- - Monday, July 24, 2017

SAN DIEGO | Comic-Con attendees have been fascinated by outer space for years, both in the realm of nonfiction and fictional television — wanting to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Toward that end, the latest series in the “Star Trek” franchise will break new ground: “Star Trek: Discovery” will have its first openly gay character, played by Anthony Rapp, who is best known for his role in the Broadway musical, and subsequent film, “Rent.”

“[‘Rent’ co-star] Wilson Cruz will play my love interest, my partner — my man love — and we’re both officers on the ship,” Mr. Rapp said during the Comic-Con “Star Trek” panel. “I’m very proud of that. And he’s a scientist.”

Much like Gene Roddenberry’s original 1966-69 show, “Discovery” aims to shine a light on contemporary conflicts and issues but approached through a fictional, more equitable, future.

“Our opportunity is to … search for some resolution that is not dystopian but utopian,” Mr. Rapp said. “We want to do something meaningful and honor what’s come before.”

In addition to the same-sex relationship of Mr. Rapp’s character, fans have also expressed mixed feelings about a woman — and a woman of color — leading the ship. Former “Walking Dead” star Sonequa Martin-Green will star on the series as First Officer Michael Burnham.

“I certainly stand on Nichelle’s shoulders,” Miss Martin-Green said of Nichelle Nichols, who broke the color barrier on Roddenberry’s original show. “This is really a story of universality, and this is a story of coming together and understanding that you really are one with all of life.”

Choking up as she spoke, Miss Martin-Green said it was “such a privilege to be a part of a story that I truly believe is going to bring people together.”

Co-star Jason Isaacs, the English actor known for “The Patriot” and the “Harry Potter” series, disputed the notion that a woman could not pilot the next starship. (“Star Trek: Voyager” was captained by “Orange Is the New Black” star Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway during that show’s 1995-2001 run.)

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s about to be a woman ‘Doctor Who,’ and she’s going to crush it,” Mr. Isaacs said of actress Jodie Whittaker, who will be the 13th thespian to tackle the iconic sci-fi role — and the first woman.

For all the changes “Discovery” is making to the “Trek” universe, the series will remain true to creator Roddenberry’s vision, said executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who also worked on two of the recent rebooted films.

“The defining factor of ‘Star Trek’ is Gene’s optimistic view of the future [where] all species, all races came together not only to make our world better, but to make every world better,” Mr. Kurtzman said.

“That being said … we live in very troubled times,” Mr. Kurtzman said. “And I think that, now more than ever, ‘Trek’ is needed as a reminder and a buoy for what we can be.”

But trips into outer space need not be quite so fantastic. National Geographic Channel threw a Nerd Nite party to celebrate the second season of their popular series “Mars” as well as the upcoming event series, “One Strange Rock,” which is executive-produced by Darren Aronofsky, known for directing the Oscar-winning film “Black Swan.”)

Former NASA Astronaut Jeff Hoffman, an astronomer and MIT professor who repaired the Hubble Telescope during one of his five space shuttle flights, narrates one of the episodes.

“People have had a vision for a long time that we can actually travel in space, but we just didn’t have technology to do so,” Mr. Hoffman told The Washington Times exclusively. “This vision, captured through science fiction, including movies like ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ and ‘The Martian,’ are big ideas about the evolution of humankind and have been critical in the development of space program.

“Comic-Con is about fantasy and science fiction, and these genres are about imagining worlds that don’t exist,” Mr. Hoffman said. “With regard to space travel, we are going to a world that is so fantastically different, and that’s why there are so many people who attend [Comic-Con]. They are fascinated by the next steps in human exploration.”

Indeed, there are those Comic-Con fans who believe other life forms must in fact exist in outer space.

“I think that people got so tired of waiting for intelligent life to evolve on Earth that they simply gave up and started searching the skies for anything resembling a flying hubcap,” said producer and sound designer Dirk Maggs.

Mr. Maggs, who adapted Douglas Adams’ seminal “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” as a live radio show, has also continued “The X-Files” universe as the Audible original audio piece “The X Files: Cold Cases,” which is set after the events of the 2008 film “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.”

At Comic-Con, it was announced there would be an “X-Files” audio sequel, entitled “Stolen Lives.”

“I’ve seen this show go through all these incarnations. [The audio books are] another itineration of it,” said actor David Duchovny, who has played Agent Fox Mulder on the series, in two films and in the ongoing TV resurgence since 1993. “I actually think this is kind of a very organic [story] because it does bring me back to the scene of humans sitting around a campfire and telling scary stories,” Mr. Duchovny said.

“The X Files,” which had a limited six-episode return in 2016, will return for its 11th season on Fox in 2018.

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