I grew up watching Star Trek reruns (i.e. Star Trek: The Original Series) as a kid in the 70s, and loved it. While I never considered myself a full-blown Trekky (or even Trekker), I was pretty excited when they started the Star Trek movies and then came out with Star Trek: The Next Generation series. Alas, as the series went on, it seemed to lose that something that made Star Trek great, and I didn't stick with it faithfully, although I tuned in for the finale of the series.
I gave DS9 a shot, but didn't follow it closely, and I don't even think I gave Voyager a decent shot, only seeing the occasional episode now and then. Likewise, the movies seemed to lose their way, and switching to the TNG cast for movies didn't help. Worse, JJ Abrams' take on the franchise, while good action movies, seems to have no idea what makes Star Trek special.
Ultimately, Star Trek is about hope for the future, exploring the nature of humanity and how we might successfully deal with the various problems and moral issues that we face. Dark and gritty versions of Star Trek, while they may make for exciting action and adventure stories, tend to lose that "hope for the future" part.
Given the latest two Star Trek movies, and the fact that there has been no Star Trek TV series for several years now, is there any hope for the future of Star Trek's 'hope for the future'? Surprisingly, the answer is 'yes', but from a rather unexpected source: Star Trek fan videos.
I'd tended to avoid Star Trek fan fiction (especially prose) not only because fans tend to be amateurs, but also because they want to play too much with the various Star Trek elements, trying to put too many references in, and engaging in overly-ambitious ideas that their skills simply cannot handle very well.
And with the development of computer technology and digital video and effects, there are more fan videos (both live action and animation) than ever before. Many of them suffer the same problems as any other fan fiction, but with the added problem of amateur acting and directing, not to mention limited funds for production.
Happily, I've recently discovered a few that have overcome these problems. "Of Gods and Men" is fan-fiction only in that it was not officially sanctioned and was not intended to make a profit. With several professional actors involved, including Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, and with Tim Russ (Voyager's Tuvok) directing, it comes off surprisingly well, and much closer to the heart of Star Trek than the two Abrams movies. Better still, Tim Russ has a new project called Star Trek: Renegades, and has been busy creating a pilot episode as a proposal for a new TV series. This indeed is hope for the future of the Star Trek franchise.
There are also fan-produced Star Trek series out there of high quality. The best of them, I think, is the more recent Star Trek Continues, with Vic Mignogna being the main guy behind it, as well as doing a great job of playing Captain Kirk. ST: Continues attempts to continue where the the original series left off, and succeeds at many levels at obtaining the look and feel of the original show: great sets, great costumes, good acting, good, meaningful stories, even the lighting of the original series was recreated to mimic the original show. Yes, there are certain nitpicks one could complain about, but it really does match the tone and style of the original show--you could almost believe these are "lost" fourth season episodes that never got aired. The actors are mostly professional actors, even if they are not well-known or big name actors.
"Starship: Farragut" is another web series that has some kind of relationship or ties with the Star Trek Continues people. I've only seen one episode of it so far, but while much of the production values are similar to Continues, it lacks the professional actors of Continues, and suffers by comparison. Still enjoyable, but it takes more suspension of disbelief to "buy into" the reality of the show.
Continues and Farragut are both relatively new web series. An older and more established fan series has been Star Trek Phase II. James Cawley is the main guy behind this series, and he, too, plays Captain Kirk in the series. Being the obsessive-compulsive that I am, I started watching with the pilot episode, and that was very nearly a mistake on my part. It's very much an amateurish, fan video, and barely worth watching. The second episode was overly-ambitious, and tried to do too much with too many references, but it was definitely a better production, and much more watchable. The third episode, which is the last I've watched, was better still, and much more like a typical Star Trek episode. According to reviews and comments I've read, later episodes are also good (there's something like ten episodes altogether), but I haven't watched them, yet.
Phase II also suffers from amateurish actors, but two or three of them are pretty good, and most of them are good enough to get by, especially with quality of the rest of the production. All these series have decent CGI effects, but that's almost a given for any modern fan series worth watching.
There are plenty of other Star Trek fan productions, but I believe that the ones mentioned above are the best of them. However, it's possible I've missed some other high-quality productions. If you know of an especially good one, mention it in the comments, so I can watch it.
Given the fandom of Star Trek, it's inevitable that people with professional skills can get together to make high-quality fan material like these, and their dedication to Star Trek ensures that they will do their best to capture the heart of Star Trek, that hope for the future I was talking about.
Given crowd- and fan-funding, and improved technology, semi-pro and professional web series may indeed be the future of Star Trek. With lower overhead expenses, there's no need to create JJ Abrams-style box office extravaganzas, and less concerns about making a profit means they can concentrate on making better Star Trek stories for Star Trek fans, without being overly-concerned about the mass consumer.