Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Discovery, and for other iterations of the franchise.
Star Trek: Enterprise is the only series in the franchise to be set in the 22nd Century. As such, it exists semi-independently, with very few opportunities for characters, factions, themes, or storylines to cross over and appear in newer Star Trek projects. As a prequel, many of the characters and events that debuted in Enterprise were not mentioned or referenced in shows that supposedly took place years later – as those storylines had not yet been conceived.
Enterprise thus exists in a strange place in Star Trek’s broader canon. There was a brief mention of Captain Archer in both Season 1 of Discovery and the 2009 film Star Trek, but both were little more than blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affairs.
I’ve written about this phenomenon before in relation to Star Wars, where I termed it the “prequel problem.” Introducing wholly new story elements in a prequel is a risky storytelling strategy, as not only might it adversely impact the original work (or franchise, in this case) but it could also cut off the prequel in terms of story, isolating it and making connections with the original work difficult.
While Enterprise managed to avoid most of the pitfalls that befell the Star Wars prequel trilogy, one area where I feel the “prequel problem” is noticeable is in terms of two of the main antagonist factions the show introduced: the Suliban and the Xindi.
Both factions played significant roles in Enterprise across its first three seasons in particular. The Xindi, it could be argued, became one of the key driving forces in the expansion of Starfleet, leading to early deep-space exploration and allowing Starfleet to hone many of the skills and technologies it would use in future missions of exploration and discovery.
The attack by the Xindi on Earth was also a significant moment, one which history should preserve for future generations of Starfleet officers and Federation citizens. While some of the events of the Temporal Cold War (or Temporal Wars, as Discovery called them) may have arguably been classified, the existence of the Suliban clearly was not, and both factions could – and almost certainly should – still be around in the 23rd, 24th, and 32nd Centuries.
Setting aside the obvious production-side reason that the Suliban and Xindi were created for Enterprise years after The Original Series and The Next Generation went off the air, in order to answer my question of whether we’ll ever see either return we need to consider possible reasons for their absence. In short, is there anything we could point to from an in-universe point of view to indicate why these major factions would have simply disappeared by the 23rd or 24th Centuries?
There are many factions and races seen in Star Trek that have only made a single appearance in the franchise so far, including many that could easily be revisited. The First Federation, encountered in The Original Series Season 1 episode The Corbomite Maneuver, are one example, as are the Sheliak, from The Next Generation Season 3 episode The Ensigns of Command. While we know the Milky Way galaxy is populated by a large number of alien races, some simply choose not to have much contact with the Federation.
Location is an issue in this case, though. Enterprise depicted Earth’s first major mission of exploration, and the races encountered in the show – presumably including both the Xindi and Suliban – can’t have been located that far away (relatively speaking). The NX-01 Enterprise had a maximum speed of warp 5, limiting its possible range.
Star Trek has kept many locations and their distances from one another deliberately vague to allow for maximum storytelling leeway, and that’s probably no bad thing. I don’t want to get into the weeds on just this one point, but in short what I’m trying to say is that both the Suliban and Xindi are likely to be much closer to Earth than, for example, Bajor or Talos IV.
We’ve never seen it suggested that the Suliban ever joined the Federation in future, but the Xindi certainly had. Xindi were known to serve in Starfleet by the 26th Century – according to the time-travelling Crewman Daniels – and this further suggests that Federation-Xindi relations existed and grew over the years, even if they didn’t officially join up until centuries later.
In the aftermath of their conflicts with Earth, both of which were due to external manipulation by time travelling factions, it’s possible that both the Suliban and Xindi simply chose to cut off all contact, isolating themselves and maintaining no relationship with the Federation, and this is arguably the most likely in-universe explanation for the lack of appearances in the 23rd and 24th Centuries.
However, it’s still possible that there were accidental encounters out in space, or that the Federation pursued a policy of attempting to reestablish contact and diplomatic relations behind the scenes, even if those attempts were rebuffed. Discovery’s Season 1 premiere gives us an interesting glimpse at how Starfleet handled the reappearance of a faction they had no contact with – let’s hope that second contact went better with the Suliban or Xindi than it did with the Klingons!
Bringing either the Suliban or Xindi into modern Star Trek would be a huge way to connect the ongoing franchise back to Enterprise in a way that hasn’t yet been attempted. I think it’s absolutely worth doing for that reason alone, and in a way, just as Discovery did with the Klingons, the two factions could be changed to fit the needs of a new story.
