That Shatner's making the convention rounds to celebrate Star Trek's 35th anniversary is at once a shock and of no surprise at all. Here, after all, is a man who once insisted his audience "get a life!" during a beloved Saturday Night Live appearance. "It's just a show," he scolded, and the joke resonated as only the truth can; clearly, he was a man who wanted to be just that--an actor, left alone to do his job. He even appeared in 1994's Star Trek: Generations, without old friends Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, and allowed himself to be killed off in most ignominious fashion. It was as though he wanted to walk away from Captain James Tiberius Kirk, and he was made to do so on his hands and knees--fine by him. And he is fond of mocking himself: In Free Enterprise, written and directed by idol-worshippers, Shatner giddily poked holes in a swelled-up ego. He goofed, till he became pleasantly, charmingly goofy.
And as Trek moves forward by moving backward (the fourth spin-off series, Enterprise, set 100 years before the original series, debuts September 26 on UPN), Shatner vaults ahead without the baggage. At 70, he works harder than men half his age, appearing in Miss Congeniality, Osmosis Jones and forthcoming films American Psycho 2 and Showtime (opposite Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy); he's also just finished shooting a film he wrote, directed and appears in, Groom Lake. Yet, like all good myths, Kirk lives on: Shatner would go on to provide Kirk's voice for myriad video games (in one, computer animation allowed him to look as he did in 1966--handsome, full of confidence and promise), and he would pen Trek books in which Kirk survives the events of Generations (or does he?) and even marries. And he has penned several books about Trek, including Get a Life! in 1999, in which he wrote that a "convention ovation is unmatched, and probably best described as a loud, long, percussive 'I love you.' You can never get used to it." Little wonder that all these years later he no longer ducks the long shadow that trails him everywhere--that of Jim Kirk, who's really just a funny 70-year-old guy named Bill.