John R. Beyer
On Oct. 13, William Shatner made history by becoming the oldest human to ever venture into space aboard the New Shepard, built by Blue Origin and owned by Jeff Bezos.
Of course, blasting off into the dark hinterlands of the cosmos should be no strange occurrence for the 90-year-old actor, who played Captain James T. Kirk in the iconic “Star Trek” TV series and movie franchise.
But no, not really. Shatner was used to being on set, playing the dashing captain of the Starship Enterprise while cavorting through the universe.
To be clear, the Enterprise didn’t cavort; only Captain Kirk did, in adventure after planetary adventure. The future of humankind was safe and cozy at night knowing Kirk and his crew were safeguarding the United Federation of Planets (founded in 2161).
“Sleep well, Fandris, all is safe with Captain Kirk flying above us,” a father soothingly spoke to his daughter in some distant year.
“Oh, he is so dreamy when he cavorts.”
“No cavorting for you! Go to sleep or the criqnids will get you.”
Now, anyone who knows my lovely spouse, Laureen, will recognize her as a “Star Trek” fan — a “Trekkie” to the soul. She can easily do that hand thing like Spock does as he bids, “Live long and prosper.” She can speak Klingon, knows each episode by heart and would love to jump aboard a spacecraft heading to where no human has gone before.
Perhaps, that is why she enjoys our earthly adventures. I’m no James T. Kirk, but I can cavort with the best of them.
So when the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles advertised the “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” exhibit, I knew where we would soon be going.
“Guess what Skirball is having?” she asked.
I nodded. “Just purchased the tickets online.”
Never having been to the Skirball on Sepulveda Boulevard, I sought out some information. The cultural center’s mission statement immediately impressed me and explained why hosting an event such as a “Star Trek” exhibit was right up their alley.
According to their website, “The Skirball Cultural Center is a place of meeting guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger and inspired by the American democratic ideals of freedom and equality. We welcome people of all communities and generations to participate in cultural experiences that celebrate discovery and hope, foster human connections, and call upon us to help build a more just society.”
That sounded much like the concept of the “Star Trek” series, created by Gene Roddenberry, who envisioned a world where individuals — no matter the species — looked inward and not outward at each other to see the good and not the bad.
Not a utopia of planets (there will always be disagreements), but one of a dream where many different life forms coexist in peace and trust.
So it was settled: Cruise into those crowded L.A. streets, grab lunch and head to the Skirball for a step forward in time.
Lunch, by the way, is a wonderful part of the traveling experience. Since we’d never been to Skirball, we googled a few restaurants and decided to eat at Public School 818, a restaurant in Sherman Oaks that boasts, “This isn’t a school, but a lesson in taste you won’t forget.”
I don’t usually mention too much about eating in these lines — a statement here or there at most — but Public School 818 was awesome and reasonably priced. This is about our server, though, Charles, who proved an attentive, witty, funny and all-around nice guy.
“I bet he’s an actor,” Laureen said when he left with our order. “If you are a waiter or waitress in Los Angeles, you are also an actor.”
“I’m an actor,” Charles told us when he returned with our order. “Just finished a television commercial with a guy named Will Roberts. Have you heard of him?”
“We know him,” I said. Yes, living as close as we do to L.A., we’ve been known to do a bit of acting ourselves.
“A few years ago, we were in the Hollywood Christmas Parade with him. Seen him a few times since then at different venues,” Laureen said.
And that’s another thing about traveling. You never truly know how small a world we live in, or when you’ll meet someone who knows someone you know. And when Charles becomes a famous big-wig in Hollywood, perhaps he’ll remember the couple from the High Desert and invite us to his mansion.
That’s sort of like “Star Trek,” isn’t it? Travel to planet Caprica and meet someone you know from planet Gallifrey.
“Small galaxy, am I right?” Mildred from Caprica said.
“My yes, it certainly is,” Fred from Gallifrey replied.
