When Deep Space Nine began 26 years ago, it was not the revered genre classic it is seen as today — it quickly became a controversial, rebellious stepchild to the wider Trek franchise. What We Left Behind, Shout Factory and 455 film’s new documentary about the series, still has some of that rebellious kick to it. But its lens is primarily an incredibly sentimental one.
Co-directed by Deep Space Nine writer and executive producer Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, What We Left Behind is a nostalgic, delightful look back at the memories forged by the cast and crew of Deep Space Nine as they went about creating what, at the time of its broadcast, quickly became the black sheep of Star Trek’s early ‘90s heyday.
The product of several crowdfunded campaigns, it’s a project created by people who love DS9, for people who love DS9—and it’s packed to the lobes from here to Ferenginar with love for practically everything the show tried to accomplish across seven seasons of TV.
Just shy of two hours long, What We Left Behind is bursting at the seams with a veritable swath of content to cover. Almost too much. There’s interviews with cast and crew, vox pop segments with fans — everything from costumed kids at Star Trek cons to recordings provided from homes littered with Trek spaceships and paraphernalia—and yes, frequent glimpses of lovingly restored High Definition footage to imagine what could have been.
Guided by Behr, playing the role of not just the documentary’s main perspective, but at times its hos and interviewer, it is unquestionable that What We Left Behind comes from an earnest, undying love for what Deep Space Nine is.
Every inch of the documentary is an explosion of nostalgic joy, full of knowing references and warm remembrances. It’s hard not to get caught up in the indulgence of it all—a loving reverence that is difficult not to contrast with the deep respect Deep Space Nine itself did not particularly hold for the known conventions of Star Trek, as it merrily tore down the expected tropes of the franchise to forge its own path (to eventual appreciation, at least).
At times, however, that joyous adulation means the flow of What We Left Behind can feel a little discordant. While there are several elements that go on to act as a spine for the documentary — most notably a hypothetical writers room break down of a potential season eight premiere (which actually creates a riveting narrative and it’s almost sad it will likely never come to light beyond this doc) — it mostly darts about with a hectic energy that at times feels like it was in need of a bit more cohesion.
It is like, in many ways, the cast’s recollections themselves, a fragmentary snapshot of joyful memories that come forth in the mind as quickly as they leave it. “Oh, isn’t Garak a great character? Oh, but what about the Vic Fontaine episodes? Oh, but what about the Dominion arc? Oh, isn’t great that there were complex female characters like Kira and Dax? Oh, but look at this space battle, and this, and this, and this!” It’s a little like an over-excited kid recounting all the favourite things about their most beloved toy, or sometimes, a little more like that boastfully rebellious teen, biting its thumb at its early detractors with a sense of “screw you, we rocked.”
That heady mix of joy and a little (well-earned!) braggadocio also means that a lot of the potential conflict that could emerge out of such an undertaking as What We Left Behind mostly gets swept under the rug in favour of nostalgia. The closest the documentary gets to holding a negative framing of Deep Space Nine is a brief segment on Terry Farrell’s exit from the show after season six, due to contract disputes that lead to her undiplomatic exit from the series, which sees the actress tearily and angrily acknowledge the frustration and lack of respect that lead to her departure.
In another similarly brief, more meta-textual moment, amid a series of back-pats for the ways DS9 tackled social issues the documentary takes a step back from congratulating itself too much for the LGBTQ themes covered in the episode “Rejoined” by acknowledging that the show did not go far enough in that regard. But these moments are brief, and few and far between, before the documentary gets back to recalling far happier memories.
While it means a more critical eye is mostly absent from the documentary, the fannish glee that drives much of What We Left Behind is what makes it ultimately so charming an endeavour. It comes from a place of earnest love for what Deep Space Nine accomplished, and more specifically, what the people behind it accomplished.
What We Left Behind doesn’t need to convince you why Deep Space Nine was good. It doesn’t want to, really—everyone involved in making the show already knew it was good. What We Left Behind just wants to share that love with as many people as possible, whether they already have it in their hearts or not. If you hoped for a more critical examination of Deep Space Nine, or even a deeper dive into its bumpy journey on TV before it became a re-examined genre darling, What We Left Behind is not really the documentary you want.
This is the love letter that Deep Space Nine wanted all those years ago, even as it lashed out at the conventions of what Star Trek could be to the ire of fans who just wanted more Kirk and Picard, more boldly going instead of boldly staying.
It’s a little less “In the Pale Moonlight” and a little more “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang”, sure. But that’s ok. It’s a pat on the back, 26 years in the making—and one that’s not just deserved, but more than justifies a nostalgic look back at what indeed was left behind after seven seasons: one of Star Trek’s most subversive and challenging chapters.
A chapter that in exploring the shadows it cast, made the light of the franchise’s greatest ideals ultimately shine that much brighter. But What We Left Behind clearly reveals that even that light perhaps can’t shine quite as brightly as the candle the cast and crew behind Deep Space Nine so clearly still hold for the series, all these years later.
What We Left Behind gets a limited theatrical release next week in the U.S ahead of a physical release at a currently undisclosed date.