Book Review – Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration

Many of us expected 2020 to be a year packed full of conventions and events celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Star Trek: Voyager.  Plans changed.  Opportunities for autographs and photo ops have been canceled or postponed.  Panels and retrospectives went virtual.  But the fandom has still been celebrating, and will continue to do so with the help of Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration.

In their introduction to this beautiful book, Ben Robinson and Mark Wright state that their goal was to create “the best convention ever, in a book.”  A lofty goal, but they really went for it.  Robinson and Wright conducted over 30 new interviews with people involved in all aspects of the production, including each of the principal cast members (except for Jennifer Lien) and several department heads, combing them for a truly wholistic look back at the series as quotes from these interviews appear throughout the book.  If you close your eyes, you could imagine them all on stage in Las Vegas, each with an opportunity to weigh in on any given topic.

In addition to profiles of each of the main characters, there are detailed chapters on several of the alien species encountered in Delta Quadrant; behind-the-scenes looks at different production departments such as costumes, makeup, music, visual affects, and art; deep dives into the processes for the show’s writers and directors; and even sections dedicated to the new and innovative thought and technique needed to create certain iconic scenes.

Additionally, Robinson and Wright identify 15 “key episodes” of Voyager – not necessarily the best (although, in their words, many are), but the most pivotal.  These are episodes that somehow changed something on (or for) the show:  Caretaker, Meld, Tuvix, Future’s End, Distant Origin, Scorpion, The Gift, Year Of Hell, The Killing Game, Timeless, Think Tank, Course: Oblivion, Someone to Watch Over Me, Life Line, and Endgame.  That list makes a pretty good abbreviated rewatch, too.  Each of these episodic chapters explores not only the goals of the creative teams behind the episode, but how it would go on to shape the future of the series.  With an amusing anecdote dropped in here and there, of course.

If you’re an avid convention attendee, virtual or otherwise, it’s likely that you’ve heard some of these stories before.  But in this format, they’re give additional context, with input from multiple vantage points.  The story that you may have heard an actor tell over and over gets a new meaning when you suddenly have additional information from the costume designer or series co-creator.  Plus, I would put money down that there will be at least a few stories that are new to you.  There were two chapters, in particular, that piqued my interest in that regard – The first was the detailed explanation of how the VFX department figured out how they were going to land Voyager in “The 37s,” including images of the foam core models.  And the second was a chapter dedicated to Star Trek‘s “Director in Training school,” with extensive information from Roxann Dawson and Robert Duncan McNeill – something I don’t think we’ve ever gotten such detail on before.

Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration also addresses some things that have been questioned, or confused, over the years.  In particular, the departure of Jennifer Lien and her struggles towards the end of her time on the show.  The situation is dealt with frankly, but also with compassion.  There’s also clarification on some of the apocrypha that’s grown up surrounding Seven of Nine’s costumes, and direct explanations from the creators for why tensions with the Maquis didn’t last beyond the first few episodes of the series or why the ship wasn’t held together with 24th Century duct tape by the seventh season.

That being said, it did feel to me like certain things were carefully omitted.  Although certain tensions and failures are acknowledged throughout, others were ignored.  Two things, in particular, stood out for me:

First, Jeri Taylor speaks of how the creative team wanted very much to be respectful of Indigenous cultures with the portrayal of Chakotay, and how that desire informed their decisions.  But there was no reflection on whether those were the right decisions, no acknowledgement of the criticisms of the portrayal, and not a single mention of the fraudulent consultant that was hired to help with the character.  (For more on this, check out our episode on Indigenous Representation in Star Trek).

Second, there was not a single mention of the tension between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan after Seven of Nine was added to the crew in the fourth season.  This is something that several cast members have addressed, including Mulgrew and Ryan, over the years in interviews and at conventions.  So much so that it feels strange that this  dynamic not to be included, especially in a chapter titled “Life on Set,” which instead focuses on games and practical jokes during long filming days.

I understand that this book is intended, quite literally, as “A Celebration,” but we don’t have to gloss over or ignore difficulties, flaws, or imperfections in order to celebrate the show’s legacy.  And when certain things are widely known and acknowledged among fans and cast, the omissions feel more like attempts to hide things.

Overall, the book is truly gorgeous, and includes some stunning images, from high-quality promotional shots to rare behind-the-scenes photos to early sketches and concept art.  It even concludes with an episode guide with much better plot summaries than you’ll find on Netflix.  Plus, the way the book is organized means that you can pick it up every now and then to read a single chapter without missing anything from the bigger picture, or read it straight through (I would suggest taking your time if you choose this option – this isn’t one to be speed-read).  And there are so many new interviews and interesting tidbits, that it would also make a worthy addition to your Trek reference library, if that’s your jam. I would say that Robinson and Wright certainly achieved their goal.

“Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration” by Ben Robinson and Mark Wright will be published on November 24, 2020 with an MSRP of $29.95 US. It is available online, directly from the publisher at Hero Collector, or from your favorite retailer. 

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