You hear it all the time on DVD commentaries, talk shows, and making-of featurettes—“we were like a family, we were all best friends!” Usually you feel like taking that sort of statement with a big or small grain of salt, but when you hear it from the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, you genuinely believe it. This is a group of people who are still friends after seven years of TV and four films; very much in evidence is the collective sense of humor and rowdy playfulness that drove one director in Patrick Stewart’s recollection to get down on his knees, “begging us to do the scene as written.” At one point LeVar Burton asked Stewart if he was going commando (after Marina Sirtis had darted across the stage to expose Stewart’s abs to an admiring fan); at another Stewart told Wil Wheaton, “You were never a young person, Wil. You were always mature, like a ripe cheddar cheese.”
Sir Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, and Wil Wheaton gathered at Wizard World’s Austin Comic-Con in October for the first of a series ofST:TNG 25th anniversary appearances, and they were having as good a time as the enthusiastic audience who had gathered to see them. When asked what their off-set friendships were like, Spiner answered, “We’re all very good friends, have been the whole time, as much now as ever. And so when we come to these things, we’re happy to be here too, not just to meet you, but to see each other.”
Austin Comic-Con, though small—the entire program and map take up both sides of a single sheet of tabloid-sized paper—had plenty going on, including Q&As with comics artist Neal Adams, Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, and Dollhouse star Eliza Dushku. But if the preponderance of various vintages of Starfleet uniforms was any indication, a significant majority of the attendees were there to see the ST:TNG cast.
There were three individual and small-group cast appearances on the schedule, and the big draw was the full-cast all-Q&A panel on Saturday night, with separate admission from the general con ticket. The copy on the Wizard World site had a disconcerting carnival-barker tone: “Boys and Girls, Ladies and Gentlemen, be prepared for the event of a lifetime! On stage for only the second time in History[sic], the cast of TNG live and for your viewing pleasure! Watch them interact, field questions, and supply witty answers to your questions on stage. These are not look a likes[sic] or impersonators, but the real thing!”
This set the scene for some Q&A insanity remarkable even by my generous convention panel standards. One fellow was extremely invested in Stewart’s resemblance to the Kennewick Man and in finding out whether the cast members had ever met random strangers in autograph lines who resembled friends or family. (Spiner, ever ready with a deadpan quip, said, “I always make my family stand in line.”) Another seemingly standard question aboutStar Trek’s vision of an egalitarian society was driven briefly into the weeds by the questioner’s comment about a “new world order”; when asked by Stewart to define it, he replied, “The people who meet in private and who decide who’s going to be our president.” Before it was all over, Marina Sirtis had thrown a ball of paper at him.