In fact, there’s arguably far greater scope to reimagine both the Suliban and Xindi than there ever was with the Klingons! The Klingons had been thoroughly established across fifty years of Star Trek before Discovery came along, and while the show managed some aesthetic changes (I genuinely loved the ancient Egyptian influence in parts of the Discovery redesign) it was constrained by both past and future depictions of the Klingon Empire. There are two huge reasons why the Suliban and Xindi don’t have similar constraints.
The first is that both the Suliban and Xindi were only seen in the 22nd Century. Depending on which series they were to reappear in, there’s been either a century, two-and-a-half centuries, or an entire millennium for their cultures to have changed, allowing the writers of modern Star Trek to adapt either faction to a far greater degree than the writers of Discovery Season 1 could with the Klingons.
Secondly, this will be our first time seeing either faction free of the manipulation of time travelling villains. The changes made by interference in the timeline to both the Suliban and Xindi is impossible to overstate, and after finally freeing themselves from their time travelling benefactors, we simply don’t know what position either faction would be in.
Both of these reasons mean that, in my opinion at least, there’s a lot of potential in both the Suliban and Xindi if they did return. Since we know that the Xindi joined the Federation, perhaps Discovery Season 4 could bring back at least one Xindi character in the 32nd Century, establishing that the Xindi remained loyal even in the aftermath of the Burn.
The Suliban are more complicated, and could make for a return either as an antagonist or ally of the Federation, depending on which way the writers and producers wanted to take things. There’s no proof that the Suliban would simply become friendly toward the Federation and Earth, even after Silik’s death, and if they had withdrawn and cut off ties as I suggested above, they may have continued to have a burning hatred of Earth and the Federation.
Strange New Worlds could see the return of the Suliban, perhaps through the kind of deep space encounter that I mentioned. If such a story makes clear that it’s the first time anyone from the Federation has seen a Suliban in roughly 100 years, this would go some way to closing the hole their absence in the 23rd and 24th Centuries generated.
I could see Pike trying hard to establish some kind of diplomatic ties with the Suliban, only to see his efforts fail and the Suliban attacking the Enterprise. A skirmish like this wouldn’t lead to a larger conflict necessarily, but it would again confirm that the Suliban remained isolated and unfriendly well into the 23rd Century.
Discovery, as mentioned above, could bring back the Xindi. While we certainly could see them on friendly terms with the Federation, we could also see either the Suliban or Xindi looking to exact revenge for the Burn – an event I’m sure at least someone blames the Federation for!
Given that Enterprise is less well-remembered than the Star Trek shows of the 1990s, perhaps we won’t see a major tie-in any time soon. There have been a couple of name-drops as mentioned, with the Suliban being mentioned once in Lower Decks. But so far, no major connection has been made. While we can say that the setting of modern Star Trek shows precludes all but a few major character crossovers, I think the absence of major factions like the Suliban and Xindi is more obvious, and at the very least, establishing an in-universe reason for why they disappeared after the mid-22nd Century would be worth doing.
Both factions have interesting elements that could be explored. The Suliban – or at least, some individuals – had undergone extensive genetic engineering at the behest of someone from the future, and the impact of that genetic engineering on Suliban society could be explored. Did they, as their one reference in Lower Decks seemed to hint at, retain some of their abilities, like shape-shifting? If so, did those traits get passed down to future generations? What are the consequences of their involvement in the Temporal Wars and their fight with Earth?
The Xindi are not a single species. They are, in fact, five different species that evolved together on one planet. A sixth species had been wiped out by the mid-22nd Century. In a way, the Xindi could be a microcosm of the Federation – different species working together. There’s potential for the Xindi to be an analogy for real-world problems of different races and groups working together, and thus the faction presents a way for Star Trek to do something it’s always done: use its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues.
I would make the argument that there are good reasons to bring back either faction. Not only are they relatively blank slates – getting blanker the further into the future their reappearances end up being – but bringing them into a current Star Trek project would connect back to Enterprise, something which hasn’t been done since Star Trek returned to the small screen almost four years ago.
Discovery had opportunities in its first two seasons to make reference to either the Suliban or Xindi – or other factions or events from Enterprise – but failed to do so in any significant way. With Strange New Worlds (and possibly the Section 31 series) picking up the baton for the 23rd Century, it perhaps makes arguably the most sense to bring them back there. But I could also see it being possible for an appearance in Picard, Discovery, or even Lower Decks or Prodigy. In short, there are many ways either faction could come back.
Whether the Suliban or Xindi ever will come back, though… well, that’s up to the creative team in charge of Star Trek!
Star Trek: Enterprise Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other territories where the service is available. Further international streaming is available via Netflix. The series is available on DVD and Blu-ray too. The Star Trek franchise – including Enterprise and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.