Star Trek Mission Chicago Sunday Panel Catchup

Well, all good things must come to an end. As much as we’ve enjoyed ourselves at Star Trek Mission Chicago, it had to come to a close sometime. Unlike most other conventions in this space though, they didn’t go out with a whimper, saving a lot of the biggest names and most anticipated panels for the final day. 

We were on the floor bright and early, exhausted though we were, to bring you all the news and fun from the panels we caught. 

The Future is Female: Women’s Representation in Star Trek panel at Star Trek Mission Chicago featuring Chase Masterson. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Kicking off our day, we met up with some influential ladies in the world of Star Trek, including Chase Masterson from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Future is Female took on women’s representation in Star Trek and featured Amy Imhoff, Kate Mulgrew’s media director, as moderator, and featured guests Chase Masterson, Dr. Lucila Rosines, a fan expert and podcast guest, Jarrah Hodge of the Women at Warp Podcast and Ke Roth, a Fleet Admiral from Star Trek Online

This particular panel was sponsored by Star Trek Online, which has served to continue the stories of several of the most important women in Trek. Since Masterson was on hand, conversation naturally turned to her journey, from a Dabo girl under Quark’s thumb to a union organizer, wife, and ultimately, but most importantly, she has agency, and is able to decide her fate without input from any entity or person. Leeta’s journey is all about having fun with agency, and becoming the powerful person you are, and it’s Masterson’s hope, as well as the hope of the Trek fans in the crowd, that that’s a message that resonates far beyond just the space of Star Trek Online and the show itself. 

Masterson is as compassionate and thoughtful as her character, and was quick to point out that you can have this sort of feminist agency and still be compassionate to others. She also pointed out that Leeta selected Nog because of who he was, not what he looked like, and encouraged the audience to remember not to judge a book by the cover, and make sure you truly see each other. 

There are so many wonderful storylines that continue in Star Trek Online,the panelists pointed out, including a Deep Space Nine Season 8, and everyone on the panel agreed that it was a fantastic place to explore some of the back stories of some of the women in Star Trek whose stories hadn’t fully been told yet, and what a great medium a game like this was for that. Honestly, for a chance at seeing Mirror Leeta kick some ass and to find out what happened after Season 7 of DS9 ended for some of our favorite characters like her, Jadzia Dax and Kira Nerys, we’re in!

Dan Hagerman, Dan Hibon, Dal, Kate Mulgrew and moderator Helen Hong. Star Trek Prodigy panel at Star Trek Mission Chicago. Photo: Marielle Bokor

It’s easy to dismiss Star Trek Prodigy as “just a kid’s show” but if you haven’t watched it, I’m here to tell you: it’s damn good Star Trek, and it takes the franchise into new, unexplored territories. On hand at Mission Chicago to talk about that was Executive Producer Dan Hagerman, Creative Lead Dan Hibon, and  Kate Mulgrew, who plays Hologram Janeway and Admiral Janeway. Even the character Dal showed up, as a surprise guest—or rather, someone wearing a Dal costume reacted via gestures while the others spoke. It was a cute addition.

Star Trek Prodigy wasn’t conceived as “just” a kids show, rather, it was conceived by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman as an “entry point” intro Star Trek—not just for kids, but for adults, as well.  Hageman said, “that doesn’t mean just for kids, that means for any adult that wants an entry ramp into the (great world of Star Trek).  So that’s why we created Dal and a bunch of kids who don’t know too much about the Federation, but they learn through the wisdom of Hologram Janeway.”  

Later Kate Mulgrew chimed in and added,

 “…this is the one demographic we had left unturned… Children, which is the exact demographic that would not only love this, but full understand and embrace it, right?” 

Dan Hageman agreed and concluded, “I feel like when Wesley got to the bridge and Picard said, ‘ I don’t want that kid on the bridge’ but we’re like: we want kids on the bridge!”

