Spectre of the phaser.


Stardate 70243.9

One of the perks of writing my own Star Trek blog is that I get to pick the subject matter – and as long as I stay true to my mission of “celebrating all things Trek” I can go pretty much anywhere I want.

I’m a big fan of production design in movies. Over the years, some of my favorite Trek blogs have included Doug Drexler’s “DrexFiles” (here’s a link to a tribute Tumblr) in which he shared great Star Trek stories and interviews on video, Steve Neill’s Garage where he built screen-worthy models and John Eaves’ blog covering his love of classic movies and sharing sketches he did of ships, weapons, etc. for various Star Trek productions.  All great stuff.

But let’s turn our production design eye toward just one prop and see what fans and filmmakers have done with it, shall we?

The original phaser.

What 1950’s or 60’s sci-fi movie or TV show didn’t include some kind of sidearm? I think it was probably due, in large part, to the popularity of Westerns that spacemen were also expected to carried a holstered weapon of some kind. After all, you never knew when you were going to need to shoot your way out of a situation, right?

The Man TrapBut the Star Trek phaser has evolved over the years (check out this Pinterest board to see how) and as fans we’ve enjoyed various iterations of it with each new movie and TV series. The original phaser, Wah Ming Chang’s “laser pistol” design used in the twin pilots for ST:TOS didn’t appear to have much in common with the hand-held weapons we saw in subsequent episodes. If you’re not paying close attention, you’ll miss the prop – although it did make a brief appearance in the first televised episode of ST:TOS, “The Man Trap.”

Check out these pictures of one of the original “hero” props from those early episodes.

phaser rifleThe possible exception to that is the phaser rifle from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” which looked wildly different. So different, in fact, that we never saw it again during the original series. According to this blog post, the phaser rifle was rushed through design and production over a two-week span. Even though the original rifle was made for free, that same prop sold at auction a few years ago for nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

The pistol-type weapon we now know as a Type-II phaser came about during the first season and cleverly included the smaller, hand-held version of the weapon (the Type I).  This kind of design – with thought given to ergonomics and a “story” behind the prop epitomizes the level of thinking Star Trek fans appreciate about the series. It’s also, I think, what set the show up as an aspirational model for so many scientists and inventors who drew on their love for and recollections of  Star Trek to design everything from the flip phone to the iPad.

But not all phasers have been created equal.

REMCO Phaser ToyToy phasers, like this one from REMCO, included a “secret compartment” and shot three “beam discs” – exactly how you can shoot both a beam and a disc at the same time is a bit puzzling to me. And why, on the package, the phaser is shooting the Enterprise is even more of a question. But cheesy merchandise like this is part of my fond memories of the original series.

At the same time, I remember building my own phasers out of Lego-like blocks – but I never accomplished anything like this awesome piece. It even looks like the Type I phaser can be removed and used for more “diplomatic” missions (say, dinner time with the grandparents). Awesome!

Finally, if you want to build your own phaser, here’s a helpful video …

LLAP (and set phasers to stunning).