I returned to McCormack Place West Building for the final day of Star Trek: Mission Chicago. This morning it was time to visit the Exhibit Hall in more detail.
- I picked up a new Star Trek Explorer #2 magazine with a convention exclusive cover!
- I stopped to say hi to Lew, Amity and John of FanSets, our awesome Colorado-based company! They said they were having a great weekend.
- At Popminded by Hallmark, I said hi to Star Trek writer Kevin Dilmore.
- I signed up for “Star Trek: The Cruise” information and got a free ballcap.
- I saw the incredible Borg Cube desktop computer and “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” John Fluevog boots!
- I visited Larry Nemecek at his Trekland booth, and he signed his “A Fistful of Data” columns in Star Trek Explorer magazines for me.
- I got my picture taken in front of the giant Starfleet Delta Badge!
Then I went to the Main Stage for the 11-11:45am “Star Trek: Prodigy Panel” with director Ben Hibon, creator Dan Hageman, voice actress Kate Mulgrew and moderator Helen Hong. Plus, cosplay character Dal sat with them! All fans got an 11×17 mini-poster, too. Highlights:
- When Kate received the offer that would change the shape of her life, she waited a few weeks and deliberated and talked to her close friends. They said, “You’re mad if you don’t do this; you have to give this to children. That’s the kind of imagination that will fully embrace this journey.” She asked about the plot and story and told her about the Hageman brothers and Ben, and she thought, “What are you thinking about? Of course, you must do it, and now we’ve been at it for 3 years! The creators are all geniuses so it’s a pleasure to work in the booth!”
- Ben said it is meant for kids to see “grand scale adventure and discovery.” Animation allows them to run wild. The intention of the show is the wonder and potential of space.
- Dan said that only executives discussed target ages, but as writers, they wanted to create a story that would appeal to everybody. They have the opportunity to write a show that is okay for a 6-year-old, and they’re not gonna get too dark. This is for the next generation of “Star Trek” fans; “let’s push them just a little bit, because these kids are gonna be smart and gonna be showing us the way in decades to come.”
- Kate said, “Children should never be underestimated! They can grasp ideas that even adults can’t wrap their heads around.”
- They just finished writing episode 40! They finished writing the first 20 episodes before COVID hit, then the next 20 throughout COVID. It’s a long fabrication process; currently, 15 episodes are in various stages (writing, storyboarding, animatics, voices, music). Nami Melumad does the music, and she’s also doing the music for “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”!
- Kate said, “Playing Janeway again is a delight, much easier than live action. I only need the text, and the creators are on Zoom and the engineers in the other room. It is absolutely liberating. I find nuance in my voice that I never felt comfortable doing in live action ‘cause there’s no time in live action. You’re given the time here, and the breadth and the scope. I can pretty much do what I like. I feel more confident because I’m working with such clever guys. I knew it was gonna be great ‘cause we worked on the animated Janeway figure. It was a great process, and Kate stared at her character and she said, make the eyes bigger because children love big eyes. They worked and worked and worked on it; it was so precise and subtleties were so exact. So I knew if the text was anything like this process, it was gonna be a great show!”
I managed to catch Ben Hibon and Dan Hageman in the hallway for a great photo op! I also spotted “Star Trek Prodigy” voice actress Bonnie Gordon, who voices the ship’s computer outside of the Main Stage, and she was happy to let me get a photo with her! Back in the Exhibit Hall, I had time to partake in two green screen photos, one on the Protostar bridge of “Star Trek: Prodigy” and one on the Enterprise bridge of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.” In the Celebrity Row, I saw that “Star Trek Discovery” and “Star Trek: Lower Decks” actor Ken Mitchell was in his autograph line. He’s in a wheelchair and suffers from ALS; this is possibly his last convention. I bought one of his stamped autographed photos and saw that Ken kissed the stamp before it is applied to the 8×10. I got a picture with him and via his speech synthesizer, he said “Thank you, can I get a hug?” and I told him how much I appreciated his work on “Star Trek” and “God bless you”! I noticed a super cool banner by “House Kor” for “The Kol’ective” for fans to write a message to Ken Mitchell, so I participated. At 2pm I was back in the Main Stage and saw host Ming Chen of “Comic Book Men” fame host the “Star Trek: Picard Panel” with Isa Briones (“Soji”), Evan Evagoria (“Elnor”), Michelle Hurd (“Raffi Musiker”) and Annie Wersching (“Borg Queen”)! Highlights:
- Michelle said everyone, crew and cast, loves Jonathan Frakes. Evan said Jonathan knows Trek inside and out. He talked with Evan for a couple of hours, telling him about himself, his journey through Trek, what Trek meant to him, and that it was going to change Evan’s life. Evan didn’t understand what that meant until the show debuted and he started doing conventions. It’s changed his life for the better.
- Isa said she loved seeing Jonathan give so much shit to Patrick. When they were filming with Jonathan as an actor with Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn and LeVar Burton came to visit the set. The four of them made a fort out of chairs and invited Isa to join them and hear stories from TNG days. They reamed Patrick for doing a car commercial back in the day, making fun of him with impersonations of his voice! The rest of them saw Patrick as “sir…god” and it was something to see Patrick taken down like that.
- Annie noted she met the cast in full “Borg Queen” makeup first, so it was a shock when they finally got to see her as herself. Patrick didn’t recognize her, so she said, “I’m the Borg Queen!” and he said, “OUR Borg Queen?!”
