Review by C.J. Bunce
Twenty years ago the last episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered, and for its anniversary a crowdfunding project funded a feature-length retrospective on the series. Deep Space Nine: What We Left Behind will be familiar to any fan of Deep Space Nine who has delved into the special features found in the DVD sets or online via YouTube. It’s full of those reminiscences, albeit updated, diehard fans have viewed countless times in interviews with cast and crew and via panels at the annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. But the unique feature for this new documentary is a reunion of writers from the series who sit down and block out what a possible next episode of the series might include.
Deep Space Nine showrunner and executive producer Ira Steven Behr leads the documentary, hitting the high points of his seven years creating Deep Space Nine, intercutting new and old interviews with key and supporting cast members, a few members of the production staff, co-creator Rick Berman and the man representing the business side of production, Kerry McCluggage, former chairman of Paramount Television Group. Deep Space Nine: What We Left Behind does not look closely at the production from a design, costumes, props, music, or technical standpoint, but is almost exclusively focused on the writers and actors, and why the crew thinks its show was different from competing programs in the 1990s (although some art production familiar faces including Herman Zimmerman, Michael and Denise Okuda, and Doug Drexler make brief appearances).
The writers room reunion of Behr, Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria, Hans Beimler, and Robert Hewitt Wolfe talking through a spec script idea for a new 20th anniversary reunion episode is a great guide for anyone wanting a glimpse at the process of developing a television show. Backed by a cartoon art/Ken Burns-esque multimedia mock-up of characters and sets by artists Magdalena Marinova, Kai De Mello-Folsom, and Luke Snailham, it’s a better presentation format than watching more talking heads. The result feels quite like a Brannon Braga or Ronald D. Moore series finale episode (see Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “All Good Things…” and Star Trek Voyager’s “Endgame”), complete with a time jump and appearances by grown-up regular players, in this case Jake Sisko and Molly O’Brien. Vedek Kira? Captain Nog? With some make-up and new costumes, the writers’ episode creation would have actually made a fine final episode to the series, providing some resolution to the fate of Avery Brooks′ Captain Sisko.
Much like anniversary reunions for any series (the periodic M*A*S*H reunion comes to mind), fans will get to see and hear the same stories told in different ways, and it’s always fun to catch versatile actors from television past and present “talk shop,” like Marc Alaimo, who played Dukat, and Andrew Robinson, who played Garak. Penny Johnson Jerald and Colm Meaney and others add to the players remarking on their experiences on the series.
If you don’t follow Star Trek fanzines, books like The Fifty-Year Mission, or panels at Star Trek-specific or other conventions, you might find some of the documentary to be a bit quirky, like male cast members singing–Las Vegas style–newly written DS9 lounge songs that serve as bookends for the film. And no one asks Ira Steven Behr, “What’s the story behind the dayglow bluebeard goatee and the sunglasses?” The film does a nice job explaining why the series was (and is, in the words of actors from the series) the “bastard child” of the Star Trek franchise, why it had a fan base originally, and how new streaming services have added the next generation of DS9 viewers. Some of the cast and crew get a bit emotional along the way, and the bulk of the documentary features many interviews with crew and fans who seem like they feel they need to defend the show’s choices.
The film includes a memorial of only a handful of the cast and crew that have died since the series aired, which risks being problematic for excluding so many others. Look for several mid-credits and post-credits codas. According to Behr plenty of footage didn’t make the documentary (like a discussion of fan-favorite episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” and “The Visitor” and an interview with Jonathan Frakes), but he suggests looking to the special features once the documentary arrives in home viewing formats. Like Rod Roddenberry’s document Trek Nation, Behr’s film is a love letter to himself, his cast and fellow writers, and the diehard fans that have followed his show since it first aired in 1993. Look for Deep Space Nine: What We Left Behind later this year in home video formats and via streaming services.
Thanks to the distributor for sending borg a screening copy of Deep Space Nine: What We Leave Behind for review.