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April, 2001

Joy and Disappointment
By George Takei

LOS ANGELES - March came in like a lion, as the song goes. On the first Saturday, the Japanese American National Museum's gala annual dinner was held at the fabled Hollywood Palladium. Supporters gathered from throughout the nation -- from coast to coast, from New York to Honolulu and parts in between.

Singing star Pat Suzuki dazzled the audience as she did decades ago on Broadway in "Flower Drum Song." She was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Also recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award was Iwao Takamoto, the gifted animator whose artistry developed such endearing characters as Scooby Doo, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear -- work as unheralded as Pat Suzuki's was brightly spotlighted. But his contribution to American popular culture has been as dearly beloved. President of NBC West Coast, Scott Sassa's extraordinary achievement in entertainment management was lauded with the Award for Excellence. He oversaw the development of one of my favorite television series, "West Wing." Presenting the award to Sassa was the lion of the Japanese American community, the senior U.S. Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye. The Senator's initiative in Congress was responsible for a $20 million federal grant to the Japanese American National Museum for which we are deeply grateful. It was a hugely successful sell out affair and altogether an enchanted evening.

As chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Japanese American National Museum, I am delighted to note that the museum launched a new exhibit this past month with the works of the artist, Henry Sugimoto. The opening night celebration was another glittering event. The celebrants in the museum lobby and the great hall flowed through the exhibit that sprawled into galleries in both of the museum's two buildings. Titled "Henry Sugimoto: Painting an American Experience," the exhibit chronicles the experience of a Japanese American artist before World War II, then his internment behind barbed wires during the conflict, and, after the war, his struggle to re-establish himself in New York. It is a powerful collection of paintings on an important chapter of America's history.

March wrapped up with the annual Grand Slam Star Trek Convention. As always, Trekkers from throughout the world gathered in Pasadena, California, for a weekend of Star Trek revels. All of the living members of the original cast appeared. It was wonderful to see Jimmy Doohan again because I hadn't seen him in many, many moons. Jimmy is now living in the Seattle area with wife Wende and a new baby -- again! And at 80 years old! This engineer has got some engine!

Amazingly, this September will mark the 35th anniversary of Star Trek. For all of us, the past 35 years have been shaped in ways we never dreamed by the shining vision of Gene Roddenberry. And in that time, Star Trek has made an undeniable imprint on our society. The show Gene created back in 1966 was science fiction with philosophy, sci-fi with sound scientific speculation on future technology and it was rip-snortin' good space opera to boot. Today, we can find parallels in recent world history with many of the plots from Star Trek. Technology that was science fiction 35 years ago -- like our communicator or consoles -- have become very real and very necessary tools of today, such as our cell phones and our computers. Sci-fi phrases we used on the show back in the 60's such as "beam me up" and "warp speed" have entered the common language of our times today. The past 35 years have made Gene's vision seem quite prophetic. Star Trek then was forward looking. There was the shock of the new -- new technologies, fresh challenges, cutting edge discoveries and unimagined civilizations. It was a bracing engagement with the future.

For the past year, an international association of fans calling itself the Excelsior Campaign, spearheaded by Russ Haslage of Ohio, has been advocating for a new Star Trek series called "Star Trek: Excelsior." It was their idea to recapture that invigorating spirit of adventure with Captain Sulu commanding the Starship Excelsior. It was an amazing effort. Wherever I went in the world, whether Europe, Asia or Latin America, there were groups of fans organized as part of the Excelsior Campaign. They were dedicated, energetic activists. Whether German, British, Japanese or Brazilian, they were the kind of fans who, throughout the 35-year history of the show, galvanized and directed the course of Gene's creation. I was impressed, honored and most certainly humbled by their dedication and devotion.

Alas, it was not to be. I learned recently that Paramount producer Rick Berman had decided to go in another direction -- backward, to be precise. The next Star Trek series he has decided on is to go back to the beginning of the Federation -- to a time our generation had long gone past. I understand that they are now casting for this new show so this project is moving ahead. I wish him well in this endeavor.

At the Grand Slam Convention, I expressed my heartfelt gratitude to all the fans there with the Excelsior Campaign. I repeat that thanks to all those that were not there in Pasadena but joined in this amazing global effort. Interestingly, this phenomenal campaign was made possible by new advances in technology -- the global linkage we now have through the internet. At its core, however, this glorious crusade was reminiscent of the spirit of the "Star Trek Lives" campaign of the 70's that brought Star Trek back from cancellation as a major motion picture. I have always believed that the real course of Star Trek has been set, not by the studio, not by the networks and not by the "powers that be," but ultimately by the fans. The future of Star Trek has always been determined by the fans. And I will always hold near my heart, my deep appreciation for the constancy of the fans' support.



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