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Ascending to Andromeda

Photo: Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Robert Hewitt Wolfe (Photo by Jean Marie Ward)

If Hercules star Kevin Sorbo came to your door selling civilization, would you buy? Robert Hewitt Wolfe, co-executive producer of Andromeda (the latest TV show based on the work of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) hopes you will. As for the rest of the universe, well… When your show's hero combines equal parts Don Quixote and Grail knight, you really want to throw a few windmills and monsters in his path.

Wolfe sees science fiction as modern myth. But as you might expect from a man who started his Roddenberry-related writing career with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Fistful of Datas," Wolfe prefers his science fiction laced with adventure and humor. At DragonCon 2000, Wolfe talked about how the quest of Andromeda's captain will supply both.

Crescent Blues: Could you tell us something about your new television show, Andromeda?

Photo: Andromeda logo
(Image courtesy of Tribune Entertainment)

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: It's a syndicated show that will be on about 95 percent clearance nationwide. (I haven't checked the latest update.) It's produced by Tribune Entertainment -- they do Earth: Final Conflict, Beastmaster and a number of other shows -- and Fireworks, which is a Canadian company. They do La Femme Nikita.

[Andromeda] is produced in Vancouver, starring Kevin Sorbo as the lead character, Captain Dylan Hunt. It's a starship-based show, and it's based on material by Gene Roddenberry.

Crescent Blues: Was this one of the last projects Roddenberry worked on before his death?

Photo: The starship Andromeda Ascendant
The starship Andromeda Ascendant (Image courtesy of Tribune Entertainment)

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: No, actually, it wasn't. This is a project he was working on in between when Star Trek went off the air and Star Trek: The Next Generation came on the air. Although, as most writers do, he did work on the script continuously, but I'm pretty sure that at least some of the material dates back that far.

Crescent Blues: What's the basic storyline?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Kevin Sorbo plays Captain Dylan Hunt, the last surviving captain of the last surviving ship of a great civilization, and he sets out to restore that civilization.

Crescent Blues: You mentioned something in your panel about the origins of the civilization and a group known as the Veterans.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: The Veterans started the civilization of which Kevin Sorbo is a member. They are -- hopefully, budget permitting -- non-humanoid aliens from the galaxy of Andromeda, and they invented faster-than-light travel, which they used to kick heads in all over the known universe.

Crescent Blues: How does this faster-than-light travel work?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: The faster-than-light travel is called "Slipstream." It's based, somewhat, on String Theory. The idea is that if you get to a place where gravity is sufficiently weak and you use an artificial gravity generator, you can rip a hole in space, and you get into the place where the interconnectivity of all things exists, which is String Space. Then you can ride the strings from Point A to Point B, and you're moving based on the connectivity of them, not based on any physical laws of our universe.

Crescent Blues: Is this something that could be done by a computer?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Absolutely not, because Slipstream exists in what is essentially a Heisenberg Space, in which it needs an active observer to collapse the probability waves down and make them right or wrong. In our universe, artificial intelligences are really, really bad at this. [Artificial intelligences] are statistically normal in that they guess right 50 percent of the time when presented with a 50/50 guess.

However, an organic observer -- for reasons that no one has ever been able to sufficiently explain in our universe…

Crescent Blues: When you say "our universe," are you talking about the universe that we -- you and me and the people who read this interview -- inhabit, or are you talking about the universe of Andromeda?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Well, there are theories in quantum dynamics that an observer changes what's observed. In Andromeda's universe, that really applies in Slipstream, and the fact that an observer really wants to get to a place -- if they're properly in tune with this reality -- chooses right about 99 percent of the time. Thus, an organic pilot can get to someplace that a machine cannot.

Crescent Blues: So that's how it works in the reality of Andromeda. Do human beings actually operate like that in this reality?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: According to most theories of physics, we do. Certainly on a quantum level, we do. It's very much proven that the act of observing something changes it -- the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Schroedinger's Cat is another excellent example of that.

What Schroedinger said was if you have a cat that's in a box, on a quantum level there's a 50 percent chance that the movement of a molecule will trigger the release of a poisonous gas, and there's a 50 percent chance that it won't. Because of the nature of quantum reality, until you open the box, the cat is both dead and alive. Mathematically speaking, that cat is both dead and alive.

