“Star Trek” is a cultural comet. From its tiny, ancient core — a mere 79 episodes, airing before we set foot on the moon — a seemingly infinite tail has grown, its glow still bright after 43 years. The original series (featuring James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. “Bones” McCoy) ran for just three seasons, from 1966 to 1968. All of the techno-bling we associate with the show — communicators, transporters, warp drive, phasers and Tribbles — was introduced during that first run. It’s staggering to reflect that the premier episode aired during NASA’s two-man Gemini program — five years before the first pocket calculator.
On Friday, May 8, the newest offering in the “Star Trek” canon will open in theaters around the world. The film will give us the back story of the original series, and show how its three principles got themselves onto what might be (along with Noah’s Ark and the Titanic) the most famous vehicle in history: the starship Enterprise. Only one of the three main actors of that era will appear in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” It won’t be William Shatner (Kirk), or DeForest Kelley (McCoy), who died in 1999. Though Mr. Spock’s role as a half-human, half-Vulcan Starfleet cadet is played by Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy makes a cameo appearance as the future Spock, coming to advise his younger avatar.
Spock has been on many minds lately, and not entirely because of the new film. Big thinkers in both print media and the blogosphere — from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd to MIT media moguls — have referenced the Enterprise’s science officer in recent months, drawing parallels between the dependably logical half-Vulcan and another mixed-race icon: Barack Obama.