The original Star Trek series only ran for 3 seasons, from 1966 to 1969 and produced less than 80 episodes. After 42 years from its original air date, it can still be found playing on re-runs and can still be ordered in collections on DVD. The series is an icon for generations of idealistic science geeks, but its also so saturated through pop culture that references to it are still made in nearly every other genre. There are hundreds of Star Trek references in popular shows like Heroes, The Office, ER, The Simpsons, and so on. Even in politics you'll find references to this forty year old series.
Most people know that the series has sparked five successful spin off series (one animated), 10 block buster box office movies -- with an 11th currently in production -- but did you know that the original series has been picked up and new episodes are being made?
Originally called "Star Trek - New Voyages" and now rebranded to "Star Trek - Phase II",
The guys who started this include someone who built a shuttlecraft replica in his garage. The results, however, are stunning. So far, three new episodes have been produced and several more are in production.
The original idea was simply to continue the series for its fourth season as if no time had past. The recent rebranding, however, marks a change in that direction. The "Phase II" is a reference to a plan Roddenberry had in the 1970's for a follow on series that was somewhat updated. The goal now is to shoot the episodes with an eye toward bridging some of the gap between the original series and the period covered by films and by the various spin off series.
The new episodes are done entirely by volunteered time and resources on a not for profit basis. In fact, its a big money loser by all rights. They have tacit permission and even studio help in making the series, under some strict conditions. One of those is that they can absolutely not make any money from it at all. Period. Essentially, this series is entirely geek driven.
These volunteers are not, however, amateurs in any sense. Many were involved in the original production. Relatives and associates of Gene Roddenberry are involved. Professional studio engineers have done a lot of work during their "off" time. Even several original cast members have appeared, including major roles by George Takei as Hikaru Sulu, and Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov.
How does it look? VERY professional. The sets, the sounds, the music, the costuming, and the effects are absolutely outstanding. The effects are actually somewhat better - though very much still true to the spirit of - the original series. The sets are dead on. You can't see a difference. The acting is, well, I guess somewhat true to the original series as well. Its not perfect. Its not bad, but its not perfect. They even start off with the old NBC "In Living Color" peacock logo and chimes. It is pure fun.
If you put one of these episodes on the DVD player, you could easily convince someone that they were looking at a lost episode from the original series -- except that the actors are different. The same characters are played by younger faces who interpret them in a similar but not exactly the same way. Instead of playing a parody of William Shatner doing Kirk, Cawley simply plays James Kirk in a similar way. Generally speaking, it works well. Cawley is no Shatner, and will never match the stage presence or raw force of personality of the original, but he does play the part fairly well.
So far, three full length episodes have been released along with one short vignette. They're out there in a variety of formats. My one wish list item is that they release all productions as DVD ISO files so that I can more easily burn them to DVD and send them to my father. Two of the three are currently available in this format, but the latest episode is not and I had to convert the MP4 file to DVD myself.
The first episode is 100% designed for fan fun. It features a huge number of references to some of the original stories that most resonate with fans. It answers questions about Captain Pike, brings back the Dooms Day machine, includes time travel, and uses the shuttle craft. There may even be a tribble or two in there in the background. The next two episodes are clearly written to take best advantage of the availability of George Takei, and Walter Koenig.
If you're a real geek, you'll go watch these new episodes