Star Trek Mission Chicago continued at McCormick Place today, and if you’d been waiting for things to really kick off, Saturday was the day for it. The lineup of guests and panels was immense, and the weekend brought the Trekkies out in full force, with plenty of new costumes and energy and an ever dwindling stock of merchandise despite new vendors and booths. One of the most anticipated panels of the con kicked off our Saturday, and the crew of Lower Decks panel made sure it didn’t disappoint.
History has a way of repeating, and with Star Trek fans, that history usually involves longtime fans hating on the new shows. I’m a bit guilty of that myself, but despite some of my grievances with live action Star Trek, Lower Decks has endeared itself to me and my favorite of the new shows. And i’m definitely not alone, as the Star Trek Lower Decks panel with Tawny Newsome, Jerry O’Connell, Jack Quaid, Noel Wells, and series creator Mike McMahan was filled with fans of the new animated Star Trek show. But the voice actors did something entirely unexpected when they came onto stage dressed as their characters in the show–complete with O’Connell ordering around his crew for water, and coming onto stage curling a customized Lower Decks Jack Ransom barbell–which they later gave away to a lucky fan.
The audience at the Lower Decks panel had the treat of being the first fans to see the teaser for Lower Decks season three–and in perfect Star Trek fashion, there is a Captain-saving starship theft teased. McMahan didn’t want to spoil too much of the upcoming season, but he promised some classic faces, interesting ships and even mentioned the possibility of Janeway and Paris’ salamander babies maybe making an appearance. I can’t wait.
It turns out, the animated characters I love–Boimler, Tendi, Mariner (and yeah, even pompous Jack Ransom) are portrayed by actors who channel themselves heavily for these roles. Tawny Newsome admits that there’s a lot of herself in her portrayal of Beckett Mariner–and I absolutely agree. It was like seeing the crew of the USS Cerritos in live action–which is a unique treat, since this is their first convention appearance together since Lower Decks started.
As far as what ideas the actors wanted to see in the show, there were a few interesting ones thrown out–but Tawny Newsome kept insisting on a musical episode. That’s definitely something I’d like to see.
Lower Decks, despite its animated presentation and comedic nature, is arguably adhering better to Trek canon than the other new shows. When a fan pointed this out, McMahan, though flattered, admitted that he has the luxury of being self-referential with Lower Decks. He ultimately concluded that it’s “better to have new Star Trek than to keep being referential.” A beautiful point, and one that makes me grateful for all of the new Star Trek, with more to come.
There’s so much new Trek to be excited about, but right now the hype in the fandom is all about Strange New Worlds, a new take on the tales of the USS Enterprise Pre-Kirk. Luckily, the folks at Paramount+ brought plenty of enticing things to the con, from a truly phenomenal costuming exhibit to today’s panel with many of the major players in the cast appearing on stage, and some exclusive sneak peeks Chicago was the first to see.
Appearing to thunderous applause were cast members Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, Ethan Peck and Celia Rose Gooding alongside Executive Producer Henry Alonso Myers to talk more about making the show, embodying characters we’ve met before and those we haven’t, and taking up a new story. Not only did we get a chance to see clips like the very first bridge scene from the very first episode, we were watching them for the first time they were seen by anyone, including the cast. Myers also confirmed to fans that the show would be more episodic, reflection the nature of the original series rather than the more progressive serialized nature of the newer series.
Celia Rose Gooding, who portrays Niota Uhura in Strange New World, talked a lot about how she handled playing an iconic character we all know and love with grace, mentioning that the portrayal of Uhura’s humor and sass was not new to the character, as moderator Helen Hong had seemed to suggest, stating that this was very in line with Nichelle Nichols portrayal, adding “I think she had a brightness and wit to her, that while we may not have been able to see it in any spotlight it deserved, I also hope to bring to the role.“
We were excited to find that Rebecca Romijn was as excited about her portrayal of Una Chin-Riley as the rest of the cast, despite her storied film and TV career. And, in the green room prior to the panel, she’d learned something even more exciting about her role from moderator Helen Hong – that Lucille Ball was responsible for the success of Star Trek, and was influenced to push for it so hard by the original portrayal of Number One.
The actress stated that she “still had chills after learning that” because she had decided to become an actress because of Lucille Ball. Romijn also expressed her excitement to develop her character further, mentioning that she’d only had 14 minutes of screen time before and had only spent time doing tasks on screen, and her enjoyment for getting to know her more. “It’s a dream come true, she stated, beaming.”
The admiration for the cast that came before them never seemed to stop, with Anson Mount expressing his love of the original Pike’s story and performances, and Ethan Peck talking about his affection for Spock, and Leonard Nimoy himself, stating that in his own portrayal of Spock, he heard Nimoy’s voice ringing in his ears. Romijn and Peck shared some genuine affection for each other, too, especially in recalling their Modern Major General scene from the Short Trek Q&A that had Romijn recalling her musical theater past.
All in all, it’s clear that a lot of love, admiration and attention to detail have been poured into the creation of this brand new but old familiar series from cast and crew to set and costume design, and after the amazing things we saw in panel (that we unfortunately cannot share with you yet) we are more excited than ever to see what the future holds for this show.
If icons were invoked in the Strange New Worlds panel, they were to actually take the stage here also, with George Takei making his spotlight appearance today. Takei is many things to many people, but especially in recent years, has devoted much of his time to activism, oftentimes citing Gene Roddenberry and his progressive vision for the future as one of the reasons for his continuing quest to fight for justice, kindness and inclusion.
