Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 3, Episode 3: Mining the Mind’s Mines

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Wrath of Khan, Generations, The Next Generation, and Picard Season 1.

Lower Decks got off to a weaker start than I’d have liked in Season 3, with a couple of episodes that didn’t really manage to hit the high notes that the series has demonstrated that it’s capable of reaching. For me at least, Mining the Mind’s Mines was somewhat of a return to form; an episode that managed to be more enjoyable and much closer to some of the better offerings from Seasons 1 and 2. It wasn’t perfect, and I still find myself judging the Lower Decks by the standards of the absolutely phenomenal Season 2 finale. We aren’t quite there yet, but Mining the Mind’s Mines was definitely a big step in the right direction after an underwhelming start to the new season.

For the first time this season, all four of our main ensigns felt like they got a decent amount to do. Although Tendi was largely off to one side this week, her B-plot still felt well-developed and was given enough time to shine. Lower Decks doesn’t always have time to include everybody, but Mining the Mind’s Mines is a great example of how there’s room to give all of the main characters something to do – even if some stories are bigger than others!

Tendi was separated from the group this week.

There are two genuinely interesting concepts in Mining the Mind’s Mines, one of which Star Trek as a whole hasn’t dedicated much time to in the past. Firstly, we have the idea of Starfleet officers acquiring reputations or even celebrity status. This is something that Mining the Mind’s Mines looked at through the lens of the ensigns from the USS Carlsbad, and how they came to view the Cerritos as a kind of “Cali-class legend.”

We’ve seen in Generations how the Federation’s media crowded around the retired Captain Kirk, and in Season 1 of Picard how the retired Admiral was interviewed about his role in the Romulan rescue effort, and these scenes certainly hint at the fact that some Starfleet officers end up as household names or at least names that are known and respected within Starfleet.

Through the USS Carlsbad crew, we came to see how the USS Cerritos is viewed by others in Starfleet.

Within Lower Decks itself, Boimler has often taken on the role of the over-zealous fan, showing how some Starfleet officers (and others) go on to become famous, at least within the ranks! Boimler’s fawning over characters like Will Riker and Tom Paris serves as both a gentle poking of fun at Trekkies and, from an in-universe perspective, as an example of the fame and reverence that some Starfleet officers garner as they go on adventure after adventure.

As someone who’s fascinated with the world-building side of Star Trek, things like this go a long way to making the Federation and the Star Trek galaxy feel real and lived-in. It makes sense that some of the monumental events that we’ve seen on screen would be massive news stories within the Federation, and the names of those involved would become well-known. As a real-world analogy, how many astronauts, explorers, or even soldiers and military officers could you name off the top of your head? Fame (and infamy) come to people in all walks of life, and given the incredible escapades we often see our favourite characters taking part in, it seems perfectly reasonable to think that at least some Starfleet officers would acquire reputations – as would certain vessels and postings!

Lower deckers from the USS Carlsbad and the USS Cerritos.

The second point that I found interesting was the way that the episode examined the working relationship between Starfleet and the civilian scientists on Jengus IV. Set aside, for the moment, the conclusion to that particular storyline; I just find it really interesting how there can be a real disconnect between Starfleet and some of these groups of non-aligned scientists.

Again, this is something that makes the Federation feel real and alive in a way that many fictional worlds just don’t. Far from being a flat, one-dimensional plane in which everyone works to the same goals, here we have an example of how factions within the Federation find themselves at loggerheads, competing with one another. Starfleet, as the Federation’s exploration and military arm, gets resources and attention that some civilian groups clearly envy. Even within Star Trek’s optimistic, post-scarcity future, these kinds of disagreements are bound to exist!

A representative of the Scrubble and a Federation scientist.

In that sense, Mining the Mind’s Mines picked up a story thread from a long way back in Star Trek’s past. One of the most prominent examples of this “scientists versus Starfleet” divide came in The Wrath of Khan, with Dr Carol Marcus and Dr David Marcus and their research on Project Genesis drawing attention from Starfleet – and later, of course, from Khan!

Psychic mines were a very interesting inclusion in Mining the Mind’s Mines. The way they came across on screen was largely played for comedic effect, but at the same time they felt threatening and dangerous. I’d argue that psychic mines aren’t something you’d expect to find in any other sci-fi franchise; they have an “old school Star Trek” feel to them, as if they might’ve been conceived for one of Captain Kirk’s adventures in The Original Series! Bringing fears and phobias to life is a trope that has been explored in other stories, of course, but the way it was handled here put a uniquely “Star Trek” spin on it.

Lieutenant Commander Stevens got in trouble when the psychic mines brought fears to life!

The psychic mines reminded me a little of the Deep Space Nine episode If Wishes Were Horses from Season 1, and also of Voyager’s second season episode The Thaw – so again, this is something that feels like pure Star Trek in both concept and execution. It led to some pretty funny moments in Mining the Mind’s Mines, too, with each of the ensigns given a chance to criticise the others’ fantasies and fears. It didn’t feel as if fun was being had exclusively at one character’s expense; there was no bullying or punching down, which was nice to see.

I don’t think we learned anything about the ensigns through the manifestation of their fantasies and fears, though, which could have been interesting to see. Boimler got a fairly typical “I love Starfleet and want to be a hero” outing that fits perfectly with his character (and could have been a fun way to include a cameo!), Mariner got to see a manifestation of Jennifer the Andorian, who we haven’t seen since Season 2, and Rutherford got to meet one of his heroes: Leah Brahms, who was a character we met in The Next Generation in a rather… complicated story involving Geordi La Forge.

Rutherford with an illusionary Leah Brahms.

All of these were fun, and it was great to welcome back Susan Gibney as Dr Brahms for a cameo appearance. Interestingly, Gibney was one of the contenders to play Captain Janeway back when Voyager was in pre-production; she was ultimately passed over as producers considered her “too young” to play the role. After a long absence from Star Trek, it was neat to see her make a return, albeit just as a small cameo on this occasion.

I’d like to see more from Mariner and Jennifer; I think there’s the potential for Jennifer to be a positive influence on Mariner, even if their relationship isn’t “exclusive” at first. Giving Mariner someone to talk to outside of the other three ensigns would be interesting, and Lower Decks embarking on its first fully-fledged romantic storyline could be a blast. I’d be interested to see how Jennifer might react to some of Mariner’s rule-breaking and wacky adventures… could she prove to be a calming influence just as much as a partner in crime?

An illusion of Jennifer the Andorian.

Back aboard the ship, Tendi’s storyline was an interesting one. We’ve seen characters like Troi go through some form of command training before, so it wasn’t an entirely new concept to see this kind of senior officer training. But for someone like Tendi, who’s usually very mild-mannered and doesn’t like conflict or trouble, it was naturally going to pose a challenge. She struggled first of all to stand up to Dr Migleemoo, who clearly wasn’t a good fit in his new role as mentor, but she eventually found her confidence and was even able to save the day as the two divergent storylines came together. All in all, it was a good outing for her!

We’ve seen Tendi “snap” on a couple of previous occasions, so this outburst of assertiveness doesn’t come from nowhere. In Season 1’s Crisis Point we saw her stand up to Mariner, and again to Mariner in Season 2’s We’ll Always Have Tom Paris. Tendi clearly needs to work on her assertiveness if she’s to be an effective bridge officer, because getting her point across when others want to ignore her or talk over her is going to be important! It took Dr T’Ana to help her with that, and although the two only shared a brief scene this week, the relationship between them that has evolved over the past couple of seasons really is one of the best outside of the core friend group. Although Dr T’Ana can be abrasive, she has a soft spot for Tendi that’s really sweet to see.

Tendi explains her predicament to Dr T’Ana.

Seeing scientists “go rogue” and work against Starfleet for their own ends was an interesting – and genuinely unexpected – twist. It took a fairly common Star Trek story trope – that of scientists in peril who need assistance – and flipped it on its head, and while that concept isn’t entirely unique, it was well-executed in Mining the Mind’s Mines.

This week’s episode was also a rare outing for Lieutenant Commander Stevens, one of the Cerritos’ senior officers who’s mainly seen in the background. One of the few things we know about Stevens is that he adores Commander Ransom, and that aspect was played up again here. I don’t think it hurts Lower Decks to have characters like Stevens; familiar faces who occasionally have larger roles to play are something past Star Trek shows have taken advantage of, too.

Stevens and Ransom.

So that was Mining the Mind’s Mines. It was a fun episode with some great laugh-out-loud moments, and Lower Decks seems ready to put an underwhelming start to Season 3 behind it. The psychic mines were a neat concept and allowed for some fun and different imagery, it was great to welcome back Susan Gibney for a cameo as Dr Leah Brahms, and while the main story was engaging and interesting, Tendi’s B-plot felt fleshed out too. I found myself having a good time with Mining the Mind’s Mines and remained engaged throughout.

Beyond the story of the scientists and Scrubble on Jengus IV, though, there was a genuinely interesting take on the idea of Starfleet officers – and certain vessels – acquiring a degree of fame and notoriety within the ranks. The way the ensigns from the USS Carlsbad approached their counterparts from the Cerritos seemed to be setting up the story for conflict and rivalry, but in true Star Trek style they soon found a way to work together – and the Carlsbad ensigns got to meet some of their Cali-class heroes in the process!

Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting these reviews published. Although it may take longer than usual, I still plan to review each episode of Season 3 of Lower Decks, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What happened at Star Trek Day 2022?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including recent and upcoming seasons of Picard, Discovery, Strange New Worlds, Prodigy, and Lower Decks.

The 8th of September is Star Trek Day! That’s the date in 1966 when The Original Series premiered in the United States with the episode The Man Trap, and Paramount chose to mark the occasion with a live broadcast for the second year in a row. I tuned in with some degree of excitement; the press release promised “announcements and reveals throughout,” and with Picard finishing up its run next year there was hope, I felt, for some kind of big announcement of a new series.

Star Trek Day was overshadowed this year by the death of Queen Elizabeth II. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the event would go ahead as it became clear throughout the afternoon here in the UK how serious things were, but with the official announcement of her death coming mere minutes before Star Trek Day was due to start (and after most of the guests had already arrived), there wasn’t time to do anything about it. As someone who is categorically not a monarchist, this didn’t bother me in the slightest! But I hope that Star Trek Day proceeding as it did, with light-heartedness and humour, didn’t upset anyone in light of such an historic event.

Hosts Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome on the main stage at Star Trek Day 2022.

There were some fun chats with stars of all of the present Star Trek shows, but Star Trek Day lacked any major announcements or reveals, in my view, to fully justify a two-hour live broadcast of this kind. It was fun – up to a point – but there were expectations that Paramount had placed on the event through its promise of “announcements and reveals” that weren’t met, at least not for me.

I’m not just talking about brand-new projects, either. We could have seen announcements for things like Lower Decks Season 5 or Strange New Worlds Season 3, the latter of which is surely being worked on at this stage with filming having already been completed on Season 2. But no such announcement was forthcoming at Star Trek Day, and really the only big news (if we can call it that) was the announcement from Nicholas Meyer that his Ceti Alpha V pitch is going to be turned into a podcast.

All of the guests took to the stage stage at the end of Star Trek Day.

As the event’s hosts and guests gathered together on the stage to bid farewell to Star Trek Day, I was thinking to myself “surely that can’t be it!” Some kind of final announcement to wrap things up, like last year’s Picard Season 3 revelation, felt like a possibility. But then the live stream ended and, as it turned out, that really was it.

So I confess to feeling a little disappointed that we didn’t get any of the major announcements that I had been half-hoping to see. As I said a few weeks ago when previewing Star Trek Day, though: Paramount hasn’t been shy about making announcements and revealing details about upcoming projects this year, with news being made at events like Comic-Con. In a way, it’s a testament to how broad Star Trek’s base is as the franchise continues to enjoy its renaissance that so much news has been made so far in 2022. Still, a part of me feels at least a little sad that this made-for-fans event couldn’t have included some kind of big announcement.

Alex Kurtzman on stage at Star Trek day.

But that’s enough about what didn’t happen at Star Trek Day! Let’s talk about what we did see, because there were some trailers and teasers, some fun conversations, some fan-focused moments, and some trademark Star Trek weirdness thrown in for good measure.

