Today one of the most binge-watched shows in the history of television, Star Trek: The Next Generation, turns thirty. The first episode aired September 28, 1987.
Star Trek was the creation of Gene Roddenberry, who passed away about five years into this series' seven-year run. It's based on a utopian view of the future where technology has eliminated poverty, and even the need for money altogether and humanity is united, essentially as a single nation, in a galaxy full of life. The optimistic view of the future is more apparent in the Original Series (1966-1969). As Whoopi Goldberg is reported to have told her mother about Nichelle Nichols:
Star Trek was always different from the space opera Star Wars in that the Star Wars universe is one of magic and fantasy. While their happen to be a lot of space ships and advanced weapons around, the universe is pretty much unrestrained by the laws of physics. Conversely, Star Trek was always a world of science and reason. You don't solve problems through concentration and meditation, you solve them (And yes there are a number of get out of jail free cards, they use. As someone astutely remarked, absolutely any problem in the Star Trek universe can be solved by "changing the phase" of something.)
But more importantly, Star Trek was always about the human condition, often wading into murky ethical waters. It typically starts with some sort of moral disagreement with an "obvious" solution quickly followed by someone pointing out how things aren't that simple. It reminds us that morality is something we all have to work at constantly and not take for granted.
Even though there is no magic, there is no shortage of wonder. Their self proclaimed mission to "Seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before." It's based on the ideals of science and the enlightenment: the universe is understandable and knowable if you're willing to go out and do the exploration and be open minded.
There are a few Star Trek tributes that will get me teary-eyed. This one, though, is just laugh-out-loud funny: