It could be argued (perhaps, over an Orion Hurricane) that it’s never been a better time to be a Star Trek fan. With legacy shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation readily available via streaming, and two currently airing Trek shows (Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Lower Decks) there is a veritable smorgasbord (smorgasBorg?) of content to choose from. But as this franchise has grown, so has its nearly 60-year legacy. One that Rod Roddenberry (CEO) and Trevor Roth (COO) take pretty seriously.
In between panels at San Diego Comic-Con, we had an opportunity to sit down with the captains of the starship Roddenberry Entertainment to ask them about the enduring legacy of humanitarianism and equity in Star Trek, and why the fandom continues to bring them joy after all these years.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: My dad, who introduced me to Star Trek, had a question for you about your dad (Creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry). Was your dad as passionate about the environment in his life as it came across on the show?
Rod Roddenberry: Very interesting. I’ve never ever received a question like that, and I love it. I think my father was really focused on humanity. I didn’t hear him talk about, you know, saving the earth. He used humanity like, once we figure our stuff out, once we’re able to live together, then it should take care of our planet.
I think [it’s about] us being educated enough to understand that it’s our uniqueness and our diversity and the differences between us that we will grow and learn from, and make ourselves better rather than fear. Once we can figure that out and live cooperatively, then the planet will be just fine.
And on a sadder, darker note, the planet will always be just fine. It’s done well without us and unfortunately, if we don’t take care of the planet it might dip a bit and wipe us out but it’ll come right back. Um, doesn’t sound good for us in that scenario but uh…
Nerds & Beyond: But good for the planet.
Rod: Yeah (laughs)
Trevor Roth: I will also point out to you [Rod] that while it’s not quite the environment, obviously, your mother (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry), the things she did were very oriented towards taking care of animals. They are not necessarily human, but still living beings.
Rod: There was an original episode of the original series where there was overpopulation on one planet. I can’t remember the name of that. I mean, that kind of dealt with the environment a little bit, of course. And they got Star Trek 4, with the whales. All I know is George and Gracie will fix everything.
Nerds & Beyond: The Star Trek franchise has been around for nearly sixty years. How have you both witnessed the fandom changing or not changing throughout the years?
Trevor: I think the fandom has changed in what I would consider a natural evolutionary way. In some ways, I think that at first, the fandom was very focused, very united, and very singular in many ways. I think that as Star Trek has grown, as the number of shows has grown, obviously there starts to be a bit of divergence, a bit of fragmentation. ‘I like this one. I like that one’, you know. In some ways, sometimes I wish that it hadn’t as it weakens the voice of fandom because I think fandom has always been so important to Star Trek.
But I think all in all, when people can let down the guards of small disagreements and recognize the love for Star Trek that fandom is both at its strongest and alive and well from that standpoint. I think that if people are arguing about things, hopefully, they realize that underneath it’s because they all loved it enough to watch it and take the time to enjoy what it had and now can come to that kind of more fun place. That there’s a deeper eye-to-eye, seeing one another beneath that.
Rod: Great answer, I like his answer.
Nerds & Beyond: I am a longtime TNG (Star Trek: The Next Generation) fan, but I’ve recently fallen head over heels in love with Lower Decks. I know it’s not the first time Trek has told stories via animated medium, but what do you think it is about Lower Decks that resonates with fans?
Rod: I mean I’ll just quickly say it’s a love letter to Star Trek. I mean it’s not necessary insider baseball but it’s what every fan does, it’s all the thoughts that we have. It’s all the fun, and the clever references. I can’t even remember the Spock helmet. I feel like some go over my head!
Trevor: Oh, most of them go over my head! I didn’t know that this helmet was in there. So in the 70’s they made a Star Trek toy that was a helmet with a red siren on top. And when I say they, someone was saying ‘I think we need a toy’ and they had this product and they made it a Star Trek toy. It was never in Star Trek, it had nothing to do with Star Trek. But still, you get a show like Lower Decks and of course, they get an episode where they put it in. It makes you feel like home because it’s what everyone feels and thinks, the goofiness and the fun that we all talk about. And then the heart and the love that we have for Star Trek.
Nerds & Beyond: Rod, can you talk to us about your latest projects with the Roddenberry Foundation?
