FIRST CONTACT DAY: The State of Star Trek in 2023
OUR THOUGHTS ON STAR TREK AFTER FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS OF BOLDLY GOING.
The recent announcement of the end of Star Trek: Discovery makes one consider where this new “Modern Age” of Star Trek is going. Unthinkable only a few years ago, Star Trek as a brand has greatly expanded in the last five years with as many streaming series running simultaneously plus consumer expansion into toys and actions figure, comics and more collectibles. As a consumer who subscribes to Paramount Plus solely for Star Trek, reads the comics and novels, and buys the collectibles, I think I have a reasonably informed opinion on how the current stewards are doing. And while there is a positive story to tell, there is also a growing problem.
Let’s deal with this one first. Star Trek has the same problem that Warner Bros. has with DC and to a lesser extend Marvel has with their comics universe. They’re enjoying the success they do because of their current fans—they’re not gaining many new ones. The first series I watched from day one was Voyager. Many more fans were there for The Next Generation in 1987 and even more saw Kirk and crew during their first run or the syndicated resurgence in the 70’s. Star Trek, like those other franchises, needs to appeal to a “next generation” of fans, but without offending the current behemoth of fans keeping them alive now. Star Trek must be diverse without being what some call “woke”. It’s a fine line and even the future world of Star Trek is not immune to today’s political divide.
Let’s look at each of the active Star Trek projects, so to speak. And yep, there are a lot.
Star Trek: Discovery - Ironically, Discovery did get seven years in real time, but only five years in TV seasons (and with streaming having many fewer episodes, it’ll be more like three-ish seasons compared to Berman-era Trek seasons). While this series brought Trek’s new Modern Age forward, it never caught on like any of its predecessors. Each season reworked the formula and even explored or reintroduced fan favorite elements of Star Trek, it never felt like Star Trek. Supposedly set a decade before Kirk-era Trek, it felt like it belonged post-Nemesis. Michael Burnham started out as a criminal and eventually became captain. A series like Trek needs a leader—notable in every other Trek series, but for some reason showrunners never allowed Burnham to be that leader and now that she is officially the captain, it feels too little too late. Beyond that, she seems more interested in her cat-loving boyfriend than being a Starfleet commander. But it’s not all bad—Discovery brought back Captain Pike, the NCC-1701, and the goddamned Guardian of Forever! I enjoyed Discovery and look forward to its final season, but I think, unlike any of the other series, has notable negatives and I’m okay with it getting a proper send off.
Star Trek: Picard - Picard is the strangest of the series. Three seasons and none of them feel like the same series. And that’s okay. I liked seasons one and two. It’s great having Patrick Stewart back and bringing in Brent Spiner as Data in the first season was a treat. But that illustrates the problem—and if that doesn’t, Season Three definitely does. We wanted The Next Generation back. The whole crew and we didn’t want to see our hero retired and sidelined from Starfleet. And the third season delivers on all our wants. If this is fan service, those who think that is a negative thing should take note. Helmed by showrunner (and fan!) Terry Matalas, this ten-hour movie is the most “Star Trek” that we’ve seen since Nemesis or even Voyager. This should be the template for new series going forward—with one exception, of course.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Finally back to episodic storytelling, this series is a spin-off of Discovery featuring the NCC-1701 under the command of Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike. This is the most TOS Trek has felt since TOS itself. Sure, we don’t have the cardboard sets or saltshaker medical tools, but unlike Discovery, this feels like it embodies Kirk’s era in a way that Discovery thumbed its nose at it. The series is fun and takes us back to those classic voyages—including another interpretation of James T. Kirk himself. Is it perfect? No (the Gorn are dinosaurs!?), but it has heart and that is an essential ingredient for Trek. Bring on more of Strange New Worlds!
