, it was best to stop there. But it’s entirely possible that if he’d told Paramount, “No, I don’t want you to continue this,” they would have gone ahead with the franchise anyway. My father was a big proponent of the idea that if you’re going to do something, you have to do it right. He walked away from a lot of really big deals, even other shows that weren’t Trek, when he felt like the people involved were lowballing their expectations or they were gonna do a shitty job. Excuse my language again.
In William Shatner’s autobiography, he talks about your father trying for years to sell Paramount on this movie idea where the original Enterprise crew goes back to 1963 and they accidentally prevent Kennedy’s assassination, and then Spock has to assassinate Kennedy in order to preserve history.
[Laughs] Wow! I never heard that idea before! Well, it sounds a bit like (the original Trek episode) “City on the Edge of Forever” to me, and that was a time-travel story that really worked. A story like that could be really interesting. I’ve had ideas like that: What if somebody went back in time and killed Hitler, and then you had to go back to save Hitler’s life to preserve history? In a situation like that, I’d be tempted to say, “Hell, let Hitler die.” Because no matter what it did to history, we could hardly be worse off than we are now, so let’s see what happens. But of course that’d be a really controversial idea, and it’d probably just piss people off.
In the past few years, it seems like people have really turned against Trek. All you ever hear is how much it sucks, and people are acting like they never liked it. I keep thinking, well, somebody made all those movies and TV shows into big hits! Do you have any idea where all this hostility comes from?
I’m not sure I’ve noticed what you’re talking about . . .
Well, the worst was probably this thing where an LA Times story about a police anti-child-molester unit mentioned that a lot of molesters had Trek memorabilia in their homes. People jumped on that and made all these jokes about Trekkies being child molesters. It seemed so obvious to me that these molesters were probably complete shut-in nerd types, and they probably had all kinds of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings stuff, too.
Wow. Well, I believe it; it’s possibly true [that molesters are often Trekkies]. Star Trek attracts all kinds of different people, including the shut-ins in the basement. But I don’t let myself get bothered about what the press is gonna say. If I’m successful—and I don’t want to say when I’m successful because I don’t want to sound like an arrogant asshole—I’ve no doubt that eventually some embarrassing stuff will come out in the tabloids. I’ll admit to everything and say that aliens gave me the idea.
I’ve wondered if Trek being seen as this very left-wing, secular humanist thing has something to do with why it’s fallen out of favor lately. America has swung so far to the right.
Well . . . that’s a big question. With Bush being as religious as he is, and the people we’re at war with being as religious as they are . . . I can’t answer your question. [Considers] See, I’m a humanist. I believe we should embrace different ideas, including Christianity, including Islam, and even including people who hate those religions. I hate to get all Trek-y, but I believe in [the Vulcan motto] Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, that we should celebrate our differences. I’m not sure if I answered your question. I’m not sure if I remember your question!
Do you think Trek will rise again?
Definitely. I was in favor of canceling it [Enterprise] and letting it take a break for a few years. I think [producer] Manny Coto coming aboard Enterprise in its last season was the best thing that could have happened to Trek, but it was too little, too late. He’s the one person who I thought could justify keeping the franchise going. But there are like 700 hours of Trek now for people to watch. I say let it go for a while, give it time for the hierarchy at Paramount to change. Maybe give it time for the world to change.