Warning: If “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” was a seminal show for you in the ’90s (or any subsequent decade, really), the documentary “What We Left Behind” will probably make you cry. The platonic ideal of a loving tribute, this crowdfunded documentary directed by “DS9” showrunner Ira Steven Behr and “The Captains” producer David Zappone gathers nearly every key member of the “DS9” family to look back on arguably “Trek’s” most progressive and game-changing series.
Behr puts himself front and center in the documentary, breaking the fourth wall periodically as a quasi-narrator and guide through “DS9’s” legacy. Full of touches that will invoke memories of the show’s most iconic moments (including a hysterical post-credits gag or two), “What We Left Behind” is almost like Behr’s memoir of the making of the show, albeit with a ton of familiar faces popping in to add their two cents.
Only Avery Brooks, who played Captain Benjamin Sisko in the series (“Trek’s” first black captain) is mostly absent from the documentary’s original interview footage. However, he is still well-represented through the fond memories of his former co-stars (who universally compare his manner of speaking to that of a jazz musician) as well as the legacy of the character. What Sisko represented to African-American viewers, as a single father doing his best to parent his son while also serving as the leader of a space station on the edge of the Federation frontier, is a huge part of “Trek” history, and “What We Left Behind” celebrates that even without Brooks’ presence.
Of all the actors who prove most surprising, Aron Eisenberg stands out, as he reflects upon how portraying Nog’s journey as a wounded veteran has meant a great deal to real-life veterans.
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Another actor who gets the spotlight in an intriguing way is Andrew Robinson, as the character he played becomes a key discussion point in terms of evaluating the show’s legacy. Fans of the show will remember that Garak, a Cardassian exile who was slowly revealed to be a former spy, and Dr. Bashir (played by Alexander Siddig) had an intense relationship, one which many believed had a sexual subtext. More than one interview subject, including Behr himself, acknowledges this fact as well as how “DS9” could have done more to explore the topic — while the show did challenge the status quo, Behr doesn’t let himself or his fellow writers off the hook: they could have done more.
In fact, what proves most fascinating about “What We Left Behind” is that Behr and his indigo goatee are so full of deep emotion for “Deep Space Nine,” but he is also deeply conscious of where the show could have done more in terms of pushing forward social issues. And while there are moments of fan service, they’re fitting for a project literally funded by fans and honestly, many of these moments are just pure pleasure, such as a musical homage to the show’s female characters set to a song choice too perfect to spoil here.
The film also isn’t afraid to confront some of the show’s most notable behind-the-scenes drama, including the departure of Terry Farrell at the end of Season 6; Farrell speaks up for herself in one of the doc’s most emotional moments, and while the drama may still be unresolved to a degree, it’s just another opportunity the documentary takes to confront the more complicated aspects of its past. Few shows are this open about these issues; it’s almost cathartic to see Farrell be as upset as the fans were about her exit.
One of the documentary’s promised threads — a reunion of writers Behr, Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria, and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who casually form a writers’ room to craft a new episode story for an impossible Season 8 — doesn’t exactly feel essential, though the animated sequences created to illustrate these sections are fun. It’s an unconventional addition to a film like this, and it’s genuinely fun to see the writers essentially write fan fiction about their own show. The scenario they create, though, and all the details invoked about the lives of the character years after the Season 7 finale make them feel alive again.
Testimonial interstitials from anonymous fans are perhaps the most unnecessary element — not because the fans don’t have a valid perspective, but because they feel so well-represented otherwise. After all, the creators and actors here are such huge fans, their love for the show so apparent, that everyone feels like they’re on the same page here.
“Deep Space Nine” remains a beautiful testament to the legacy of how “Star Trek” can evolve and grow with the times, and this is a documentary which truly appreciates the show on all its best levels. It’s like getting a performance review from your best friend: so loving and so honest that even the flaws can win you over.
“What We Left Behind” premieres in theaters via Fathom Events on May 13. The home video release will happen later in 2019.