We’re going to stumble, make mistakes, I’m sure more than a few before we find our footing, but we’re going to learn from those mistakes. That’s what being human is all about. —Captain Jonathan Archer, “Star Trek: Enterprise—Shockwave: Part 2” (2002)
Star Trek has always stood out from other TV and film franchises because of its optimism. From the first episode in 1964, Gene Roddenberry set out to create a vision of the future based on the idea that humans can and will succeed. We will not destroy ourselves in wars; we will overcome our differences and problems; and—with our ingenuity, science, and technology—we will create a better world.
Most of the series and films in the Star Trek franchise take place in this bright future. This is what gives the franchise its appeal—instead of being driven, like many TV shows, by interpersonal conflict and drama or broader themes of death and dystopia, Star Trek offers a brighter, more inspirational tone with intelligent, rational characters who typically settle their differences peacefully. In my opinion, however, the most philosophically interesting—yet most often overlooked—part of the Star Trek canon is the one series that takes place before the idyllic future depicted in the other shows has been fully achieved.
Star Trek: Enterprise is a prequel to the rest of the Star Trek canon. It’s set one hundred years before The Original Series, two hundred before The Next Generation, at a time when humans are just beginning to establish themselves in interstellar space. The show takes place aboard a different starship Enterprise—the first ship built by humans that is capable of the high warp speeds necessary to explore deep space.
This is what lends the series its uniquely interesting theme. Unlike the other Star Trek series in which Earth is part of the United Federation of Planets, the series takes place at a time when Enterprise is the only human ship operating in deep space. The Vulcans, humanity’s main allies, don’t think the people of Earth are ready to join the interstellar community. Enterprise is an experimental vessel, running on untested technologies and hopelessly outmatched by most of the hostile ships it encounters, at least at the beginning.
Star Trek: Enterprise is a story of dogged determination against impossible odds. On the one hand, it’s about pushing forward with exploration and progress in spite of enormous technical challenges and obstacles. On the other, it’s about proving that human beings can be mature and open minded enough to join the interstellar community. Against this backdrop, the series tells powerful stories of love, friendship, and loyalty that evolve dramatically over its four-season run.
The show’s thematic tone is captured very well in its title sequence. Instead of the typical Star Trek orchestral fanfare over beauty shots of the ship, the producers of Enterprise opted for a slow-paced ballad called “Faith of the Heart,” with inspiring lyrics about dedication to goals in the face of huge opposition. The song is set against a montage of historic feats of human exploration, going from sailing ships to deepwater submarines, then on to the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, before continuing into the future up to the time of Enterprise.
Although the song uses the word “faith,” it’s really about confidence and resolve in oneself and one’s abilities—as both the lyrics and accompanying visuals also convey. It goes:
And I will see myself come alive at last
I will touch the sky
And you’re not gonna hold me down no more
No you’re not gonna change my mind
I’ve got strength of the soul
And no one’s gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
Throughout the story of Enterprise, the crew always overcome challenges with rationality, determination, and scientific ingenuity.
You can watch the title sequence below. I hope it inspires you as much as it does me, and if you want the spiritual fuel to “reach any star,” check out the rest of the series.