And it works well, since Prodigy is a refreshingly different take on Star Trek that also brings back some iconic characters, notably Chakotay—now a Captain—and Janeway in flesh and blood, and both holographic forms. Mulgrew really gets to play around with the Janeway character in hologram form, with many variations of Janeway possible—and some new versions already showing themselves in the first season with the appearance of ‘evil’ Janeway. Mulgrew teased a type of cat and mouse game between Hologram Janeway and the Prodigy crew with Admiral Janeway as she tries to find answers to the fate of Captain Chakotay. We can’t wait.

Mary Chieffo and the cast of Improvised Star Trek. Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Improvised Star Trek isn’t a new concept to us. In fact, I got familiar with them on one of my earliest stories as a journalist in Chicago, when I covered the 2015 Chicago Nerd Comedy Festival at Stage 773. This hilarious crew of Trekkies who also happen to be pretty good at improv has been entertaining Chicago nerds for a long time, but hung up their Starfleet uniforms for good, it seemed, in 2019 and stopped doing the podcast they were known for. 

Luckily for everyone at the convention, the USS Sisyphus came out of spacedock for another mission, with a very special guest. Mary Chieffo. She was game to play with the players and did a fantastic job playing a monosyllabic Vulcan who’d come aboard as the new captain, much to the dismay of its Vulcan medical officer. 

 

What we always love about Improvised Star Trek is the deep cuts, and how well everyone works within and riffs off of canon. This time around there was a particularly hilarious encounter with a brand new crystalline entity – or someone becoming one, that slowly and ridiculously escalated until it enveloped most of the scenes, and Chieffo played off of this fantastically. It’s always great to see people in different settings and working with different actors in different scenarios, and the crew of the Sisyphus did a great job bringing Chieffo into the fold, just as she did a fantastic job being a part of it all. 

It was a successful reunion for us, and we hold out just a little hope that the group might come back to some other events after their extended away mission.

William Shatner. Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

William Shatner’s something of a big name wherever he goes, but at a Star Trek convention, that effect only amplifies, something we’re sure he’s not against. He’s released albums, he’s travelled to space, but most importantly, he started it all with his portrayal of Captain Kirk, a wily but surprisingly by-the-book captain with a penchant for getting out of tight spots. He’s a founding father, really, for Trekkies, and it’s of course the reason we couldn’t miss his appearance Sunday afternoon. 

At 91, he’s full of mirth, wisdom and a newfound love for the planet after his journey to space. In fact, as with his appearance at C2E2 in 2020, it’s a lot of what he talked about, regaling the audience with the tale of how he got himself in the rocket in the first place, and how he’d almost turned down the chance to go up second simply because it wasn’t as prestigious, until he decided to do it for himself. 

Such is the bravado of a Starfleet captain, but Shatner admitted to some very real fears of actual space travel, largely due to growing up hearing a lot about the Hindenburg disaster, but also living through things like the Challenger disaster, and also told a funny story about his trip to an escape room facility where the actor had to take on 11 flights of stairs and how he felt like it might be an attempt to see if the old guy was gonna be able to make it in space. 

Whatever your preconceived notions of Shatner were or are, he’s certainly come off his time in space with a passion for environmentalism, and an awe at the “little blue ball” he saw from so far away. Shatner spent a lot of time talking about all the reading he’d been doing since about the interconnectedness of nature from termite to rainforest, and we like the softer side of him. 

Isa Briones, Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd and Annie Wersching with moderator Ming Chen. Star Trek Picard at Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

It wasn’t long after Shatner’d left the stage that another of the biggest panels of the con took place. Star Trek: Picard has successfully woven increasingly intriguing storylines for familiar faces from TNG and beyond and has the distinction of being the only Star Trek currently in the midst of a season. Clearly, there’d be a lot to talk about – though having not finished it ourselves we were hoping there wouldn’t be too many spoilers. On hand for this panel were Isa Briones, Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd and Annie Wersching.

That said, exclusives are what you go to a con for and what Paramount+ knows fans want, so we were treated to a Season 3 trailer with tons of exciting sneak peeks, and the promise that the rumor that’d been spreading since First Contact Day was true – we will be seeing more familiar faces in Season 3. 

