‘Star Trek: DS9’ Star Avery Brooks on Directing ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ (2024)

By

Joe Bergren

Published:

6:46 AM PST, February 9, 2023

For Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s most beloved episode, "Far Beyond the Stars,"Avery Brooks pulled double duty in more ways than one.

The actor spoke with ET leading up to its premiere 25 years ago, admitting he "was exhausted" after directing and acting in the episode, which saw him play two sides of the same Benjamin Sisko. Brooks said he agreed to the challenge for "many reasons," but figured at the end of the day, "Well, after all, I know about this stuff."

In "Far Beyond the Stars," Sisko, needing an escape while grieving a friend and hearing tragic reports from the ongoing Dominion War, finds respite after dreaming himself out of the 24th century and into Harlem circa 1953. As he discovers, it’s no Risa vacation because Sisko’s alter ego, a science-fiction author named Benny Russell, faces a battle of his own.

"The notion is that [Russell]'s a writer and he wants people to deal with how he sees the world," Brooks explained. "And indeed the world is not particularly ready to see, in the mainstream of it, somebody talking about Brown people being alive in the future."

"It is at once a fascinating story and part of the reason I sit here," he said.

Another reason? Benny Russell was a chance to "investigate the [lives]"of influential Black authors amid, as he saw it, a lack of discussion on who those people are. Off the cuff, he namechecked Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Richard Wright, John A. Williams, Phyllis Wheatley,and Sterling A. Brown, clarifying that his impromptu list could go "on and on."

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"This canon of literature is rich in its history and has, in fact, impacted the world in extraordinary ways," Brooks added. "It's a magnificent canon. A magnificent thing created in such a short time."

The episode was written by DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr, who Brooks praised for "boldly" and "coldly" taking to the page. As he saw it, Benny Russell’s world is "inextricably connected to racism and prejudice" but "Far Beyond the Stars" isn’t about racism and prejudice.

"To shoot a piece about that, it's a waste of time. I'd turn it off. Why do you want to watch that? We might as well do some cinéma vérité. We might as well just look at the news and look at how horrible we are to each other in that way. The piece is not about that," Brooks said. "I hope there's something liberating [in] that we investigate people's lives. And we see that [in this case], Benny Russell decided that no matter what you say, in the impersonal and the direct of the thing, I am going to go on. You can't do anything with what's in my mind and what's in my heart. That sooner or later, people will rise. The thought will rise."

Deep Space Nine, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last month, is held by many as the epitome of what fans want from a Star Trek show, offering pointed nods -- big and small -- to past stories, but also pushing the boundaries of Gene Roddenberry’s initial vision. In 2017, Vulture crowned DS9 as the best Trek, citing how the series "balanced each season with great stand-alone episodes enriched by longform arcs," while "creating one of the most poignant depictions of Black fatherhood that has ever appeared on television."

Twenty-five years after it debuted, "Far Beyond the Stars" currently gets spoken in the same breath as "The City on the Edge of Forever," "The Measure of a Man" and other hallmark Star Trek episodes. The appreciation is also internal, with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds tipping its cap in "The Elysian Kingdom," which saw the Enterprise get trapped in a fairytale penned by none other than Benny Russell.

When asked what he hoped fans would take away from "Far Beyond the Stars," Brooks insistedthe conclusion, like every week, is up to them.

"The [viewers] complete the thought," he said. "And that's the beauty of it. What they carry away, will be the thing that lives in the world… All we can do then is hope that you will stay long enough to see what the thought was and then complete it in your life."

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, along with every Star Trek series, streams on Paramount+.

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