Enjoying the intergalactic road trip

Published 9:38 pm Friday, January 21, 2022

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When I read a story or watch a television show or movie, there are certain themes and kinds of characters that I always find myself gravitating towards as my favorites.

I love stories about road trips, for example. Just getting to follow the characters’ journeys from Point A to Point B and seeing what happens along the way is fascinating to me.

I also tend to really enjoy stories about a group of random people experiencing joy and hardships together, and in the end, they consider themselves family. It’s the typical “found family” trope if you want to go with the technical term.

And as for character traits, my favorites somehow always tend to be the ones who are often exasperated and grumpy. There’s just something about that combination that’s funny to me, watching them have to deal with the actions of the characters around them with a longsuffering sigh or an amusing rant.

It’s perhaps not surprising that examples of all of these specific things can be found within my favorite television show of all time: Star Trek: Voyager.

Earlier this month, the series – one of the myriad spinoffs of the original Star Trek from the 1960s – celebrated its 27th anniversary since the show first aired.

It premiered on Jan. 16, 1995 on UPN, a channel which had just been newly established (and is now defunct today). Voyager ran for a successful seven seasons with a total of 172 episodes, similar to the popular “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” before them.

The premise of the science fiction series was rather simple: due to a mishap with alien technology, the crew of the Federation Starship Voyager end up halfway across the galaxy with a small group of freedom fighters (called the “Maquis”) which they had been chasing after. Cut off far away from everyone they know and love, the two groups join together for the journey back home. They estimate it’ll take 75 years at top speeds (though, of course, it ends up only taking seven years… thanks again to more alien technology).

The series was about midway through its run when I started watching. I was probably a little too young at first to understand everything (I was around eight years old at the time), but it quickly became my favorite thing to watch. Jumping into the middle of the series meant that I had plenty to catch up on, to learn about each one of the characters and what they’d already experienced so far.

Space and science fiction have always been alluring to me. It’s a form of storytelling that pushes the boundaries of what humans are capable of. The Star Trek franchise, at its core, is about exploring the universe, but doing it in such a way that we learn more about ourselves in the process.

Plus, all the alien character and planet designs were a lot of fun to look at too!

I have plenty of fond memories of watching Voyager over the years. It aired every weeknight at 10 p.m., mostly reruns but also with a new episode each week. I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late on a school night, so I had to learn how to record the episodes on VHS. The technical procedure for setting a VCR recording is long gone from my memory now, but I still remember how vital it was to make sure I had the recording set up before going to bed.

And I always looked forward to Friday nights when I was allowed to stay up late enough to watch the episode in real time. It was the highlight of my week! I even enjoyed watching reruns of episodes I’d already seen. There was comfort in the familiarity.

Voyager was a popular series, though it was not as well-loved as the ones that came before it. Watching the series again as an adult, I can understand plenty of the criticisms. No series can be perfect, and there were certainly some missteps. (For example, we do not talk about the episode with the lizard babies!) But that doesn’t diminish my love for the series at all.

It had plenty of good points as well, though I didn’t even think much about them as a kid. Voyager featured the first woman captain of the Star Trek franchise. The characters were more diverse than plenty of other shows I was watching at the time, with Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American representation. Not all of that diversity was handled very well or emphasized at the time, but it was visible, if nothing else.

Along with all of those positive aspects, there was also the fact that the crew was made up of two different groups of people (the Starfleet officers and the freedom fighting Maquis) with sometimes wildly different viewpoints. But they set those differences aside to work for their common goal of getting home.

It was all a bit idealistic, but as I kid, I didn’t care much about nuance.

It was only many years later, well into adulthood, that I realized Voyager had such an impact on my viewpoint of the real world. Women in leadership positions were not surprising to me. Learning about other cultures and seeing more diversity was a positive experience. I always believed people with different backgrounds and ideas had the ability to work together.

Star Trek Voyager may not have been intentionally trying to instill these sorts of concepts in its viewers, but I picked them up anyway.

And like I mentioned at the beginning of this column, even now I tend to find my favorite parts of Voyager reflected back in the stories I consume today.

I’m always happy to enjoy Voyager’s intergalactic road trip over and over again, even 27 years later after it first aired. In the words of Ensign Harry Kim in the series finale: “Maybe it’s not the destination that matters. Maybe it’s the journey.”

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.