The Music of Star Trek

music cover

By Kenneth Shipp

There’s no sound in space….definitely one of the most overused space facts in movie trailers ever. But let’s take a second to think about that shall we? One of the quietest places in existence and we as human beings added sound to it in our movies. Even if we take out the laser blasts and engine roars, we added in majestic and sweeping soundtracks to make us feel at ease. Without the music, I wonder how well some franchises would have fared. Can you imagine a version of 2001: A Space Odyssey where we don’t have the infamous opening score? Star Trek, for all of it’s wonder, the stories, characters and conflicts we enjoy watching and debating over; how different would it have been without the music?

My first experience with Star Trek was ST: The Motion Picture and while I still have fond childhood memories of that film and how it eventually made me dive into the rest of the franchise (especially TNG), it was not a very good film. However, I can still recall the score to that film from memory. The docking scene with the Enterprise, while hilariously long, introduced us to one of the most memorable themes ever.


Again, while the scene up above is ridiculously long for something as simple as a docking procedure, you have to remember this was 1979. Star Trek hadn’t aired a new episode since 1969. All people had was syndication if your area was carrying it all and NBC hadn’t realized the error of their ways yet. Seeing the Enterprise for the first time in years, re-designed and on the big screen was a huge deal. It was like seeing your best friend who moved overseas and came back for your last year of high school. Except everything is awkward now because you used to run away from her cooties and now you can’t explain why you want to…hold her hand or go to prom…see, it wasn’t about sex….

ShingoEX just made a bunch of fans cringe, but he's right
….Dang it YouTube….

Jerry Goldsmith crafted the soundtrack that would re-introduce many fans to the series and would shape the future music for the series. While it built off of the original intro from the show, it borrowed and reached a different direction that fit with the new feel and re-invigoration of the series. Before we get too far and start taking about the other movies and TV series, I feel it’s important to note how well crafted the original series soundtrack was. Sure, we pick fun at it now, but when you remember the context of those episodes, like Amok Time:


This episode is one of the most memorable of the series and partly so because of the tone that Gerald Fried and Alexander Courage were able to set with the fight scene. We may consider it a bit silly now, but it fit exactly with the style of it’s day.

Another great example of the TOS soundtrack comes from the Doomsday machine episode. This time, Sol Kapan was responsible for delivering this memorable piece as the Enterprise desperately tries to disable the machine and fight off a crazed Starfleet commodore. The musical cues hit during the tense moments of this episode were great could not misconstrued as any thing silly, but as a very intense and dangerous situation.


Now, let’s head back to the start of the TOS film series: Jerry Goldsmith successfully weaves together a new soundtrack for Motion Picture, but as production begins on Wrath of Khan, they are left with a severely cut budget and will not be able to use Goldsmith again. Meyer had a vision for keeping a similar feel from the TMP soundtrack, but wanted to match the intense ship battles that would happen in Wrath of Khan.

james horner
Enter James Horner
Hand down, the Wrath of Khan soundtracks was one of the best soundtracks in cinematic history. I haven’t started a Top Ten score list yet, but this will make it on the list. Horner was instructed by director Nicholas Meyer to create a swashbuckling and seafaring, high adventure feel with this score. I believe he exceeded that goal and it worked well with the action on screen. Two ship captains going head to head, two major battles and chases that occur in that film where the score is really able to shine. Not to mention the track that plays as the Genesis device explodes and Kirk runs to see what has become of Spock.


He had many memorable scores throughout his long career and this is one that stands out above the rest. Like Goldsmith before him, Horner used and built off the fanfare intro created by Courage from TOS and crafted his own memorable pieces. The Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan scores would come to define future Trek soundtracks as their composers would strive to create significant differences in the respective movies. Even Goldsmith, who came back to compose many of your favorite entries in the series would always try to make each entry feel different.

Star Trek scores have always done one thing extremely well. They have always seemed to find a way to invoke the feeling of the show; even if we didn’t know it yet. Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have loved these shows as much if the music was horrible. If the score didn’t ramp up and get exciting every time a Borg cube shows up, you’d be a little let down. Below, I’ve attached a video showing every Trek TV show intro in order along with their various tweaks throughout the season. Do you remember the outrage at a few of these? I can vividly recall people not liking the scores to Deep Space 9, Voyager, or Enterprise when they first came out, but even the weird break in tradition with Enterprise eventually grew on people. I think once people understood what that particular entry in the series was about, they understood what each composer was striving for.


Each show score found a way to relate well to the new directions that respective entry was going. The reason that the Enterprise intro worked was that it invoked a sense of exploration, of getting back to our flight roots. Just look at the images and clips that were woven for that series intro and you can see how it fits with lyrics. Those early pioneers of flight, space, and eventually deep space would have had dreams of reaching those new heights and accomplishing their lofty goals.

And I will see my dream come alive at last. I will touch the sky.

Again, you may consider this series song as corny as the original series intro, but I think you would be missing the whole point if you quickly dismissed it. Look, I used to pick fun at the Enterprise intro a bunch myself, but I eventually came around. Besides, nobody can hate on the Bakula…

Does your chest hair lay ever so slightly? Didn't think so
Does your chest hair lay ever so slightly? Didn’t think so
I’m kidding with the Enterprise intro, that song was horrible. But i understood what they were going for even if they missed the mark terribly. Besides that misstep, the strong musical tradition continues with the new film series in the capable hands of Michael Giacchino. He probably had one of the hardest tasks, just like Goldsmith before him, to re-invigorate a fanbase that had been left wanting after Star Trek: Nemesis, without a new TV show and were doubtful of a rebooted universe. This is another score that really encapsulated a new feel and helped put us at ease.


I loved the new version of the old TOS fanfare included in the new Star Trek end credits. It was done very respectfully, weaving in Giacchino’s new touches and giving us that new car smell too. He continues this with Into Darkness where he crafts two memorable cues for Khan’s moments and then the Klingon’s first introduction to the new series. The film franchise is certainly in good hands with his musical expertise. I had a fondness for Giacchino after he scored the Incredibles soundtrack and was glad to see what he crafted for the reboot.

The music of Star Trek is synonymous with it’s success. I can’t separate the excellence of the show and movies from their wonderful scores, but then, why would I want to? Every time I hear the words “Space, the final frontier”, the Captain’s monologue woven with the slow instrumental build up, I am mentally prepared for what is coming next. Just not another Enterprise intro….

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