First up, to get this out of the way, there were some technical hitches that definitely didn’t go unnoticed. Hosts Tawny Newsome and Paul F. Tompkins both struggled with their teleprompters at different points in the event, leading to some awkward moments as they didn’t know what to say or how to fill the space.

Also on the technical side, at least on YouTube the live stream cut out at least half a dozen times. This only happened for a few seconds at a time (and thankfully not during any of the teasers or trailers), but it’s something that really shouldn’t be happening at this level. Paramount is a massive corporation with a big budget and with lots of experience in running live broadcasts. This wasn’t an issue at my end, either, as I saw a lot of people making similar comments on social media about the quality of the stream itself. This didn’t happen last year – and if Star Trek Day is to return in 2023, I hope it won’t happen again.

The YouTube live stream cut out multiple times.

Last year, Star Trek Day felt rehearsed and choreographed. The hosts (Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton) felt confident, and everyone involved seemed to know where to go, what to say, and what was coming up next. This year… let’s just say that the whole thing felt a lot more “casual.”

Hosts Tawny Newsome and Paul F. Tompkins had great chemistry together and both brought a lot of energy to the stage, but neither of them seemed to have the faintest idea what they were doing, who they were about to talk to, or what was coming up next during the entire broadcast. There was chaos on stage at several points as one or both of the hosts got distracted, forgot what to say, or because of the aforementioned teleprompter issue. One or two instances of this could feel charming, but for two hours of occasionally cringeworthy viewing… I felt it rather outstayed its welcome. While I like both Newsome and Tompkins, and they definitely had great chemistry, I think a dress rehearsal of some kind would have been to their benefit. They didn’t have that many lines to learn, and several of the panels only consisted of a couple of questions, so it just feels as though on that side of things, Star Trek Day wasn’t as polished or rehearsed as it might’ve been or as it was last year.

Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome (both of whom star in Lower Decks) were on hosting duties.

This also applies to the DJ who was present throughout the event and the stand-up routine that took place partway through. Musical taste and comedy are both very subjective things, of course, but I felt that neither DJ Reggie Watts nor comic Brian Posehn excelled. Neither appeared well-rehearsed or coordinated, and I think that’s such a shame. Had a bit more effort or at least practice gone into their acts, Star Trek Day might’ve been a bit more enjoyable. As it was, both were pretty forgettable, with the only points of note being jokes that appeared to fall flat in the auditorium and a DJ who didn’t know what buttons to press and whose music didn’t seem to start on time.

Aside from big announcements of new projects, I was hoping to get news of Prodigy’s first season, Picard’s third, and Strange New Worlds’ second. We got a few tidbits of information about these projects, which was great, and in a moment I’ll break down the trailers and teasers that we saw. But first, a word about the live panels themselves.

Brian Posehn performed a short stand-up act.

Only Strange New Worlds felt fully-represented, with the majority of the main cast making an appearance. The Strange New Worlds panel was also probably the least cringe-inducing to watch, as host Tawny Newsome managed to get in a few interesting questions that prompted the cast to talk about both their experiences of Season 1 as well as drop a few teases about Season 2.

The other panels, however, were pretty lacklustre. Sir Patrick Stewart was present along with Michelle Hurd and Jeri Ryan to talk Picard Season 3, but the truncated panel only had time for a couple of questions before rolling the new teaser trailer. The Lower Decks panel completely fell apart, and while I don’t like to be too critical of performers who come down with a case of what seemed to be stage fright, Noël Wells and Tawny Newsome were not at their best as they seemed to have no idea what questions to ask or how to answer them.

The Lower Decks panel went completely off the rails.

The Prodigy panel was so short as to basically amount to nothing; Brett Gray, who plays Dal, barely got to say two words before a teaser clip for the second half of Season 1 was shown. I’m glad that Prodigy finally has a release date for those episodes, and I’m happy to see that Picard Season 3 will be on our screens in Feburary next year, but the panels were one of the parts of Star Trek Day that I was most looking forward to, and it’s just a shame that they were cut short. Better preparation from the hosts and some of the guests would have improved things, too.

The announcement of Ceti Alpha V as a podcast, that I mentioned earlier, is an interesting one in some ways. I’m glad that the Star Trek franchise hasn’t committed television or film money to this project, as it wasn’t one that I was desperately interested to see. But an audio drama of some kind is something different, and if Paramount markets it well it could become something of a sleeper hit. I won’t go into my full critique of the Ceti Alpha V concept again; suffice to say that I feel the chapter of Khan’s life in between Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan may not be the most interesting one to revisit. But if Nicholas Meyer was dedicated to it, perhaps an audio drama is a good compromise. I would say that Meyer didn’t seem thrilled to be making the announcement and specifically mentioned that he wrote it for television; perhaps there’s some degree of sour grapes there! You can read my full thoughts on Ceti Alpha V by clicking or tapping here.

Nicholas Meyer announced the upcoming Ceti Alpha V podcast.

The teaser we saw from Prodigy seems to pick up fairly shortly after the events of the most recent episode, with the crew of the Protostar on the run. It looked tense and exciting, and really like more of the same; a continuation of the story and events of the first half of Season 1. I’m hopeful that Paramount will start to support Prodigy more strongly as I really feel that the show has so much untapped potential to convert a whole generation of kids into Trekkies for the first time. But if that’s going to happen, Paramount is going to have to do more to promote and assist the show. Toys would be a good start; we’re still months away from the first batch of Prodigy toys, and despite showing off some new merch at Star Trek Day, Prodigy was once again conspicuously absent from the lineup.

It’s good that Prodigy will be returning in late October, though – as soon as Lower Decks Season 3 wraps up, Prodigy can fill that slot. It means there’ll be new Star Trek on our screens all the way to the end of the year, which is fantastic. Although the clip that was shown seems to be from the first new episode, there’s scope for the crew of the Protostar to have lots of new adventures – and perhaps connect their story to Voyager in a significant way. I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Prodigy is coming back in seven weeks’ time!

Strange New Worlds also showed a single clip from Season 2 in lieu of an edited and composed trailer, with the action focused on Lieutenant Ortegas as she prepared for an away mission. The planet Rigel VII was mentioned, which was a location first glimpsed in flashback sequences in The Cage and The Menagerie; Rigel VII is a planet Captain Pike has visited before and it’s home to fierce Kalar warriors.

The clip itself was interesting. We learned a little about the relationship between Ortegas and Spock as the latter’s analysis of information caused Ortegas to be dropped from an away mission she was excited for. We also learned that Captain Pike had once been a “test pilot” which made him confident enough to pilot a shuttle under what sounds like difficult circumstances. I’m getting a Gallileo Seven vibe from this story setup; perhaps the shuttle will crash in Kalar territory and the crew – led by Ortegas aboard the Enterprise, maybe – will have to mount a rescue! Am I over-interpreting a short scene? Well that’s a possibility!

Spock and Ortegas in our first look at Strange New Worlds Season 2.

A second announcement for Strange New Worlds’ second season introduced a brand-new character: Commander Pelia will become the Enterprise’s new chief engineer, taking over from poor Hemmer. I’m still sad about Hemmer’s departure from the series, but I can’t tell you how relieved I am that the writers managed to resist the temptation to replace him with Scotty! There’s scope to do more with legacy characters in Strange New Worlds, don’t get me wrong, but I want to maximise the time we have with some fantastic new characters, too.

Commander Pelia will be played by veteran actress Carol Kane, who you might know from Taxi, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or the original stage production of Wicked. Landing someone of her calibre feels like a real coup for Strange New Worlds, and I’m hopeful that Commander Pelia will be a wonderful addition to the crew. I’m excited to see more scenes set in engineering in Season 2, as well!

Promo photo of Commander Pelia.

We caught a glimpse of a new Lower Decks episode during Star Trek Day, too. The clip seemed to feature an aggressive Romulan adversary attacking the USS Cerritos, so I guess we should stay tuned for the Romulans to make an appearance later in the season! Maybe this is a controversial point, but I think Lower Decks may be in danger of over-using the “starship swoops in at the last second and saves the day” trope. It worked so well with the Titan in Season 1, and the Cerritos getting to be the saviour in Season 2 was poetic symmetry. But I think big, emotional moments like this should be used sparingly, so to see another starship doing the same here was… I don’t know. Maybe a little less impactful than it could have been.

However, all of this could be a moot point! It seems possible that the events we saw in the clip are taking place in an alternate timeline, a holodeck simulation, or something like that – because how else do we explain a Boimler clone with a different name in command of the other vessel? It was an exciting clip, though, and I’ll be fascinated to see that episode when it’s broadcast! Stay tuned for a full review!

What could be going on here?

The promised Discovery set tour was a bit of fun. Season 5 seems well underway, and it’s always nice to catch a glimpse behind the scenes. Wilson Cruz was a great guide, and although we didn’t get to see any brand-new sets, we got to see some of the details in Burnham’s quarters that are often overlooked. Cruz also drew attention to the dedication plaque at Federation HQ; again this is something I hadn’t seen up-close.

Of particular note during this segment was Mary Wiseman’s appearance. Lieutenant Tilly’s departure from the USS Discovery early in Season 4 was an unexpected move, but one that actually felt right for her character. Tilly got an emotional send-off before making an appearance in the season finale alongside Admiral Vance, and it felt possible that her departure could have set her up for a role in the long-rumoured Starfleet Academy series. That may still happen, but for now it seems that Tilly will be back aboard the USS Discovery in some form in Season 5. I’ll be glad to welcome her back – but I hope her return doesn’t detract from her wonderfully emotional departure in Season 4.

Wilson Cruz with Mary Wiseman and Blu del Barrio.

As the tour continued we saw a scene being prepared on the bridge set, with several characters in uniform. The bold primary colours that were reintroduced in Season 4 remain in place – something I’m pleased to see! A conversation with Stamets actor Anthony Rapp and one of the show’s costume/wardrobe artists was also interesting, and we saw Stamets’ familiar blue tunic in that segment.

Finally, a single promotional photo was shown off for Discovery’s upcoming fifth season – featuring Michael Burnham riding some kind of Star Wars-inspired speeder bike across a dusty or desert landscape. The image looks like it’s taken from an exciting sequence, and Burnham seemed to be out of uniform which could suggest she’s on an away mission or undercover assignment. But there’s only so much speculating we can do based on a single image! There was no release window for Discovery Season 5, but filming is well underway and I’m a little surprised that we didn’t get some kind of teaser trailer.

Captain Burnham looks like she’s having fun!

Star Trek Day paid tribute to Nichelle Nichols in very touching fashion. In fact, the pre-recorded segment was my favourite at the event, all things considered. Nichelle Nichols, who passed away earlier this year, made a huge impact on the Star Trek franchise – but more importantly in many ways, on the world beyond Star Trek and entertainment, too.

Performers Dawnn Lewis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Celia Rose Gooding, Wilson Cruz, Michelle Hurd, and more all contributed to the beautiful piece, and it really was the perfect way to salute a unique individual, someone who made a real difference not only on screen and within the Star Trek franchise, but far beyond the world of entertainment. As we discussed when I paid my own tribute to Nichelle Nichols, she played a huge role at NASA in getting more people from diverse backgrounds involved with the space programme. For Star Trek Day to take the time to salute her and recognise her legacy was important, and it was handled beautifully.

Nichelle Nichols at NASA as seen in the Star Trek Day tribute.

Picard’s third and final season now has a release date, and it’s nice to know that we’ll be having one last adventure with Admiral Picard in the early part of next year. The teaser trailer was interesting, and we got to see another new starship: the USS Titan! Spacedock also made a return to the franchise, which was beautiful to see. Sir Patrick Stewart told us that he and the crew are going back to space for Season 3 – after Season 2 spent most of its time on Earth in the 21st Century – and if the teaser is anything to go by, the crew’s return to the stars will be epic!

It was great to see Seven of Nine in uniform, and she seems to be playing an important role in whatever mission Admiral Picard will have to pick up. During the brief panel, Michelle Hurd mentioned that Season 3 will feature some kind of storyline involving the “criminal underworld” of the Star Trek galaxy, a premise that sounds interesting – and perhaps a little Star Wars-y!

The USS Titan leaving spacedock.

The teaser trailer showed clips of all of the returning cast members from The Next Generation, with the notable exception of Brent Spiner. Spiner will be playing a role in Season 3, but who his character will be is still unknown. It could be a member of the Soong family, such as Altan Inigo Soong who was part of the story of Season 1. Equally it could be an android like Lore or B-4. We don’t know at this stage, but clearly Paramount is keeping that under wraps for now!

Aside from seeing the USS Titan up close, the teaser trailer played its cards close to its chest! The brief glimpses that we caught of the main characters were fun and exciting, but didn’t really communicate anything significant about the plot. At this stage, we really don’t know where the story will go or whether it will connect with anything from Seasons 1 or 2. I hope that it does, and that maybe some of the dangling story threads from those earlier seasons could be tied up… but my gut says we’re probably going to get something brand-new.

Geordi La Forge as seen in the Season 3 teaser trailer.

So that’s about all there is to say this time. Star Trek Day was… okay. There were no big announcements, no replacement for Picard, no season renewals for the current shows, and only two release dates for seasons that we already knew were coming. I think it would be unfair to call an event like this that was made for Trekkies “underwhelming,” but I really wasn’t blown away by this year’s Star Trek Day. A combination of technical issues, hosts and guests who felt unprepared, most of the panels being shorter and less-detailed than expected, and the lack of any major announcements or news all came together to put a bit of a downer on what should have been a fun extravaganza of all things Trek.

I felt that last year’s Star Trek Day event – which had a few issues of its own, don’t get me wrong – was better. Last year the hosts and guests felt better-prepared and rehearsed, there were none of the technical hiccups that impacted this year’s event, there were longer and more detailed panels featuring more guests, and there were bigger and more interesting announcements for all of the current shows. This year’s event just feels smaller and less exciting in comparison.

Hosts Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome with Wil Wheaton (who hosted last year’s event).

Despite that, I had a good time for the most part with Star Trek Day. I’m glad that Paramount put this together and I’m especially glad that it wasn’t locked behind a Paramount+ paywall and was thus accessible to all Trekkies. It’s no one’s fault that there weren’t any major announcements; that’s just the way it goes and if things aren’t ready, it’s infinitely better to wait than to jump the gun and announce something prematurely! Star Trek 2023 and the untitled Section 31 series stand as cases in point to that!

That’s just my take, though, and I sincerely hope that everyone in attendance and the legions of fans who watched from all across the globe had fun. We’re very lucky that the Star Trek franchise is going through a renaissance right now and that events like this still draw huge audiences! Long may that continue!

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. Star Trek series and films are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks are available on Amazon Prime Video outside of the United States. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 3, Episode 2: The Least Dangerous Game

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3.

After a somewhat disappointing season premiere last week, The Least Dangerous Game was an improvement – but it still wasn’t a particularly spectacular episode. Lower Decks’ third season hasn’t yet managed to hit the highs that we know the series can reach, and I think the best thing that I can say about this week’s offering is that it was mostly inoffensive. There were no glaring faults that dragged it down in the way that Grounded’s non sequitur ending did last time, but there was nothing that really elevated the story, either. Even an appearance by J.G. Hertzler as a simulated General Martok didn’t do much for what was a fairly bland and uninspired outing for the Lower Decks ensigns.

After the incredible Season 2 finale and last week’s premiere both followed a single story that brought all of the ensigns together, The Least Dangerous Game returned to the A, B, and C-plot structure that split up the main and secondary characters into groups. Pairing Mariner with Commander Ransom was something that Lower Decks hadn’t done to any great extent since Season 1’s Temporal Edict, and this time the addition of Ransom having final say over Mariner’s continued service in Starfleet added an extra dimension.

Ransom and Mariner were paired up this week.

I’m glad that Lower Decks didn’t drop that angle after it was introduced in the somewhat rushed conclusion to last week’s outing. With Mariner’s parents being a captain and an admiral, there’s been a bit of a question-mark over how her misbehaviour and occasional insubordination gets excused, so assigning her to Ransom’s jurisdiction feels like a way to both circumvent that issue and also potentially shake up the way Mariner has to act, at least when on duty.

As an aside, I promised as far back as Season 1 in 2020 that I’d take a look at how Starfleet seems to fall victim to nepotism and favouritism on occasion, and Ensign Mariner is hardly the first example! We have characters like Wesley Crusher on the Enterprise-D and Nog (at least to an extent) on Deep Space Nine who made full use of their relationships with senior officers as examples of this phenomenon. This is absolutely ripe for a deeper dive (and I’ve had a piece in my writing pile tentatively titled Nepotism and favouritism within Starfleet for the better part of two years now) so we won’t get into too much of it here. But suffice to say that I like the idea that Captain Freeman and Admiral… Mariner(?) seem to recognise that they have a soft spot for their daughter and can’t remain objective. When we think about how some past Starfleet captains went out on a limb to back up their favourites (even when they were in the wrong), this is something new and different.

Mariner’s parents seem to have pulled a lot of strings to keep her in Starfleet.

On the surface, Mariner and Ransom shouldn’t be at loggerheads. Both can be laid-back, and you’d think that Ransom’s less formal attitude would sit well with Mariner – and that he might be inclined to cut her some slack. But there’s a definite personality clash, and Tawny Newsome and Jerry O’Connell really sell it through their performances.

As is sometimes the case with Lower Decks, we have to try to set aside some of the nitpicking. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that an away team wouldn’t assign the engineering task – repairing the orbital lift – to its two engineers, nor that Ransom would be able to get away with essentially jeopardising a mission simply to push Mariner’s buttons. And jeopardise the mission he did – not only in terms of repairs to the elevator but also in terms of the Federation’s relationship with the planet of Dulaine. In this case, the normal structure of a mission like this took a back seat to story concerns, and in a less-serious series like Lower Decks I can forgive it. I would caveat that, though, by saying that the story for which the basic operating procedures of Starfleet were sacrificed was pretty mediocre.

Rutherford and Billups – the engineers on the away mission – weren’t assigned an engineering task.

After Lower Decks took Mariner on a two-season-long journey from being a bratty, angsty “teenager” through to being a more complex character with an evolving and improving relationship with both her mother and Starfleet, there was a bit of a question-mark over what would come next. For my money, I’d have liked to have seen a continuation of Mariner’s progress, coming to terms with her role in Starfleet and perhaps coming to realise that, if she wants to be able to make her own decisions without consulting others, she needs to climb the ranks. Last week’s episode trotted out a “trust the system” story, and that could play well. But this week, with Mariner getting frustrated with Ransom, I felt perhaps the first steps toward a regression that could undo some or all of her progress.

As the story concluded, Mariner worked hard to undo her act of rebellion or insubordination, seeming to realise that it would jeopardise her continued service in Starfleet as Ransom would surely have been given the excuse he needed to discipline her. But the fact that she ended up in that situation in the first place could be indicative of that kind of regression, and while there’s blame to go around – in the sense that it was Ransom who was manipulating the mission to be as annoying to Mariner as possible – that doesn’t excuse her reaction. I guess this cuts to a deeper issue with Mariner’s characterisation, and how the whole “loose cannon” character type doesn’t really fit within an organisation like Starfleet. Regardless, I hope the next episode can begin to put this aspect of Mariner to one side. Lower Decks isn’t at its best when putting Mariner into storylines like this one – and it’s something we’ve seen on multiple occasions already, so it isn’t even new or innovative at this point in the show’s run.

Mariner’s “orbital skydive” was similar to Kirk’s in Star Trek 2009 and B’Elanna Torres’ in Voyager Season 5.

Boimler’s storyline this week was something and nothing. The design of K’ranch was interesting, perhaps one of the most visually distinctive aliens that Lower Decks has created so far, and I liked that. His passion for the hunt was also reminiscent of both Klingons and Voyager’s Hirogen, which was a neat inclusion. But I just never felt that there was any real sense of danger once the hunt had been agreed to and got underway; there just weren’t any stakes. Without feeling that Boimler was genuinely being hunted “to the death,” this whole chapter of the story just felt incredibly flat.

Taking a step back, I like the idea that Lower Decks may be trying to give some of its main characters something different this season. Mariner has to keep herself in check because of being watched over by Ransom (though she didn’t succeed this week), and now Boimler, at least in this episode, is trying to be bolder, more outgoing, and more adventurous. Spurred on by the news that Vendome (a character we met briefly in Season 1) had been promoted to captain, Boimler vowed to say “yes” to everything that came his way – something that I feel was lifted from the plot of some ’80s comedy film… but I can’t remember which one!

Saying “yes” to everything got Boimler into difficulty…

Because Lower Decks is so episodic, it isn’t clear if “bold Boimler” will stick around, but even if not it was at least an interesting concept to try out, and one that could return in later seasons if deemed a success. As I said, I didn’t feel that the hunt that Boimler got involved with was a particularly strong story in and of itself, but the concept underpinning it feels like it has potential. To see Boimler stepping out of his comfort zone and having new experiences is no bad thing for a series that’s racing towards its thirtieth episode.

Tendi and Rutherford drew short straws this week, and neither made a huge impact on the story. It was nice to see all four ensigns together playing their Klingon game – a game based on a real-world video board game from the 1990s – but after that, Tendi and Rutherford didn’t have very much to do. Not every episode can give equal screen time to every character, though, and I’m sure both of them will have turns in the spotlight before Season 3 is over.

J. G. Hertzler reprised his role as Martok from Deep Space Nine for the video board game sequences.

One final point that made me a little uncomfortable was the presentation of Chief Engineer Billups. Season 2’s Where Pleasant Fountains Lie gave Billups a really interesting story – one that felt like a Star Trek analogy for asexuality. Billups was incredibly uncomfortable at the idea of sex and sexuality – perhaps being “sex-repulsed” – and this was a big part of his arc in that story. As I wrote afterwards, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie was one of the best and most understandable depictions of what it’s like to be asexual that I’ve ever seen on the small screen.

However, in The Least Dangerous Game we seemed to see Billups a lot more comfortable with scantily-clad aliens on a kind of “pleasure planet,” and while he ended up getting into difficulty as the mission went off the rails, I would have liked to have seen more from him about his lack of interest in sex and lack of sexual desire. He seemed, at one point, to be very happily enjoying what the planet had to offer, and I guess it just feels like a pretty big difference when compared to where he was in Season 2.

I wasn’t wild about the way Billups was presented this week.

This matters to me because, as someone who is asexual, Billups’ story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie was actually a big deal. It was a first not only for Star Trek, but one of the very few stories in the world of entertainment at all that felt like a reference to asexuality. Trying to move Billups away from that presentation, especially for the sake of a minor role in an otherwise forgettable episode, is just a bit of a disappointment. While I don’t expect Lower Decks to make a big deal of Billups’ potential asexuality again, I definitely don’t want the series to start undermining that story – and it felt to me that it happened – albeit in a small way – this week.

All in all, I didn’t hate anything about The Least Dangerous Game. But neither of its main storylines were particularly strong, and where there should have been some sense of danger or some degree of high stakes for Boimler, the story setup didn’t really allow for that. It certainly isn’t Lower Decks’ worst-ever episode, but The Least Dangerous Game just feels bland and generic. Nothing consequential really happened, and where there could have been major disruptive events, at least for two of the ensigns, the end of the story seems to have basically reset everything back to normal. Mariner got away with abandoning her post, and Boimler easily survived his “hunt” with K’ranch.

Boimler hiding from K’Ranch.

And finally, the short sequences featuring Billups, as mentioned, made me a little uncomfortable when considering his Season 2 presentation and how powerfully that resonated with me. All of these things came together to make The Least Dangerous Game a bit of an underwhelming episode.

But I’m hopeful that Lower Decks will pick up as Season 3 gets going! There are still eight episodes left to shake things up, and I’m always going to go into every new Star Trek episode hoping to have a good time. Although I’ve found some criticisms of Lower Decks Season 3 so far, I genuinely enjoy the series and what it’s brought to the table. Some of the points of criticism have arisen in light of the successes of past episodes; I just don’t feel that Lower Decks has hit those same high notes yet this season.

My writing schedule is all over the place at the moment, so unlike in Seasons 1 and 2 I may not get these reviews out in a timely fashion. That can’t be helped, unfortunately, and I hope you’ll bear with me. I still intend to review each episode this season, but some of the reviews may be later than usual.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Rings of Power: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Spoilers are also present for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and other J.R.R. Tolkien works.

The Rings of Power – or to give it its full, clumsy title: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – got underway yesterday on Amazon Prime Video. As one of the shows I’d been most interested in all year, I tuned in almost as soon as the opening pair of episodes were available, curious to see what Amazon’s sky-high budget and years of planning could bring to the high fantasy genre.

For me, and doubtless for many other viewers as well, The Rings of Power simply cannot escape three massive sets of expectations. Firstly, the show has a legacy to live up to in the form of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Secondly, as the first-ever “billion dollar” television show, The Rings of Power must demonstrate an ability to go above and beyond pretty much anything else present on the small screen. And finally, there are inevitable comparisons with the show that set the bar for multi-season serialised high fantasy television shows: Game of Thrones. I think it isn’t unfair to say that there hasn’t been a television project in a generation that finds itself under so much pressure to deliver.

Galadriel and Gil-Galad on a promotional poster for The Rings of Power.

As we discussed back in February when I previewed the series, some viewers have taken to pre-judging The Rings of Power. Partly there seems to be a bloody-mindedness in hoping that Amazon would fail, and there were definitely racially-motivated criticisms of some of the casting choices – something that’s been incredibly disappointing to see. But there are also some genuine concerns: could the series possibly live up to the legacies of one of the most successful film trilogies and one of the most influential television shows of the past twenty years? How would it fit in with the “established lore” of Tolkien’s Middle-earth? And more fundamentally, is there even a story here that’s worth telling?

Some folks seem to have arrived at their answers to these questions already, deciding that The Rings of Power is going to be irredeemably awful and taking to social media at every opportunity to denounce it to anyone who’d listen. In the past couple of days the show has even been subjected to a degree of review-bombing. But speaking for myself, I wanted to see The Rings of Power before rushing to judgement. While two episodes of an eight-episode season aren’t enough to paint a full picture, I feel like I can at least share my first impressions of the series with you today.

The Rings of Power has finally arrived.

I liked The Rings of Power. The acting performances were solid, the visual effects were competent, its aesthetic style harkened back to The Lord of the Rings films, and when the story got going it held my attention well enough that two episodes passed by in what felt like a matter of moments. As the credits rolled on the second episode, Adrift, I felt myself curiously interested to see what happens next.

The two-part premiere did a decent job at introducing us to what seems to be the primary characters whose stories The Rings of Power intends to follow. One of my criticisms of Game of Thrones back in 2011 was actually how dense its first few episodes felt; had I not binge-watched Season 1 I may actually have stopped watching the series, as keeping track of so many characters and storylines was pretty confusing. In that sense, The Rings of Power did a good job not to overwhelm viewers with too much all at once.

Lenny Henry as Sadoc, one of the Harfoots.

So I felt that The Rings of Power got off to a good start – but perhaps not a spectacular one. After two episodes, the show feels like it’s trying to play it safe; I didn’t note much by way of risk-taking that could take a decent, competent series and elevate it to the kind of phenomenon that The Lord of the Rings films or Game of Thrones became. By sticking relatively close to the visual style established by The Lord of the Rings, for example, The Rings of Power has tried to both find a ready-made identity and pluck at the nostalgic strings that its producers hope will bring in viewers in droves. But by re-using this aesthetic style, The Rings of Power has surrendered its opportunity to construct its own identity.

It’s also worth talking about the story framework that we saw in the premiere. The trope of a hero who finds evidence of an impending threat or disaster, only to be ignored by their superiors, may have been brand-new when Tolkien was writing in the first half of the twentieth century, but it doesn’t exactly make for a groundbreaking or unique story in 2022. Yet this is the outline of both Galadriel’s story with the Elves and, to an extent, Bronwyn’s story in the Southlands. A common trope like this doesn’t necessarily make for the strongest introduction to a new story.

Galadriel found herself opposed by Elrond and other Elves, despite presenting them with evidence of Sauron’s survival.

Though The Rings of Power did a solid job at introducing us to its main characters, there were definitely moments where I felt some background knowledge of Tolkien’s works was something that the series expected from its audience. These mainly concerned elements of backstory – who the villainous Morgoth is, what a Silmaril is, the relationship between factions like the Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and how Sauron fits into the story of a conflict between the peoples of Middle-earth and Morgoth. A very brief sequence at the beginning glossed over some of these points, but not in sufficient depth that a newcomer to the world of Middle-earth would find them easily understandable.

In terms of laying out the world of The Rings of Power, though, I felt that the series did a good job. After two episodes I feel that I understand who lives where, where locations are in relation to one another, and the layout of the world and the primary locations we’ve visited so far. The relatively simple construction of a map, shown on screen for no more than a few seconds at a time, actually ended up being a very effective tool for communicating these things, and I felt it worked well. The seamless transition from the map to the sea at one point was also a neat effect.

The inclusion of a map was a simple but effective visual tool.

Sticking with visual effects, there weren’t many in the first two episodes that I felt were sub-par. There were a few moments where the blending of real actors and sets with CGI backgrounds wasn’t entirely perfect, but those issues can be noticeable even in big-budget productions, and none of those handful of moments really pulled me out of the immersion. I’d particularly call attention to the “falling star” seen in A Shadow of the Past as one of the better CGI creations; it really managed to feel like a meteor of some kind was hurtling toward Middle-earth.

If I were to nitpick, I’d say that perhaps the physical fake snow used in the first part of A Shadow of the Past wasn’t particularly impressive, managing to have the same flat, non-reflective look of similar set dressings that have been in use for decades. The CGI snow used elsewhere in these sequences looked decent, but when Galadriel and her team were seen up close, there was a noticeable difference in texture. Otherwise, physical props and costumes used throughout the first pair of episodes were solid.

A closer look at the fake snow used in the season premiere.

One of the most interesting props is the darkly enchanted sword hilt that Theo uncovered. It’s fascinating from a story point of view, of course, and may well belong to Sauron or one of his most-important minions. But it manages to look fantastic on screen, too – a dark, intimidating design that seems to harken back to the image of Sauron in full armour from The Lord of the Rings films.

Speaking of harkening back to The Lord of the Rings: surely I’m not the only one who noticed that Halbrand actor Charlie Vickers was doing an almost over-the-top impersonation of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn as he made his first appearance! The way his hair was styled, the way he held himself, and even the way he opened his mouth all felt like they had been carefully choreographed to mimic that iconic portrayal. Halbrand is not a canonical character from Tolkien’s works, and the aforementioned mimicry could be a deliberate red herring, but part of me thinks we’re going to learn that this character has some kind of connection to Aragorn in the episodes ahead!

Halbrand channelling his inner Aragorn…

Some of the battle and post-battle scenes early in the season premiere carried a very strong First World War influence, and I have to assume that was done deliberately. Tolkien was himself a veteran of that conflict, and its influence can be felt in the massive scale of the wars and battles that he created for The Lord of the Rings in particular. This level of destruction, with battlefields reduced to mud, trees stripped of all of their branches, and huge piles of bodies, also succeeded at communicating the scale of the Elves’ conflict against Morgoth and Sauron in a relatively short sequence that didn’t have time to go into a lot of detail, so as an effect it worked well.

Even a century on from the First World War, the way its battlefields looked is still seared into the minds of many people here in the west, and The Rings of Power took advantage of this to use a familiar visual cue to communicate, in a short sequence, just how destructive and devastating this war was as it set the stage for the story to follow.

Galadriel stands on a battlefield that feels reminiscent of the First World War.

A good television soundtrack is unobtrusive. It subtly tells audiences what emotional state certain characters are in, whether danger is just around the corner, or fills an otherwise-awkward gap during silent moments. While a theme tune can become iconic, the soundtrack of episodes themselves should be a relatively toned-down affair. The Rings of Power didn’t get this right, in my view, bringing an incredibly dominating soundtrack that, at several critically-important moments, seemed to hit levels rarely seen outside of soap operas.

The old-fashioned, heavy soundtrack came booming in during several crucial scenes, drawing attention away from the characters and the action instead of backing it up. This is obviously the opposite of what a good soundtrack should be doing, and there are criticisms of both the composition and the sound mixing in both of the first two episodes that I really shouldn’t be needing to make. When we’re at this level, these are some of the basic competencies that a television production should be pulling off flawlessly without even thinking.

One of the moments between Bronwyn and Arondir had music that was, for me at least, too heavy and intrusive.

I’m not a Tolkien super-fan, so I can’t be sure whether some of the dialogue in The Rings of Power has been lifted directly from works like The Silmarillion. But what I would say is that much of the language used in the first two episodes, particularly in scenes featuring the Elves, was very flowery and old-fashioned, as if it had been written decades ago. That was almost certainly intentional, perhaps to tie in with Tolkien’s own writing style or perhaps to give The Rings of Power a “classiness” or even just to distinguish it from other modern shows. However, the effectiveness of this kind of flowery, old-fashioned language is very much a subjective thing, and how well it will work isn’t exactly clear at this early stage.

Some of the lines of dialogue in the first two episodes felt scripted and clumsy – partly as a result of this choice of language – and while I didn’t feel knocked out of my immersion once I got used to it, it was definitely something that took a little getting used to. In any work of fantasy, actors have to work hard to make strange and unusual words and phrases seem normal, but that really isn’t the issue in this case. I can easily accept conversations about warp cores in Star Trek or dragons in Game of Thrones, but here in The Rings of Power, choices as far back as the scriptwriting stage made otherwise innocuous or basic conversations feel almost stilted, as if the production itself, despite its modern visual style and impressive CGI work, was from a much earlier era. For some fans, that’ll make The Rings of Power feel even better. For others… I think it has the potential to detract from the story.

There were several clunky or unnatural-sounding lines of dialogue in the opening two episodes.

As I said, though, once my ears had acclimatised to this way of speaking I didn’t feel it was horribly awkward – but it’s worth noting that, at least for me, it was something that took some getting used to before I could fully immerse myself in Middle-earth. Perhaps I should’ve re-watched The Lord of the Rings before watching The Rings of Power, because now I can’t really remember whether this issue of flowery, old-fashioned language was present to the same degree. I don’t remember it ever being a problem, and I regard that trilogy as one of the best ever brought to screen. But it would be interesting to take a look and compare!

So let’s talk story. Although I find myself curiously interested to see where The Rings of Power goes next and how it will weave its disparate narrative threads together, I don’t feel absolutely gripped by the story after the first two episodes. I’m not desperately awaiting next Friday in the way I can be for new episodes of Star Trek, or in the way I was for Game of Thrones or even shows like Lost.

The Elves of Lindon.

I think partly this is because of the “prequel problem” that I’ve talked about here on the website on more than one occasion. In short, we know where these characters will go and what the ultimate outcome of this story will be. There’s no real sense that Galadriel will ever be in serious danger – because we know she survives for another four thousand years after the events of The Rings of Power. While the series is doing its own thing to an extent by introducing new characters and telling its own story, it’s also billing itself as being firmly set in the world of The Lord of the Rings – heck, that’s the first part of the show’s title. So given that we know the story of The Lord of the Rings and how characters like Elrond, Galadriel, and Sauron fit into it, it’s difficult for The Rings of Power to really reach out and grab me in the same way as a new story with an unknown outcome could.

When we look at The Silmarillion and other Middle-earth books set millennia before The Lord of the Rings, one of the key points is that the characters involved don’t know who Sauron is, whether he’s still around, whether he can come back, etc. But as the audience watching The Rings of Power, we know how this ends: Sauron returns, raises an army, and it takes an alliance of Men, Elves, and Dwarves to defeat him on the slopes of Mount Doom – as seen in the introduction to the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring. Knowing what’s coming robs a story like this of at least some of the tension and excitement, and while it can still be fun to see how the characters arrive at their ending points, we know the destination.

Sauron’s presence looms large over the story.

Even someone like me – and I’m no super-fan of Tolkien by any stretch – knows the basic outline of the story of Sauron’s rise and fall in this era, and just like other famous prequels have struggled to keep up the tension and excitement, I feel that the same issue is already hampering The Rings of Power – at least to an extent. The fates of characters like Nori, Bronwyn, Arondir, and Halbrand are definitely up in the air and ripe for exploration, and I’m absolutely interested to see what comes next for them. But characters like Galadriel, Elrond, Celebrimbor, Durin, and Gil-Galad have their futures written.

Overall, though, the first pair of episodes did a good job at setting up this idea of a slowly-awakening evil; a gathering storm. We saw the slow build-up to the discovery of Sauron’s survival through Galadriel’s eyes, then saw how the Southlands are slowly being corrupted and attacked by Orcs in the stories of Bronwyn and Arondir. The proto-Hobbit Harfoots also had comments to make on the unusual goings-on in Middle-earth, and of course were present for the “falling star” that brought a character currently known as the Stranger into the story. The idea that the world is on the edge of some drastic changes, and that the ruling Elves are oblivious or perhaps wilfully blind to these problems was well-established and conveyed through these different storylines. The latter part – leaders ignoring or trying to downplay serious problems – feels rather timely at the moment, too!

The “shooting star.”

I definitely felt Galadriel’s frustration at being dismissed by Elrond and Gil-Galad, and I think that’s a testament to some strong performances from Morfydd Clark, Robert Aramayo, and Benjamin Walker. Though I called this setup a trope earlier, there’s no denying that it works in this context. The aloof presentation of the High Elves gives their leaders an arrogance that absolutely succeeded at getting me firmly on Galadriel’s side. While again this isn’t something that can be said to be unique to The Rings of Power (look at how the Vulcans are portrayed in Star Trek: Enterprise, for instance) it was pitch-perfect in the way it was deployed.

The sequences at sea with Galadriel, Halbrand, and (briefly) Halbrand’s companions were among the best in the premiere. I’m not certain how or where this was filmed, but the water was so incredibly realistic, managing to look like deep ocean instead of a shallow sea or pool – and this one visual cue did so much to ramp up the tension as the duo survived an attack by a sea monster. The dark water felt dangerous, not only because of what it was hiding but because deep water like that is usually only seen far from land. Look at how films like The Bounty use this same deep water effect to signal how isolated and far from safety characters are; The Rings of Power really did a great job here.

Galadriel and Halbarad’s raft.

And these scenes with Halbrand and Galadriel also took the story in somewhat of a different direction. Galadriel’s choice to swim back to Middle-earth could have been a simple one, perhaps even one that was resolved off-screen, but putting her in this “shipwrecked” situation was a definite change of pace for a character who had been on a mission.

The Harfoots’ camp recaptured at least some of the idealised, pastoral feel of the Shire in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Showing how the Harfoots live in a temporary camp, migrating with the seasons, was a neat addition that made it feel even older, somehow – like some depictions of Native Americans prior to European colonisation.

The Harfoots’ encampment.

Within that framework we got the traditionalist Harfoots to contrast with the more adventurous Nori; her story was set up well enough by leading some of the camp’s children to a berry bush, but I didn’t feel that the danger posed by a wolf was properly paid off – though I suppose it’s something that could be revisited in later episodes, the wolf’s presence was very brief and although it did feel like a threat to the diminutive Harfoots, it seemed to be rushed past and quickly forgotten by a story that had other priorities.

Nori’s relationship with the Stranger is still something that The Rings of Power is building up – beautifully, in my view. Her care for this mysterious giant who fell from the sky humanises her and takes her from being a somewhat rebellious child to someone that I’m sure we’ll be able to get behind as the story progresses. Although I’m sure there’s a lot of speculation as to the identity of the Stranger, I felt that the impact crater and fire seemed to resemble an eye – and a flaming eye definitely carries with it memories of a certain Dark Lord!

Am I overreaching, or does this look like “a lidless eye wreathed in flame” to you?

Of all the settings we’ve seen so far in The Rings of Power, none felt quite so familiar as the Dwarves’ mountain home of Khazad-dûm. We’d spent a lot of time with Dwarven mines in The Lord of the Rings and particularly in The Hobbit trilogy, and The Rings of Power seems to borrow heavily from those projects in practically every way. From the design of the Dwarves themselves all the way to the aesthetic of their subterranean kingdom, The Rings of Power really succeeded at recapturing how the Dwarves have been presented in the past.

It was also in Khazad-dûm that I felt The Rings of Power beginning some of its more delicate and character-driven storylines. Stories focusing on Arondir and Galadriel feel epic in scale because of their focus on this growing darkness and the impact it will have on Middle-earth, but the conflict between Elrond and Prince Durin brought The Rings of Power back down to an understandable level. Durin was upset that Elrond, a long-lived Elf, had simply disappeared from his life for such a long time – and it took Elrond a moment to fully grasp that. For me at least, this became one of the best and certainly most-relatable storylines in the opening pair of episodes.

Elrond and Durin’s falling-out went a long way to bringing the story of The Rings of Power down to a relatable level.

The Rings of Power is off to a good start – but not a great one. Visually, the series is well-made. It borrows from The Lord of the Rings in many ways, but it also incorporates new design elements that help it feel distinct; part of the same world, but not a carbon copy of what came before. There were definitely some issues with the soundtrack and sound mixing that shouldn’t be present in a series that aims to compete at this level, and that’s something I hope can be addressed promptly. There have been some wonderful moments of characterisation that really pulled me in… and a handful of others that weren’t quite reaching that same high bar. Overall, I’d say that the series has left a good first impression and I’m happy to return to it next week to pick up the story. But I’m unlikely to be spending much time between now and then speculating, theory-crafting, or even really just thinking about The Rings of Power very much.

Am I nitpicking too much or being too harsh on The Rings of Power? Well, that’s up to you to decide. But what I will say is this: The Rings of Power is the most expensive television series ever created, and that brings with it expectations in terms of quality that basic competence doesn’t cover. Moreover, as much as I want to judge The Rings of Power entirely on its own merits, by very deliberately leaning into The Lord of the Rings films, the show has invited comparisons to that trilogy – and other works in the high fantasy genre.

What’s going to happen next in The Rings of Power?

I’m glad that I gave The Rings of Power a fair shake and didn’t make a snap judgement. Although I can understand a certain amount of schadenfreude at wanting to see a massive corporation like Amazon meet with financial and critical failure, speaking for myself what I really want to see is another success in the high fantasy genre. I don’t want The Rings of Power to be disappointing – I want it to be entertaining! The first episodes, while they had some issues that I’ve tried to elaborate on, broadly speaking managed to entertain me, and I came away from them feeling satisfied with what I’d seen.

I’m hopeful that The Rings of Power now has a foundation upon which to build a successful series. With five seasons having been planned – and potentially somewhat of a soft reboot coming in Season 2 thanks to a change in filming locations – there’s a long story to get stuck into, one that, like Game of Thrones before it, will unfold over the next few years. There’s time for some of the production’s weaker elements to be addressed, even if it doesn’t happen this season. Whether The Rings of Power will still be talked about in the same breath as Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings by future audiences… well, that’s still an open question. But it feels as though all of the elements exist for this series to reach those high bars. I genuinely hope that it will.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the copyright of Amazon Studios, New Line Cinema, and Amazon. The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and other works mentioned above are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The PlayStation price hike

There’s a phrase that seems to be appearing more and more often these days – at least in the increasingly left-wing social media circles in which I find myself after hours of doomscrolling. The “cost of living crisis” that we’re all feeling biting us in the backside is being reframed as a “cost of greed crisis,” as massive corporations continue to profiteer off the misery of ordinary people. It’s incredibly galling to see a company pleading poverty in public statements, then turning around to its shareholders and boasting of record-setting profits, but it’s something that we see more and more often these days. Corporations will claim they’re “suffering” through this crisis just like the rest of us – but they still seem to find the money to pay massive shareholder dividends and furnish their executives with eye-watering bonuses.

It’s through this lens that I view Sony’s PlayStation price hike. If you’ve missed the news, Sony is jacking up the price of PlayStation 5 consoles around the world from a recommended retail price of £449 to £470 here in the UK, and from €499 to €549 in the European Union. Similar price hikes are taking place in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, and Latin America – although the USA seems to have escaped, at least for now.

PlayStation 5 consoles are about to get a lot more expensive.

This is unprecedented for a games console. As time goes by, consoles have always seen price reductions, not price increases, and as each generation of home consoles wears on there’s an expectation that manufacturers will lower the price, enabling more and more people to pick up the latest machines. Sony is bucking this trend in the worst way possible and at the worst time possible, throwing into chaos plans many folks will have had to pick up a PlayStation 5 in the run-up to the holidays.

At a time when many of us are suffering as a result of inflation, excessive bills, and other financial pressures, it’s incumbent upon corporations like Sony to try to minimise the damage. Sony doesn’t need to jack up the price of PlayStation 5 consoles now; doing so is pure greed and a desire to make already-excessive profits look positively gluttonous. It’s a reminder, if one were needed, that no corporation is ever a friend. Corporations’ loyalties lie with those who are already wealthy: the 1% who own massive stock portfolios and for whom there will never be a choice between going cold or going hungry. Sony has nailed its colours to the mast with this decision – but it’s hardly the only corporation to be using the current cost of living and inflation crises as a paper-thin excuse for profiteering.

Sony is jacking up the price of PlayStation 5s all over the world.

Sony has already demonstrated how anti-consumer it can be with the piss-poor launch of the PlayStation 5, one of the worst console launches ever. By failing to produce enough machines, Sony played right into the hands of touts and scalpers, ensuring that many players – and many children – were left disappointed and unable to acquire a console. Those who did either had to be exceptionally lucky to find a shop that had a console in stock or pay ridiculously-inflated rates to a scalper. Sony took no action whatsoever to prevent this, and for months after the console launched it wasn’t uncommon to see units on auction sites and private social media sales where prices were more than double the RRP.

In addition, most new PlayStation 5 games have seen a huge increase in price since the beginning of this new console generation. Games that used to cost $60/£55 now regularly go for $70/£65 – and that’s often just for the “base” or “core” version. Complete games, including pre-order bonuses, special editions, and the like can easily be in excess of £100. So players are being hit and hit again by Sony – and by other greedy companies in the gaming realm.

Different special editions are available for upcoming PlayStation title The Last Of Us Part I.

At the end of July, shortly before this PlayStation price hike was announced, Sony made another announcement. The corporation told investors and shareholders that it was predicting profits for the 2022-23 financial year of $8.4 billion. Let’s repeat that: Sony expects to make $8.4 billion of pure profit over the next few months – and they have the sheer fucking audacity to turn around a couple of weeks later and tell players that it’s getting too expensive to make PlayStation 5 consoles so the price has to go up. Two words for you, Sony: fuck off.

Earlier in the year, Sony also announced record-setting profits in both its film and music divisions, with Sony Pictures making a profit of $394 million in just the first quarter of the year and the corporation’s music division surpassing that, posting a quarterly profit of $471 million. This reminds us of something important, too: Sony is a massive corporation whose reach extends far beyond gaming.

A summary of Sony’s increased profits in the first quarter of this year.
Image Credit: Sony Group Corporation.

Even if we accept Sony’s claim at face-value – that manufacturing PlayStation 5 consoles and buying the required components has become more expensive – then Sony, as a massive corporation, can easily offset any increased costs with the record-breaking profits it’s been making in other fields. Music and cinema are just two examples shown above, but Sony also has many other profitable business divisions and subsidiaries, and by taking a tiny fraction of those record profits, Sony could have avoided passing the price increase on to the rest of us at a time when inflation and the cost of living catastrophe is really hurting a lot of people.

This is pure greed, there’s no two ways about it. Sony has demonstrated, in truly callous and uncaring fashion, just how little respect or care it has for practically everyone. And if you’re an American thinking that this isn’t coming your way: I wouldn’t bet on it. Sooner or later Sony – and perhaps other corporations in the gaming space, too – will increase your prices just like they have in the rest of the world.

Different PS5 editions.