When you open the box, the probability wave collapses and the cat is either dead or alive, but until you open the box, the cat is both dead and alive. Which is a wacky philosophical thing. One of the things you find out about quantum dynamics and subatomic particles behavior is that the closer you get to them the wackier and more mystical a lot of these things become.

Crescent Blues: How did you get involved in Andromeda?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: I was a writer for five years on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They wanted someone with Star Trek experience to help develop this material. They committed to develop two different projects based on Gene's old material, one of which they were going to fast-track based on which one Kevin Sorbo wanted to star in.

I was working on the one based on a starship. That was the one [Kevin] was attracted to. That's how we got fast-tracked.

Photo: Kevin Sorbo and Lisa Ryder
Ever wonder why all the good guys are suddenly wearing black? -- Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo) and Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) compare uniforms. (Photo courtesy of Tribune Entertainment)

Crescent Blues: How did Kevin Sorbo get involved in the Star Trek universe?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Kevin was approached by Majel Roddenberry and Tribune to star in a show based on Gene's material. They already had the rights to the material. He came on to do it as his follow-up to Hercules. So he's been involved since well before I was involved.

Crescent Blues: What kind of starship captain do you think he's going to make?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: [Kevin] is going to be an amazing captain. I could not be happier with the kind of performances that Kevin is giving. I think a lot of people, especially people who've never seen Hercules, tend to dismiss Kevin as an actor. I don't think that's fair. Even if you look at Hercules, you can see that stuff is not easy to do. The stuff that Kevin did on Hercules, he made it look easy, but making things look on television is not the same as the fact that they are easy.

But this show, even more than Hercules, gives [Kevin] the opportunity to show off what he can really do. He's a very talented actor. But not only that, the character of Dylan Hunt has got a very cool attitude. He knows he is Don Quixote in a way. He is trying to accomplish this impossible thing. He knows what he's trying to do is impossible.

Crescent Blues: Exactly what is Dylan Hunt trying to do?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: [Dylan Hunt] is trying to rebuild an intergalactic civilization by getting worlds to join. He's like a door-to-door salesman for civilization.

Crescent Blues: And this requires a well-developed sense of humor, I would imagine.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Yes, it does. In a way, you couldn't do something like this and have any chance of success if you did not have a certain amount of a sense of humor. There's a point at which one of the characters says, "What are we doing? We're going to these places where nobody cares, and nobody wants the Commonwealth. We're going on all these impossible missions where we're risking our lives. What's the point?"

And what Dylan Hunt, Kevin's character, says is, "We only need to win one. We could fail 99 times, and that's not news, because everyone expects us to fail. But when we succeed one time, that's news. The second time, the third time… It doesn't matter that it's difficult. The fact that we succeed at all, the fact that we still try is worth something."

That's what I think is really appealing about [Dylan's] character. Even if you told him he was going to lose -- if you walked up to him and said, "Look, I can see the future infallibly, and you are screwed. You will never succeed in this quest." Dylan Hunt is the kind of captain who says, "That doesn't matter."

Crescent Blues: So Andromeda is a show with a quest theme.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Yes, it is.

Crescent Blues: With the Holy Grail being the reinstitution of the Commonwealth.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Certainly. The Arthurian myth is a really good myth to look at in terms of this show.

Crescent Blues: Were you looking at it mythically when you set up the overarching plot?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Science fiction is modern myth. That's what science fiction is. That's one of the strengths of science fiction is that it lets you do these kinds of mythic stories. So it's natural. If you point to a science fiction movie, I can tell you the myth that's behind it -- intentionally or unintentionally.

I've done quite a lot of research in comparative mythologies, so for me it's probably more intentional. Maybe I flatter myself. I'm sure there are a lot of writers out there who are every bit as aware of what they're doing.

Crescent Blues: How did you become involved with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? Did you have a science background?

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: I did one year of electrical engineering at UCLA when I started out. Then I decided I didn't want to do math for the rest of my life, and I sort of I moved around campus. But I took a lot of physics, a lot of engineering classes, a lot of mathematics and computer science classes. So I have a really good science background. Then as I wandered around UCLA, I finally ended up in the film department.

Crescent Blues: I understand that the Andromeda team includes a former Naval Surface Warfare analyst who used to work in the Pentagon and an Air Force guy who worked on jet propulsion systems. These are not your usual writers for a syndicated TV show. How…

Robert Hewitt Wolfe: Ascending to 'Andromeda'" - Continued