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'Star Trek' cast member to appear in fan film

Last Updated: Saturday, May 28, 2005 | 12:28 AM ET

Walter Koenig, a member of the original Star Trek cast, has agreed to appear in an internet fan film that continues the voyages of the starship Enterprise.

Koenig originated the role of Chekov when the series aired from 1966 to 1969 on NBC, and played the Russian ensign again in the first six Star Trek motion pictures.

The actor's appearance in the yet-to-be-made film, titled To Serve All My Days, is a watershed: it marks the first time in the internet age that a regular player from the much-loved show has reprised his role in a fan-produced project.

Walter Koenig is Chekov of 'Star Trek' fame. (Courtesy Walterkoenig.com)
Walter Koenig is Chekov of 'Star Trek' fame. (Courtesy Walterkoenig.com)

"I am really doing it for the fun of it," Koenig said from his home in California's San Fernando Valley.

To Serve All My Days is part of New Voyages, a downloadable series by a group of Star Trek devotees who have dedicated themselves to producing episodes of what would have been the program's fourth season – with fans taking on the roles made famous by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the cast.

"We're picking it up where they aborted it," James Cawley said from Ticonderoga, N.Y.

James Cawley appears as Captain Kirk in 'New Voyages.' (Photo courtesy Newvoyages.com)
James Cawley appears as Captain Kirk in 'New Voyages.' (Photo courtesy Newvoyages.com)

Cawley is the fan who came up with idea for New Voyages; he contacted Koenig through a mutual acquaintance who appeared as a Klingon in one of the two New Voyages episodes that have already been shot.

Playing Chekov one more time is appealing to Koenig because he was never allowed by the franchise's producers to bring the story of the recurring – albeit minor – character to a satisfying end. Koenig admits that in the past he has "been known to weep and moan and carry on about how the character was never fully developed."

"This concept is very close to my heart," he said of the plot for To Serve All My Days. "It's close to where I am in my life."

Koenig also admits that, for an actor like him, doing a fan film is risky. An outgrowth of fan fiction, fan films are movies made by regular people using the characters from an established film or television property. In the eyes of many people, such films are still seen as unsophisticated.

"What comes to mind is 'amateur' – if you're thinking of folks out there just getting together and doing a show in somebody's barn. Certainly, there is that aspect to it – and that's a very charming aspect to it. But also there are fans who are professionals," Koenig said.

Koenig is quick to point out that the New Voyages team has drafted D.C. Fontana, who was a writer on Star Trek, to pen the script for the upcoming episode in which he will appear. And actors who played minor characters on the real series, like William Windom, also appear in New Voyages episodes. One of the makeup artists has even shared an Emmy Award for her professional work.

"As far as fan films go, we're among a very small group of maybe three or four that are just above a fan film but not quite a professional film," noted Cawley, who also plays Kirk in the episodes.

For his part, Koenig never thought Star Trek fandom would evolve to the point where fans would be making projects like New Voyages, with advanced special effects, costumes and makeup.

Ten or 15 years ago he wouldn't have agreed to do a fan film, he says, because they weren't as sophisticated (his former co-star, George Takei, appeared as Sulu in a student film in the mid-'80s, long before fan films became commonplace on the internet).

The studio that owns the Star Trek franchise, Paramount, has supplied Cawley with a list of guidelines he must follow when making New Voyages. The most important of these are that he can't sell downloads for profit, and he must also properly credit the studio since he is borrowing its intellectual property.

This brings up an important philosophical question: if a fan film stars an original cast member from Star Trek and is written by a writer who worked on the original series and has state-of-the-art special effects, how is it different from the real Star Trek?

How is it different – especially if such a creation is embraced by the fan community? (The first episode of New Voyages had six million downloads, the second 20 million.)

"I don't think they can say it's not Star Trek," said Koenig. "But it's a Star Trek that has not been attempted before."

In Koenig's view, the day is coming when Paramount will have to do more than just tolerate fan films: "[The studio's executives are] going to have to realize that there's an opportunity here for them to cash in in some way."

It's Cawley's belief that Paramount may eventually be convinced to license selected fan films, as it has done with fan fiction in the past. If the studio let him charge users a dollar per download in the future, he says he'd be willing to give Paramount 75 per cent of the money raised.

The New Voyages episode featuring Koenig will shoot in September, and Cawley says it will likely be available to download by January. Everyone involved is cagey about plot details, but they are willing to reveal that it will show Koenig playing Chekov at his current age, while a Chekov impersonator named Andy Bray plays his younger self.

Koenig says he is willing to risk looking desperate for one last chance to inhabit the role that made him semi-famous. And what if people laugh?

"Screw it if they feel that way."

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