Zefram Cochrane and the Phoenix rock and roll into history
I’ve always been up for watching a good rocket launch. The launch of the Phoenix, humanity’s first warp-capable vessel, is fictional, but it has a similar ability to capture my attention and my imagination.
You can’t overstate this moment’s importance in the Star Trek timeline.
As our “astronauts on some kind of star trek” told Zefram Cochrane earlier in the film, it’s the first step on the way to a future without poverty, disease, and war.
But this moment also embodies the movie’s interest in puncturing historical pretension.
Cochrane, played amusingly and endearingly by James Cromwell, knows what’s riding on his successful launch, but panics at the thought of blasting off without his Steppenwolf soundtrack. And his first sight of Earth from above leaves him gobsmacked with gee-whiz wonder we don’t often see in Star Trek, but that any of us would feel rocketing into outer space.
Five years after Star Trek First Contact, the franchise itself acknowledged this moment’s iconic status.
Every week, as I watched the opening credits of Star Trek: Enterprise chronicle the human race’s “long road” to the stars, the make-believe milestone I looked forward to most was the clip of the Phoenix from this movie, shedding its missile casing and extending its nacelles as it readied to warp its way into a brighter future.