Takei’s message rarely waivers, and after expressing her appreciation for Takei’s groundbreaking representation for Asians with Star Trek, moderator Helen Hong kicked off the conversation asking the actor about the racism and bigotry he had faced his whole life. Takei took the opportunity to speak not only about the increasing racism against Asian Americans, but the inclination of everyone, globally, to hold racist attitudes and fear that which is different, before further educating Hong and the rest of the audience on his past, and the very real dangers it presents. To our surprise Hong didn’t seem aware of as much of Takei’s past as most fans do, and Takei took the opportunity to share his story again, of the internment camps and the immense loss he and his family experienced alongside thousands more Asian Americans just like him who were born in the United States and still taken away at gunpoint, losing their livelihoods, homes and possessions, all because of fear, racism and propaganda.
It’s a powerful message and a firsthand account of the dangers of doing nothing, and we are immensely glad that George Takei continues to bear witness to these terrible acts and advocate for justice and inclusion for all, no matter who they are or where they come from.
Star Trek Discovery is now the longest running of the latest batch of Trek shows, and its panel had cast members from current and past seasons, including Mary Chieffo, Ken Mitchell, David Ajala, Ian Alexander, Anthony Rapp, Doug Jones and Noah Averbach-Katz. I could tell immediately that this is a tight knit cast that supports each other. In fact, David Ajala said on working through the pandemic: “I would have never done it without this cast–this crew. II have never felt so supported before. I never felt so courageous–strong.” It sounds like there is real love among the cast of Discovery.
The moderator started the panel by talking about the famous Stacey Abrams cameo at the end of Discovery Season 4. When asked about other cameos, Ian Alexander suggested Lil’ Nas X, adding “I would pass away if that happens.” Other names thrown out were Snoop Dogg as a Klingon, and Barack Obama as a Vulcan. Jeffrey Combs’ name was thrown out there–but as you probably know, he can literally play anything.
As you may know, Discovery is progressive, as much of Star Trek was before it–but there is exceptional work being done in terms of representation. Ian Alexander, who portrays a trans character on Discovery, said “It’s such an honor to represent the trans community and for every Tran and Binary person out there–especially the youth in Texas and Florida, and everywhere in the United States. … When I first came out as trans and I was like 13, 14 years old,I didn’t really have people on screen (representing the trans community). … So, it means everything to me for us to be able to be on a show and show people that trans people can be successful and exist in the future. We always have existed. Always”
If you’re a fan of Star Trek: Voyager, you probably know that Janeway is a presence. Commanding, exacting but kind, she is fearless and capable. Had you wondered how much of the character came from Mulgrew herself, within about two minutes on the Main Stage, you’d realize that Kate Mulgrew is that same fearless, unstoppable force.
Mulgrew eagerly ran on stage, greeting the audience warmly with a few hugs before commandeering the stage for a panel that ranged from absolutely hilarious to inspiring and even heartbreaking. Standing just 5’5” Kate Mulgrew is every bit a powerhouse, and took the reins in a way only Janeway can do from the getgo.
As with so many others in the cast of Star Trek throughout time, she’s a walking embodiment of Starfleet ideals, leading with kindness and a killer sense of humor that caused this die-hard Trek fan to recall another iconic leading lady in space, Carrie Fisher. Mulgrew was full of the same sense of mischief, care and deep empathy that makes anyone immediately endeared to her, and spent a lot of time tackling everything from where Janeway’s coffee obsession came from (Mulgrew herself, it turns out, because escaping the Delta Quadrant is a task tea, earl grey,hot just can’t tackle adequately) to the new video game based on the amazing Nickelodeon series that sees Janeway returning in holo form, Star Trek Prodigy, and both accepting and doling out advice. Zoomers in the audience assured Mulgrew she was missing out by not playing video games, and Mulgrew agreed, mentioning that if she’s in a game she really ought to play it.
Incredibly, she even weighed in on the Tuvix dilemma that’s plagued Voyager fans for so many years, after a fan asked her to settle an argument amongst friends about whether Janeway had killed him or not.
“Actually, no” Mulgrew said with a shudder
“Wanted to, YES. But it’s not the same thing” going on to further elaborate that the situation was pretty impossible, and there was in fact no good answer.
She even participated in a “voice-off” with a fan who claimed they could voice Janeway at least as well as Janeway herself, giving some sage advice to the brave man attempting the feat.
As it turns out though, Mulgrew is full of wonderful answers, and a light and openness we aspire to. When talking about future generations and what lessons they need to learn, she encouraged young people to get real and find themselves. “Be passionate” she said. “It goes so quickly.”
This proved particularly poignant as the discussion turned to Kate Mulgrew’s latest book, a memoir entitled “How to Forget” that dealt with the actor’s own struggles in caring for her mother as she deteriorated and ultimately passed away as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
One in five people will develop Alzheimer’s by the year 2050, and Mulgrew’s desire to seek out a cure from the “awful thicket” this disease subjects its victims to was palpable. Mulgrew was incredibly open with everyone about the struggles of caregiving and the helplessness that can accompany it, but just as adamant that it was an incredibly important thing to do.
“We must be there. We must talk, be frank – be human.”
Embodying this idea completely, she then began to read from her memoir an account that so accurately reflected the pain of losing someone to dementia or Alzheimer’s and the accompanying feelings of helplessness and pain that the crowd was brought to utter silence (and in many cases, tears). It’s hard to accurately describe the power of this account, and the vulnerability, poise and grace with which she handled it but ultimately, it reflects her own beautiful nature. She capped off the time together with a salute to the fans, calling them some of the most brilliant, kind people she’d ever had the privilege to get to know – and the feeling is absolutely mutual.
We have nothing but high hopes for Sunday, so keep it here for a full report once the con wraps up! And don’t miss our cosplay panels from the con!
Contributing authors: Antal Bokor, Aaron Cynic, Marielle Bokor.