How J.J. Abrams' 'Star Trek' Almost Ruined An Entire Town's Economy
While Trekkies can’t really travel faster than the speed of light on the bridge of the Enterprise, or exchange pleasantries with a Vulcan, or visit Commander Riker’s go-to sex planet, there is one slice of the Star Trek universe that totally exists here on Earth. Of course we’re talking about Riverside, Iowa which, as we’ve discussed previously, is the “future birthplace of James T. Kirk.”
Yup, visitors to Riverside can check-out a stone monument where the Starfleet Captain will eventually be born, a bronze statue of William Shatner, and a plaque denoting where Kirk was conceived … underneath the pool table of the local bar. (Apparently Kirk inherited his dad’s penchant for romance).
How did this random town end up as the birthplace of an entirely fictional character? While Kirk’s hometown is never specified, he is canonically from Iowa – so in 1985 a fan just randomly decided that Riverside should declare itself to be Kirk’s birthplace, and the city council agreed. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was eventually contacted and gave his “blessing,” while Paramount was reportedly “less enthusiastic about the project” and “issued dire warnings” to the town.
Fortunately, the town was allowed to continue with their incorporation into the Star Trek canon, and it became a key part of their identity and economy. Which is why it came as such a shock when J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot hit theatres, opening with a scene in which Kirk is born, not in Iowa, but in outer space – while his dad, Captain Thor, bravely sacrifices his own life.
Even though this movie technically takes place in an alternate universe, and theoretically, Kirk’s mom could have made it back to Iowa in time to give birth, were it not for the intervention of Romulan time travellers, folks in Riverside weren’t happy. According to reports at the time, residents were “stunned” by the “disconcerting” film. Some felt that Abrams “stripped the birth of Captain Kirk away from our future,” further arguing that the whole parallel universe business “muddies the waters” of the franchise – adding that “even Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in time travel.”
To be fair, Star Trek 2009 did include multiple scenes set in Iowa, including one in which Kirk sees the Enterprise being built at a shipyard in Riverside. And as one, slightly more charitable Iowan pointed out that, at very least, the movie didn’t explicitly contradict the supposition that Kirk was “conceived at Murphy’s Bar and Grill, underneath a pool table.”
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