Star Trek’s Fascination With Prequels

As we approach the 56th anniversary of Star Trek and the mammoth franchise it launched, it is a good time to reflect on where Star Trek is going. Specifically, the franchise’s fascination with prequels.

When Star Trek was at its height back in the ’90s, each new TV show featured new, original characters and situations. For the most part, the premise was basically the same: a starship and its crew exploring the unknown cosmos and meeting new aliens. This premise has continued to this day, but a common wrinkle with the franchise is to look back and dwell on characters and situations that made it so popular. Look at, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the latest Star Trek series, which won a lot of acclaim from fans and critics for its back-to-basics approach in episodic storytelling and doubling down on established characters like Christopher Pike and Spock. Meanwhile, the biggest buzz going on in Trek circles has to do with a third season of Star Trek: Picard that will reunite the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Strange New Worlds Revisited

There has been a tendency with Star Trek shows, starting with Star Trek: Enterprise in 2001 and most recently this year with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, to serve as prequels to the original Star Trek, which took place in the mid-23rd century. Even the recent films have taken place during this time period, although those films were reboots that officially took place in an alternate universe. Some fans have an understandable disdain for prequels in general for many reasons. Prequels are forced to follow a certain continuity to line up with the original film or TV show. Also, much of the tension is gone with prequels when it comes to established characters and situations. Take the Star Wars prequels. They featured younger versions of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker before he turned to Darth Vader. Going into the films, everyone knew that Kenobi would survive the films and that Skywalker would eventually become evil. This fact robbed the films of some tension if the fate of these characters was preordained. Going back to Star Trek, with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Star Trek: Enterprise there was some uproar over how the alien Gorn looked compared to their appearance in the original Star Trek. The real-world reason for the disparity between how the Gorn looked was due to improved budgets and special effects. The original Gorn was a stuntman in a cheap suit, and recreating that look would lead to unintentional laughter among viewers instead of fear. Still, this lack of continuity has irked some fans.

Another problem with prequels is the implication that the powers-that-be have run out of ideas. This was evident in the early episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, which were usually tired retreads of previous Trek episodes. It was not until its later seasons did the show break free of its worn formula and embraced the potentials of prequels with episodes that neatly lined up with the original series.

If a prequel is done well, it can be an excellent way to evoke foreshadowing and to help develop characters and situations. With Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, an intriguing storyline has it that Pike knows his future, which was a grim one as shown in the original Star Trek. Throughout the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Pike internally debates if his future is set. Can he change his fate? Should he? This dilemma was the basis of one of the show’s best episodes, “A Quality of Mercy”, which explored the result of Pike altering his future. Hint for anyone who has not watched it, things do not end well for a certain other character.

Prequel Flaws

Then again, if a prequel falters or tries to be too different, it will alienate fans. Star Trek: Discovery suffered heavily in that while it was a prequel it strayed too far from established Star Trek lore. The technology and overall look of the show was too advanced when compared to the original Star Trek, though it took place about a decade before the old show. The look of the Klingons was radically different from the established look of Klingons in traditional Trek, although to be fair the look of the Klingons was wildly different from the original Star Trek and later incarnations. Again, improved budgets were the cause for the disparity. There were distinct continuity deviations, notably the fact that the show’s main character, Michael Burnham, was actually Spock’s step sister. Keep in mind, this family relationship was never hinted at in previous Trek shows and films. These deviations might have been overlooked if Star Trek: Discovery was clearly established as a reboot like the recent films or if the show was actually good. Star Trek: Discovery escaped from the storytelling limitations of prequels by having their characters flung into the far future. This was an excellent idea since the show would not be bound by continuity, but thanks to poor scripts the show has become unwatchable. Star Trek: Discovery was doomed from the start not because it was a prequel, but because of its execution.

There is not anything wrong with doing prequels or revisiting characters and situations. Doing so helps explore the many interesting facets of the Star Trek universe. Many of the most popular films and TV shows have successfully pulled this off and will continue to do so. As to whether or not upcoming shows or films will be prequels is not clear, though if one wants to accept Star Trek: Discovery as canon then given its far-future setting, any show or film set before the current episodes of Star Trek: Discovery has to be considered a prequel.

Lost Era Explored

One prequel idea that can be explored would be to set a potential show during the so-called Lost Era of Star Trek. This is the time period set between the last Star Trek film to feature the original cast, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a significant time gap of several decades and a show set in this Lost Era of Star Trek could answer some questions. For instance, what happened to the Enterprise-B? What were the early missions of the Enterprise-C? What was the Tomed Incident involving the Romulans? What was the political situation in the Alpha Quadrant? What was the fate of the original Enterprise crewmembers like Chekov or Uhura? The show could explore the early years of Jean-Luc Picard, Kathryn Janeway or Benjamin Sisko. Just recast the roles with younger actors. Other things that could be examined include the occupation of Bajor, Federation conflicts with the Cardassians, Tholians and other enemies, the early years of Noonien Soong, the possiblities are endless with a TV show set during the Lost Era of Star Trek. Such a show would serve as a prequel to the later shows while being a sequel to the original Star Trek. The show could adapt the novels set during this time period or be completely original just as long as the continuity lines up.

