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Captain’s Prerogative (A Visit to Star Trek: The Exhibition)

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Star Trek ExhibitionStefanie Santo, communications manager at the Franklin Institute, is leading me up to Star Trek: The Exhibition on the second floor of the Mandell  Center. As we near the entrance to the exhibit, I am able to discern music pumping out of the Institute’s sound system. It is the music that accompanies the Borg assault from an early scene in Star Trek: First Contact. You see: I am a second generation Trekkie. I spent a considerable amount of time as a child sitting beside my father on the couch, watching episodes of The Original Series and The Next Generation. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to Star Trek.  (click to bottom the right for a photo gallery)

As we round a corner, a camera girl employed by the Institute stands up and asks if we would like our picture taken on the transporter. Too bad this visit is all business; otherwise I’d jump at the opportunity to have my molecules broken down and zapped through space, even if it is just for pretend.

The dimly lit Star Trek exhibit is just as much a slice of nerd Mecca as it is a small museum. To my left is a series of scale models that chronicle the history of the U.S.S. Enterprise, from its humble beginnings as an aircraft carrier commissioned in the 1960’s to a space-faring ship Captain Picard commanded through countless alien engagements. The rest of the room is full of glass tubes and boxes that each contain an iconic piece of Star Trek paraphernalia, including several of Captain Kirk’s uniforms from over the years, the outfit Khan wore in the second Star Trek film, tricorders, Chris in "The Chair"communicators, phasers, and the original chair from the bridge of Kirk’s Enterprise.

In the next room lies what is arguably the showpiece of this exhibit: a full-scale replica of the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D. This provides by far the coolest experience at the Star Trek exhibit; it feels strangely natural to walk through a set piece I am intimately familiar with from watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then again, I did spend an inordinate amount of my childhood pretending I was an officer on this very bridge.

Exiting the bridge I enter a new room that is one-half sickbay and one-half engineering sets, also from Enterprise-D. Past them is the hulking mass of a Reman fighter, the vehicle Picard used to escape captivity in Star Trek: Nemesis. It is a watchdog that you can’t help but circle, unconsciously following its contour to the last leg of the Star Trek Exhibit, which is littered with more props: champagne bottles from Riker and Troi’s wedding, the limbs and head of Data’s long-lost brother, B-4, a Dabo table from Quark’s bar, and finally, uniforms and props from J.J. Abrams unbelievably successful reboot of Star Trek.

The Star Trek exhibit at the Franklin Institute is small, but quaint. Friends of mine who also attended expressed their disappointment over its size, comparing it to the considerably larger Star Wars exhibit. Still, I can’t help but feel that the opportunity to sit in Captain Picard’s chair and stare out into (simulated) space afforded me a very personal, very visceral experience I won’t soon forget. For one brief moment I knew what it felt like to command a starship, and it felt good.

Home Page Photo: www2.fi.edu

Article Photos: Chris Holzworth