We could talk at length about where inflation has come from, what’s causing all of these problems (and spoiler alert, it isn’t all Putin’s fault), and maybe one day we should. But for now, I think it’s enough to say that this price hike from Sony is about greed. Sony is a greedy, money-grubbing corporation that has chosen to screw over its own fans and players at a time when it’s already making more money than it’s ever made before. Sony will soon be paying out some of that money – your money – to shareholders in the form of dividends and to executives in the form of massive bonuses, all while the rest of us are barely keeping our heads above water with a huge storm heading our way this winter.

For some folks, a PlayStation 5 was something that, despite shortages, they were still hoping to pick up in the months ahead. For some parents, a PlayStation 5 seemed like a great Christmas gift. Sony is doing everything it can to hurt those people, forcing them to pay more unnecessarily at a time when people simply can’t afford it.

Profiteering is absolutely disgusting and Sony should be ashamed of itself.

PlayStation and PlayStation 5 are the copyright of Sony/Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence (except to corporate profiteers).

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 3, Episode 1: Grounded

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3.

Ah, it feels good to be doing this again! After a ten-month hiatus, Star Trek: Lower Decks is back on our screens with a ten-episode third season to take us all the way to Halloween! Although the season premiere didn’t quite hit the high notes that I was hoping for, it’s still great to welcome the series back. There’s been some big news about Lower Decks over the last couple of months – a crossover episode with Strange New Worlds is on the cards for next year, if you somehow missed that announcement.

After Season 2 ended on a cliffhanger with an incredibly powerful episode, I was hoping that this new season would bolt out of the gate and keep the quality high. Unfortunately, Lower Decks’ tendency to go for the non sequitur ending meant that the season premiere, while fun and entertaining at first, fell flat as it reached its conclusion. A well-established cliffhanger that ended Season 2 was wrapped up in an odd and ultimately unsatisfying way, with all of the significant events taking place off-screen. While we got a fun adventure with our favourite ensigns that took up the first four-fifths of the episode, the ending let it down massively.

The ensigns at Sisko’s Creole Kitchen in New Orleans.

Grounded was an episode that was full of little nods and references to past iterations of Star Trek, and I certainly appreciated that. It was fun to get a look at Bozeman, Montana as it appears in the 24th Century, for example – including the infamous statue of Zephram Cochrane that we first heard about in First Contact. The outfits worn by the main characters recalled past Star Trek stories, including Rutherford’s Jake Sisko-inspired jumper and Boimler’s vest, which was first seen adorning Wesley Crusher in The Next Generation.

There was some gentle poking fun at Disneyland and Disney World in the presentation of the Bozeman, Montana complex, and that was certainly cute. The Phoenix “ride” that the ensigns hijacked to take to the Cerritos reminded me of the ride Star Tours at Disney World, particularly in the queue area. And the churros that Rutherford and Tendi were seen snacking on are likewise a Disney Parks staple!

Churros at a theme park!

Back to Star Trek, we had callbacks to and parodies of the Picard family vineyard – which has most recently appeared, of course, in both seasons of Star Trek: Picard, though here it was seen closer to its appearances in Family and All Good Things. Sisko’s Creole Kitchen – the family restaurant operated by Benjamin Sisko’s father Joseph – was the setting for one scene, and we also got name-drops of Tuvok and Captain Bateson (the character played by Kelsey Grammer in The Next Generation Season 5 episode Cause and Effect) during Captain Freeman’s truncated explanation of her trial and the events leading up to it.

Finally, and this was a neat inclusion, James Cromwell reprised his role as Zephram Cochrane – albeit in holographic form. The musical sting from First Contact brought a tear to my eye, and the launch of the Phoenix was an incredibly neat sequence. The addition of a random theme park guest (and a cowardly one at that) kind of detracted from the moment a little, but that was a classic Lower Decks move in its own way and one I can’t really hold a grudge against.

The Phoenix.

Once we’ve finished wading through the nostalgia, though, I’m left feeling that Grounded was a little hollow; an episode of false starts and setups that led nowhere – or to a disconnected, unpredictable conclusion that may have been “trademark Lower Decks” in some respects, but where the execution of its final twist and closing moments left a bit of a sour taste.

At first, Ensign Mariner seemed to be on a quest driven by emotion. But that emotional setup didn’t go anywhere, and her relationship with her mother arguably ends the episode in a worse place than it had been at the start. There seemed to be a story about Starfleet’s trustworthiness that could’ve harkened back not only to stories like The Search for Spock but that also could have connected with themes in recent seasons of Discovery and Picard – but it also didn’t go anywhere. And there was the fear that Ensign Mariner had that Captain Freeman was being mistreated because of her “lowly” status as captain of a California-class ship. That concept also hit the wall.

Mariner’s emotional state didn’t get the time in the spotlight that it needed.

Then there was a particularly harsh judge for Captain Freeman’s trial who was mentioned once, never seen on screen, and whose influence appears to have had no impact whatsoever on the story. Boimler’s logs turned out to be unusable because of their content. That joke wasn’t even especially funny – yet it was the punchline of a whole chapter of the story, one that ended up going nowhere as a result. These are just some of the false starts and red herrings that Grounded threw at us.

The problem with these ideas isn’t that any of them are bad – it’s that Grounded threw them all out and then paid off none of them in a significant way. The idea of Starfleet being biased, or of a “conservative court” picking on officers from lower positions are both really neat concepts that even a comedic series like Lower Decks could have explored… but it seems to have dropped them just as soon as it had picked them up.

More could have been made of the “bias” angle during Captain Freeman’s trial.

The first three-quarters of the episode did a decent enough job at setting up Mariner’s grief and fear, but the culmination of this storyline was far too short and one sequence on the bridge of the Cerritos wasn’t enough of a pay-off. When the rest of the ideas introduced to us in the first part of the episode went nowhere, there was basically nothing left and no way to salvage the story. Grounded’s “big twist” was that Captain Freeman was acquitted at her trial with no input from Mariner or the other ensigns, but it was just… nothing. It wasn’t especially clever, it certainly wasn’t funny, and the fact that it was rushed through with a brief montage to explain what really happened just felt incredibly anticlimactic.

Worse, Grounded picks up an unfortunate trend from earlier in Lower Decks’ run. By encouraging us as the audience to get invested in the ensigns’ story and believe that they were on a Search for Spock-type last-ditch mission to save their captain, only to turn around and show us that she was never in any real danger and didn’t even need their help, the show and its creators almost feel like they’re laughing at us. As if the audience’s investment in the story they set up is part of the joke. I noted this with disappointment in Season 1’s Veritas, and it’s a shame to see this unfortunate trope reoccur now that Lower Decks is entering its third season. The show should aim to be better than this.

Stealing the Cerritos.

When Captain Freeman walked through the shuttlebay doors, flanked by her senior staff, I admit it was a surprise. But it didn’t feel real – I felt sure that she’d turn out to be a hologram, a changeling, a disguised Pakled… basically anything else other than the real, newly-freed captain. And the reason for that is simple: the story doesn’t flow. This conclusion is, as I said at the beginning, a non sequitur; it doesn’t follow on naturally from the story we’ve spent the rest of the episode following. And for some people, maybe this kind of twist works. For me, it didn’t. And when the entire episode is built around this one big, explosive moment, its failure condemns the entire episode.

Perhaps that last statement was a tad harsh. There are neat moments across the first portion of Grounded that really plucked the right nostalgic strings, and others that were amusing in one way or another. I liked, for example, the kindly old man who operated the transporter, and how none of the ensigns had the heart to stun him and tie him up. That was a fun way to throw in a twist to what felt like a predictable storyline.

Captain Freeman is free and back in command.

However, all of those neat moments feel soured by the episode’s ending. Partly this is because going back and rewatching a story with a bad ending always feels like a tainted experience, but also it should be said that it feels like some of these moments were wasted time. Captain Freeman blitzed through a montage and explanation of the Pakleds’ scheme and her trial that lasted barely a minute, and perhaps a longer sequence – that could have included flashbacks to the trial itself and/or the events surrounding it – might’ve gone some way to making up for the rug-pull. I’m not sure that would’ve saved Grounded, but maybe the episode could have been transformed from a disappointment into something merely underwhelming.

Had the Captain Freeman reveal been made at the halfway point, instead of three minutes before the credits rolled, more time could’ve been dedicated to explaining her situation, she and Mariner could’ve enjoyed a longer conversation to process what happened, and some of the ultimately unnecessary fluff could’ve been cut from earlier in the story.

Ensign Mariner with her parents.

So I’m sorry to say that Lower Decks continues a trend of season premieres that don’t hit the high notes that we know the series can reach. Grounded was undermined by the decision to have the ensigns’ story not matter – and while, in some ways, that’s the point of Lower Decks as a whole, the way in which it was executed here is what let it down. I don’t mind following the ensigns as they follow orders, complete insignificant tasks, and the like… but setting up a story in which they seemed to be on a dangerous adventure only to yank it away at the last minute and show how pointless it all was, well that just doesn’t make for a fun, worthwhile, or entertaining ride. At least not for me.

Star Trek references dripped from every orifice in Grounded, but the inclusion of so many locations, characters, callbacks, and name-drops couldn’t save an episode that was, unfortunately, spoiled by a poor ending. After First First Contact had set up Season 3 for greatness, this first episode feels like a swing and a miss from Mike McMahan and the team.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

House of the Dragon: first impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first episode of House of the Dragon.

It’s been a little over three years since Game of Thrones went off the air. That show’s disappointing final season and conclusion did a lot of damage to its brand – and may be a contributing factor to the delay in concluding the series of novels upon which it was originally based. As I wrote once, the incredibly negative reception to the way that Game of Thrones ended effectively killed any residual support the show had and removed it from our collective cultural conversation. The show’s legacy is the reshaping of the world of entertainment, with high fantasy enjoying a renaissance, multi-season serialised stories coming to the fore, the “disposable casts” of characters who could be killed off at any moment, and more besides. But Game of Thrones itself isn’t the phenomenon it once was.

The rise of big-budget fantasy and genre shows in the wake of Game of Thrones has led to projects like The Rings of Power, which will premiere next month, as well as The Wheel of Time, The Witcher, and even to an extent shows like Star Trek: Discovery, which has brought into the Star Trek franchise some of the tenets of storytelling in this post-Thrones world. All of these projects, and others like them, mean that there’s intense competition for viewers in this space.

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen on a promotional poster for House of the Dragon.

This is the environment in which House of the Dragon has premiered. Undermined by the evident failures of Game of Thrones’ final season and no longer a singular phenomenon, the series has to attempt to carve out a new niche and demonstrate that it can bring something at least superficially different to the table. More of the same won’t cut it for fans who were left disappointed by Game of Thrones, and with ever more big-budget shows in the fantasy space, House of the Dragon has a lot of work to do. Based on its premiere episode, I’m not sure it will be up to the task.

House of the Dragon needs to define itself, to stand on its own two feet and demonstrate how it can be something new and different rather than just “more Game of Thrones,” and in its premiere it did nothing of the sort. The story outline feels incredibly familiar, with a focus on quarrelling aristocratic factions as they vie for the throne. The aesthetic and feel of the series have scarcely moved, with the same costumes, sets, music, and even cinematography clearly trying to emulate what has come before. It brought back as much sex, violence, and gore as it could fit into its premiere episode, too – all hallmarks of Game of Thrones, and elements that helped that series to stand out from the pack in its early seasons.

A jousting tourney was the stage for one of several violent clashes in the series premiere.

House of the Dragon introduces us to an ageing, weakened king, a young Targaryen princess, a mad Targaryen prince, and even has the audacity to dump in some foreshadowing of the Night King, the Long Winter, and events we saw unfold in Game of Thrones in a particularly ham-fisted sequence that laid on the exposition with some pretty clunky dialogue. I guess some kind of overt connection to Game of Thrones was inevitable – but it didn’t need to come in the premiere, and it certainly could’ve been toned down or at least worded less clumsily.

In terms of visual effects, I again felt House of the Dragon did not excel – particularly when considering the sky-high budget afforded to the series by HBO. There were too many moments where the blending of CGI with real actors and sets was noticeable, such as during long establishing shots of the jousting tournament. Visual differences between what the camera picked up and what the artists and animators imagined were noticeable enough to pull me out of some sequences altogether. Some fully-animated sequences, such as a flyover of Kings Landing early in the episode, likewise strayed into the “uncanny valley,” and when we’ve seen lesser shows with lower budgets pull off similar sequences much better, House of the Dragon has definitely come up short.

