REVIEW: Star Trek II: 16-inch USS Enterprise (Diamond Select/Art Asylum)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
USS Enterprise NCC-1701, refit version
16-inch electronic starship (Diamond Select/Art Asylum)

Art Asylum's Star Trek II USS Enterprise, Photo 1
I now hold the Enterprise in my hands.

Two classic designs

In 1964, a man named Matt Jeffries designed a starship for the pilot episode of a new TV series called Star Trek. The show, created by Gene Roddenberry, was to feature Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. The starship? Her name was the Enterprise.

Matt Jeffries’ visionary design was simple yet realistic. Slightly upgraded by the time the series aired two years later (starring William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk), the Enterprise almost seemed alive–as integral a character as any other.

Star Trek lasted three seasons before cancellation in 1969, but Matt Jeffries’ Enterprise endured. Contemplate all of the dreams inspired by his design. Every Star Trek fan has imagined living aboard her. And every Star Trek starship design since then has owed a debt of allegiance to the Jeffries original.

None more so, however, than the “refit” version of the USS Enterprise that made her debut in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As a film, the Roddenberry production was disappointing at best. However, its one saving grace, the one contribution for which it will always be remembered, was the debut of the refit Enterprise.

Andrew Probert had the daunting task of updating the Jeffries starship for the big screen. How do you touch, much less improve upon, such a classic design?

Some fans will always see the original Enterprise from the television series as their favorite, and I respect that. For me, though, my heart is always with Probert’s refit version seen in the first six movies.

Not only is Probert’s design so compelling as to make me forgive Star Trek: The Motion Picture for its many shortcomings, but it also makes me forgive Probert himself for later creating Star Trek’s worst starship design, the horrible Enterprise-D as seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Of glue fumes and misaligned warp nacelles

When I was a kid in the 1980s, they did not make Star Trek toys like the one I have before me now. Star Wars toys were everywhere, but Star Trek toys were few and far between. I remember Kirk, Spock, and McCoy action figures for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock languishing in the mall toy store for what must have been years. I regret that even I never bought them.

There was a rinky-dink metal toy of the Enterprise-A released for 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. It looked about as convincing as that film’s special effects. I do not regret passing that one up.

Back then, the only real way to hold the Enterprise in your hands was to build one yourself. Though Star Trek had nearly no presence at the toy store, it certainly held its own at the hobby store. There were plenty of ERTL/AMT Star Trek model kits to choose from back then.

The first model I ever assembled was a Star Wars Y-wing fighter. It was a snap-together kit. I am not sure where I picked up this idea from, but back then I thought of snap-together kits as “cheating.” Cheating or not, the Y-wing was relatively easy to assemble. I did not exactly pay a lot of attention to detail, though. I was probably 8 or 9, if I had to guess. I had one paint color to go with it, yellow, so I used it for highlights.

Thus began one of my more frustrating hobbies, model-building. Or model-assembling, as the case may be. I soon started on “real” models (i.e., ones that required glue). One Christmas, I asked for and received model kits for two US space shuttles in different scales and Return of the Jedi‘s Imperial Shuttle.

I had access to more paint colors by then, so I was ready! Soon, the frustration began. I started with my smaller space shuttle kit, as the Imperial Shuttle and the larger NASA space shuttle were quite daunting in size.

I carefully painted what pieces I could prior to assembly and put most of it together with relative ease. I then masked off the windows and engines and gave it a good coat of white spray paint. Things were going well until it came time to paint the black, heat-shield area of the shuttle’s nose cone. There were no guidelines or marks on the model. I had wrongly hoped that they would be decals.

I never did figure it out. The model sat around on my makeshift table for awhile with the windows and engines taped up. I had a thought of buying a “paint marker” to draw the tiles in but that never came about either. It eventually wound up incomplete in the attic.

So did the Imperial Shuttle, which I made even less progress on. One of the first tasks on that one was to paint the little pilots. Despite the size of the model, the pilots were still very small. Someone suggested I use a toothpick as a brush. That didn’t work. For some reason, it did not occur to me to just leave them out of the model. Instead, I never made it past that step.

As for the larger space shuttle model, it also did not have markings for the heat shields on the nose so that one never made it very far out of the box. I gave up on models after that.

In high school, the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country inspired me to try models again. I had some success putting together the television version of the Enterprise, so I was soon ready to tackle the movie version.

After painstakingly researching the colors of the ship by pausing Star Trek II on VHS, I finally began to assemble the Star Trek VI Enterprise (“with working lights and sound!”). This would have been in 1992. It was great fun and was the best job I ever did on a model by far. I did not have much left to do. Among the tasks left was attaching the warp nacelles.

Did I say fun? Fun died a quick death as I started working with the warp engines. Every time I applied them to the rest of the ship, they would either be out of alignment, loose, or both.

Every time.

Eventually, after many frustrating hours, I managed to get them on relatively straight. Well, to be honest, they were still crooked. However, they were both crooked at the same angle so I figured that had to count for something. Besides, my Enterprise did not really have to go to warp speed and risk instant destruction. She would be safe in normal space, on my shelf.

As for the working lights and sound, the lights were too large to look authentic, and the sounds were sampled from the television series for some reason. Still, I was pretty happy with my Enterprise-A. You would think I would have then moved on to the other Star Trek models I had accumulated the previous Christmas: a Star Trek VI Klingon battle cruiser, a TV series bridge, and a three-ship set of Klingon, Romulan, and Enterprise vessels in a small scale. Alas, it was not meant to be. I assembled one race car on a whim and never got around to the other model kits.

