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Comic-Con is a beast. A massive, all-consuming hydra that swallows time, money, attention and sanity in exchange for a parade of famous people on panels, non-famous people in awesome costumes and sneak peeks at things movie studios, TV networks and videogame companies hope you’ll care about. And some comic books, wedged in there like a dude trying to get on a crowded subway car.
But, occasionally, if you look beyond the massive ballrooms and towering floor displays and women dressed as Slave Leia, you can find something transcendent — and transcendence is what happened at this year’s Starship Smackdown panel.
Starship Smackdown is, in case you don’t know (and I’m gonna go ahead and assume you don’t), a Comic-Con tradition: On the last day of the show, a panel of professional geeks — authors, TV writers, designers, etc. — gather in a small ballroom to debate the merits of one pop-culture spaceship over another. Star Wars‘ X-Wing Fighter vs. Battlestar Galactica‘s Colonial Viper. Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon vs. Mal Reynolds’ Serenity. And so on, NCAA bracket-style, until they reach a winner.
Yes, it’s the nerdiest thing ever. But taking the inconsequential and treating it with the seriousness of the legal deposition is what being a nerd is all about. (That, and all the sex.)
This year, the Smackdown geniuses — which included Thor and X-Men: First Class cowriter Ashley Edward Miller, Free Enterprise producer Robert Meyer Burnett, Legend of the Seeker producer Kay Reindl, Geek Magazine (which presented the panel) editor Jeff Bond, Star Wars: Clone Wars writer Steve Melching and artist Chris Gossett — reached an impasse: They were deadlocked between the original Enterprise from the Star Trek TV show and the refitted Enterprise for first cycle of Star Trek movies. (I know, the geekiness is reaching critical levels. Just hold on a little bit longer.)
Unable to declare a winner, moderator Mark A. Altman (Femme Fatales) turned to the audience for help. And the person who pushed it over the edge was Neil DeGrasse Tyson — renowned astrophysicist, author and true geek — who decided to close out his first trip to SDCC with this panel. But he was just sitting in the audience watching. As true geeks do. And he was so moved that he delivered this impassioned, off-the-cuff speech:
For all of its overblown, over-inflated, hyper-stimulated mania, sometimes the San Diego Comic-Con can deliver a moment of glorious inspiration, one that reminds us why we love the things we love and how that love knits us together. And that Kirk’s Enterprise is just friggin’ cool.
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Sterling K. Brown