At 2:20pm I had to head to Photo Ops for my picture with 66-year-old Kate Mulgrew, who is the greatest! I said to her, “I’ve loved you since the show Heartbeat” and she smiled and said, “No one has ever said that to me! I loved that show!” Next I spotted actor David Ajala at his autograph table and couldn’t resist getting a signed 8×10 of him as “Book” and with Grudge over his shoulder! He told me that at first, Grudge scratched him and destroyed his uniform, but now Grudge is good with him! He said he is a cat lover, and I told him that I have five cats! I returned to the Main Stage for the 3:30-4:15pm “Walter Koenig Spotlight,” which was super enjoyable and hosted by “Comic Book Men” Ming Chen! Highlights from the Q&A with the 83-year-old:
- One fan noted that his “Spock Two” from the original animated show appeared on an episode of “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” Walter wrote the episode “The Infinite Vulcan” for “Star Trek: The Animated Series” and he ended up doing seven re-writes, finally saying, “No more!”
- Walter wrote an episode of “Land of the Lost” for story editor David Gerrold. He didn’t realize that his character Enik was so popular, they kept bringing him back.
- When asked what his favorite line as Chekov was, he said, in Chekov’s voice, “Can you tell me where the nuclear vessels are?” to much applause.
- Walter was asked about any memories from Gene Roddenberry’s “The Questor Tapes” from the 1970s, for which he had a cameo. Walter sarcastically said, “I do remember that Bill Shatner was guest lead on it and we had a really, delightful, charming, extraordinary, stimulating…it’s bullshit, we never talked, we never said a word, it’s amazing.”
- He did meet Anton Yelchin when he was invited to watch them shoot the 2009 “Star Trek.” Anton was not even in the scenes that day, but they called him and he came to the set to meet Walter. Walter laughed, saying, “It was fun to see them make the fake Star Trek! I can be petty.” He did attend the premiere of the film and enjoyed it but noted that nobody is Spock except Leonard Nimoy. Anton excitedly told him at the premiere, “Walter, I have my own Chekov doll!”
- In the early 70s he pitched a story for “The Incredible Hulk.” You’d go pitch a story, and then you’d get paid for an outline. If they liked the outline, they’d pay you to do a first draft. His outline was about the Hulk appearing in an Appalachian community that had no contact with the outside world, and they thought he was a manifestation of the devil. They liked the idea a lot; they liked the outline, so he wrote the first draft. An executive producer wanted to talk to him, and he said we’re gonna do your story but we got to change it because this could not happen in the U.S., we gotta put it in Mexico. Walter would not do that because it would make the Mexicans come across as dumb and uneducated, so he refused.
- Walter met J. Michael Straczynski via Harlan Ellison, and he had a casual relationship with Joe. Walter called him and asked if he’d want to collaborate with him on a comic. Joe said no but invited him out to lunch, saying I have a series “Babylon 5” that’s going to be made and I have a scene in mind where the camera picks up bits of conversation as it goes through Zocalo and as they pass your table, they hear you say, in Chekov’s voice, “this is not the way we did it on Star Trek!” Walter wanted to do it but it didn’t happen, but instead Joe wrote a part for Walter about a guy who ends up in the captain’s brain. Walter was in Chicago when it was being written and he had a heart attack so was not available to shoot it due to having a quadruple bypass. Joe said he’d “try to hold the script for you” and Walter said that was amazing and loyal but they ran out of scripts so had to move ahead. Joe said he’d write Walter another part, and he was amazed when he found out about Joe creating the recurring character of Bester. It became a highlight of his television career, and he loved doing that character!
- It was never important to Walter to be promoted to Captain or Admiral. It was the role that was more important to him. The secondary cast was there to help move the story along, but not to learn more about them. Kirk, Spock and McCoy as the leads provided more for viewers to learn about them. Chekov would say, “Captain, there’s something out there,” and Bill would say, imitating Bill, “Well!” Every actor wants to feel they are contributing to the show as their character and not simply to push the story forward.
- Conventionwise, Walter said Star Trek Las Vegas stands out as it is only “Star Trek,” but the cruises are great, too. He resisted going to a “Star Trek” convention in Germany because of the concentration camps and a strong anti-German sense. But he finally decided to attend one and at breakfast on the first day, he said, “I’m Jewish.” And there was no reaction. It’s a different generation, and it said to Walter that while that abhorrent kind of behavior is everywhere and part of human nature, people that rise above it are to be admired. There are good people everywhere. Germany has had him back every five years, and they love him there. Except for one guy! He said to Walter, “How come there are no Germans on the show? We were the first to put rockets into the air.” Walter responded, “Yeah, but you landed them on London!”
- When asked about his favorite memories of “Babylon 5,” Walter said that the character Bester was more involved in the story. He enjoyed the entire cast, but having been on “Star Trek,” he brought with him a certain aura. They were already impressed that he had been on “Star Trek.” Bruce, Billy, Mira and everyone were all very warm. There were no second-class actors on “B5.” Walter said he has nothing bad to say about “B5.” Hard pressed, he could find a couple of things about “Star Trek”! He noted he is eternally grateful for “Star Trek” and wouldn’t have had a career without it, and he was part of something that philosophically and socially he believes in. But as an actor, “B5” was more exciting and challenging. Bester was to make an appearance on the spin-off show “Crusade,” but it was cancelled right before his episode!
- Walter told a story during the filming of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” where they had divided it up to give all the characters some great scenes. George got screwed because he had a scene with a little kid who wouldn’t do the work, so they never got the shot. But there’s a scene where Sulu and Scotty are walking down the street in SF and they walk by a bar at 11am, and George decided he was gonna look in the bar. There’s a young woman in the bar sitting on a stool, and she sees George and waves to him. They did this as a rehearsal three times, and she kept waving. On the fourth time it was an “action!” shot; George looks in the window, and she pulls up her top! And George goes, in his classic voice, “oh my!”
On that hilarious note, my last day at Star Trek: Mission Chicago ended. It was an awesome 3-day weekend! I think “Star Trek: Mission Seattle” might be a must!
By Bret Smith