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The Movie: What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Where You Can Stream It: YouTube and Amazon Prime Video
The Pitch: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, under-appreciated while on the air and now considered by many to be the best Star Trek series of them all, is explored in this detailed, beautifully produced documentary that examines why the series matters. Nearly every significant cast member and writer (along with numerous other crew members) assemble for frank, thorough, and often hilarious talking heads and discussions. And it’s all built around a very special treat: the writers reassemble and let the cameras roll as they pitch and “break” the first episode of an eighth season that will never exist.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: If you haven’t watched Deep Space Nine, you shouldn’t watch What We Left Behind. It’s not for you. Not only does it play fast and loose with major spoilers (including the series finale), it’s designed to be a gift for the already initiated, coming in fast with in-jokes and references that will fly over the heads of non-fans. Quite simply, you won’t get anything out of this if you haven’t watched the original series. But if you have watched the original series? Oh, boy. You won’t find a better heaping of fan service than this.
Co-directed by series showrunner Ira Steven Behr (who is also frequently on camera), What We Left Behind plays like a feature-length victory lap…but in a good way. It’s a chance for Behr and his writers, actors and crew members to bask in the glow that time has given them – history has been kind to Deep Space Nine, the fans have finally embraced it, and critics have finally begun to acknowledge its groundbreaking creative choices, especially its heavy focus on long ongoing arcs and dense serialization. Everyone on camera knew they were making something special nearly 30 years ago, even as pop culture did not. The actors laugh as they read excerpts from scathing reviews and producers recall executives shouting that they were destroying the show by introducing too many two-parters (and three-parters and by the final season, 26-parters).
The structure of the film is episodic, sprinting from one subject to the next in such a manner that you wish this was a 10-hour miniseries rather than a film. The charming eccentricity of Avery Brooks, who fought for his Blackness to be front-and-center in Commander Benjamin Sisko, is explored with explicit frankness. The shades of gray inherent in Major Kira are addressed, with some wondering if the character (a resistance fighter and/or terrorist, depending on who you asked) could’ve existed in a post-9/11 world. We learn that Armin Shimerman would invite the other Ferengi actors to his home for the many episodes built around their characters to conduct extensive rehearsals. The whole project feels like the ultimate Comic-Con reunion panel, one where everyone is finally able to address everything that has been on their minds since the series ended in 1999.
Of course, the big draw here is the creation of a premiere episode for “season 8.” Cameras roll as the murderer’s row of talented writers assemble around a dry erase board and imagine where the characters are now. Watching these folks bounce off one another is thrilling on its own, but so is their creation. The theoretical season 8 made me miss the series even more, especially as the action is brought to life by partially animated storyboards that reassemble illustrated versions of the cast and allow the action to play out in front of us. it’s only slightly more official than fan-fiction, but I found tears streaming down my face as my old friends reunited once more, even if it’s just in the imagination.
And while this is all fan service and built for a niche audience, there’s nothing cheap about What We Left Behind. This is not some piece of low-grade schlock held together by spirit gum and passion. It’s slick and well-shot and it moves with a purpose. My desire for it to be longer stems only from wanting to know more, from wanting to drain these people of their every memory and anecdote. The greatest of the Star Trek shows is finally allowed to acknowledge what it accomplished. The secret is out. And there’s a two-hour movie to let us luxuriate in that.
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