The world of “Star Trek” was on full display this past weekend as Awesome Con brought the nation’s capital version of Comic-Con to life at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The three-day event drew nearly 85,000 fans, encompassing everything from comics, memorabilia, panels, graphic artists and sci-fi and fantasy programming, but there’s no question that Gene Roddenberry’s now legendary 50-plus-year phenomenon “Star Trek” was the center of attention.
Seven different actors from the franchise were on hand to meet and interact with the fans. Vendor booths in the massive exhibition hall featured art, knick knacks, toys and collectibles from the various series and movies, while panels ranging from “The Women of Science Fiction” to “Star Trek: The Next Generation Q&A” packed the session halls.
“I’ve only been to two ‘Star Trek’ conventions before this one,” said Wallace Shawn, who played the small but recurring role of Grand Nagus Zek in ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.’ “Without a doubt, ‘Star Trek’ fans are the friendliest, the nicest, the most appreciative fans I have ever met. They are also the most willing to embrace diversity, and they love to share their stories when they meet us.”
Many of the stories Shawn encountered focused on his appearances across the nearly 200 separate productions throughout his career. Likely best known for his role as Vizzini in “The Princess Bride,” Shawn was also a regular on such major television shows as “Gossip Girl,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Teacher’s Pet” and presently “Young Sheldon.” His legendary voice-over work has rendered narratives for everything from “Family Guy” to “The Simpsons” to “Toy Story.”
Yet while Shawn’s fans were attracted by the actor’s full body of work, most were lured by their pure love of “Trek.” Terry and Larry Moore attended to learn more about science through science fiction, while exposing their one-year-old son Jonas to the genre. Of course, as Larry Moore freely admits, that wasn’t the only reason. “We’re here to get photos as well, with Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden.”
Throughout the weekend, fans had the opportunity to take those photos while also interacting with five “Next Generation” cast members: Frakes (Commander William Riker), Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi), McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher), Brent Spiner (Lt. Commander Data) and Wil Wheaton (Ensign Wesley Crusher). Joining them was veteran actor Jason Isaacs, who played Capt. Gabriel Lorca in the opening season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” but who is probably best known for his role as Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies.
Occasionally, the actors’ impact goes far beyond pure hero worship. One woman waiting in line for a photograph credited McFadden’s Dr. Crusher with saving her life, citing the character’s strength, independence, passion and problem-solving ability with giving her the will to avoid suicide. “These are the sorts of stories you often hear about at shows like this, usually many years later,” McFadden said.
Sirtis said she experienced much the same thing. “Most of the feedback I get from fans is that a lot of the time, ‘TNG’ helped them through a difficult time in their lives,” she said. “It was family time for a lot of people, and it was the only thing that they did together. If the parents had passed, it was a time when the family came together, and watching the show brought back a lot of fond memories.”
For “Star Trek” fan Lauren Rapp, Awesome Con simply provided a grand opportunity for her to meet Sirtis in person. Clad in a blue, floor-length dress similar to that sported by the Betazoid counselor of the Enterprise-E, Rapp was absolutely giddy as she waited in line leading up to her momentary encounter.
“I’ve been waiting about 25 years or so to meet her, so I’m very excited,” Rapp said. “I’ve been a big fan since I was a kid. Deanna Troi is a strong, female character with great leadership skills, yet is also empathetic. To me, that’s a big deal.” Lauren’s brother Ryan Weaver shared his sister’s passion. “I’ve been watching the show since I was five years old. I have already – in the past – met Patrick Stewart, so for me, it will be great meeting Jonathan, Marina and Gates.”
While “Star Trek” fans were clearly enjoying their euphoria weekend in D.C., other pop culture genres attracted their fans as well, as comic book artists, illustrators and publishers rubbed elbows with NASA engineers, video game producers and graphic novelists. And with celebrities and programming ranging from “Battlestar Galactica” to “Riverdale” to “This Is Us,” there was truly something for everybody. Even Weird Al Yankovic was there — and that pretty much says it all.