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Published 1:48 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2023

By James Gardner

Clark County Public Library

“Space, the final frontier.”

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Even now, many people hear that phrase and the “Star Trek” theme immediately starts playing in their head, soon to be followed by the mental image of the U.S.S. Enterprise racing by the screen. Even those who nitpick the show, such as its introduction’s split infinitive (Is it “To boldly go” or “To go boldly”?), no one can deny its effect on pop culture. Indeed, there was a time when people would joke about being “a doctor, not a (insert other occupation here),” thanks to ship doctor Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, whose curmudgeonly demeanor was as necessary to “Star Trek’s” appeal as the two-fisted machismo of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. But for me, the show’s true heart was Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. I am reminded of what Leonard Nimoy meant to me and to pop culture upon finding out his birthday is this week.

“Star Trek” was the first show that opened up the idea of thoughtful storytelling. Before watching “Star Trek”, I was content with the three “Star Wars” movies with their lightsaber battles and fuzzy Ewoks. When I discovered “Star Trek”, I saw deeper stories. Rather than shooting lasers and swinging lightsabers, Star Trek stories were more cerebral. The aliens on the show had civilizations, cultures, and philosophies, while Star Wars aliens were “This guy looks like a squid with feet.” None of the aliens in the Star Trek universe were more intriguing to me than Mr. Spock.

Mr. Spock was the half-Vulcan, half-human science officer who often had the smarts needed to get the Enterprise crew out of danger. He was also, in many ways, an outsider, surrounded by people who were constantly, frustratingly ruled by their emotions. His best friend, Captain James T. Kirk, was one of these emotional humans. Indeed, both Kirk and Spock were an exquisitely balanced team; Spock would offer logic when Kirk’s bravado wasn’t up to the challenge, while Kirk would give insights that helped Spock better understand human nature. Spock was part of creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of diversity, along with other such watershed characters as Uhura and Chekov. Still, he was also an impartial (dare I say “logical”) observer of humanity’s foibles as well as their potential. However, despite what Bones has said about him, Spock was not totally emotionless. Nimoy had enough range to let Spock rage or laugh or let slip emotions that fans suspected was brimming beneath the surface. The episodes “Amok Time” and “The Naked Time” are some of the best examples of Spock and Nimoy showing genuine emotions, and the library has these and all the other episodes of the original “Star Trek” series (DVD Series Star).

One could watch all the “Star Trek” movies and series he was in, along with the science fiction roles he got by banking on his time as Spock, but my absolute favorite Leonard Nimoy work was his documentary, “For the Love of Spock” (DVD Biography Nimo), a touching love letter of a documentary made by Nimoy’s son, Adam. It also is one of my favorites because it shows that Nimoy, not Spock, was an actor, a flawed man, but one who helped create a character and a philosophy that will live on as long as ships like the Enterprise seek out strange, new worlds. It’s a legacy anyone, human or Vulcan or both, can be proud of.

Until next time, live long and prosper (bonus points if you made the signature V-shape with your fingers as you read that).