Isa Briones, Evan Evagora and Michelle Hurd. Star Trek Picard at Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

One thing we were glad to hear from Trek newbies Evan Evagora and Isa Briones was how welcoming fans and other cast members were to them. Isa Briones, who was a self-proclaimed “convention virgin” was over the moon at the response to her presence, beaming as she described the love she was seeing shared for the series and her characters. 

The Picard crew are as wild as they seem and as fun to talk to on stage, so it was an engaging panel. In fact, much of the first portions of the panel were devoted to silly stories from behind the scenes, with much love and skewering for director Jonathan Frakes, whose love and loudness could not be overstated by anyone in the panel. 

Evidently, the antics only increase when Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes are on the set together, said Briones. “They’re 10.” She particularly enjoyed one story about how Frakes and Stewart would rate the severity of the infamous “shaking” they’d have to do when there was an impact with the ship from 1 to 10 with 10 being the most severe, and how they were demonstrating what an 8 looks like, etc, until they got to 1 and Patrick Stewart just barely wiggled. 

Evan Evagora shared a particularly funny story about meeting Patrick Stewart. He’d just gotten off a plane and checked into his AirBnB when he got a call asking him to come to set to start his stunt training (“because, you know, we’ve all seen, I stabbed a lot of people.” Once on set, a producer said that Patrick would like to meet him, so Evagora nervously obliged. 

“And I’m shitting myself” he said. “It’s Captain Picard. Professor Xavier coming over. So he makes his way over, sticks his hand out, the gentleman he is and he says “Hi, I’m Patrick.” And I say ‘Good, thank you’ and shake. I just can’t get over it. Like, I sit there late at night-  you know how you get those intrusive thoughts? It’s like when I called my 9th grade teacher mum. Since then I’ve really listened to when Patrick says hello to me. 

Briones mentioned just how supportive Stewart was to her as an actor early on, too, recalling some intense scenes she had to film and her anxiety about them, and the way that Patrick Stewart held her hand and encouraged her to help her through it, and how both Frakes and Stewart welcomed herself and Evagora in to the fold, and helped them learn what to expect being a part of Trek.

Michelle Hurd and Annie Wersching offered interesting perspectives on their roles in the Trek universe too, with Wersching sharing her admiration for the previous Borg queens and in fact, sporting an awesome Borg Queen t-shirt and glittery green crown for her on stage appearance. Wersching spoke to the need to honor the previous iterations of the character but make it her own, and spoke of getting deeply involved in her character’s backstory, and the unique position she’s in compared to where the character was before. 

“I think it helps that you find my particular Borg Queen in distress, and there’s quiet in her head – that made it easier, that I wasn’t starting in an exact situation that they’d been in before.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Hurd talked a little about her process with Raffi, tagging onto what Annie had said about her desire to really embody the character. She recalled a conversation with Michael Chabon, Picard’s first showrunner.

“I just wanted to get into it – like, so who is this person? And this is the point of this – I want all of our creators out there to understand this, is he said ‘No, Michelle,  you tell ME who she is. And I love that.”

“You know, we often walk this earth trying to please others, or you interact with someone like ‘I wonder what they need for me to be for them to accept me? Or to move forward. Let’s scratch that. Let’s let them know who we are, ‘cause we’re creatives, and each and every one of the people in this room are individuals. You have your own stories, your own perspectives, and those are the things that color this world.”

The camaraderie, hilarity and inspiration at this panel made it one of our favorites of the weekend, and luckily, we didn’t get too spoiled on the season to come, so we can’t wait to dive back in, and with the promise of even more familiar faces we’re sure Trek fans will have lots to look forward to even after the season finale.

Anthony Rapp, Noah Averbach Katz, Bonnie Gordon and Mary Chieffo at DiscoDoesDnd at Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

One great thing about the cast of Star Trek: Discovery, as we noted before, is the sense of real joy and family amongst cast and crew. It’s part of what makes panels with them so much fun- they interact with each other as true friends or siblings do. 

