For anybody looking to start the year on a hopeful note, consider this: “Star Trek: The Experience,” a theme-park-style attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton, does a brisk wedding business, allowing happy couples to get hitched or renew their vows on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.Now just consider the odds against this: Not only do such unions require a big enough “Star Trek” enthusiast to want to be married on a mock starship (up to four extras in full Klingon, BORG or Ferengi regalia, by the way, are part of the “Admiral’s Wedding” package), but said party must find someone willing to become Mr. or Mrs. Geek under these circumstances. Clearly, there are no quadrants of the galaxy where love doesn’t reach. Even more intriguing than these “Trek” ceremonies, however, was pondering how many might be second or third nuptials based on the demographics of those beaming on board. Because during a trip that included experiencing “The Experience” (OK, so I’m a bit of a geek myself), it was striking to see how many waiting to conquer the BORG probably haven’t been asked to flash IDs in a bar since Richard Nixon’s presidency. Despite enviable durability, there’s no getting around the fact that “Star Trek” is aging, bringing a new set of challenges not only for those steering the ship but its increasingly geriatric fan base. The original, after all, began its five-year mission 40 years ago. Freed from dry-dock by the launch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” one spinoff or another aired on TV from 1987 until UPN hit the “abort” button on “Enterprise” in 2005. Remastering the original series, Internet fan sites, self-generated fiction, games, conventions, auctioning off memorabilia, even a cheeky DirecTV ad featuring William Shatner, keep the show alive, pending the arrival of movie No. XI under J.J. Abrams’ stewardship (scheduled for release next year). Yet without a current TV project to call home, stoking the “Trek” flame requires considerable care. It’s worth noting, too, that the business environs surrounding what Paramount carefully nurtured and lovingly dubbed “the franchise” have changed, with CBS Consumer Products retaining licensing and merchandising rights in the split with Viacom, whose Paramount arm will release the next movie. Divorce, as they say, can be toughest on the kids. Jean-Ann Pavoni-Biller, director of sales for “Star Trek: The Experience,” says the venue performs roughly 200 weddings and vow renewals annually, with newlyweds coming from all over the demographic and geographic maps, including many visiting from the U.K. and Australia. That number has “stayed pretty constant,” she says, while acknowledging a new movie could inject some zip into the old warp drive. Beyond weddings, “The Experience” offers more conventional means of separating fools from their disposable income, from shelling out $15 to have a picture taken in the captain’s chair to a gift shop where $300 buys an official uniform, complete with Starfleet insignia. It’s been joked that “Star Trek” and porn helped power the Internet’s birth, and in some respects, this space odyssey does represent a commodity like none other. Lacking the explosive start “Star Wars” enjoyed, “Trek” has been wholly sustained by the passion of a wildly committed fan base that literally brought it back to life, following it through five TV programs and 10 movies. Cautionary tales orbit the “Trek” universe, among them actors recognizable only to a faithful few haunting conventions, peddling autographs and pictures. And given today’s tendency to rush to embrace the next big thing, can anyone foresee long queues for photos with players from “Lost” or “Heroes” in, say, 2046? The mind boggles. All such voyages must end sooner or later, but it’s hard to imagine the inevitable day when “Star Trek” will be as foreign a concept to kids as Flash Gordon or the Shadow, leaving behind blank stares to lines like, “He’s dead, Jim” and “Beam me up, Scotty.” For now, there are enough fans out there to keep the mission alive, but a franchise can’t live forever on geek love alone.
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