Star Trek Comics - My two favorite Star Trek comic books were from the second Marvel era: Early Voyages and Starfleet Academy. These were “original series” in the sense that the others were comic adaptations of existing Trek characters/series. Like Strange New Worlds, Early Voyages was a take on Pike’s missions on the original Enterprise. The art and writing were great and certainly some of the best Trek comics done up to that point. The Starfleet Academy comic also included new characters (save for Cadet Nog) and was Starfleet Academy, the concept, done right. That whole Marvel era of Star Trek comics was very well done and even interconnected in crossovers that didn’t feel like fan fiction (a problem that killed the novels for me). IDW, the current Trek comics license holder, just did one thing extremely right—they are doing ongoing series. Simply called Star Trek, the first features the return of Sisko, and the second, Star Trek: Defiant, features Worf. The premise sounds interesting (as of this writing Defiant hasn’t premiered yet), but then you have a minor, but noticeable problem—the crew. Star Trek has Sisko, Data, Dr. Crusher, Tom Paris, Scotty and a few new characters that feel much more like 21st century cosplayers than 24th century Starfleet officers. This one is somewhat buyable since Data is there at Picard’s request (this is pre-Nemesis) and Dr. Crusher just seems to show up. Why Scotty needs to be there feels shoehorned in. But when it comes to fan-fictioning characters together it seems Star Trek: Defiant isn’t going to be outdone. Sure, Worf is there, but according to the solicits so is Lore, Ro, B’Elanna Torres, and Spock. And more promised. This makes it seems like the galaxy is really small. (*Editor’s note: Since this article was finished, Star Trek: Defiant #1 has come out and while it does do most of what I predicted here, it is very good and feels more cohesive than the solicits make it sound).
The inclusion of Lore makes its seem Picard Season Three will make this irrelevant before the first issue even comes out. So, what would I do if I had the Star Trek license? I’d start with a new ongoing featuring a future Enterprise with mostly new characters. Set it 100 years after Picard Season Three. Then I’d have a 25th Century ongoing series similar to something like their current Star Trek or Defiant just fewer fan fiction-y crossovers. My third ‘series’ would be ongoing mini-series of the current modern age Trek. And finally, the fourth series would be an anthology of TOS, Movie-era, TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT comics like Marvel’s Star Trek Unlimited series. Two stories per issue featuring different crews. If you had full control, what would your line of Star Trek comics look like?
Star Trek Explorer - I just want to take a few lines to mention Titan’s Star Trek: Explorer, the official magazine. Of all the things on this list, the magazine probably has the hardest road to travel. It’s out of date by months, but still manages to provide unique interviews, features, coverage of merch and even original fiction. My only wish for the magazine would be that it would come out more often and cover technical aspects and provide diagrams of the Trek universe like the old Star Trek Magazine in the late 90’s used to showcase.
Star Trek: Prodigy - I love the character of Janeway. Voyager was the first series where I saw every episode on day one. So having Kate Mulgrew back on Trek is just a treat that I never thought I’d see again. While this series is both animated and targeted at kids, it feels like a Berman-era Star Trek series. The young characters are appealing, the story is engaging and the late 24th century of Trek is being explored. Plus, you get Janeway on top of it. And this is animation, so yes, in the final two episodes of season one, you get the Enterprise-E and the Defiant. Yes, the Enterprise-E and the Defiant!
Star Trek: Lower Decks - This series shows how adaptable Star Trek is. Yes, it’s comedic and pokes fun at itself. But like Prodigy, it uses its animated world to tell stories from across the universe. You can revisit things from TOS that would never be feasible in a live action show, or you can bring in guest stars (like Riker and the U.S.S. Titan). And while pointing out absurdities you can also tell stories with that classic Star Trek heart, too. Returning to an episode of Prodigy—you’ll never get a live action scene with Spock, Odo, Scotty, Uhura and Dr. Crusher in a training simulation on the Enterprise-D bridge.