Star Trek has demonstrated throughout the years the merits and detriments of prequels. When done correctly, the Star Trek prequels are not just fascinating companion pieces to older shows, but legitimate storytelling vehicles that fully explore the rich world of Star Trek.

The Summer Of 2022: A Golden Season For Genre TV Shows

As the summer of 2022 winds down and the recent permieres of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, The House of the Dragon, and Star Trek: Lower Decks, it can be easily argued that this summer was one of the greatest time periods for genre TV shows.

Usually the summer is a wasteland when it comes to TV shows. In the old days before streaming and cable, viewers had a difficult time finding any original TV shows. The best option was watching reruns or hoping some failed TV show with limited episodes or pilot would turn up. Often the quality of these cast-offs were suspect and they were forgettable. The summer was the time to go to the movies, to travel, or to go play outside. Well that has been noticeably different in recent summers, but especially the summer of 2022. Sure, those activities are still available, but if you want to just stay home, relax and get out of the heat, there are now plenty of original, quality TV shows to watch.

Starting in May and ending this month, we’ve been treated to a rich menu of TV shows to binge and obsess over. Here is a partial list, in no order, of what the summer of 2022 had for viewers:

Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Boys, Ms. Marvel, For All Mankind, Stranger Things 4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Westworld, Baymax!, Moonhaven, What We Do in the Shadows, American Horror Stories, Primal, Harley Quinn, Resident Alien, The Umbrella Academy, The Sandman, Paper Girls, The Orville: New Horizons, The Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead, and the three most recent premieres, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Star Trek: Lower Decks and The House of the Dragon. But there are more TV shows that will be out by the end of August such as See and Stargirl. Also left off this list were TV shows that debuted earlier this year but their season concluded during the summer, which include Superman & Lois, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Flash.

As anyone can see this is quite a diverse selection of TV shows that caters to all types of tastes. Want some space fantasty? There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or The Orville: New Horizons. Superhero fare? Choose from She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Stargirl, Ms. Marvel and so on. How about animated shows? There are plenty of choices like Star Trek: Lower Decks, Harley Quinn, Primal, Love, Death + Robots, etc. Whether its comedy or high drama, horror, sci-fi or fantasy, this summer offered them all. Even if anyone was not interested in TV shows, there were some interesting choices running from the I Am Groot shorts to full-length movies like Prey or Samaritan.

Why the sudden interest to fill the summer schedule with can’t-miss TV fare? There are many factors, but most likely the reason is that the television and streaming schedules are very crowded now with lots of competition. Some of the above TV shows might have gotten lost in the shuffle of a fall or winter schedule with many other kinds of TV shows and events like the Super Bowl and major holidays. It could also be due to the pandemic since many people still won’t venture out into the movie theaters and prefer the comfort and safety of their homes.

Whatever the reason, it is worth mentioning that many of these TV shows are high-quality productions that resemble mini-films with big-name stars and topnotch special effects. Many of these shows entered the public consciousness this summer and became must-view events to be discussed either online or in person. These included The Boys, Stranger Things 4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In fact, Stranger Things 4 helped revitalize interest in the old ’80s song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” due to the song’s placement in a few episodes. What is heartening is that many of the shows are not new and the fact that they can still generate public buzz is a remarkable achievement.

Will the summer of 2023 and future summer TV seasons match the quality and quantity of this summer’s exceptional genre TV shows? Who knows? Hopefully this trend will continue for a long time!

The Passing Of A Star Trek Legend: Nichelle Nichols, 1932- 2022

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It’s with a heavy heart that it must be reported that another Star Trek legend is no longer with us. Nichelle Nichols, who pioneered the groundbreaking role of Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek passed away at the age of 89.

Nichols had suffered earlier a “mild stroke” in 2015, had health issues related to her advanced age, and according to her son Kyle Johnson, she died due to natural causes. These recent years mark a somber occasion for Star Trek fans since she is the fifth member of the original series to pass away, joining Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and Grace Lee Whitney.

One of the most distinguishing aspects of the original series back in the revolutionary 1960s was the presence of a Black woman on a starship bridge and the fact that Lt. Uhura was a senior officer. Although her role was limited in a supporting capacity, Nichols was able to inflect competence, elegance and a quiet nobility that resonated with fans of all colors and persuasions. Many instantly recognized how groundbreaking her role since she had a prominent presence on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. One of the original viewers turned out to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who met Nichols at one point and encouraged her to remain with the show because she expressed her frustrations with her role and was contemplating leaving Star Trek.