Animation work in House of the Dragon wasn’t fantastic.

This one is purely a personal taste thing, but I don’t like the refurbished throne room set. The iconic Iron Throne is now framed by a small forest of foam-rubber swords that neither improve its look from Game of Thrones nor come close to recreating its appearance as described in the original novel series. The effect looks cheap, and while I’ll credit the creative team for doing something to try to differentiate the series from its predecessor, for me it doesn’t work.

So far, I see no evidence that HBO has truly taken to heart the criticisms fans had of Game of Thrones as that series came to its end. “More of the same” isn’t going to cut it, and House of the Dragon feels like the second coming of Game of Thrones – and that isn’t for the better. If it was 2010 all over again, maybe it would indeed be good enough. But in a television landscape that has completely changed over the past twelve years, House of the Dragon has to do more than that. When compared with other offerings in the same genre on other networks or streaming services, House of the Dragon manages to feel aggressively average.

The new look of the Iron Throne – complete with additional foam-rubber swords – isn’t doing it for me.

The Rings of Power is hot on the heels of House of the Dragon, and despite also taking place in a long-established world, that series feels newer and fresher, somehow, than House of the Dragon does. I can’t escape the feeling that we’re going to get a story that will ultimately feel rather samey, and while that doesn’t mean there won’t be twists, turns, and excitement along the way, I’m not convinced that that will be good enough. House of the Dragon has a legacy to live up to – but it also has a legacy it must surpass. When it comes to the latter, there’s no evidence that it’s even willing to try – at least, nothing of the sort was forthcoming in the series premiere.

Familiar musical stings, recycled sets, and character archetypes who harken back to the “glory days” of Game of Thrones’ early seasons can’t be all that House of the Dragon has to offer. The series needs to have the ambition to go beyond what its predecessor achieved and set a new benchmark. Moreover, trying to pluck those nostalgic strings really won’t take House of the Dragon very far with fans who came away from Game of Thrones feeling let down. Right now, I’m trying to decide whether the series is worth pursuing; whether this time a decent ending has been planned out with a roadmap to get there that keeps the entertainment value going. That’s where Game of Thrones came unstuck, so if House of the Dragon’s sales pitch is just “we’re doing Game of Thrones again!” then I’m out. I won’t make it past the first few episodes – because what’s the point?

King Viserys sits on the Iron Throne.

For now, though, I’ll stick with House of the Dragon to see what comes next after this underwhelming debut. I can forgive a degree of looking backwards in a series premiere that aims to reach out to an audience that it hopes to bring back; casual viewers who may not follow fantasy but who showed up in droves for Game of Thrones. If House of the Dragon can begin the task of differentiating itself and standing on its own two feet in the episodes ahead, that will be a greatly positive thing and something that will certainly hold my attention.

House of the Dragon will continue to face stiff competition for as long as it remains on the air. Rising to meet that competition is the task the series now faces – a task that, arguably, its predecessor didn’t have to deal with. The shadow of Game of Thrones looms large in more ways than one, and time will tell whether House of the Dragon truly has what it takes to convince audiences that the world of Westeros is deserving of a second look.

House of the Dragon is available to stream now on HBO Max in the United States. The series is broadcast on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and on the NOW TV catch-up service. House of the Dragon is available internationally via a patchwork of different channels and/or streaming platforms. House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones, and other properties mentioned above are the copyright of HBO and Warner Bros.-Discovery. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

There are two unannounced Star Trek projects being worked on. What could they be?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Discovery Season 4.

It’s been known for a while that there are unannounced Star Trek projects that are being worked on behind-the-scenes, and from time to time someone senior at Paramount will re-confirm this fact in public! Just last month at Comic-Con, we got yet another statement about these secretive projects, this time from Alex Kurtzman himself – the man who’s in charge of the overall direction of the Star Trek franchise. Kurtzman stated that there are two unannounced series that are in active development, so today I thought it could be a bit of fun to speculate about what exactly those projects could involve!

In the past I’ve put out lists of prospective Star Trek shows, but this time I want to be more focused. Rather than wild speculation or pure fantasy, I want to stick as close as possible to what we know based on statements that have been made in public, filings by Paramount, and plausible rumours from around the Star Trek franchise. Rather than saying “here’s a list of my fantasy Star Trek projects,” I want to try to stay realistic and consider some projects that feel genuinely plausible. So that’s what we’re going to do today – no “hospital ship” or “colony world” concepts here! As nice as those would be from my perspective, they don’t seem like ideas that are being actively considered by Paramount at the moment.

Alex Kurtzman is in charge of the Star Trek franchise for Paramount.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite wanting to stick to the real world as much as possible, my usual caveat applies: I have no “sources” close to the production of Star Trek nor any “insider information.” I’m not trying to say that any of these projects are definitely going to be made, let alone that an announcement may be imminent! I’ve tried to base the entries on this list on statements from people involved with Star Trek, official notices and filings from Paramount, and plausible, persistent rumours – but all of it could be easily wrong or otherwise untrue. So please take all of this with more than a few grains of salt!

The reason why I’m putting together this list now is twofold. Firstly, Star Trek Day is coming up in just under three weeks from now, and there’s the possibility of a big announcement as part of that event. Secondly, Season 3 of Picard will be that show’s last, so in my view Paramount will already have something lined up to replace it – and an announcement of that project may be forthcoming sooner rather than later. Announcing Picard’s replacement too close to its third season risks overshadowing the show as it comes to an end; getting the announcement out of the way ahead of time will give fans time to properly digest it.

So with all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Series #1:
Section 31

Sloan, director of Section 31 during the Dominion War era.

Although a series based around Section 31 has technically been “announced,” the lack of any official news for almost four years at this point clearly means that the series has hit some bumps in the road. While I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that it’s been cancelled altogether, it’s still possible that the Section 31 series will be reworked and perhaps even re-announced along with a premiere date.

As I’ve said more than once, the Section 31 series was announced far too early. Not only was it completely overshadowed by the hugely positive response from fans to Captain Pike and Spock in Discovery’s second season – something that seemed to catch Paramount completely off-guard – but its main character desperately needed the development she would receive in Discovery’s third season in particular before she could begin to feel like someone who could carry her own spin-off.

At the time the Section 31 series was first announced, many fans viewed Georgiou as a kind of sociopathic monster.

When the Section 31 series was first discussed, Michelle Yeoh’s Empress Georgiou was about as flat and one-dimensional as Star Trek characters get. Moreover, she wasn’t just a villain, she was a psychopathic, genocidal monster who kept slaves, ate sentient beings, and seemed to revel in torture, violence, and death. Even for an organisation as roguish and off-the-books as Section 31, Empress Georgiou seemed extreme – and asking fans to support a series centred around a character like that was, for many, too much.

It wasn’t until the two-part Season 3 episode Terra Firma that we really saw a change in Georgiou. After spending time away from the Mirror Universe she began to view aliens as equals rather than sub-human, and had even adopted some Federation-inspired ways of thinking. By the time she stepped into the Guardian of Forever’s portal she had changed just enough that she could be an anti-hero rather than an out-and-out villain, and both she and the Section 31 series needed that development.

Georgiou enters the Guardian of Forever’s portal in Terra Firma, Part 2.

My gut still says that the Section 31 series isn’t going to happen, and we should brace for a quiet cancellation sometime in the future rather than a big announcement. I haven’t heard anything about the series since its premature announcement back in January 2019 that sounded even slightly positive, and with Star Trek branching out in different directions, it’s possible that Section 31 simply missed the boat.

However, at time of writing the Section 31 series still exists, Paramount has retained the trademarked name, and it isn’t impossible to think that it will be revived. Perhaps a new team of writers and producers will take over the project and rework it in some way – potentially even without Empress Georgiou.

Series #2:
Seven of Nine and Raffi

Seven of Nine and Raffi at the end of Picard Season 2.

With Picard concluding its run before any of the other current Star Trek projects, a spin-off from that series feels like a distinct possibility when considering its replacement. The time period that Picard established – the dawn of the 25th Century – is not represented by any other current Star Trek project, so if Paramount wants to keep that era alive – and potentially bring in more legacy characters from Deep Space Nine and Voyager – then a series occupying the same timeframe could be a possibility.

A lot of work went into Picard Season 2 in terms of sets being constructed for the brand-new USS Stargazer – but those sets were only used in the premiere and the second half of the season finale. That seems like a lot of work for relatively little screen time, so part of me has been wondering ever since whether those sets may be destined for use in a spin-off project!

Could a Seven and Raffi series be set aboard the new USS Stargazer?

With Seven of Nine being awarded a role in Starfleet at the end of Picard Season 2, she could be being groomed for command. Depending on how she and Raffi get on in Season 3 – which we’ll see in the first half of next year – a spin-off could see those two characters headline a new show, perhaps one set aboard the USS Stargazer.

Seven of Nine was, at one time, my least-favourite Voyager character. But Picard has given her some much-needed development that led into a wonderful arc across both seasons of the show so far, culminating in her taking the Stargazer’s captain’s chair in the Season 2 finale. I would never have expected to write these words in 2000-2001, but I think I’m ready for a Seven of Nine series!

Seven of Nine takes the captain’s chair.

Both Seven and Raffi have tactical backgrounds, so we could potentially see a series set aboard a kind of rapid-response vessel. The Stargazer’s mission could be less about exploration and more tactical in nature, potentially serving as Starfleet’s “muscle” in dangerous situations. That concept isn’t one that Star Trek has done before (not as a whole series, at least) so it would be something different for the franchise.

There are other 25th Century concepts that could replace Picard, but a direct spin-off featuring at least one new character that was introduced in that series could be just what the Star Trek franchise needs. Keeping some consistency and some ties between different projects isn’t a bad idea, and I’m sure that a Seven and Raffi series could find a way to stand on its own two feet without the presence of Admiral Picard.

Series #3:
Project Khan and/or Ceti Alpha V

Iconic Star Trek villain Khan could make a return.

Earlier this year it was reported that Paramount had trademarked the name Project Khan. This follows on from a pitch by The Wrath of Khan writer/director Nicholas Meyer, whose project would focus on Khan’s life in between the events of Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan. Although these two ideas could be totally separate, there does seem to be an appetite from someone at Paramount to see this iconic villain make a comeback.

If we take the two ideas as separate for now, Project Khan could be connected to the Eugenics Wars, and could even be a spin-off from Picard. Season 2 antagonist Adam Soong very prominently picked up a folder titled “Project Khan” at the end of his storyline, with the series seeming to imply that he plans to resume working on some kind of genetic engineering.

How might this moment from Picard Season 2 connect to Project Khan?

This is a complete hypothetical, but if we were to get a series starting from that point, Khan himself may not appear. This could be a Brent Spiner project with Adam Soong attempting to recreate Khan’s work in the 21st Century, and could potentially see things like the outbreak of World War III, which purportedly happened in that era. Such a series could see the return of Chris Rios and Dr Teresa Ramirez – they could be trying to stop Dr Soong’s work.

Alternatively, Project Khan could step back to before the events of Picard and focus on Khan’s rise to power in the 20th Century. This would be an interesting concept, but it would have to be handled delicately. In short, the Star Trek timeline has, until now, been pretty vague about events in the modern day and how they relate to real-world history. If it were set in the 1990s, Project Khan could completely transform our knowledge of that era – but it could also tread on the toes of a number of other Star Trek stories.

Khan in Space Seed.

Then we come to the Ceti Alpha V pitch. As much as I admire Nicholas Meyer’s work on Star Trek, I have to be honest: this isn’t a series I would give the green light to if I were in charge. We’re talking about the least-interesting chapter of a story where the ending is already known, and I just don’t see what Ceti Alpha V could tell us about Khan or his ambitious plans that we don’t already know from Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan.

There is the tantalising possibility that a Khan-focused project could connect with Strange New Worlds, though, as the character of La’an Noonien-Singh is a descendant of Khan. That could certainly be a point in favour of doing a new Khan story. Last year I took a longer look at the Ceti Alpha V concept, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

Series #4:
Starfleet Academy

The logo of Starfleet Academy in the 24th Century.

