Twenty-five years after it first cruised the final frontier on TV, the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation is docking in the Philadelphia area.
Actor Patrick Stewart, Star Trek's Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, is scheduled to join a rotating set of former cast members for a weekend of Q&A, autograph signings, trivia and other events in celebration of the silver anniversary. "The Official Star Trek Convention," produced by Creation Entertainment, will be in Cherry Hill from Friday through Sunday.
Stewart, also known for his role as Charles Xavier in the X-Men films, is set to address Trekkies on Saturday night. Other members of the Enterprise crew will appear throughout the weekend: Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. Will Riker), LeVar Burton (Lt. Cmdr. Geordi LaForge), Brent Spiner (the android Lt. Cmdr. Data) and other Star Trek alumni will take the stage, meet fans and sign autographs (some for a fee) Saturday and Sunday. Tim Russ (Tuvok of Star Trek: Voyager), a singer and guitarist, will perform with his band Saturday night. Fans can get dressed for a costume parade, preview sci-fi programs, and view and bid on Star Trek collectibles.
"There tends to be an amazing conversation that takes place," said Suzie Plakson, who played the half-human, half-Klingon K'Ehleyr on The Next Generation as well as other Star Trek characters. The actress and singer, who grew up in Kingston, Pa., will join her former cast members at the convention Friday.
"It makes for community," Plakson said. "I don't happen to be a sci-fi person … but all of the people that I've befriended in all of these years … generally they're out-of-the-ballpark smart."
Plakson says she usually attends two or three conventions each year.
"It's just this amazing, just delicious, communion with people that you think that you'd have nothing in common with," Plakson said.
The Next Generation, a 1987-94 syndicated series, pushed the Star Trek franchise forward, in part by avoiding network interference, said Gary Berman, a cofounder of Creation Entertainment. Berman got hooked on the original Star Trek series in his dorm room at the Wharton School.
The Next Generation "had a really long run, and they were able to cover a lot of the type of stories and morality plays that obviously you couldn't do in the original series, because it only lasted for three years," Berman said.
The original show, created by Gene Roddenberry in the mid-'60s, showcased the adventures of Capt. James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) and his crew, rocketing off a lasting pop-culture phenomenon. The Next Generation built on the thought-provoking themes of the original, Berman said — and had better special effects.
"It had that same positive view of the future, which is the hallmark of all Star Trek shows," he said.
Creative Entertainment began producing comic book conventions in 1971, but special Star Trek guests gradually stole the show. Berman and cofounder Adam Malin have been organizing Star Trek conventions since the early '80s, he said, and Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and other original cast members have made visits to Philadelphia.
"Back then, the conventions were really the focal point for the whole fan community," Berman said, adding that the Internet has given fans easier access to other fans and to Star Trek merchandise.
More than two decades since the 1987 series, and more than four since Star Trek beamed onto the TV screens of future fans, it appears that the community remains strong.
"It really is at its soul, I think, a benevolent mythology," Plakson said. "And people are magnetized to that, especially in an age when other spiritual mainstays have sort of changed."
In the new additions to the franchise — like J.J. Abrams' 2009 blockbuster film, which is expected to see a sequel in 2013 — and at gatherings like these, the Trek continues.
"It just gravitated people globally," Plakson said. "And that's the power of myth."
"The Official Star Trek Convention: The Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of The Next Generation" at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2349 W. Marlton Pike (Route 70), Cherry Hill. Tickets are $10 Friday, and $30 Saturday-Sunday; $5 for children Friday and $15 Saturday-Sunday; children age 6 and younger free. Hours are 2-7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Information: 818-409-0960, or www.creationent.com.