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It turned out to be fortunate that she remained because as years passed her status among fans and critics grew and grew. Not only that but by staying with Star Trek through its short three seasons she cemented her place in television history by partaking in the first interracial kiss to air on TV. That episode as we all know was “Plato’s Stepchildren” where she shared a passionate season with her co-star William Shatner. Even though in that scene she admitted to being attracted to Captain Kirk, in real life she, as well as other castmembers, didn’t think highly of Shatner. But they were able to resolve their issues in later life.

Her work in Star Trek didn’t end with the cancellation of the series. She provided voice work in the animated Star Trek: The Animated Series and reprised her role of Uhura in the first six Star Trek films. Even though the amount of screen time was limited in those endeavors, she had a strong presence with some memorable moments, the best one being her scene in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock where she has to contend with a conceited young officer who thinks her time has passed.

Trek 3

More importantly, her contribution to Star Trek led to her being involved with NASA in a special project to help recruit minorities and women. Notable results of that project were the recruiting Dr. Sally Ride and Guion Bluford, the first American female astronaut and the first African-American astronaut, respectively. On Sept. 17, 2015, she flew on a NASA mission via a modified jet to accompany the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) telescope.

nichols sofia

nichols

Nichols also appeared in other TV shows and films like Heroes, Snow Dogs, Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles, Futurama and Are We There Yet?

Regardless of the amount of screen time she had when playing Lt. Uhura saying her famous line “Hailing frequencies open”, her contribution as a Star Trek legend to Star Trek and society is something that will resonate through the ages and the stars.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Boldly Goes Back To Basics With The Star Trek Franchise

The first season for the latest Star Trek TV show to stream on Paramount+, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, has just concluded with a strong episode (“A Quality of Mercy”) that represented the best stories of the season. The show is a spinoff of Star Trek: Discovery and another prequel to the original Star Trek. In this case, the show chronicles the voyages of the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) a few short years before Captain James T. Kirk assumed command.

Getting this out of the way, this series is fantastic with its much needed and refreshing back-to-basics approach for Star Trek. The franchise has been faltering lately with subpar live-action entries, Star Trek: Discovery and the second season of Star Trek: Picard. However, the franchise feels reinvigorated now with the new series. A huge part of the success of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has to do with its lead characters.

When Pike and Spock (Ethan Peck) were introduced as feature characters in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, they quickly stood out and added a lot of gravitas and charisma to the show. In fact, the reason why the second season was so well received was largely due to the characters, how they were portrayed and their engaging storylines. After the season concluded a wise choice was made to bring back Pike and Spock into their own series to continue their story arcs.

Spock, as in the original show, is trying to find a balance between his human and Vulcan sides. Ethan Peck does a fine job as Spock and while he made the role his own, he does quietly emulate the spirit of Leonard Nimoy’s famous portrayal of the Vulcan.

Meanwhile, Anson Mount completely took over the role of Captain Pike, which was first portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the original pilot for Star Trek. For decades people associated the early captain of the Enterprise with Hunter, but Mount’s smooth and amenable version of Pike captivated fans to the point that when Captain Pike is mentioned it is easy to picture Mount instead of Hunter. This is something that happened over with the Star Wars franchise where Ewan McGregor made the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi his own instead of Alec Guiness, the original actor who played the Jedi. Getting back to Mount, the actor endows his Pike with a casual competence and an approachable demeanor, which makes Pike a believable starship captain. He is haunted throughout the season by the knowledge that in a few years, he will be incapacitated and spend his last days as a near invalid, as seen in the original Star Trek episodes “The Menagerie, Part I and II”). So, Pike is torn over whether or not he should avoid his fate or try to change it. Nevertheless, Christopher Pike carries on throughout the show with his sense of calm and reason as the crew of the Enterprise deal with weekly crises.

Aside from Christopher Pike and Spock, the series has many interesting characters. Some are familiar characters who were well recast (Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Uhura and Jess Bush as Christine Chapel), others are new to the franchise, such the ship’s security cheif, La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) and the ship’s engineer, Hemmer (Bruce Horak), and they were all instantly captivating.

Unlike recent TV shows with serialized storytelling techniques, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, went back to the basics in terms of episodic storytelling. The episodes were standalone entries and the season as a whole lacked a unifying plot thread. It’s simply about the adventures of Christopher Pike and his crew on the Enterprise. Some of the stories were well crafted and smart, others fell a bit short, but the approach worked quite well. The best episodes this season were “A Quality of Mercy”, “Memento Mori”, “All Those Who Wander”, and “Strange New Worlds”. The last two were notable in that “All Those Who Wander” was a well-done homage to Alien with a shocking and sad character death, while “Strange New Worlds” was an exceptional pilot episode that enraged right-wing nutjobs with its claim that their recent and current activities wind up being the cause for a second American Civil War and ultimately, World War III. As mentioned before, not every episode is a homerun, but had interesting twists. But, the only misfire was “Spock Amok”, it was supposed to be one of those lighthearted, humorous episodes. However, it failed to deliver any laughs and was unfocused, but it had a few good nuggets.

