This year, the venerable Star Trek franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary. For half a century Star Trek has delivered a staggering 726 television episodes from six series (including an animated series), and 13 movies. When watched continuously, this totals over 548 hours, or almost 23 days of viewing! The enduring sci-fi franchise has evolved into a cultural phenomenon garnering millions of fans from all ages across the world, commonly identified as trekkies or trekkers. These passionate trekkies in the 1970s gave rise to the birth of fan conventions attended by celebrities of the respective shows, giving rare opportunities for cast, crew and fans to mingle.
For the last 15 years, the Star Trek Las Vegas (STLV) convention has brought together thousands of trekkies annually for this very reason. Its official 50th Anniversary Celebration for Star Trek took place for five days from Aug 3 to 7 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino featuring over 100 celebrities.
The convention organiser, Creation Entertainment, claims that it doesn’t sell more tickets than seats available, and tickets were sold out months in advance. Among the estimated 6,000 seats, four were occupied by Malaysian trekkies – Mohd Faisal Azhan, Kenny Gordvyn, Peter Cheong and yours truly – on an Away Mission to this once-in-a-lifetime event.
No convention comes without merchandise, and STLV is no exception.
Vendors for all forms of Star Trek merchandise presented their wares in The Gene and Majel Roddenberry Exhibition Hall. The latest licensed products were launched here, including the debut of the Star Trek: Ascendancy boardgame, newest models from the Starships Collection, and out-of-this-world make-up from M.A.C Cosmetics.
Yes, there is an official Star Trek- inspired cosmetics line! The Naked Time eye shadow and Kling-It-On lipstick were previewed at the convention for trekkie gals. M.A.C products were showcased in an impressive saucer-shaped “spaceship” featuring rooms inspired by Star Trek spaceship locations such as the Transporter room, Ten-Forward lounge and the engineering Warp Core.
In additional to providing free makeovers, actors were on hand to fill in for the roles of Uhura, Mr Spock, Deanna Troi, Data and the sexy Borg, Seven of Nine, making great photo opportunities for all attendees.
The 3,600sqm exhibit hall also provided tables for selected Star Trek celebrities to meet with fans. It is usually the “bridge crew” characters who are present here, such as Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes of The Next Generation series, and Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating of the Enterprise series.
With over 100 celebrities in attendance this year, a separate room was set up to host the actors who played recurring characters or were guest stars, like J.G. Hertzler and Max Grodenchik of Deep Space Nine and Martha Hackett and Hana Hatae of Voyager. Fans could get their memorabilia autographed or photos taken with these actors for a small fee.
Some celebrities also sold their own merchandise such as geeky T-shirts by Garrett Wang and Anthony Montgomery with his original Miles Away graphic novel.
Rene Auberjonois even put up for sale Star Trek toys accumulated from his tenure on the TV series. These were the best opportunities for fans to strike one-on-one conversations with their stars and get to know the people behind the Star Trek personas.
Unfortunately, many celebrities were not available in the Exhibit Hall or Signing Room. These typically comprise the “Captains Club” of Star Trek – William Shatner, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula – as well as actors presumably too busy to spend several days at the convention. Instead, autographs and photo opportunities with these celebrities are available via the convention organiser by separate ticketing, at prices determined by their popularity. A photo with most series regulars starts at US$40 (RM162) while one with the original Captain Kirk on the replica bridge of the starship Enterprise costs a whopping US$180 (RM730)!
Fans queue up for scheduled photo sessions taken by a professional photographer. Similarly, ticketed autograph signing sessions are scheduled and start at US$20 (RM81) for a recurring or guest star, and go up to US$150 (RM608) for a major entertainment celebrity like Whoopi Goldberg!
Most of the major events take place in the Main Theatre named after Leonard Nimoy for the convention.
These comprise panels featuring celebrities, often divided by the Star Trek series they are associated with, such as The Next Generation, Voyager, etc. These panels generally comprise two to four celebrities with a host to facilitate discussions. The stars usually begin with each guest talking about their latest projects and sharing a bit of their Star Trek experience. They then move on to Q&A session with fans from the theatre floor.
While most questions relate to Star Trek, occasionally fans feel compelled to profess their love and gratitude to certain celebrities, although this is not encouraged.
Big stars and the revered cast from the original series often conduct solo panels too. Life-long fan Malaysian Kenny Gordvyn was thrilled to finally see William Shatner in person, during his solo panel session this year. The marketing communications consultant from Sungai Buloh, Selangor, turned 50 this year, so it was a dual celebration at STLV.
The 50th Anniversary event also marked the debut of Emmy Award winners Whoopi Goldberg and Kirstie Alley at their first Star Trek convention. Goldberg, in particular, drew a full-house as she talked about how she wanted to be part of The Next Generation and petitioned series creator Gene Rodden-berry for a part, eventually landing the role of enigmatic bartender Guinan, a recurring character. She quipped that she did not want to wear “clinging” clothes like the main cast and so Guinan was given costume “tents and hats” instead.
The Secondary Theatre named for DeForest Kelley presented an assortment of other events including trivia competitions, fan discussions, merchandise insights, blooper reels, memorabilia auctions and cosplay group photo shoots.
Another ballroom in the convention was thematically turned into Quark’s Bar from Deep Space Nine and provided attendees food during the day and drinks after dark, plus nightly entertainment by actress Chase Masterton who performed jazzy tunes with live band The Roddenberries.
Other thematic 3D sets for immersive photo opportunities included a Transporter pad, the Guardian of Forever portal and regeneration alcoves of the cybernetic Borg. Public walkways at the convention centre were decorated with Star Trek art displays and included a memorial to the late actor Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the reboot series) who was killed tragically in a freak accident in June.
Cosplay was in no short supply at STLV, as it seemed every other attendee was in costume. While the majority wore some incarnation of a Starfleet uniform, many also showcased astounding cosplay drawn from all facets of the 50-year franchise, including aliens of the week and creative interpretations of Star Trek elements. The annual Costume Contest comprised 30 shortlisted finalists and was won by two ladies cosplaying as inhuman aliens from the original series episode “Catspaw”. Other notable contestants included the Borg Queen, Farpoint “jellyfish” aliens, Tholian alien, and Zero-G spacesuits.
Although a first timer at STLV, Malaysian trekkie Peter Cheong felt quite at home with a huge “family” and time spent there was punctuated by moments where fanboy dreams came true.
He was particular delighted to have conversed with Garrett Wang, the “forever ensign” Harry Kim of Voyager. Despite being born and raised in the United States, Wang remains proud of his Asian roots and thinks about someday visiting Malaysia.
Next year’s STLV takes place over five days from Aug 2 to 6 and celebrates the 30th Anniversary of The Next Generation. Premium Gold Weekend Tickets are currently on sale for US$929 (RM3,700) offering the best theatre seating, celebrity autographs, dinner party and other privileges.
Captain Weekend Tickets are selling for US$669 (RM2,700) sans the autographs. Other ticket categories at lesser prices for fewer privileges will be made available progressively closer towards the convention date.
Check regularly at the official convention website for updates or subscribe to their email bulletin at: creationent.com/cal/st_lasvegas.html.
Trekkies keen to form an Away Team to STLV or other overseas conventions may want to consider joining the local Facebook group Ultimate Pop Culture Convention Adventures at facebook.com/groups/MYconventionAdventures; you can also connect with the local Star Trek fandom on Facebook group Starbase MY at facebook.com/groups/StarTrekMY.