For dedicated fans, the Star Trek adventures on television and film show an optimistic blueprint for the 21st century.
The flip side of science fiction might be the industrial grimness of a film like Alien, but it's the crew of the Starship Enterprise that offers diversity, positive ideals, and a strong prime directive that promises a harmonious future.
That goodness brings the series into the hearts of collectors.
John Tenuto, collectible editor of trekmovie.com, is among the fans who consider finding memorabilia from Star Trek a family passion, one shared by his wife and son. On the site - launched in July 2006 to follow the movie that opened this week - Tenuto reviews collectibles and toys and serves as the resident "Shatnerologist," covering anything connected with the original Captain Kirk actor, William Shatner.
Tenuto also happens to be a sociology instructor at the College of Lake County outside Chicago. He explains that there is no standard Star Trek fan profile: "They're not the media stereotype - for example, the geeky guys on television in The Big Bang Theory. In reality, they're married and they have kids. Star Trek fans don't live in their parents' basements - they own their own."
In a study researching Star Trek and other popular franchises, he proved that not all fans are guys: "Especially for Star Trek and Star Wars, the female fans go to conventions more, they costume more, they write more fan fiction. Men are a little more passive - playing the video games, watching the movies - but women are into the creative side of being a fan."
Star Trek has a long history dating to the original series of 1966 to '69, which found its true audience only after its cancellation. Subsequent television series and 10 feature films have provided an expanding fan base with a wealth of toys and memorabilia for collectors to hoard.
Often nostalgia rules the collector, Tenuto says. "We have a Star Trek room in our house. My favorites are probably my Mego Toys from when I was a kid. I was pretty careful, so those are in good condition. My son likes those - they're kid friendly."
Collectors who grew up in the 1970s can take a trip down memory lane at megomuseum.com, finding hot Star Trek items and many other toys there.
Diamond Select Toys has been producing perfect reproductions of the classic cloth-costumed Mego figures as well as the Bridge Playset for role-playing. See a broad selection of other action figures, busts, statues, and ships at diamondselecttoys.com. In their line of Trek Tek Replicas, they offer the ultimate collectible - a full-sized version of Captain Kirk's command chair from the original series.
Playmates Toys, on the other hand, has the current movie covered with action figures based on the new actors and inventive playsets such as the Transporter. See them all at playmatestoys.com.
Tenuto's favorite is the light- and sound-enabled model of the Enterprise: "It's displayable and playable - that's the best kind of toy because it satisfies the collector and also satisfies the kid."
Equally enthusiastic is Steve Kelley, an authority on all things vintage who wrote the ultimate reference, Star Trek: The Collectibles (2008). He points out that there were no action figures when the show began on television. Mego's production began during 1970s reruns.
Prior to that, model company AMT made assemble-yourself replicas of the ships, including the Enterprise and the Klingon Bird of Prey. They now sell in the $300-$500 range for items in good condition.
In 1974, AMT also made an "Exploration Set" with the phaser, tricorder, and communicator gadgets used by the Star Trek crew. The set is a favorite exhibit in Kelley's collection because "my dad sent away for it and helped me build it."
The values listed in Kelley's book are based on rarity. He points out, "For any toys, there are only so many of them that exist in mint condition, and when collectors keep them for years, they don't go back out on the secondary market."
Fan families on a day trip can visit Geppi's Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards in Baltimore (geppismuseum.com) to see early Trek items on display.
Curator and longtime fan Arnold T. Blumberg says, "We have one of the first Star Trek board games - one of the few 1960s items that has artwork featuring the actors' likenesses and the look of the show.
"The buzz that is coming out about this movie is almost universally excellent," he says, "including previews aimed at the hard-core fans. You kind of need that optimism again now. If they got it right, then it should enjoy a healthy run."