Rod: We’re in a constant state of evolution. We’ve got our three programs, the Catalyst, the Fellowship, and the Prize, but those are also constantly evolving. When I say evolving, you know, our Prize was more environmental last year. Before that, we were doing social justice in our Fellowship campaigns because our world has taken a little bit of a turn in terms of politics and those sorts of things. We never wanted to get into politics but the idea of equity in Star Trek in all of its forms is one of the founding principles. So it was important that we at least look at that and attempt something in that domain.
So I mean, that’s where we are right now. Truthfully we’re kind of trying to figure out where to evolve it next. I want it to take more of a – and I’m gonna have a problem articulating this – but more of a Star Trek angle. Not necessarily sci-fi, not necessarily using terminology, like ‘federation’. But Star Trek has always been philanthropic in a way because it inspires people to want to do good or at least have hope for the future.
Our foundation right now is, in its own small way, trying to do things that are better for the future. But I wanted to cross over a little bit more into Star Trek. I want there to be more messaging, I want there to be more hope and inspiration. I mean Star Trek inspires. It really inspires people to go beyond their perceived limitations. I want the foundation to do that and right now, it’s doing good things, but I think we’ve got a stronger voice and we can get out there and continue to inspire people.
Nerds & Beyond: As a fan, I have to say that it feels like the two of you and so many other folks making the decisions on Star Trek shows and canon take a tremendous amount of care in doing it. How do you approach new shows like Strange New Worlds or Lower Decks in advising them or letting them have the reins in that legacy?
Trevor: It’s a constantly evolving and changing thing. If you want to get specific, it kind of differs with different shows. But I think that our overall feeling is that it is our job to speak on behalf of Star Trek, to speak on behalf of Roddenberry and Gene, and to utilize our voice to point out things that we feel are deviating far enough that we’ve lost something of the keys to the show, it’s DNA. I think that we will debate internally and externally as to what things we feel are appropriate evolutions and what things we feel need to be spoken about and debated and discussed. We have a great group of people that we work with and fantastic showrunners that understand and all have the best interest of Star Trek in mind, truthfully. I think within that comes the same debate that you would have with other Star Trek fans, like ‘Well what do we like about this?’ or ‘What don’t we feel is right about that?’ but on the scale of getting to create and make the shows themselves.
It is not unlike those debates you would have, but prior to the creation, as opposed to having seen the show. It’s a moving target and it’s a constant discussion truthfully. And, you know, we feel that our best interest and the interest of Star Trek itself is to make sure that different points of view and the point of view that we have, as its legacy holders in some way, is heard.
Nerds & Beyond: What does it mean to the both of you to be at Comic-Con with all these fans? What do you love about it?
Trevor: I will say, for me, I love that people love things in some ways. We are so joyful when we see people getting invested in Star Trek or anything else that would be comic-con because that love is oftentimes a pure joy. You know what I mean? It truly is something that people are taking their time and energy for. They’re not getting paid, these fans, they’re just getting to enjoy it.
To see people here, and think back to what we have learned was a 1972 small little gathering of Star Trek fans in New York, that was sort of the first (as we understand it) convention ever of that kind. Then recognizing that it has grown and that people are still getting to enjoy an environment of that kind is amazing. It is inspiring to us because at the end of the day, those fans are so important to us.
Rod: What I do love, what I’ve always loved, is the opportunity to have people come up to me and say ‘I love Star Trek’. Not ‘just because’, but usually something in their life, whatever it is. Whether it’s something, and I don’t mean to call it simple, but like ‘I used to watch it with my father’ or ‘He made me watch it and it was the only way we connected’ or ‘I was brought up in a broken home and I had to deal with this situation but Star Trek always gave me hope for the future, and today I’m ‘this’’.
I grew up watching Starsky & Hutch and Knight Rider, and those were great entertainment shows, but I had no idea that you could inspire and impact and affect someone in such a way until Star Trek fans started coming up to me and saying, ‘Do you know what the show did?’. Of course, now it’s been a long time and I love hearing that, truly love it because I’m so proud to be a part of something that does that. I also love Star Wars in a different way and if I were the son of that, I would just be very proud of great storytelling. But this? This affects me. Sometimes maybe in a negative way because it’s very personal and it’s sometimes hard to get beyond that. I think Star Trek has a responsibility now. And when it deviates from that, I have issues.
Season 2 of Strange New Worlds airs Thursdays on Paramount+. Star Trek: Lower Decks returns to Paramount+ on September 7.