The Skirball has been open to the public since 1996. It was named after the philanthropic couple of Jack H. Skirball and Audrey Skirball-Kenis. The place is majestic and was designed by famed Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie.
The center has a museum; educational settings; programs in the arts and humanities; gift shops; walking paths; and a garden and picnic areas, as well as a restaurant and private event spaces.
And, of course, there’s a huge hall where “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” is on display.
Laureen could hardly contain her excitement.
She wore an outfit that would’ve been easily recognizable on Risa (in the Alpha Quadrant). As for myself: Jeans, vest and a white shirt, which was more of a look for Stardust City on Freecloud.
Please don’t ask me to explain either place.
As we walked into the exhibit hall, we saw the famous captain’s chair from the bridge with the main crew standing behind it.
“Photo-op,” Laureen said as she immediately struck a pose in the chair and demanded that we engage onto our next space destination.
There were dozens of glass-walled cases that showed off uniforms from one “Star Trek” series or another. For the unfamiliar among us, the original series only ran from 1966 to 1969. Yes, the show ran for three measly seasons. And yet, 52 years later, it’s likely more popular than Roddenberry could have ever imagined.
The show was built around campy plots, flimsy sets and made-up names for planets and species, but it has worked itself into our very beings and powerfully influenced our culture. In fact, it’s one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
Roddenberry likened his dreams of space travel as a veritable “Wagon Train to the Stars.” He modeled it after Jonathan Swift’s, “Gulliver’s Travels” and wanted each episode to exist on two levels — a suspenseful adventure story and a morality tale.
A plaque within the exhibit stated Roddenberry’s thoughts for the show: “He wanted ‘Star Trek’ to show what humanity might develop into, if it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence.”
He believed that by 2161, Earth, as well as any civilizations we may have made contact with by then, would have reached this goal. The good thing is there’s still time on the clock.
After the final episode aired in 1969, many thought the series, as well as its ideals, were dead. But a cult-like following of avid fans kept watching the reruns until, in 1979, the film “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was released. The rest is galactic history.
There have been so many films and spin-offs of the original series that I don’t have enough space to list them all. But here’s a few highlights: “The Wrath of Khan (1982), “The Final Frontier” (1989) and “First Contact” (1996) — and those are just the films.
The series that spun off of the original include “The Next Generation” (1987-1994), “Voyager” (1995-2001) and “Discovery” (2017-present), which is set in a time before the original series.
The exhibit, meanwhile, offered a number of interactive displays, such as climbing through a Jefferies tube; being beamed to three separate places around the universe, which require the participant’s use of a prop phaser; morphing into a Borg; and a kiosk that asks questions about “Star Trek” (Laureen received a commander’s badge and I was sent on KP duty).
Other displays showed off the original weapons — phasers, lasers, disruptors, plasma cannons and other things that could ruin anyone’s day — used by an assortment of alien entities.
Also on display were the uniforms and costumes worn by the stars of the films and TV series, from Kirk’s half-golden shirt from the “Mirror, Mirror” episode, to Kahn’s bare-chested shirt from “The Wrath of Khan” film.
We spent an hour and a half walking and enjoying all the displays. We could’ve easily spent more time, but because of the large crowds, reservations for time slots are required so that the exhibit hall doesn’t get too crowded, which was nice.
Case in point: I didn’t have to nudge anyone out of the way to get a closer look at a finger-smudged model of one of the Enterprises used in the making of the show.
Of course, nudging someone wouldn’t be in the spirit of Roddenberry or the Skirball Cultural Center, anyway. Both understand that, in time, we will all coexist in peace, no matter our differences — and that’s a very nice goal to share and take to heart.
The “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” exhibit runs until Feb. 20, 2022. Visit skirball.org/exhibitions/star-trek-exploring-new-worlds for more information.
Contact John R. Beyer at [email protected]
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To (somewhat) boldly go to the Skirball Cultural Center, where a ‘Star Trek’ exhibit is on display