Few television shows have had as great an impact on popular culture as Star Trek. It has spawned numerous spin-offs, comics, movies, fans (endearingly called trekkies), and conventions. I mention it because it is this real world impact that is spoofed and honored in the movie Galaxy Quest. The over-the-hill cast of a cult-classic, sci-fi show called Galaxy Quest is unwittingly pulled into an alien war in a distant galaxy. Starring Tim Allen as Jason Nesmith as Commander Peter Quincy Taggert, this is film constantly mocks the tropes and flaws in classic sci-fi television, though it most notably compares itself with Star Trek.
Despite its comedic nature, the film does delve into a few serious issues. The ‘crew’ members from the show are not on friendly terms, especially with Nesmith, who is a glory hog. Alan Rickman’s character hates his role as the alien second in command. Even so, they must appear at conventions and events together to continue being paid. The movie begins at one of these events, where the stereotypically intense fans wear even more on the actors. Nesmith here reminds me of William Shatner’s documentary about the various ‘captains’ of the Star Trek television series. Shatner recalls his own personal experience with hating the role and the conventions. He didn’t believe he was taken seriously as an actor. Star Trek seemed to follow him, and keep him in its shadow. Nesmith seems to be (and his co-stars definitely are) undergoing a similar reaction, despite genuinely enjoying the adoration of his over-zealous fans. However, there are no greater fans than the Thermians, an alien species that has accidently mistaken the show Galaxy Quest for real history.
The Thermians ask Nesmith with his help in dealing with General Sarris, who has systematically destroyed the Thermian race. After he blunders his way through the first meeting, believing it to be a gig, he recruits his cast members to enact their roles in real life, with a ship based on the one in the show. The movie truly begins its attack on the Sci-fi archetype here. Everything is voiced by a computer, the controls are incredibly simple, everything has a science-y name, and the aliens (and their ships) are conveniently color coded. The Thermians have a child-like faith in the show and the crew, believing them to be great heroes. It is an extreme kind of escapism that some people fall into. Some fans border on the obsessive, and the Thermians take it even further. While this might appear to be a relatively depressing view of the situation – especially when the crew is eventually found out – I believe that in actuality the movie has several good things to say about the science fiction genre. Science fiction, especially Star Trek, often represents an idealistic goal to strive towards. The seemingly simple and meek Thermians constantly rise to the occasion for their heroes, and in the end the heroes rise to the occasion for them.
This is a goofy, fun spoof, but it touches on one of my favorite subjects. Star Trek, or Galaxy Quest, isn’t some nerdy show we should write off. Rather we should appreciate what it can do for us. Why shouldn’t we eventually move beyond Earth? And closer to home, these shows often have a level of equality and social acceptance to be desired. Just like William Shatner, these fictional actors come to realize what their show means to their fans, both on Earth and in space. These are the characteristics of science fiction the movie chose to uplift. And even if the acting, special effects, or plot are lacking, you can’t remove the idea. An idea will always endure.