This Star Trek article contains spoilers.
Everyone remembers the famous words to the theme from Star Trek, right? You know, those immortal lyrics: “Beyond the rim of the star-light, my love is wand’ring in star-flight!” Okay, to be clear, these are not lyrics sung in the history-making Strange New Worlds musical episode, “Subspace Rhapsody.” Rather, these are song lyrics that Gene Roddenberry wrote for the theme for Star Trek: The Original Series, which was composed by Alexander Courage. So, in a way, the very first seed of a Star Trek musical was planted almost 60 years ago.
In our universe, the songs in “Subspace Rhapsody” were written by veteran songwriters Tom Polce and Kay Hanley, both best known as members of the ‘90s rock band Letters to Cleo. But, within the canon of Star Trek, the songs in “Subspace Rhapsody,” are seemingly composed by a combination of strong emotions and a subspace fold that causes an improbability field. Translation: wibbly-wobbly, singy-wingy. The “musical reality” occupied by the crew of the Enterprise creates music on its own, which may or may not be responsible for the TOS theme becoming an in-universe song during the outro of “Subspace Rhapsody.”
Although never heard on screen, the reason Roddenberry originally wrote lyrics for the Star Trek: The Original Series theme was because, according to Ed Gross and Mark A. Altman’s The Fifty-Year Mission, he wanted to get half the royalties from the song if it were ever reprinted on sheet music. (Which, of course, it was!) But, because Roddenberry had a real interest in music, one has to wonder, silliness of the lyrics aside, did he secretly hope for a Star Trek musical someday?
Consider the evidence. Nichelle Nichols was a singer and dancer before becoming an actress. In her memoir Beyond Uhura and in various interviews, she made it clear that Star Trek basically turned her career as a musical performer into that of an actress. And, in TOS and the films, she also sings a fair amount, such as in the TOS episodes “The Conscience of the King” and “The Changeling.” She also sings an impromptu song to Spock in “Charlie X,” and sings the song “The Moon’s a Window to Heaven” in The Final Frontier. Roddenberry doesn’t have direct writing credits on those episodes or on The Final Frontier, but he did hire Nichols and knew full well she was a singer and dancer first and an actor second. So, just by collaborating with Nichols to create Uhura, the idea of having at least one member of the Enterprise capable of bursting into song has been embedded in Trek since 1966. (In a December 1984 Star Trek comic book, Uhura even sings the silly Roddenberry lyrics to the main theme! It’s a comic book page you can almost hear.)
Nichols of course, released several albums of her own, and recorded both “Beyond Anartres,” and her own version of the TOS theme, with decidedly better lyrics than those penned by Roddenberry. But beyond the musical musing of Uhura in TOS, which, may, or may not have been motivated by Roddenberry to begin with, there is other evidence that Roddenberry wanted to do a musical.
According to The Fifty-Year Mission, Roddenberry was contacted by Paul McCartney in the 1970s to write some kind of science fiction musical. To be clear, this wasn’t going to be a Star Trek musical per se, but at one point, McCartney did want to do a musical with the creator of Trek because the former Beatle was a massive Trek fan. There’s even some great photographic evidence of Roddenberry hanging out with Paul.
Roddenberry never lived to see a true Star Trek musical, and never got to collaborate with Sir Paul on their sci-fi musical. But, because “Subspace Rhapsody,” uses a very TOS–premise to allow the Trek characters to burst into song, it seems very likely that if the Great Bird of the Galaxy were alive today, that he would not only approve of singing Spock and Uhura, but would love it, too.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 is streaming now on Paramount+. You can listen to the music of “Subspace Rhapsody” below: