I guess I put off going for too long.
Offering a sad commentary on the state of the Star Trek franchise, the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas will shut down Star Trek : The Experience this fall.
Part simulator, part environment, part museum and (of course) part gift shop/restaurant, the Experience opened 10 years ago during the height of popularity for the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies. The exhibit gave fans a chance to examine a Trek time line with a collection of sci-fi relics. Then visitors could talk to a Klingon over a drink after strolling across the bridge of the Enterprise.
But, the exhibit isn’t drawing the fans it once did — just as the franchise is fading off the public radar. While J.J. Abrams is hustling to save Star Trek on the big screen, it’s too late to save it in Vegas.
The collection of props, costumed “aliens” and adventure simulators was a welcome, nerd-friendly escape from the hustling sleaze and nonstop pinging of slot machines filling the rest of the town. There’s no word what will be done with the emptied retail space in the Hilton, but the museum props, ship mock-ups and other bits of Trek history will be returned to Paramount.
CBS/Paramount statements indicate the search is on for the Experience’s new home.
All of my friends who were lucky enough to be able to visit Vegas and the Experience told me (in no uncertain terms) that I really needed to go see it. Now it will close, never to be seen by me. Can I be a true fan without the Experience?
Still, I don’t think it would be as powerful to me as it was to one former cast member:
The Transporter Chief says, “Welcome to the 24th century. You are aboard the starship Enterprise.”
She could have said to me, “Welcome to 1987, Wil. You are on Stage 9.”
She touches her communicator and says, “I have them, Commander.”
We leave the transporter room and walk down a long corridor which is identical to the ones I walked down every day. I realize as we walk that, in my mind, I’m filling in the rest of the sound stage. I’m surprised when we don’t end up in engineering at the end of the corridor. Instead, we are herded into a turbolift, where we enjoy some more special effects. The turbolift shakes and hums . . . it’s infinitely cooler than the real ones we would stand in for the show.
When the turbolift doors open, and reveal the bridge of the Enterprise, I gasp.
The bridge is a nearly-perfect replica of ours, with a few minor differences that are probably imperceptible to anyone who didn’t spend the better part of five years on it. The hum of the engines, which had only existed in my imagination on Stage 8, is now real. I stare at the view screen, where a beautiful starfield gives the appearance of motion. I remember how much I hated doing blue screen shots on the bridge and how much I loved it when they’d lower the starfield. When I looked at those thousands of tiny mirrors, glued onto a screen of black velvet, I could lose myself in the wonderful fantasy that this spaceship was as real as the view.
I am consumed by hypernostalgia.
I am 14-years-old, walking out of the turbolift during Encounter at Farpoint. Corey Allen, the director, excitedly tells me, “Picard controls the sky, man! He controls the sky!”
I am 15-years-old, sitting in my ugly grey spacesuit at the CONN. My fake muscle suit bunches up around my arms. I feel awkward and unsure, a child who desperately wants to be a man.
I am 16-years-old, working on an episode where I say little more than, “Aye, sir.” I want to be anywhere but here.
I am 17-years-old, wearing a security uniform for Yesterday’s Enterprise. I am excited to stand in a different place on the bridge, wear a different uniform, and push different imaginary buttons.
I hear the voices of our crew, recall the cool fog that hung around our trailers each morning from Autumn until Spring.
I recall walking to the Paramount commissary with the cast, on our way to have lunch meetings with Gene before he died.
I have an epiphany.
Until this moment, all I have been able to remember is the pain that came with Star Trek. I’d forgotten the joy.
It’s obviously an important place to me, though I don’t expect it be nearly as important to anyone else in the world. I’ve always said that it’s something every Star Trek fan should, uh, experience, at least once.
To have been on the show at the age of 15, even if it was as Wesley Crusher (whom everyone loved to hate. At the time) now that would have been an Experience.