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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Space-Con Boldly Goes Where Few Fans Have Gone Before: The First Star Trek Conventions

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 8:55 AM


Stardate Feb. 22, 1975: It's Northern California's first Star Trek convention, held at Lincoln High School in San Francisco. The long lines, crowded rooms, and boisterous reception for guests George Takei (who played Mr. Sulu) and James Doohan (Scotty) surprise everyone, including the organizers. A series of locally produced conventions follow. It's the birth of an obsession, all lovingly chronicled in Tom Wyrsch's Back to Space-Con, which screens Thursday at the Balboa Theater.

click to enlarge James Doohan (Scotty) was an early adopter.
  • James Doohan (Scotty) was an early adopter.
The hopeful outlook of "Trekkies" -- in the film always respectfully referred to as "Trekkers" -- has long been a joke to many. We see one young man interviewed at length who has legally changed his name to James T. Kirk (he's in the clip above), and plenty of others on the same wavelength. Admitting to being a Star Trek fan was like "coming out of the closet," says one person, completely without irony.
click to enlarge Homemade costumes were popular until George Lucas' licensing goons intervened.
  • Homemade costumes were popular until George Lucas' licensing goons intervened.
Yet Wyrsch's film, which consists largely of home-movie footage of the various conventions, shows how these gatherings are full of a gawky enthusiasm that has vanished from the online fandom of today. No snark, no sarcasm, just joy at meeting fellow enthusiasts. Also pleasant to note is the lack of commercialism. Sure, the rooms were full of dealers, but most of what we see being dealt in Back to Space-Con are fans wearing their delightful handmade props, souvenirs, and costumes.
click to enlarge LR_Space_Con_Poster.jpg
This trend continued after 1977 when the success of Star Wars brought in a new wave of fans with homemade Wookie outfits and the like. The end of this glorious period was, however, nigh. The day came when a convention was flooded with representatives of George Lucas, and only licensed Star Wars merchandise could be sold.

The original conventions ended shortly thereafter. The 1980s had arrived, and the dream was over.

Back to SpaceCon starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Balboa Theater. Admission $10.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

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Gregg Rickman

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