Review: The Center Seat – 55 Years of Trek: The Complete, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek
One of the benefits of Star Trek is that it has been around for a long time – 55 years! – so that means historians and fans alike who care about the franchise’s history have plenty of material to sink their teeth into. “Making of” productions are prolific in the pantheon of Star Trek media, and now there’s a new contender on the field for awesome behind-the-scenes accounts: The Center Seat – 55 Years of Trek: The Complete, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek by Peter Holmstrom.
We haven’t seen a book so gripping in its telling of Star Trek history since The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years and its sequel. Those two books amazingly chronicled the nuts and bolts of the franchise’s production over its then-50-year history using oral interviews, but alas that was six years ago. The Center Seat provides readers with more to dig into from the people who were there, and the result is an enthralling entry that is sure to entertain and educate. Even though The Center Seat and The Fifty-Year Mission share the same time period, we didn’t feel like the books were redundant. Holmstrom has done a great job making this tome stand on its own, accomplished in no small part thanks to certain material not chronicled anywhere else.
The Center Seat starts in the earliest days of Star Trek when Lucille Ball’s company was in charge of TOS’ production and Star Trek’s ultimate survival. The book covers that turbulent period all the way through to Enterprise’s cancelation in 2005, so it’s important to note this book doesn’t portray any of the post-Enterprise productions, which by now includes quite a few movies and shows. We certainly can’t wait for that book, if one ever exists.
“I didn’t really understand the significance to so many people of what was going on while we were shooting this until I turn around and see my cinematographer is crying. The prop guy is crying. And I’m just making a movie”– Nicholas Meyer on directing Spock’s death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
This book is a companion publication to the History Channel’s 2021 documentary of the same name, so you can get a sense of what this book is trying to convey if you’ve seen the TV production. Many people here are quoted, including the likes of Nana Visitor, Penny Johnson Jerald, Jeri Taylor, Rick Berman, David Livington, Michael Okuda, David Gerrold, and any number of other interesting people known to the Star Trek fandom. But best of all, there are interviewees here who hardcore Star Trek fans would have trouble identifying. For example, does the name David Gautreaux mean anything to you? He was cast as Xon in the ill-fated Star Trek: Phase II, and ultimately had a small role in The Motion Picture. We hear from him in this book, which is awesome. There are so many nuggets of information from sources expected and unexpected; that’s the strongest perk of this book.
It’s always wise to keep in mind that this is an oral history, so recollections may not be exactly historically accurate, nor does this book assert as such. As an oral history, this book proved to be a real page-turner, as reading what appears to be snippets of interviews of these various on- and off-screen personalities is a smooth experience, accompanied by helpful narration by the author when it’s needed. You’ll finish this one quickly, folks.
Simply stated, this book and its author know what fans like: a front-to-back accounting of their favorite franchise, warts and all. If you’ve ever wondered about how and why certain things happened to this franchise, and you want to hear it from the people who were there, don’t hesitate to pick up this book (and check out the accompanying documentary).
You can buy The Center Seat – 55 Years of Trek: The Complete, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek on Amazon now. The DVD of The Center Seat documentary is coming out later in April; you can pre-order that here.
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