But it goes one step further than this, and we got a chance to see just how far with Disco Does DnD at Mission: Chicago, which saw actors Anthony Rapp, Ian Alexander, Mary Chieffo, and DM Noah Averbach Katz along with special guest Bonnie Gordon of Star Trek: Prodigy going on a one-shot adventure live in front of an audience. 

Ian Alexander, Anthony Rapp, Noah Averbach Katz, Bonnie Gordon, Mary Chieffo. Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

With the exception of guest star Bonnie Gordon, it’s a group that’s been tabletop gaming for quite a while, having started Disco Does DnD as a way to keep the cast ties tight despite the pandemic and which has now gained a cult following thanks to their weekly livestream of DnD 5e adventures. 

Unfortunately, regular Blu Del Barrio was out with some health issues, but Bonnie Gordon turned out to be a natural fit for the hilarity that was to ensue. Averbach-Katz really put them through the wringer with his one-shot and Anthony Rapp’s arrakoa character had a hell of a time trying not to die through it all while trying to heroically defeat Bloodcrush the Terrible . Rapp’s extreme dedication to his role and willingness to dive right into the danger led to him often being just a hit point or two away from death, but never any less determined to fight through it all while still managing to be utterly hilarious. Meanwhile Mary Chieffo’s sullen, monosyllabic quips were understated but similarly hilarious.

Bonnie’s pirate was swarthy, smarmy and smart, and Ian Alexander’s character turned out to be the true hero of the game, for their healing abilities and clever use of a laughing spell to keep the big bad down just long enough for Rapp’s arrakoa to take another stab at things. All in all, not only was it a great fast paced game that was readily accessible to those who may not play DnD themselves, it was a hilarious and fun outing for everyone, and made me want to subscribe to the rest of the group’s adventures with their regular characters, which you can find here.

Moderator Ming Chen with Walter Koenig. Star Trek Mission Chicago 2022. Photo: Marielle Bokor

The very last panel of Star Trek Mission Chicago was none other than Pavel Chekov himself: Walter Koenig. The rest of the TOS cast is certainly showing their age, and Koenig is no exception: but he’s still as humorous as ever, even when it comes to his own aging and memory issues. 

Koenig, a Chicago native, talked about everything from his quadruple bypass surgery 24 years ago to his memories of his very first Star Trek fan convention—which was in LA–and he did it for free. 

“I don’t do it for free anymore” he later joked.

One of Koenig’s recollections of that event was the costume in which “one of the young ladies came out naked. Absolutely naked…. And I said, ‘is this what the rest of my life is going to be like? I can do this.” 

Koenig, of course, is thankful for the fans, “it’s just amazing to me how supportive (the fans are).” 

One fan asked Koenig about his recollection writing the episode “The Infinite Vulcan” for Star Trek The Animated Series—and if he was aware that Lower Decks paid homage to that storyline by showing the skeletal remains of giant Spock. 

“No I did not know that,” he said, “all 25 feet of him? That’s amazing!” And went on to talk about the process of writing that episode—and just how involved  Gene Roddenberry was with each episode, and all of the rewrites that required. 

“I finally said ‘no, I’m not going to do anymore (rewrites)’ and I did not make any enemies doing that.” 

When he was asked about Anton Yelchin, and that late actor’s portrayal of Chekov, Koenig had nothing but praise for the late actor. Koenig visited the set of the 2009 Star Trek film on a day that Yelchin wasn’t filming, and the young actor actually drove to the set to hear advice from the original Pavel Chekov. What a great guy—and gone too soon.

At least for us, Koenig’s connection to Yelchin served to remind us of the generations of fans that have created a community and family, and the actors who have joined the ranks, as well as the powerful ideologies behind the series that brought us together. Infinite diversity in infinite conversations and the dream of a better world are a great place to start as we head out of the convention and into the larger world, which could use more togetherness, kindness and inclusion, and we’re glad to have spent some time with likeminded people, whether they be actors or fellow fans. 

 

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Marielle Bokor