I have hit the milestone that always seemed like a far distant future: I turned 40.
While my feelings on my age are very reflective of Admiral Kirk in Wrath of Khan, I have lived in one of the best eras of geekdom EVER.
Being a geek means you appreciate the symbolism from the stories you love. Many of us love to quote films. We know the value of a moment in time. We also know that moments in time can be lost like tears in the rain, but for everyone who is a geek, we know that this, this is our time.
Let’s take a look at what I think are the best geek moments of the last 40 years:
Roll Out of Space Shuttle Enterprise (September 17, 1975)
The Space Shuttle Enterprise at the National Air & Space Museum Annex at Dulles International Airport in 2008.
The Space Shuttle Enterprise was rolled out on my first birthday. This event is a testament to how much people love Star Trek, as it was the fans that inspired NASA to name the test Shuttle Enterprise.
The 747 glide and landing tests of Enterprise paved the way for the first flight of the Columbia in 1981. I had the privilege of seeing the roll out of Columbia, because my father was in charge of the team that installed the tiles.
Roll out of Columbia.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
A substantial part of my childhood was spent either watching Star Wars, or running around the backyard with my Y-Wing Fighter, or having light saber fights with my brother. Granted, I was so young when I saw the original Star Wars, I had confused memories in my early years of wondering where I saw a double sunset.
Battlestar Galactica (Debuted on my birthday in 1978)
What better birthday present for a four year old then spaceships and robots fighting?
The original Battlestar Galactica was an outright rejection of detente with the Soviet Union or pacifist leaders. Even the doomed Colonies President looked like Jimmy Carter, whose dovish policies resulted in the near destruction of humanity. Political overtones aside, Donald Bellisario created elements in Battlestar that would later be seen in Quantum Leap.
The 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica was not a reflection of Cold War politics, but the War on Terror. Lots of great issues and effectively ends with the opening quote of the original series: “There are those who believe that life here, began out there.”
Superman the Movie (1978)
Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve proved a comic book character could be a colossal box office hit. Without Superman the Movie, there would have been no Spider-Man, Iron Man, Avengers, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Add in a “super” movie score, and the bar was set for super-hero movies in 1978.
Star Blazers (Debuted on my birthday in 1979)
Battleships. In space. With a theme song that said, If we can win the Earth will survive.
Star Blazers introduced a lot of “adult” concepts on a children’s TV show. Little things like genocide of the human race through nuclear war.
Captain Avatar’s dying words, as he looked at a picture of his dead son and irradiated Earth through his tears, echoed in my five year old mind for years: “The Earth. I am sorry I will not be here to see you green again. But I have seen you.” [Picture falls to the deck, Doctor comes in the stateroom and salutes his dead Captain.]
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
My mother took me to see Empire on opening day. We sat out on a beach blanket at the now gone Century 21 movie theaters in San Jose waiting hours in line. I can still remember the heat of that day in May 1980. She loved telling the story of how my feet stopped at the edge of the seat and for the length of the film, I did not move or blink. The audience reacting in total horror and shock of Darth Vader saying, “No, I AM YOUR FATHER,” is perhaps one of the most iconic moments in film.
Empire also taught us life does not always have a happy ending. Sometimes, you just survive to live another day.
Superman 2 (1980)
Kneel before Zod! Kneel!
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
We are simply passing through history. This, this is history.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas brought the classic adventures of the 1930s back in full force, while fighting Nazis, and finding the Ark of the Covenant. Moreover, you are hard pressed to find a living male who did not want to be Indiana Jones.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
I remember going home from seeing Wrath of Khan, looking out the car window at the night sky, trying not to cry.
The Wrath of Khan has an impressive list of life lessons, from facing a no-win scenario, the challenge of aging, redemption of parents, and sacrificing yourself to save your friends, because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s science fiction epic has many dynamic questions on being human. Roy Batty’s final words always captivated me: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those … moments will be lost in time, like tears…in rain. Time to die.
The fact Roy Batty let Deckard live added a surreal complexity to the film’s villain, posing the theory that Batty had loved life more than he had before dying, which is why he did not kill the hero.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
I have very fond memories of seeing Return of the Jedi opening weekend. There was a sense of awe. People cheered when Vader threw the Emperor down the exhaust shaft.
And Vader did not yell “Nooooo” in 1983.
Star Trek III: Search for Spock (1984)
Sometimes, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Search for Spock had wonderful symbolism of loyalty between friends. The crew of the Enterprise was willing to destroy their careers in order to save two of their friends. The end result was another lesson in changing the definition of victory, when you have to destroy your own ship to save everyone.
Plus kick the bad guy off a cliff into lava.
I ain’t afraid of no ghost.
One of the most entertaining geek movies ever. One of the main villains is also the EPA and government regulations, proving not all evil spirits are undead.
Back to the Future
I remember seeing Back to the Future with my paternal grandparents in Ann Arbor, Michigan when the movie came out. A wonderful story with reckless driving, treason, collaborating with terrorists, and defense of others.
Man, this is heavy.
TimeCon 1985 & 1986
My first “geek” convention was TimeCon in 1985, celebrating Star Trek, Doctor Who, and a whole lot of science fiction. We got to meet James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, and Anthony Anthony.
Stark Trek IV: The Voyage Home
1986 was a year when Star Trek went mainstream with The Voyage Home. A great story that caught the attention of a much broader audience than traditional science fiction fans.
We also had a very short trial for our heroes. While they did have a solid necessity defense for stealing the Enterprise, sabotaging Excelsior, and destroying the Enterprise, they went with a guilty plea.
Game over man. 17 days, we won’t last 17 hours.
Exhibit A you can have a science fiction blockbuster with a strong female lead. Bring on Captain Marvel. Agent Carter cannot get here fast enough.
Come with me if you want to live.
Exhibit B that that you can have a strong female lead.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs to life with both CGI and practical special effects.
A real game changer in film making.
Moreover, if you can create an extinct species, is it automatically on the endangered list?
1990s Science Fiction on Television
Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, X-Files, and Babylon 5 were all shows I watched weekly. I gave shows like Earth Final Conflict, Space Above & Beyond, Tek Wars, and Lexx, a chance, but never got into them.
The first X-Men movie brought back comic book movies as a viable box office success. After years of defeat, from Superman the Quest for Peace to Howard the Duck, X-Men was a fun adaption of our favorite mutants.
Until X-Men: Last Stand destroyed it, then X-Men: First Class saved it, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, put us back on the right track.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Peter Jackson brought J.R.R. Tolkien to life. The fact Return of the King won Best Picture and Jackson took home Best Director, demonstrated “sci fi” and “fantasy” films could clean house at the Oscars.
The first two Spider-Man movies again showed comic book movies could be successful. And then Spider-Man 3 torpedoed the franchise.
What happens when you have an amazing show that is a creative adventure of a steampunk Western in Space where being a “Companion” is a respected career choice? You get cancelled after a dozen episodes (or fourteen counting the two unaired ones). Firefly suffered that initial fate, but because of its incredible fan base, developed cult status and spawned one movie.
You can’t stop the signal.
The Dark Knight Trilogy
Batman Begins, the Dark Knight, and Dark Knight Rises, again demonstrate comic book movies have depth and box office success. Sure, watching all three in a row can be highly traumatic, but an action-packed tour de force. Never mind Gotham looks like a fictional city, then Chicago, and then New York.
Marvel’s Civil War
I started re-collecting comics after many years because of Civil War. A very gripping story that walked the tight rope of making both sides look right, whether you supported the Registration Act or thought it looked like a massive civil rights violation.
The story’s ending with Captain America’s assassination and following shock waves in Fallen Son and James Barns/Winter Soldier ultimately becoming Captain America were fantastic.
I actually had to get Captain America #25 in Canada. Not one the local comic book stores had the big issue of Cap’s death and I was lucky to get the last issue in Vancouver on a business trip.
DC’s Sinestro War & Blackest Night
The Sinestro War in Green Lantern was a stunning war story that ultimately turned on the Green Lanterns shifting from law enforcement to war-making when the Guardians gave the Green Lantern Corps permission to kill members of the Sinestro Corps. The war is won, but at a cost that ultimately lead to the Blackest Night.
DC delivered again with Blackest Night, where death itself declared war on life. Heroes and villains alike are brutally killed by dead characters who rip out the hearts of the living. There were actually disturbing deaths before the battle was turned in the heroes’ favor.
There many symbolic moments of how the different Lanterns interacted, such as only the Blue Lantern representing Hope could calm the Red Lantern represent rage, or that Compassion was the rarest of all the Power Rings.
Star Trek (2009)
JJ Abrams brought Star Trek back after years of being off the air and the big screen. The return of Star Trek also showed a new era in science fiction film making, because fans who grew up watching the show and movies, are now making the movies.
The Entire Marvel Cinematic Universe
Marvel movies have set the gold standard for comic book adaptions. They range in depth from political thrillers like Captain America The Winter Soldier to a rip-roaring good times of Guardians of the Galaxy. I look forward to their future films.
The Day of the Doctor
Doctor Who for decades was watched on late night PBS in the United States. The fact the 50th Anniversary special was a global simulcast that broke world records stands as testament that being a “geek” is now mainstream. Also factor in the 3D showings in one night that had fans from five decades dressing up and cheering is just wicked cool.
That Time Being a Geek Helped Save My Life
On February 21, 1990, my bowel ruptured as a result of being undiagnosed with Crohn’s Disease for five years. What followed included nearly 70 days in two hospitals, three surgeries, and a whole lot of pain.
I spent my days in the hospital watching Star Trek and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I also read Tom Clancy’s Clear & Present Danger. My wonderful grandmother set out to find Stephen Coonts’ third book The Minotaur. I had to know what happened after Final Flight.
My very kind godmother worked some magic with her sister, a florist in Beverly Hills, who through several contacts asked Leonard Nimoy to send me a get well card. Being an outstanding human being, Nimoy delivered.
I was lucky to meet Leonard Nimoy in 2009 at a conference and thank him for sending me a get well card back in 1990.
Life is the Greatest Adventure
My first 40 years have been a great adventure.
I have seen two Space Shuttle launches, watched dolphins illuminated by bioluminescent plankton swim around a tall ship, borrowed aircraft carriers and battleships, and have traveled from Anchorage to Saint Thomas. There are many more adventures to have and I look forward to the days ahead.
And it is good to be a geek. This is our time.