More incomplete models

Three or four years ago, it was the Enterprise-A once again that inspired me to start buying models. I bought the Polar Lights Enterprise-A, a snap-together TV series Enterprise for practice, and all sorts of supplies.

Old habits die hard. When I faced trouble trying to paint the snap-together Enterprise (no matter what I did, it just gunked on), I gave up. Since then, my hobby table has been taken over by my record player and records. Maybe in 2008, I will try again. That Polar Lights kit still beckons me, though painting the “Aztec” pattern is another daunting challenge.

Around this time, I also bought the Enterprise-A toy from Art Asylum (yes, I am getting to the review of the Star Trek II Enterprise, give me some more time). I pre-ordered it from an online dealer and waited with much anticipation for it to arrive.

Finally, the big day came. The Enterprise-A was here!

I tore open the box and found . . . two classic series hand phasers.

No Enterprise-A.

This popular online dealer of science fiction and fantasy items, who I am tempted to name but will not, presented me horrible customer service when I gave them the opportunity to correct their error. So horrible was my experience, in fact, that I decided it was easier to keep the phasers and just order the Enterprise-A from Toys R Us, which worked out much better.

I must admit, my initial reaction to the Enterprise-A toy, after all of that, was disappointment. Something about it just did not look right. It did not really have the high level of painted detail that had been apparent in preview photos.

I put it up on the shelf and there it sat. Mostly forgotten.

This brings me, finally, to my review of the latest starship offering from Art Asylum. In the movies, the Enterprise and the Enterprise-A essentially looked the same on the outside. With only minor modifications, the same filming models were used for both. The toys, however, look quite different from one another.

The review

Art Asylum's Star Trek II USS Enterprise, Photo 4Art Asylum’s Star Trek II USS Enterprise is a distinct improvement over their Enterprise-A. Though the underlying molding appears to be the same, the painted details are much closer to pictures I have seen of the filming model. Do not expect perfection, as this is a toy and not a replica. I am certainly not going to build one that looks any better.

The starship comes well secured in its packaging. This has the benefit of keeping it safe and sound during shipping, though it is frustrating when you are trying to unwrap all of the wires as quickly as possible to get your starship out. Scissors work well.

That’s right, all you collectors out there, I took my Enterprise out of the packaging. I do not live in a museum. It’s not like I’m going to try to sell this later, anyway. Besides, by opening the package of my Enterprise, I’ve just made yours more valuable.

The Enterprise comes in three pieces. The two warp engines snap easily onto the struts. No worries about alignment or loose fitting parts.

Art Asylum's Star Trek II USS Enterprise, Photo 3The surface details are mostly impressive. As with the Enterpise-A, you can see some of the joints. Keeping in mind what it is, though, this does not really bother me. The improved paint job makes up for it. Though I have generally been against the painting of “gridlines” on the primary hull of the model kits, the ones here do seem to give the toy more texture compared to the Enterprise-A version.

Art Asylum's NCC-1701 vs NCC-1701-AI have included several quick pictures here that I took of the Enterprise. For comparison, I also threw the Enterprise-A in one of them.

The Enterprise comes with two options to cover the bottom of the engineering hull. It comes out of the box with the fully-sealed version already attached. You can unscrew this and replace it with the alternate piece, which allows the base to attach. The battery compartment is also located here, as is the switch to take the ship out of demo mode. If you leave it in demo mode, the only sound effect you will hear is “KHAN! KHAN!”

Art Asylum's Star Trek II USS Enterprise, Photo 2To activate the sound and lighting effects, press the bridge dome. There are eighteen sound variations in all:

· Kirk: “I don’t like to lose.”
· Red alert klaxon
· Khan: “Let them eat static.”
· Impulse engines
· Khan: “Fire!”
· Hand phaser blast
· Khan: “Time’s up, Admiral.”
· Kirk: “Mister Sulu, lock phasers on target and await my command.”
· Starship phaser blasts
· Khan: “Time is a luxury you don’t have.”
· Explosion
· Kirk: “Kirk to Spock.”
· Transporter beam
· Kirk: “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.”
· Kirk: “KHAN! KHAN!”
· Kirk: “Fire!” (Phaser blasts)
· Khan: “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee.”
· Warp pass-by

Pressing and holding the bridge for five seconds will cycle through all of the above sounds. The navigational deflector, impulse engines, and warp engines light up each time in synch with the sound effect. This makes for a rather odd experience as they flash on and off. In one of the few areas where detail was missed, the lights make parts of the ship nearly transparent.

The sound effects quickly get old and, unfortunately, it does not have a mode that simply runs the lights continuously. The sound effects and light show are probably what makes this most feel like a toy. It is easy enough to leave the batteries out, though.

One issue I had with the Enterprise-A was attempting to attach it to the base, which used a ball-and-socket joint. Sad to say, this Enterprise includes the exact same base. Almost as frustrating as aligning those warp nacelles so many years ago, I have just never figured out the “right” way to attach it. This time, I tried attaching the base’s ball into the socket of the engineering section prior to attaching it to the rest of the ship. This worked somewhat better, but the thing still does not seem very secure. It is a shame that Art Asylum has not determined a better solution for such a nice starship. Still, this Enterprise is impressive work and a vast improvement over 2003’s Enterprise-A.

Overall: 9 (out of 10)

Art Asylum's Star Trek II USS Enterprise, Photo 5