Star Trek Novels - I’ve discussed the Trek novels before. It’s safe to say they are very much a shadow of their former selves. They come out very randomly and are either TOS or fill in parts of the current live series. I wish they’d go back to pocket-sized novels with great cover artwork set in series from across the Trek franchise. No fan fiction-like crossovers for a while. Have a nice hardcover a few times a year and do a few non-fiction books here and there. How about a Picard Season 3 technical manual? Episode 6 could fill at least three chapters! Titan has stepped up with some of their books, but it’s still pretty distant from the golden age during the 80’s and 90’s.
Star Trek Toys and Collectibles - There’s not a whole lot to say here. Now that Playmates has the toy license back, we’ve seen a few Wrath of Khan figures, a few TNG figures, a couple from Discovery, a TOS phaser and the TOS Enterprise. Prodigy figures are coming relatively soon. And that’s about it. No idea if anything else is coming. Over from Super7, we’re getting a few deluxe figures and we have the full TNG crew in the ReAction line. I wish Trek toys were more readily available in brick-and-mortar stores though. Wal-Mart has TWOK figures, Target has the others—but were rarely in stock.
Lately, I’ve been eyeing several statuettes and premiere figures. The EXO-6 Trek figures—especially Captain Janeway is very close to a commit for me. Followers of us at Cereal Creatures know I did pull the trigger on that 1996 Star Trek: First Contact Playmates Enterprise-E!
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy in the 32nd Century - There are some Trek fans who are consistently opposed to the idea of a Starfleet Academy series. It was proposed as a sixth movie and several times along the way of creating new Trek series, but never came to fruition. It did materialize as the Marvel comic series, and we got a little bit of a taste of what it could be in the DS9 episode “Valiant”. However, I have no desire to see Discovery’s Tilly be a mentor to a bunch of Starfleet Cadets in the distant future. Even the concept sounds like the premise for a young adult novel. Now that we’ve been guaranteed some version of this, I’m not optimistic that we’re going to get anything resembling classic Star Trek, but something closer to “90210” in space. I’m really hoping that I’m wrong.
Section 31 - No. I’ve seen too much of Section 31. I never cared for the concept and like Voyager did to the Borg, Discovery made them toothless and inconsistent foes for our heroes. Michelle Yeoh is the only standout for this concept, but even if she’s interested in returning to Trek, her star is shining very brightly now. Can Paramount even afford her? Also, she was much better playing Captain Georgiou than the blood-thirsty Mirror Universe emperor-turned-Section 31 spy.
Star Trek: Picard Season Four / Star Trek: Titan / Star Trek: Legacy - Yes, this is what I want more of—25th Century, Berman-era inspired, preferably episodic Trek (but S3 feels like a long movie that we never got post-Nemesis). If there were a Star Trek: Legacy series, I’d continue with the TNG cast who are interested, bring in Seven, the Titan crew, and one of my favorite Picard characters, Elnor! There are so many possibilities in this modern age of Trek universe and so many places it could boldly go. Picard S3 showrunner Terry Matalas has orchestrated a grand vision that has typically disagreeing Trek fans begging for more! It must continue!
And one final way it could…
Star Trek: Janeway - Yes, to this, too, would be a dream series for me. We need a post-Prodigy Janeway that addresses all the adult-themed questions that we must know about a post-Voyager Janeway. Even in animated form, Kate Mulgrew commands the screen. The storytelling potential brings a nostalgic, but new vision of what Janeway’s life has been or even what consequences have emerged from her decisions on Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. Plus, the experiences with Picard’s three seasons certainly give showrunners the proven template for delivering a fan favorite, quality show.
We could probably keep going, but I think we’ve covered most of the current projects. We can wish, speculate and get excited for our favorite Star Trek characters, but it’s safe to say that there’s no lack of new content. From TV shows to books to toys and collectibles, you have lots of options and can celebrate whatever part of Trek that you like—including those yet to come! At no point in history has it been a better time to be a Trekkie—you have nearly 60 years of Trek to consume, but new content appearing every day!