Captain’s Blog: Stardate 91419.5
“Encounter at Farpoint,” the series premiere for “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was the only “Star Trek” pilot to debut without a typical television “teaser.” The episode dove right into the main title opening sequence. The music here would define a generation of “Star Trek” and continue a legacy of orchestral themes that continues today.
The first four notes, and subsequent lead-in, of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” opening theme are lifted and re-orchestrated from the “Star Trek” original series theme by Alexander Courage. They suggest an anticipation and sense of wonder that lead us into this vast galaxy of “strange new worlds…” On my first viewing, I was instantly enchanted by this palpable energy.
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” These are the first words we hear spoken by the captain of the Enterprise, who we know from the trailer is Captain Jean-Luc Picard. His voice matches the sense of anticipation that we feel in the swelling music. He brings an instant sense of depth, wonder, and power in his rich and tempered phrasing.
Like so many then and now, I could sit and listen to Patrick Stewart read from Wikipedia, but the authority in his voice to my younger self was very enticing.
It was heavily noted in reviews and by fans that the language was changed from the original, both to allow for an “ongoing” mission as opposed to a five-year mission, and exchanging the phrase “no man” for “no one” to be more gender inclusive. Public opinion on this issue ranged from praising the changes to people irritated by making alterations to a classic. I, for one, appreciate the inclusivity.
As Courage’s intro swells, we are introduced to the new Enterprise, what we will learn is the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D (the D being the adjusted call sign to indicate the fifth official ship to bear the name and call numbers). It is a majestic vessel with sleek lines, a more oval saucer than it’s predecessors, and as I watched for the very first time I was instantly enamored by this ship’s elegance.
As the Enterprise takes off at warp speed, the music transitions into another familiar score. Although there was an original opening credit sequence scored for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” by Dennis McCarthy, the decision was made to use the music written by Jerry Goldsmith for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Believe it or not, I would (and still do) watch the opening credits with wonder and joy. Like a familiar prayer or national anthem, this music fills me with a sense of confidence, pride, strength, and hope.
Music for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would play a very important role in the storytelling for the first five years of the new series. Gene Roddenberry and his team wanted the show to have a cinematic feeling, so to that end, they wanted original music written and scored for each episode and recorded by a full orchestra. While this lead to some beautiful moments, it did prove costly as well. When Rick Berman was looking to expand the franchise around 1992, he made the decision to adjust the music to a more stock selection, to allow the budgets to facilitate two series running simultaneously and the development of two more down the line.
Nevertheless, for five great seasons there was a lot of original music written by Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway, and Dennis McCarthy. There are well over a dozen albums representing this fine music available for purchase in iTunes.
I would learn about the unused alternate theme the following summer when the soundtrack to “Star Trek: The Next Generation ‘Encounter at Farpoint’” was released on cassette tape. Incidentally, the opening credits for “The Orville,” an homage to ‘90s “Star Trek” by superfan creator Seth McFarlane, have a very similar feeling to this alternate opening. “The Orville” opening theme was written by Bruce Broughton.