Trip Summary Calendar - Where we went and when

August 16, 2004

Wil Wheaton is not Wesley Crusher

[This entry was actually written late the night of 7/30/04, but I held off posting it until now to keep things in order.]

So we're in Las Vegas, and it turns out there's a big Star Trek convention here (thanks Herb!). Those who have known me a while know I've been a Star Trek fan since I was a kid, watching reruns of the original Trek series, and even first-run shows of the animated Trek series. I've been to countless Star Trek conventions and have seen nearly all stars of the original and Next Generation. But it's been 10-15 years since my last convention. Even Alysa (not a fan, or even very familiar) was curious, so we went on Friday.

Read on if you're curious about Star Trek conventions.

Three big names speaking Friday were Brent Spiner (Data), George Takei (Sulu), and Marina Sirtis (Troi). I'd seen them all before. They had Sally Kellerman, which was unique; she's an actress well-known in her own right, best known as Hot Lips Houlihan in the MASH movie. She was in one Star Trek episode (the pilot that sold the series, opposite Gary Lockwood - more on him later). But the speaker I was most curious about was Wil Wheaton.

I was curious about Wil for a few reasons. One, he was one of the few Next Generation regulars I'd never seen (the only others are the two doctors). Two, he maintains a unique blog which I've run across more than once. But most of all is I was just curious. I hated his Star Trek character. I mean, really despised it. This wasn't his fault. He was 14 or 15 when the series started, but the writers kept churning out episodes where he saved the ship. This wore on me. He eventually left the show with dreams of a big movie career, which (as a viewer) was fine with me. Perhaps because he was so young I never ran across him at any conventions. (As an aside, Wil is also well known as one of the kids from Stand By Me.)

Fast-forward to today, and Wil is now 32. They had him in a room off to the side, I thought a bit strange, making me even more curious. We went just after George Takei. Wil didn't magically appear from behind stage; turns out he was just sitting in the crowd. He spent most of his time reading from his new book, "Just a Geek." This is an amazingly funny and touching story of (from what I know thus far) his time on Star Trek and eventual realization his acting career ended when he was no longer a child. Most actors from the original series went through a version of this, in that case being typecast as their Star Trek characters, unable to find work (or good pay) until the Star Trek movies came along. Wil's story was different though, with the career halt apparently tied to his age more than anything else.

For me, this turned out to be the perfect Star Trek convention experience. While the other actors portray everything as cheery, Wil's recounting is brutally honest. He's put that past behind him and apparently has no worries about burning any bridges (perhaps already burnt?). A young Star Trek fan might not want to hear this stuff but I'm long tired of the "What was your favorite episode?" Q&A. I couldn't get over how Wil Wheaton had transitioned in my mind from the annoying kid from the Enterprise to a real person, much more real than any of the other actors I've met.

We both enjoyed his talk so much that we decided to buy the book, standing in line a short while later in the dealers' room. We talked briefly about our RV trip, and about blogging software.

A little more on the convention, as a contrast to those of years ago. The other actors I saw were older, somewhat crabbier versions of themselves. Maybe she was trying to be funny but Marina Sirtis, especially, wasn't very nice to the fans. (The reason there likely won't be another Next Generation movie is apparently we in the audience didn't see the last one enough times...) George Takei started with the same 15 minute story of why he liked working on Star Trek; I could nearly recite it from memory and I imagine most of the audience thought the same. He did give a good pitch for his Japanese American Museum, which is trying to remind Americans of how American citizens of Japanese heritage (including himself as a child) were rounded up and kept in horrible "camps" during WWII. Both gently plugged their political views (which we agree with) and joked how this was dangerous in Las Vegas (making reference to Linda Rondstat's recent firing after making her views known on stage). Marina even sang a few bars of Desperado, which most people didn't get but I found very funny. (Linda dedicated that song to Michael Moore, which is what got her fired.) Brent Spiner was more frenetic than ever, and very funny. He's aged the most of those I saw. He's also the busiest, acting-wise, of the Next Generation cast (Patrick Stewart aside). He'll be in three episodes of Enterprise this year, playing the great-grandfather of Data's creator.

The dealers' room is completely different than those of old. Gone are the dozens of unique, funny Star Trek t-shirts. I don't know if that's due to stronger licensing or just lack of interest, but I think that's too bad - some of the shirts were really, really funny. Gone are comic books, which used to have a crossover interest to Star Trek fans. But now present in a big way are autograph tables. At least ten minor (and sometimes more than minor) actors with sometimes vague connections to Star Trek and science fiction were hawking autographed photos. The guy who played the Gorn in a single original series episode was quite a stretch as being "famous" - he wore a complete body costume (looked like an upright alligator), had no lines, and just swung a club fighting with Captain Kirk. We saw other actors who had portrayed bit parts. A surprise doing autograph signing (I think she's a great actress) is Suzie Plakson, known to Star Trek fans as Worf's girlfriend. She had her own series ("Love and War") and a recurring role in Mad About You. The oversized man who played "Jaws" in "Moonraker" was there. As was "Boomer" from "Battlestar Galactica." One odd duck was the actor who played Flash Gordon in the 1970's film - he was super-spiffy in suit and tie, slicked-back hair, looking like he was negotiating big business deals on his cell phone while selling photos. Odd.

I don't care much for autographs (especially paying for them) but I did get sucked into one. One of my favorite films is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the two main actors, Gary Lockwood, was there. He played opposite Sally Kellerman in the original Star Trek episode mentioned above; almost sad how she was a headliner while he was trying to make a living signing autographs. Anyway, he was great in 2001, so I had to approach. Turned out he's a crabby old man now, not nice at all. But he was signing a beautiful still from 2001, that Kier Dullea (played Dave Bowman) had previously signed. I held my nose and gave him $40 for that one. I'll scan it in for the blog - if you're a 2001 fan, you'll see why I couldn't turn it down.

Posted by Mitch at August 16, 2004 11:21 PM
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