After ten years of work, some Arizona researchers now claim that when popular TV series come to an end, or even when popular characters are killed off, fans mourn in the same way they grieve at the death of a close friend or relative. When I read this I thought it was ridiculous. Sure, when a favourite show ends after I’ve invested years into it, I feel disappointed, maybe even ripped off if I think the story was ended before it was complete. But mourning? Like over the death of a friend? Come on.
Then my wife busted me by reminding me how hard I took it when the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 was destroyed in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
It’s true. I didn’t cry, but I felt real pain.
And the Enterprise isn’t even a human character—how could I relate to it so strongly as to feel that kind of reaction at its demise? I didn’t even feel as badly when they killed off Spock at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (probably because we’d all heard rumours that Leonard Nimoy wanted out of the role, but I was pretty sure he’d be back somehow). Yes, I know the Enterprise has been replaced, many times, but they’re not the same. There will only ever be one original ship.
I grew up with that ship. I watched every episode of the original series when it first aired and watched them again numerous times in reruns and from tapes or DVD’s. My brothers and I had models of the Enterprise and the Galileo 7 shuttlecraft. Together with friends, we poured over blueprints—it felt like I’d walked the corridors myself and taken countless rides in the turbolifts. Most of all she took us on extraordinary adventures.
Yet even all that isn’t why I felt such a strong attachment to her. The way I felt was because of the way the characters felt. The Enterprise was Kirk’s first and only true love—he would do anything to defend her (and it could be argued that he might never have permitted her destruction if she hadn’t already been marked for decommissioning). She was far more than just a home to the other members of the crew, too—she defined them, and they her. And even when the original series ended, at least I could imagine the Enterprise voyaging on between the stars, continuing on its five-year mission and beyond. But not after Star Trek III.
Though there have been other Enterprises, I think the TV and movie creators have missed a trick by not invoking the same empathy and love in the audience for the ship herself. William Shatner’s Kirk and his Enterprise were like one being, indivisible. But Chris Pine’s Kirk doesn’t seem to be devoted to the ship at all, even though she’s his first command. I think that’s a mistake. And I think it’s a lesson for filmmakers and SF writers alike.
While we’re creating our heroic, charming, rascally, or just plain lovable human and alien characters, lets not forget their spacecraft, their time machines, their submarines or starbases.
Fans can fall in love with them too.