As We See It

Romulan beer and ‘the most expensive pee’: A debrief on the Star Trek Convention

The Guinness record for most costumed Trekkies was not broken this year at the convention at the Rio, but the four-day extravaganza was as big a hit as ever. Especially for fan and Weekly staff writer Erin Ryan.
Photo: Sam Morris

In 1994, I looked into the greenest eyes I will ever see. They belonged to Marina Sirtis, better known to the world as Deanna Troi, the Betazoid empath tasked with counseling the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I wanted to ask if she was wearing colored contacts; if she liked Commander Riker or Lieutenant Worf better; if her mother Lwaxana embarrassed her as much as my mother embarrassed me. But Mom was standing right there, and hundreds of people were waiting with magazines just like mine for a priceless scribble of marker. She was just so beautiful, and the way she smiled it really did feel like she could read my mind. I was so mesmerized I didn’t even thank her.

I missed my chance to make that right all these years later, at Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Convention at the Rio. Sirtis was there Thursday through Saturday. I went on Sunday, the last day, which made me feel even more like a fake. Yes, I voraciously watched TNG and have always nursed a crush on Spock, and I do own a working communicator pin and a Captain Picard doll. But I’m not a real Trekkie. I only speak one word of Klingon. I can’t describe the taste of Romulan ale. I don’t know the names of any episodes, though I remember scenes from my favorites like Sirtis’ smile. They were part of my youth, and I can honestly say that I learned some valuable lessons from my friends in Starfleet. (No. 1: Never trust a Ferengi.) But these conventions are family reunions for the hardcore fans. And their regard for the actors is staggering.

Before catching the convention’s main event, a four-captain smorgasbord spanning four shows within the Star Trek canon, I saw the last round of audience questions during the “What’s New With Star Trek Merchandising Panel.” It was actually one representative of CBS (which owns the rights to the show and all its trademarks) fielding questions about: laser pointers, communicator apps, Hallmark Christmas ornaments, role playing items, LEGOs, video games and, of course, Romulan ale (according to the Memory Alpha Wiki, the blue beverage has battled Federation-style Prohibition for centuries due to being “highly intoxicating”). One questioner asked about the possibility of Romulan microbrew, and CBS guy said they used to sell it at Star Trek: The Experience. I missed the boat on that one, too.

Along the wall the autograph line was serious. People were in a huff about the schedule. If they didn’t get their scribbles from George Takei and Walter Koenig (that’s Sulu and Chekov to you), there was going to be trouble. But even the young woman holding a floppy cardboard cutout of what appeared to be her pregnant sister got the signatures she sought. Her T-shirt said: “Princess? I’d Rather Be a Starship Captain.” Great shirts were everywhere:

“He’s Dead, Jim”

“I’m With Illogical”

“Edith Keeler Must Die”

Then Alice Krige took the stage, the infamous Borg Queen. “My favorite characters are the evil women,” said one fan, asking if Krige prefers bad-girl roles such as the Borg Queen, who led a hive full of cybernetic drones set on assimilating every soul in the universe. She answered that she prefers a challenge. Maybe that’s why she was able to endure the seven-hour makeup applications and “the most expensive pee in the history of filmmaking,” when she had to get out of her skin-tight rubber suit and then K-Y jellied back in because her feet and hands had swelled so much. Someone asked about her kiss with the android Data, how many takes were done before they struck just the right balance of creepy and erotic. “I don’t remember how many takes there were, but I can say I enjoyed all of them,” she said, chuckling.

After a few minutes’ lull, Kate Mulgrew appeared. The actress (who is the reincarnation of Katharine Hepburn) played the first-ever female Starfleet captain, Captain Janeway on Voyager. She complimented the fans on their intelligence. “It’s all a leap of the imagination, and you understand that,” she said. “We don’t have any answers, but we do have an opportunity to ask the right questions.” On cue, a fan asked about her quitting smoking in conjunction with the filming of an episode where she had to behave like a madwoman. “Another thing about this fan base …” she said, “no secrets.”

The other three captains, James T. Kirk (William Shatner) from the original series, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) from Deep Space Nine and Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) from the short-lived Enterprise, each took his turn in the spotlight before they all sat together onstage. It was more like a roast than a convention panel. They ripped on each other with affection and wit. I tried not to stare too hard at Bakula, who I have loved so much ever since Quantum Leap. He assured the crowd that his mustache and sideburns were for a movie about Liberace he’s currently shooting with Matt Damon. And that he is not Liberace.

Shatner was Shatner. Brooks spoke like a beat poet, telling us to “cherish the people in this crystalline, singular moment.” Mulgrew recited some English verse and Bakula sang a line from Man of La Mancha after a kid asked him to on behalf of his too-shy mother. The next guy told him, as a compliment, that he was one of the most underrated actors in the world. He laughed, charitably, and said something that was kind of profound.

“If everybody on the planet treated everybody else like they were movie stars, what a wonderful place this would be,” Bakula said. To which Shatner replied: “If everybody treated everybody like movie stars, what would the movie stars do?” It was perfect.

The captains ended by plugging their charitable causes—from Alzheimer’s research and Broadway Cares to the United Negro College Fund—and reciting favorite lines from Shakespeare, whose work draws many comparisons to Trek. The best came from the man himself.

“Farewell,” Shatner said. “It’s got to be in there somewhere, right?”

The topics discussed in that hour and in so many others during the weekend went far beyond sci-fi, much like the Star Trek phenomenon itself. Despite not wearing a pair of Vulcan ear-tips, I suddenly felt like one of the tribe, inspired to go out into the world and cherish the crystalline, singular moments. Especially the one where I finally get to say a few words to Marina Sirtis. Maybe in Klingon.


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