Tell me about Star Trek

So, I just started (re)watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. I used to watch it with my dad when it aired, and I always liked it, but I was never a hardcore fan or anything. I just watched it if it was on. I’ve also seen several of the movies, and some episodes of the other series, but ST:TNG was the show I watched the most, and I like Picard, so when I needed something new to watch I started there. I’m also watching with my boyfriend, and he’s pretty much never seen anything Star Trek ever. *

I started at the beginning of season two because I heard or read that the first season isn’t that great, plus I think shows are generally better after they find their footing anyway. I’m enjoying it, but I don’t understand some stuff, and my boyfriend keeps asking me questions, because I’m the expert :rolleyes: and I never know the answer. Stuff like, is America still a country? Why were the Klingons bad before, but good now? What exactly is the Federation, and who’s in it? Just background stuff like that. I looked some of it up, but frankly I was overwhelmed. Star Trek fans are not concise. :stuck_out_tongue:

So, I turn to you guys! Without overloading me with details, can you guys give me a kind of overview of the Star Trek universe? Just, anything you think would enhance our enjoyment of the show. Thanks!

eta:* I made him watch Wrath of Khan years ago because it’s awesome, and he’s seen the new Star Trek movie (but we haven’t seen Into Darkness yet). Not that it matters with the new timeline and all. I guess I’m ashamed my boyfriend doesn’t like Star Trek?

Roddenberry’s assumption was that individual countries no longer existed and the Federation was a world government (which also governed Earth colony worlds).

As for the Klingons, they were villains in the original series, but they were usually portrayed as an honorable enemy. ST:TNG takes place about 70 years after the original, so by that time the Klingons started accepting the Federation (to some degree).

The beginning of the turn for the Klingons is the plot of the sixth Trek movie, Undiscovered Country, where a peace treaty is argued over. Worf being on board the Enterprise in TNG is meant to represent the first real solid steps forward in their equal footing, but, as RealityChuck notes, that was 70 years later. Worf’s stories are the best way to understand the ins and outs of Klingon history.

There is a United Earth government, and all’s well here on our peaceful planet, but there are still national governments in Picard’s time. See the later timeline entries here:

The Federation and the Klingon Empire are somewhat loosely allied and not fighting each other anymore.

The Federation is a democratic alliance of like-minded worlds, based on Earth. It has grown considerably since Kirk’s time:

Starfleet is still the Federation’s exploratory, military and peacekeeping arm, although much more technologically advanced than in the original show. Some of its ships, like Picard’s Enterprise, now carry families, and there’s a bit more attention paid to the well-being of the crew.

The four major races in Star Trek are the humans, the Vulcans, the Klingons, and the Romulans. The humans and the Vulcans are the two major species that make up the Federation, which is made up of races from hundreds of different worlds. The Vulcans were the first aliens to contact humans, when one of their vessels happened to be passing near Earth just as we tested our first warp drive.

The Klingons are an aggressive, militaristic society. Initial contact with the Klingons and the Federation led to open war. In the original Star Trek, this war had ended, but given way to a protracted cold war between the two civilizations. In The Next Generation, that cold war is just starting to thaw. Lieutenant Worf, as a child, was the sole survivor of a Klingon colony that was mysteriously destroyed, and was raised by humans after the Federation found the colony’s remains, hence his presence in Star Fleet.

The Romulans and the Vulcans used to be one people, and were a very violent and warlike culture. The Vulcans embraced a philosophy of pure logic and emotional suppression, which allowed them to achieve peace and planetary unity. The Romulans went off and basically became North Korea for a few centuries, but in The Next Generation, have started to re-engage in galactic politics.

Star Fleet itself is a combination diplomatic core, science survey fleet, and military force. It’s primarily human - most other Federation races have their own fleets, but there’s a lot of cross-pollination between the various navies.

You have to go back to the original series for the parallels to really come across, but the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans are more like 3 great powers co-existing and occasionally bumping heads - kind of like NATO, the USSR, and China. They aren’t direct parallels but the political and militaristic sniping between the US and USSR is closer to the truth.

So while you could spin the Klingons as the “bad” guys, it was probably closer to the mark to consider them a separate political entity that had its own goals and philosophies, much like countries aren’t just good or bad.

By the time of Next Generation, it’s more like today’s situation where Russia and the US mostly play nice but still don’t entirely trust each other. Also, by the time of the movies and Next Gen, most of the non-human species were given one specific trait and the dial spun up to 11 compared to the original series. So, the Klingons were written much more militaristic, the Ferengi greedy, the Romulans crafty, etc.

If you think of the Federation as America, and the Klingons as the USSR, then:

Star Trek, (the original series) is set during a ramp-up to war, then a war, then a cold war.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is roughly the 90s to now - even the cold war is pretty long over, and Russia is just another country that we’ve got some iffy history with. The point is, it’s HISTORY now, not an ongoing situation.

Lessee - the Federation is a lot of planet-wide governments all working together. Think of it like the UN of the universe. Earth is in, Vulcan is in, lots of other planets and systems are in. They work for the planets a lot like the UN does - trying to make favorable treaties, to work out disagreements in a neutral manner, that sort of thing. I know the Ferengi aren’t, and the Klingons aren’t.

Starfleet isn’t a totally military organization - the actual mandate is to seek and explore and help. Sort of… conquistadors meets Peace Corps sort of thing. That explains some iffy things like relationships in the ranks, and kids showing up on the bridge and whatnot more than if it was a totally military organization. It also allows them to have more nuanced encounters with aliens than “peace treaty” and “blow them up.”

From the way things have panned out, “countries” as cultural entities are still there. Of main characters from the various series, we know Kirk was from Kansas, Riker is from Alaska, I think Uhura was from the United African States or something like that, and of course Picard is supposedly French. So people from earth still identify themselves as from places we recognize.

Whether those cultural “states” actually exist in a political sense any more, I don’t know - it doesn’t really come up because they’re too *small *to matter in a Universe-wide system like the Federation.

How’s that for concise?

Nitpicks: Kirk was from Iowa, and Uhura from the United States of Africa:

It’s been a LONG time. :smack: Thanks for the reminder.

Contrary to popular opinion, only the original series and movies II and IV count. The newer series and other movies are pure speculation.

And in case your boyfriend ever asks why the Klingons suddenly developed ridges on their heads, the ONLY acceptable response is “We do not discuss it with outsiders.”

Fenris watches ST:TNG.

Also note that Roddenberry posited the quasi-utopian Federation happening only after:
[li]A devastating semi-nuclear third world war occurring on Earth (originally considered separate from but later ‘blended’ into Khan’s eugenics war)[/li][li]The perfection of a cheap, limitless, clean energy source (assumed to be fusion power) by way of which things like war, hunger, poverty, non-democratic govts etc. were all rendered moot.[/li][li]And (of course) practical faster than light space travel technology.[/li][li]For the original series he estimated this would all take around 300 years (that’s how far into the future the original series is set, 2260s, considerably farther ahead than most other scifi shows went, even today!)[/li][/ol]
Roddenberry was an optimist, but a reasonably realistic one. He was also a staunch atheist so religion was almost never featured much in his future (at least not any current human ones)…

According to a plaque on the USS Tsiolkovsky in the Season 1 episode The Naked Now, the ship was built in the USSR. So there are still countries.

They made friends. Blame the Organians (TOS episode “Errand of Mercy”, forced peace on the two Powers), or the explosion of Praxis (Star Trek VI’s heavy-handed Chernobyl-alike), or Roddenberry’s increasing utopianism.

The federation is a federation of planets, originally a dozen or so founded in something like 2161, by the humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and various others.

Probably best to just take it as it comes.

I do hope he’s not a Star Wars fanatic.

Kirk met Apollo, didn’t he? And, later, Sisko turned out to be the son of a god. So some religion.

Why don’t you buy the original series and watch it from beginning to end? There are only around 80 episodes, depending on how you count them. Also buy the animated series, which ran on NBC in 1973–74. They both predate TNG, which was notable for its level of sappiness.

You can also probably find a copy of The Making of Star Trek (Whitfield & Roddenberry, 1968). I’d also recommend The Trouble with Tribbles and The World of Star Trek (David Gerrold, ca. 1973) and Star Trek: The REAL Story (Justman and Solow, 1996), but take the last one with a large grain of salt.

Avoid the huge volume of Trek fiction that’s available on the market, except works written by Roddenberry, Fontana, Blish, and Foster. They’re generally crap churned out by highly untalented authors.

Kirk also met Jack the Ripper. The supposition was that Apollo was an advanced alien entity, not a god, in keeping with Arthur Clarke’s statement about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.

The Klingons were never depicted as “honorable warriors” in TOS. They were portrayed as the lowest kind of pond scum. The only exception (sort of) to this was “Day of the Dove,” which was the first attempt to try and rationalize their behavior.

It was the Romulans who were noble warriors, and I wish they had used them more in TOS. I would, however, be much happier if “The Enterprise Incident” had never been filmed, or if they had at least followed the original script.

I think you have this backwards. The “highly untalented authors” are Roddenberry, Blish and Foster.

The written high point in dealing with TOS is “How Much For Just the Planet?” by John M. Ford.

I can’t recall a specific episode where it was unequivocally stated, but it seems clear from statements from characters that the United States did not exist as an independent political entity by the time of Picard. The US is referenced in a past tense sense. At one point, the Enterprise-D finds wreckage from a destroyed spaceship and beams some of it aboard and they find that it is labeled “NASA” along with a 52 star flag, which they use to conclude that the ship was from a specific period of US history (mid 21st century?). Eventually they find the body of a deceased American astronaut on a nearby planet.