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A crash course in 'Star Trek' for non-Trekkies

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 18 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

Chris Pine, left, is Kirk and Zachary Quinto is Spock in "Star Trek Into Darkness," from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Zade Rosenthal

With J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness” beaming into theaters this weekend, it might be a good time for non-Trekkies to brush up on some of the background of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise.

Here’s a quick, spoiler-free refresher that could help make sense of what’s what in the new movie.

“Star Trek: The Original Series”

The brainchild of Gene Roddenberry, a former World War II bomber pilot and police officer that envisioned it as a Western set in the far reaches of space (“the final frontier”).

Roddenberry originally titled the show “Wagon Train to the Stars.”

The original series premiered in 1966 and lasted only three seasons before being canceled due to poor ratings.

Although not established at the time, the events of the 1966 series were later revealed to have taken place in the 23rd century.

The original 79-episode series followed the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise, led by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).

Other crewmembers included Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Uhura and Hikaru Sulu.

During the course of the show, the Enterprise was on a five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise’s officers belong to Starfleet, the primary exploratory, humanitarian and peacekeeping force of the utopian government system known as the United Federation of Planets (“The Federation”).

The guiding principle of the Federation, known as the Prime Directive, states that no Federation members will interfere with the natural evolution of an alien race by giving them advanced technology, even in life-threatening situations.

Starfleet uniforms are color-coded: Gold for command (including navigation and weaponry), blue for sciences and red for engineering and security.

“Red shirts,” as they’re often called, have a notoriously high death rate in the original series, accounting for 73 percent of fatalities.

The aliens

Although numerous alien races are encountered throughout the show, the three most prominent are the Vulcans, the Romulans and the Klingons.

Leonard Nimoy’s Spock — the Enterprise’s half-Vulcan, half-human science officer — is the only character other than Captain Kirk to appear in all 79 episodes of the original series.

Nimoy invented many of the race’s most iconic elements, including the Vulcan nerve pinch and the split-finger Vulcan salute (a symbol he borrowed from the Priestly Blessing performed by the Jewish Kohanim).

The green-blooded Vulcans — who, according to official chronology, were the first aliens to make contact with humans in the 21st century — are characterized by their emphasis on logic and reason above emotion.

Distant cousins of the Vulcans, the Romulans, who first appeared in the original series episode “Balance of Terror,” bear a notable physical resemblance to their more peaceful relatives, including arched eyebrows and pointed ears.

Unlike the Vulcans, the Romulans are characterized by their imperialistic and warlike nature.

The third alien race, the Klingons, was originally created to be a stand-in for the Soviet Union, according to screenwriter George L. Coon, who invented the Klingons for the 1967 episode “Errand of Mercy.”

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