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Gene Roddenberry's son reflects on father's legacy at centennial: 'He wanted Star Trek to be inspirational'

By Tara Bennett
Star Trek Cast Still

On August 19, Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, would have turned 100-years-old. While he may not be with us on planet Earth anymore, his television series has inspired generations of real-life scientists, astronauts, writers, and inventors to follow the timeless words that opened the original series:

…”to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no [one] has gone before.”

Now 30 years since Roddenberry passed away in 1991, the world has more Star Trek stories than ever in its history. There are three current Trek television series, Discovery, Lower Decks and Picard, with more to come like Prodigy, Strange New Worlds, and Section 31. And, there's a new movie coming, too. 

To celebrate the day right, SYFY WIRE chatted with one of Gene’s kids, Rod Roddenberry, who is keeping his father’s legacy alive consulting on all Trek projects, overseeing a myriad of Trek-related initiatives, and philanthropic organizations. We asked him what his dad might have to say about the Trek-universe today, what it looks like when new Trek is working best, and how to best celebrate the day and honor his father.

Gene Roddenberry

What do you think your father would be most surprised about, and maybe what he might be most proud of with Star Trek still going strong today?

I've only heard this story, but my father towards the end of his life, probably in late '80s, he didn't go to conventions too often. But when he did, there was one time, apparently, he went out on stage. He stood there, folded his arms with a smirk on his face and looked across the room and said, "Yep, just the way I planned it." And that was his humble way of saying, "How the hell did this happen?" I think he was so incredibly proud of Star Trek, and the fans, and what Star Trek had become, and of course, that was still only in The Next Generation days. He was so hopeful that Star Trek would continue, and so I think he'd just be thrilled that it is.

There are so many different flavors of Trek to choose from now. Do you think he would be ok with that?

I can only speculate but when he was alive, and when Star Trek was being made, there wasn't much of it. He was very protective and critical of it. When Star Trek showed characters and storylines where humans are behaving pretty much as we do today with deception, and anger, and hatred, and despair and insurrection, he was very critical of that. He wanted Star Trek to be inspirational. But he also wanted the audience to see different points of view. And so it's hard for me to say, because I feel like on some level that I've gone through a journey as well. I started with The Next Generation, and I thought The Next Generation was amazing because it showed our potential; the kinds of people we could be one day. To have a captain who doesn't rule with an iron fist, but surrounds himself with the skilled and talented professionals, and then values their opinion and judgment, and then makes an informed decision. That's sounds like a leader to me. He didn't want them bickering and fighting amongst themselves. 

But then we move on to later series and a little bit more of that happens. I know he would have been critical about that, as I have been in the past. But in the end, as long as we've got characters who understand what Starfleet stands for, and who can acknowledge any sort of mistakes they make. I think Star Trek is at its best when the audience member at the end has to contemplate two different, valid points of view. They see something different for the first time and actually, kind of gets it. I love it when the bad guy is not necessarily the bad guy. One of my favorite episodes was watching "The Devil in the Dark" the Horta. We find out that it's a mother. And the crystals we are mining its eggs. And that is the incredible twist moment that blew me away that television could do this. So I feel when Star Trek is showing us a different point of view and getting us to consider something we normally wouldn't consider, that is the strongest Star Trek. That's what I want it to be.

On August 19, what's the best way anyone can honor Gene Roddenberry on the day?

I'm so happy you said that. I really am. We've got many billions of people on this planet, and we've got a lot of great people on this planet who do great things. So something simple, I think a great way to honor my father, to honor Star Trek, to honor the idea of a better future is to just do something nice for someone on that day. Now, it could be as simple as saying hello to a homeless person, perhaps talking to that co-worker you've never given the time of day to; it literally could be anything. If your thing is to donate $5, then that's it. But if everyone that day, does one thing nice. And again, we have humans who are doing nice things every day. But if we can take that up a notch one day, I think that will make a difference. And if we can take that day up a notch and make it two days, maybe a decade from now, that would be even better. But I think that's a simple thing. If I were to ask people just do something nice for someone that day.

Where are you enjoying most being the shepherd of your dad's legacy?

Currently, we work with the creative team for all the new Star Trek TV shows that are out there. They are incredibly talented. Many, if not all of them, get Star Trek, and they want it to be Star Trek for the right reasons. We are proud to provide the feedback, if we can, when it comes to stories and things that might make things a little bit more representative of Star Trek and that future. It's been really great to collaborate with them, and it feels really good.

We have our family foundation, the Roddenberry Foundation, where we don't just give money to people. We find the institutions and the organizations, the individuals, who are really working towards that long-term advancement of our species. It's really exciting to find the people who aren't just working on band aid solutions. What they're working on, we may not see in the next 10 years. But beyond that, these are truly revolutionary, groundbreaking technologies and methodologies that we can incorporate into our everyday lives and make the world a better place for all humans, not just Americans.

When you are flipping channels, what Trek do you personally stop and watch?

I still am a The Next Generation fan. I will say season three of Discovery was certainly one of my favorites out there. And I am a huge fan of Pike from Season 2 of Discovery. Anson Mount and the way he portrayed him. We've got the new series coming out, Strange New Worlds, which is staring him. It's going to be an ensemble cast, but I was just so, so impressed with his portrayal of not just Pike, but what a Starfleet Captain should be. I'm excited to see that. And I don't want to say I wasn't excited for the other ones, but I'm really excited to see that one.

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