As with modern Star Trek shows, this one boasts cinema-quality special effects and production that rivals the best of J.J. Abrams and the Kelvinverse, but with superior storytelling and characters. That is the key with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it focused on telling tight stories that do not meander and spin wheels like the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Like the Berman-era Trek shows, this one makes the effort to devote episodes to other characters besides Pike and Spock, unlike Star Trek: Discovery. In just a handful of episodes we learned some vital background info on several characters. For instance, La’an not only suffered from childhood trauma thanks to the predatory Gorn, but was a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, yes, that Khan. It was revealed that first officer, Una Chin-Riley or Number One (Rebecca Romijn), is not human, while the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) was secretly hiding his ill daughter in the ship’s transporters as he tried to find a cure for her. Since the time was taken to explore these side characters, they became endearing, we cared about them and wanted to know more. More importantly, when these characters suffered, we felt for them.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds injects new life into the Star Trek franchise with its simple and effective back-to-basics approach, but its fused with so much more to elevate it. In addition to its crisp production values, and solid cast, the show captures the soul of Star Trek with a sense of adventure and discovery.

José Soto

Where Are the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Followups?

As we get ready for the second season of Star Trek: Picard to stream in a few short days and we have seen Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), or rather her hologram, appear as a one of the main characters in Star Trek: Prodigy, these developments begs the following question. Where are the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) followups?

Ever since DS9 aired its final episode back in 1999, we have yet to see any meaningful followup or sequel to the show. Its reputation has increased significantly over the years as fans have come to appreciate how innovative and unique DS9 was compared to other Star Trek shows.

What set Star Trek: Deep Space Nine apart were several factors. Start with its premise, it took place on a space station, not a starship. This helped develop long-running arcs and storylines over several episodes and seasons that explored the socio-political landscape of Star Trek. What was interesting was that this predated the current model of TV shows with their season-long arcs. What also set DS9 apart from other Trek shows (at least, until recently) was that it had a darker, grittier tone with more mature and grounded stories and characters. No one was purely good or evil, not even its main character Benjamim Sisko (Avery Brooks), who suffered from PTSD over a Borg attack that killed his wife. In one infamous episode “In the Pale Moonlight” he manufactured evidence to entice the Romulans to enter the Federation’s war against the Dominion. The show was riddled with anti-heroes such as Quark (Armin Shimerman), the greedy Ferengi bartender, and Garak (Andrew J. Robinson), a former Cardassian spy with a nebulous past. Many of the characters like Major Kira (Nana Visitor) struggled to adjust to a new life. In her case, Kira was a former terrorist/freedom fighter who found herself as Sisko’s second in command and operating under Federation rules. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explored controversial issues such as racism, religion, and the impact of war. In fact, DS9 was noted for running a long storyline where the Federation was at war with the Dominion and many of its related stories had clear anti-war messages.

Even though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a success, it was not as well regarded by fans and critics because it deviated too much from traditional Star Trek tropes. However, over the years, more and more people have come to appreciated DS9 for its unique merits and is now considered one of the best, if not the best, Star Trek TV shows.

But, ever since “What You Leave Behind”, the final episode of DS9, aired there has not been any meaningful followup or sequels to the show, aside from other media like books and comics. There have been some minor references to the show in other Star Trek TV shows and film over the years. The most notable one was an appearance of Odo (René Auberjonois) as a holographic character in the Star Trek: Prodigy holodeck-centric episode “Kobayashi”. Meanwhile, Star Trek: The Next Generation continues in Star Trek: Picard, characters from Star Trek: Voyager such as Janeway and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) are currently appearing in Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Prodigy, respectively.

So, why hasn’t DS9 been revisited? A full reunion is not possible anymore since Auberjonois and a couple of other DS9 actors have passed away, and Brooks is no longer actively acting. Still, it would be great if several DS9 characters could reappear in current Star Trek TV shows or have some episodes or films take place in the DS9 station or nearby locales. There are many lingering questions about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that fans want answered. Will the Dominion return to threaten Earth and the Federation? What happened to the planet Bajor? Did it ever join the Federation? What happened to the Cardassians after they were defeated in the war? Will Sisko return after joining the Prophets in their non-linear plane of existence? Being that he now exists outside of time and space, he can in theory return to our existence at any time, including the current Star Trek shows.

OK, showrunners. We the fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have been very patient. We are waiting to revisit this innovative and novel corner of the Star Trek universe. Let’s make this happen.