Saturday, September 3, 2016

Star Trek: Mission New York

It's been a long time since New York City's played host to  Star Trek convention, as the last one took place way back in 1994--six films and 16 seasons of Trek TV ago. Since then, there's been a lot of change in the world of Trekkies, the biggest of which being the cinematic reboot of the series to establish a new Enterprise with a new Kirk, Spock and the rest of the original crew, which has created something of a schism in the fan base, with the hardcore fans siding with the original films and TV series, and the casual fans during to J.J. Abrams' new homage-intensive edition.

Looking at the crowd, talking with the fans and observing the faithful at Star Trek: Mission New York, the Trek convention that took place September 2-4, 2016 at New York City's Javits Center, it's clear that the new Trek has a much less rabid portion of the representation amongst the fans, who side most heavily with Captains Kirk and Picard, with the other TV series inspiring smaller pockets of devotion. That the only two representatives of the new films scheduled to attend--Alice Eve and Karl Urban--both canceled before the event, said everything about the reboot's status amongst Trekkers.

Talking with security, it became clear that Friday, the first day of the show, was a quiet affair, and as of two hours before the doors were to open, Saturday didn't look to be much different. The morning of a New York Comic Con day (also held at the Javits Center), the building is crawling with fans, with massive lines wrapping around the building. Walking up to the Javits on Saturday, you'd have no idea the building was even open. Part of that is the small footprint of Mission New York, with the show floor contained entirely in the building's north corridor,  which meant the lines were located at the far end of the Javits.

That said, as of 8 a.m., there was a grand total of 18 people on line waiting to get in. There were certainly excuses for such meager attendance, from the Labor Day holiday weekend to the threat of a tropical storm headed toward the northeast. But the most likely culprits were a lack of awareness for the show's first outing (many of the fans I spoke to found out about the event shortly before it took place), the proximity to the east coast's premiere convention (taking place just a month before the heavily-attended NYCC) and the lack of a Trek TV show to fan the flames of the faithful who haven't embraced the new films. However, as the clock ticked toward 10, the line did grow, with more cosplay representation, to the point where by the time the doors open, the line reached around the north end of the building.

That said, once inside, the show floor was unimpressive, with a sparse few displays (a mix of science and commerce, with NASA, the Roddenberry company and several video game companies on hand) and very few vendors to tempt dollars from wallets (though yours truly plunked down some cash for an official tribble that vibrates and coo's.) A pass around the room offered the chance to check out a replica of the original series' bridge (a key photo op), try out a new virtual reality Star Trek game (a hot ticket that was instantly unavailable minutes after the show opened) and explore some science. You wouldn't spend long there though (except for standing on lines), as the real action (outside of the paid photo and autograph hall for fans wanting to make sure they get their desired celebrity interaction with folks like William Shatner, Walter Koenig and a host of more recent Trek TV stars) was in the panels.

The smaller panels got very fine grained, from interesting chats about Trek-adjacent science like extraterrestrial communication, various incarnations of the franchise--from cartoons to books, and the fandom as a whole, as well as in its various smaller niches. The place to be though was the main hall, which came most alive for a raucous panel featuring several members of the <i>Next Generation</i> cast, including Levar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn and Gates McFadden. The room, which holds around 3,000 people, was filled to overflowing for the enjoyable reunion, with rows of fans seated on the floor and standing around the outside. Panels with the children of Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy or film actors Peter Weller and Bruce Greenwood were less heavily attended, but no less enjoyable, while a staged reading of <i>Star Trek IV</i>, with Mary Stuart Masterson as Captain Kirk and a cast featuring Terry Farrell, Ethan Phillips and NASA mohawk dude Bobak Ferdowski, gave the convention the kind of unique experience it needed to set it apart.

If you wanted to take the pulse of the Trekkies though, a panel with two writers of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series gave a rather interesting perspective, considering the push the show is getting, with a giant floor to ceiling banner greeting attendees at the doors. The main hall was less than half full for this event, and the reaction to a sizzle reel provided by showrunner Bryan Fuller was muted at best. Informal chats with fans showed a very hesitant interest in the new show, in large part because of how it's being rolled out on yet another subscription streaming service, which was viewed as a roadblock, along with a concern that the show will be more like the new movies than the previous TV series.

Thinking back to the first New York Comic Con, the growth the show has made in 10 years makes one think the next Star Trek convention could be better for everyone around, but whether the fan base exists to support that growth is unclear (though one attendee pointed out that the regular show in New Jersey is bigger, so perhaps they are just in hibernation and the new series could bring them out for another show.) Either way, the show ran rather smoothly from all accounts, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves, so anything else would be gravy.

Check out a wrap-up of my on-the-groung coverage: