We’re ten years removed from the last time Star Trek was on TV, and, aside from free-floating rumors, we’re no closer to getting a new TV show.
Fortunately, there’s a massive amount of old Star Trek media to keep us entertained until that blessed day — five television series in all, which account for 30 seasons and 726 episodes total. Assuming that each episode is about 45 minutes long on average, that’s over 22 days worth of Trekking. And that means that any Trekker (or Niner, if you’re into that sort of thing) has seen the series’ opening sequences a countless number of times.
There’s an inherent bias in ranking the opening sequences, depending on the Star Trek we hold most dear to our heart. Which series did we grow up with? Are we into swashbuckling, exploration-esque Trek? Or do we like the slower, more character-driven Trek, with its high drama and moral quandaries?
In making this Pecking Order, I went for which sequences do the best job of capturing the excitement and wonder of the final frontier. I organized my preferences based on which sequences serve their practical purpose, and draw the viewer into watching their respective shows. (Whether the shows were able to deliver on their promises is another article entirely.)
This is my personal ranking; I take sole responsibility for it, and I deserve all the praise and beration for the attempt. So without further adieu, the worst Star Trek opening sequence is...
6) Star Trek: The Animated Series
Not much to say about this one. It was clearly made on a budget, and it’s a poor remake of Star Trek’s opening sequence. The song isn’t catchy, the art is rudimentary, and the Enterprise fly-bys are badly angled; in the original opening, the Enterprise flies towards the screen, which engages the audience. But in the Animated Series, the Enterprise appears to be flying across and slightly upward. Simply put, the Animated opening sequence is only even remotely appealing if you’ve already watched the original series; it’s not going to pull in any new fans. Moving on.
5) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine was divisive at the time it debuted. For the first time on a Trek show, the characters weren’t ‘trekking’ anywhere — they were standing still, close to Bajor, on an abandoned, Cardassian space station. Instead, it was other alien beings who were coming towards them, via the only known, stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant.
There were two slightly different openers during the DS9 series run, and both attempted to capture an ‘outpost in the middle of nowhere’ feel. The first opening sequence ran from seasons 1-3, and the second ran from seasons 4-7; both fell short. In the first iteration, the theme song, though pretty, is much too slow — there’s a fine line between meditative and dull, and this song creeps over the mark. There’s also nothing in the field of vision except the space station and a couple of Runabouts, which doesn’t befit DS9 as a hub of strange activity. And lastly, as is commonly pointed out, the Wormhole opens up at the end, but there is no starship headed towards it.
Graphics designer Dan Curry created the original visual sequence, and he fixed all of these problems on the second go-around. He put a starship in the Wormhole section. He inserted starships throughout the sequence, going to and from the station. Curry even inserted the Defiant in the shot, which brought everything up to date.
But unfortunately, the music got screwed up completely. Composer Dennis McCarthy overcompensated by speeding it up too much, and for some reason, he decided to fill the background of the song with ambient, bass-level crap. It completely drowned out the horn section, and detracts from the starkness that made the original mix so beautiful.
4) Star Trek: Enterprise
Many fans rank Enterprise’s opening sequence dead last. Those fans are wrong.
The main complaint is about the music. Enterprise is the only Trek series to have a pop song in its opening sequence. The song is called “Faith of the Heart” and it was written by Diane Warren, who’s also responsible for Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing,” and Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart.” It was originally sung by Rod Stewart, although Russell Watson does vocal duties on this new cover, retitled “Where My Heart Will Take Me.” And since Russell Watson sounds like a dispassionate Rod Stewart, he defeats the purpose of covering the song to begin with.
I concede: the music is difficult to justify, especially after season 2. The producers tried to ‘improve’ the song by increasing the tempo and adding percussion; ironically, that made it even cheesier. My only defense is that the lyrics at least match the show’s initial goal — to show Earth’s fledgling, tentative explorations of space before the formation of the Federation, and to celebrate the unwavering ‘heart’ of those pioneers.
But forget the music for one second, and appreciate the visuals. Enterprise’s opening sequence shows a condensed evolution of human exploration, and it’s glorious. It starts with a Polynesian raft crossing the Indian Ocean:
And it goes through a montage of moments (there’s definitely an American bias in their selection) that captures the public’s imagination. We see everything from the Wright Brothers’ flight, to the Spirit of St Louis, to Amelia Earhart (wasn’t she transported to the future, according to Voyager?). There are even some clever self-references. We see the 1976 space shuttle Enterprise, which was actually named after a write-in campaign by Star Trek fans. Its inclusion leads to some fun ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrums (Did the ship inspire the starship? Or was it the other way around?). The montage continues all the way to Buzz Aldrin’s footprint on the moon and the International Space Station:
And it’s around this point that things take an awesome, self-aware turn. The designers cleverly blended the fictional with the non-fictional, and they incorporated a shot of the Phoenix, the first warp-capable ship, into the montage:
This bridge, between the utopia of the future, and the innovations of the present day, is what tugged at my heartstrings every time, and inspired me to hope for a better future. Enterprise’s opening sequence has its major flaws, no question. But rock muzak aside, it’s the only one to narratively connect with its audience.
3) Star Trek: The Original Series
It’s the original Trek opening, and it has all the little touches that have become archetypes. There’s the blackness of space, which is then disrupted by the appearance of a starship. There’s the voiceover monologue. There’s the starship jumping into warp speed. Even the song transition, which shifts from quiet and reflective to more upbeat and driven, has become a Trek trademark. Soprano singer Loulie Jean Norman, rather than singing words, vocalized notes at the end of the song; it was a bit disorienting, but it also added a human warmth without dating the sequence — the same can’t be said for the Enterprise sequence, or even the Next Generation sequence.
But the original Star Trek opening is not ranked higher, simply because overall, it was improved and refined by the next two entries. Still, there’s elegance in simplicity.
2) Star Trek: The Next Generation
I labored over this long and hard. I played around with putting this at #1 for awhile, because the song is just that good. It’s joyous and triumphant, and it’s got that aggressive “we’re goin’ exploring!” air that none of the other songs were able to match. It actually reminds me a lot of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” which is also about frontier living:
When I was a kid, the ‘stretching’ of the ship, right before the Enterprise went to warp speed, was my favorite part. I also enjoyed the several seconds right before the final warp sequence, when the Enterprise rose from the bottom of the frame into full view. And how about Patrick Stewart’s deep, cultured voice? I want him to read me bedtime stories every night.
But ultimately, the Next Generation opening sequence could not be #1, because it’s not original. At its heart, it’s a remix of the original series opening, albeit a superior remix. And as thrilling as the Next Generation song is, it doesn’t really fit with Picard’s more formal, measured Enterprise; it fits better with Kirk’s Enterprise, actually. The opening sequence does not distinguish Next Generation as its own show, with its own characters and tone, whereas the #1 opening sequence manages to do just that...
1) Star Trek: Voyager
The concept of Voyager opened the door to so many narrative possibilities. Janeway’s crew was stranded in the middle of the Delta Quadrant, which meant the writers could conceive of entirely new conflicts and races of beings. It also ensured that Voyager was always in a position of weakness — a massive turnaround from having the might of the Federation behind one’s back.
The opening theme is both serene and pretty — the muted brass section captures the loneliness of being far from home, and yet, the melody is not depressing. There’s a feeling of optimism to the piece, unlike the severity of the DS9 theme. The sentiment feels earned, unlike the Enterprise theme’s schlock.
There’s also the beautiful visual shots. Just one of them would have been enough for the other opening Trek sequences, but this intro has three shots that stand out prominently. The first is when Voyager flies through the solar flare:
And then, when it flies through the mist:
And finally, when it passes the solar eclipse at the very end:
Beautiful. Poignant. And still unmatched.
Disagree with the ordering? Do you think DS9 should be in the Top 3? Let us know about your Pecking Order in the comments below!
Kevin is an AP English Language teacher and freelance writer from Queens, NY. His focus is on video games, American pop culture, and Asian American issues. Kevin has also been published in VIBE, Complex, Joystiq, Salon, PopMatters, WhatCulture, and Racialicious. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @kevinjameswong.