Why 800 episodes of Star Trek matters so much

800 episodes of Star Trek
800 episodes of Star Trek

People say that it’s just a TV show. It’s just science fiction, and none of it is real. Who cares that Star Trek has released 800 episodes and films combined? Why does it matter?

Don’t listen to those folks who don’t get it. While everything “they say” is correct, there’s a deeper meaning embedded in Star Trek that goes beyond the planets, the aliens, and all of the technology. It is a wish for humanity’s future… a hope that we can pull this thing together and become something better in the future. 

That’s why Star Trek’s message endures through countless reboots and redresses. New films, shows, cartoons, comics, and stories all retain that essence of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s dream for humanity. 

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms,” said Roddenberry.

“If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.” 

When we look at what Star Trek has done in the 55 years since the debut of The Original Series, it’s nothing short of remarkable. In each version of the show, Star Trek has given us that message of hope and decency that humanity can better ourselves. 

Thanks to Trek, we have ideals to live by, like the Prime Directive, which lays the groundwork for how we ought to act in the future when we finally get out to the stars. In many ways, this is as important or even more than Isaac Asimov’s rules for robotics. 

The episode "Plato's Stepchildren" was broadcast on November 22, 1968 and caused much discussion. Courtesy of CBS/Paramount
The episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” was broadcast on November 22, 1968 and caused much discussion. Courtesy of CBS/Paramount

The concepts from Trek, including transforming society into one that works together to better itself rather than merely accumulating wealth, are being discussed openly as a possibility. Follow politician Andrew Yang for more on his ideas to make society one more like what we see in Star Trek.

The racial equality demonstrated on Star Trek started as a radical idea but is now widely expected as normal societal behavior. When Kirk kissed Uhura in 1968, the episode was banned in the southern United States. Now we regularly see couples like Kirk and Uhura on detergent and cereal commercials, and no one blinks an eye.

Trek is at the forefront with all forms of representation, including the LGBTQIA community, as we see currently on Star Trek: Discovery. This, to some, is controversial as well, much like the interracial kiss was back in the 1960s. But like before, Star Trek shows the way for society to be more accepting, and a gay engineer or a trans boyfriend will not be something that shocks anyone.

Star Trek: Discovery features a relationship between two gay characters. Courtesy of CBS
Star Trek: Discovery features a relationship between two gay characters. Courtesy of CBS

The real power of Star Trek is not to look at aliens or deep space anomalies. It’s how we can look at ourselves. In the 60s, the Klingons were like the Soviets, and in the 80s, the Ferengi represented the worst of capitalism. Trek aliens are really all humans, and the way Sisko, Janeway, or Saru deal with these new species are ways that we could deal with each other. In Star Trek, we get to see the best of what we could be deal with, the worst of what we are now. 

Star Trek’s message has always been about freedom, growth, and how we (humans) can get along better and work together. This, in contrast to the other science fiction competitors:

  • Aliens: a story about a species of creatures designed to kill
  • Battlestar Galactica: a human-like species running from synthetic life, who wants to kill them all
  • Dr. Who: follows the adventures of a Time Lord who uses a time-traveling device called a TARDIS
  • Mad Max: a post-apocalyptic series about humans struggling for limited resources  
  • The Matrix: humans struggling against an artificial intelligence determined to end all human life
  • Planet of the Apes: thanks to a human-created apocalyptic event (this varies per version of the movie/show), Apes now run Earth, and humans who do not serve as slaves are killed
  • Predator: a story about an alien race who comes to Earth to hunt and kill humans for trophies
  • Stargate: alien bridge portal that allows instant travel between two locations. Humans use this “Stargate” to protect Earth from those who want to harm humanity
  • Terminator: features a robot killing machine programmed to end all human life

Note that nearly all of those franchises feature something trying to kill all humans as the driving plot device. 

The biggest competitor to Star Trek’s optimistic vision is Star Wars, and the contrast could not be more fundamental. Trek is about exploration, learning, and bettering humanity by increasing our knowledge… while Wars is about endless war. 

The Death Star compared to the Genesis Planet. Literally, death versus life.

If you take a step back and look at the original Star Wars trilogy and compare it to Star Trek II-IV, you will see my point:

  • Star Wars: The story of an evil empire that creates a killing machine the size of a small moon to keep conquered star systems from rebelling. 
  • Star Trek II-IV: The struggle over what to do with a device that creates life from lifelessness. And how to repopulate the 23rd Century with an extinct species. 

“The strength of a civilization is not measured by its ability to fight wars, but rather by its ability to prevent them,” said Roddenberry. 

So we are at 800 shows and films, with more to come. This is a great time to be a fan, and we need the positive message of Star Trek now more than ever. 

How we got to 800

You might go back and count, as we did, before publishing this article. According to the Trek Report numbers, we’re still 2 episodes away (counting the unaired season finale for Discovery’s third season). But, if you look at the calculation by Memory Alpha, you’ll see a slightly different count. For the purposes of this article, we went with Memory Alpha’s counting, which we’ve detailed below:

The Original Series7979
The Animated Series2222
The Next Generation178176
Deep Space Nine176173
Lower Decks1010
Short Treks1010
The Cage (+1)787
The Films (+13)800