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

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) 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 cast of Star Trek. Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, back left, DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy; Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, front left; WIlliam Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. (Deseret News Archives) The original cast of Star Trek. Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, back left, DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy; Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, front left; WIlliam Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. (Deseret News Archives)

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.

Spock (Leonard Nimoy), left, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in "Star Trek." (Deseret News Archives) Spock (Leonard Nimoy), left, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in "Star Trek." (Deseret News Archives)

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.”

In 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” the Klingons were redesigned to have more alien features, including high, knotted foreheads.

According to the 2006 Guinness Book of World Records, Klingon is the most commonly spoken fictional language.

Spin-offs

After becoming hugely popular in syndication, the original series went on to spawn five TV shows and 12 movies, six of which featured the original crew of the Enterprise.

1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which is widely considered the best of the Shatner “Star Trek” films, saw Captain Kirk and his crew doing battle with a genetically engineered villain (Ricardo Montalban).

Montalban’s character, Khan Noonien Singh, first appeared in the 1967 episode “Space Seed.”

“The Wrath of Khan” also features an appearance by Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus, as well as their son David.

Using time travel as a key plot device, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” reboot diverges prominently from established “Star Trek” canon.

The 2009 film as well as the new “Star Trek Into Darkness” exists in an alternate timeline in which the Romulan Nero destroyed the Vulcan home world, drastically altering the course of history — without negating the events of the original TV series.

Some of the key differences seen in the 2009 “Star Trek” are that Kirk’s father, George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth), is dead, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are in a romantic relationship, Scotty has invented new technology known as “transwarp beaming” (the ability to beam people from planet to planet) and Kirk (Chris Pine) has not yet been made captain of the starship Enterprise, which is still under the command of his mentor Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood).

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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