“Warp speed” is a term that entered the pop-culture consciousness as soon as Star Trek hit in 1966. Even if you have never seen the show or a single film, or even like sci-fi at all, you are aware it means going really, really fast. We’d wager no one at the White House was thinking of Star Trek when they coined “Operation Warp Speed” in 2020. And yet, that’s how ubiquitous it is. But the idea of what warp speed looks like has developed greatly over the last several decades.
Thanks to Boing Boing, we’ve come across a video from YouTuber and Trek fan John DiMarco, who thoroughly detailed the evolution of the warp speed effect in Star Trek, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to last year’s animated series Star Trek: Prodigy. You can watch the full video right here:
Now, you might be asking yourself, “why start with The Motion Picture and not the original TV series?” Well, the classic show didn’t really have a “warp effect.” There was one shot of the Enterprise flying through space, and the only reason we knew they’d go to warp is that Captain Kirk told us. Oh, and there was a sound effect. It wasn’t until 1979, in a post-Star Wars world, that Star Trek’s budget was big enough to give warp speed its own visual component.
Star Trek is very different from Star Wars in that the visual continuity is far more fluid. The look of “light speed” in Star Wars has been pretty much set in stone since A New Hope. But Trek-tech changes rather rapidly. The original warp effect is still the best, if you ask us. The “ rainbow light show” was really only used in The Motion Picture. The subsequent films of the original crew simply had pastel colors streaking along with the ship. When he got to The Next Generation era, they settled on the stretching look. That continued on through Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Interestingly enough, they didn’t include Star Trek: Discovery in this video. Probably because they use an experimental “ spore drive,” and not traditional warp speed. They also don’t include the J.J. Abrams films’ warp effect, possibly because they’re in an alternate timeline. The animated Prodigy is the last Trek show included, and their warp effect there looks a lot like Star Wars. One thing’s for sure. The idea of warp speed is pretty consistent, but the look is ever-evolving.