Last year (at Star Trek Day) Alex Kurtzman came pretty close to confirming that a Starfleet Academy series may be in the works. It’s certainly the nearest we’ve gotten to any kind of outright confirmation – and as above, Starfleet Academy is a title that Paramount has trademarked, this time all the way back in 2018.

Combine that with what felt like a bit of a backdoor pilot during Discovery’s fourth season, and I think we have a solid case to make that a Starfleet Academy series could be in the works! The Discovery Season 4 episode All Is Possible featured Lieutenant Tilly heading off on an away mission with a trio of new Starfleet cadets at the recently-reopened Starfleet Academy. It ended with her deciding to take up a permanent teaching post at Starfleet Academy and departing the USS Discovery – although she would reappear in the season finale.

Tilly’s departure.

All Is Possible definitely feels like a backdoor pilot, although the attention wasn’t on Tilly and the cadets all of the time. Tilly’s presence would connect the series to Discovery in a major way, and there’d be the possibility of crossover episodes with both shows set in the same 32nd Century time period. A Starfleet Academy show could also feature David Cronenberg’s character of Dr Kovich – a somewhat mysterious character who I still can’t figure out!

Alternatively, a Starfleet Academy series could ignore the 32nd Century and instead be set in the 25th. This version of the series could feature characters like Raffi and Elnor – the latter of whom is a cadet, and who was resurrected at the last minute in a sequence in the Season 2 finale that feels seriously underwhelming right now. Perhaps Elnor’s survival could be given new meaning and purpose if he were to be a major character in a Starfleet Academy series.

Cadet Elnor.

As a series concept, Starfleet Academy has been around the longest! While The Original Series was still in production in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry came up with the idea of a show that would have focused on young Kirk and Spock during their Academy days – something we eventually saw (albeit in an alternate timeline) in 2009’s Star Trek reboot film.

I feel like a Starfleet Academy series could be a strong addition to the franchise. Not only would it be something different, but it could also be a great first contact for younger viewers – and perhaps even a second port of call for those who’ve recently become fans of Prodigy, too – as they find their way into the Star Trek fandom. Having several cadets as major characters would mean younger viewers could find this iteration of Star Trek easier to relate to and get started with, and that can only be a positive thing. I took a longer look at the Starfleet Academy concept last year, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

Series #5:
Enterprise Season 5/The Earth-Romulan War

The NX-01 Enterprise and two Romulan vessels.

This one is a bit more speculative, but I’m not the only one to wonder if there may be an attempt to bring back the 22nd Century in the near future. Calling this one “Enterprise Season 5″ might be a bit of a stretch, but any 22nd Century project could bring back at least some of the characters from that series for another adventure.

Prior to its cancellation in 2005, there were plans being drawn up for a fifth season of Enterprise. According to one of the show’s producers, if it had gone ahead Season 5 would’ve shown more of the origins of the Federation, and particularly the Earth-Romulan War that was first referenced in The Original Series. That could be the starting point for a revived Enterprise or a new 22nd Century series.

The Earth-Romulan War was established in The Original Series Season 1 episode Balance of Terror.

The Earth-Romulan War is a major event in Federation history, one that pushed the founding members of the Federation closer together. It was also a devastating conflict in its own right, and a series focusing on the war could have echoes of Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc. Star Trek can do war stories incredibly well – as we’ve seen in episodes of Discovery and Strange New Worlds just in the last couple of years – so this could be a great fit for an expanding franchise.

Any franchise has to be careful about coming across as too backwards-looking and introspective if it dives deeply into chapters of its own lore and backstory, but I think there’s space as Star Trek continues its renaissance to potentially step back to the time of the Earth-Romulan War. I know a lot of fans would happily welcome back Captain Archer or any other members of the Enterprise crew, so this project could be a real “love letter to the fans.”

The NX-01 Enterprise.

There were a number of factors that led to Enterprise’s cancellation in 2005, and although it was sad at the time, in many ways the Star Trek franchise needed a break and a reset. But maybe the time is right to bring back some of the characters and stories that had been conceived for unproduced seasons of Enterprise now that the franchise is back on solid ground.

There are definitely arguments to be made against establishing yet another different time period for Star Trek, as the franchise can already feel overcomplicated, especially for newcomers. But there are points in favour of returning to the 22nd Century, too, particularly if a series had a relatively tight focus on something like the Earth-Romulan War.

Series #6:
Captain Worf

Worf on a promo poster for Picard Season 3.

Along with most of the rest of the main crew members from The Next Generation, Worf will be returning in Season 3 of Picard next year. It’s no secret that actor Michael Dorn has been talking up his own “Captain Worf” idea for the better part of a decade, and with the casting announcements for Picard, part of me has been wondering if that show’s final season might lead into a Worf spin-off.

As the character with the most Star Trek appearances to date – 274, in case you were wondering – we’ve spent a lot of time with Worf already! We’ve seen our favourite Klingon wrangle with his heritage and his duty to Starfleet, gain promotions, establish friendships with two different casts of characters, become a father, get married, become a widower, and much more besides. Is there room for another chapter in Worf’s life after the events of Deep Space Nine? I still think that’s an open question!

Is there room for new Worf-focused stories?

This one really depends on how Picard Season 3 goes down. Executive producer Terry Matalas has described Picard Season 3 as being a “send-off” for the crew of The Next Generation, presumably including Worf, and that sounds pretty definitive and final. We may see some characters killed off as the season goes on, especially if Picard and the crew are facing off against some kind of galaxy-ending threat. Even if Worf survives, it’s possible that all of the characters’ stories will come to a conclusive end, and if that’s the case there may be no room – and no need – for a Captain Worf series.

But it’s also possible that Picard Season 3 will be testing the waters to see whether certain spin-off ideas are viable. We’ve already considered the possibility of a Seven of Nine and Raffi series, and that’s one possibility. But maybe there’s a chance that, if fans respond incredibly positively to Worf in his new role, he could finally take the lead in his own series.

Worf as he appeared in Season 1 of The Next Generation.

For me, I feel that Worf in a leading role is an untested idea, and one that may not work. Although there are nuances in Worf’s characterisation, many episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine played up his Klingon traits, and while I’d never call him something like “flat” or “one-dimensional,” there’s definitely a case to be made that a character like Worf works best in a supporting role rather than a leading one.

But we can reserve judgement on that until we see what role has been created for Worf in Season 3 of Picard. Maybe he’ll get a fantastic ending to his decades-long story, one that feels conclusive and satisfying, rounding out his arc and tying up loose ends from both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll establish himself as the next character deserving of a spin-off project.

So that’s it!

Where will Star Trek go next?

Paramount (and subsidiary CBS Studios) has trademarked other names associated with the Star Trek brand that may be connected with shows or films that are currently in development, but it’s very difficult to know what to make of some of them! Vague titles like Star Trek: Destiny, Star Trek: Revolution, or Star Trek: Reliant have all been trademarked over the past few years – though several of these have now lapsed and haven’t been renewed. It isn’t clear whether any or all of these names were even intended to be used for films and television shows, or whether they were meant for merchandise and other projects. The interesting-sounding Star Trek Continuum trademark, for example, isn’t connected with a film or TV show at all, but is instead an official line of awful-looking NFTs.

For now at least, these are the Star Trek projects that seem to be the most likely based on what we’ve heard through official and unofficial channels. It’s definitely possible that work is ongoing in secret to develop some completely different Star Trek projects that we can’t predict at the moment, but in terms of what may be announced in the weeks or months ahead, the projects we’ve talked about today feel the most likely.

Next month’s Star Trek Day could be the venue for a big announcement…

Although trademarks exist for Ceti Alpha V and Starfleet Academy, if it were up to me I’d pick a 25th Century series to fill the hole that will be left when Picard finishes its run. Lower Decks and Prodigy will still be representing the late 24th Century, but I think it’ll feel like something’s not right if the 25th Century that Picard has only just begun to explore is abandoned with that show’s conclusion. Not only because we won’t get to carry on the journey, but because that era feels like the natural next step for a franchise that found so much success in the 1990s with shows set in the 24th Century.

But we’ll have to wait and see what the creative team at Paramount has in store! I think it’s possible – but by no means guaranteed – that an announcement could come as soon as next month. The Star Trek Day live broadcast has promised “announcements, reveals, and surprises” in its official press release, and the inclusion of certain actors – such as Jeri Ryan and Michelle Hurd – could hint at something big to come.

I hope this has been a bit of fun! I tried to steer clear of baseless rumours and fan-fantasies to focus instead on concepts and pitches that are known to exist and that seem plausible. But we’ll have to wait and see whether any of them are really going to happen!

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties (and potential properties) discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What can we expect from Star Trek Day 2022?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including recent seasons of Picard, Discovery, Lower Decks, and Strange New Worlds.

The 8th of September is Star Trek Day! On that date in 1966, The Original Series premiered in the United States with the episode The Man Trap, kick-starting a franchise that’s still going strong fifty-six years later. Last year, Paramount organised a major broadcast to mark the occasion, hosted by Wil Wheaton (The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher and host of The Ready Room) and Mica Burton (daughter of Geordi La Forge actor LeVar Burton). It was a fun event – albeit one that probably went on a little too long – that celebrated all things Star Trek. With Star Trek Day coming back this year, I wanted to look ahead to the event and consider what we might see when it arrives in just under three weeks’ time.

My usual caveat for these sort of things applies: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that anything discussed below will definitely be included in this year’s Star Trek Day broadcast. This is speculation from a fan – and an opportunity to talk Trek – and nothing more! With that out of the way, let’s get started!

George Takei at last year’s Star Trek Day.

First of all, I think it’s worth talking about some of the big announcements we’ve seen over the past few months, because Paramount hasn’t been shy when it comes to making headlines for the Star Trek franchise. We’ve had major announcements about Picard Season 3, including who will be part of – and excluded from – the main cast, we’ve seen trailers, clips, and teasers for Lower Decks, which will be a couple of episodes into its third season by Star Trek day, we’ve had plenty of news about Strange New Worlds Season 2 – including the surprising return of a fan-favourite character… and much more besides. Events like last month’s Comic-Con saw big panels featuring main cast members and major announcements, like the Strange New Worlds crossover with Lower Decks.

In short, I’m not so sure that we should expect a glut of trailers and teaser clips and a plethora of massive announcements! Paramount could’ve saved things like the Picard Season 3 teaser and posters that were shown off at Comic-Con for Star Trek Day, but in a way it makes sense to use an event like that – where all eyes are on the world of entertainment – to make waves and show off Star Trek’s renaissance. Star Trek Day itself, at least based on what we saw last year, is more of a celebration for Trekkies and the Star Trek community.

Star Trek already dropped some big announcements at Comic-Con just last month.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be anything of substance, and the official press release for Star Trek Day promised announcements, reveals, and surprises! With Season 3 being Picard’s last, and principal photography already having been completed, I can’t help but wonder whether we might get an announcement of what could replace it in the lineup. When Picard disappears from the schedule next year, there will be a gap – and as Alex Kurtzman (head honcho of Star Trek for Paramount) has previously told us, there won’t be any new Star Trek until one of the current shows has ended its run. Well, something’s going to have to fill the Picard hole in late 2023 or 2024… so could the announcement of a new project be imminent?

I note that the official press release for Star Trek Day specifically mentioned that Michelle Hurd (Raffi) and Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) will be present to talk about Picard. I know I’m not the only one who’s talked up the possibility of a “Seven and Raffi Show” as a spin-off from Picard, so it’s interesting that these two actors will be present together at Star Trek Day. Sure, they could just be there to talk about Picard Season 3… but maybe, just maybe, there’s more to it than that!

Seven of Nine and Raffi in Picard Season 2.

There are at least two unannounced Star Trek projects in the works at Paramount, again according to Alex Kurtzman. I don’t think we’d get two massive announcements like that at Star Trek Day, and if I had to put my money anywhere I’d say that a Picard spin-off or at least another show set in that same 25th Century era is the most likely. But you never know! There are rumours of a Khan-focused project and a Starfleet Academy series, the latter of which may (or may not) be a Discovery spin-off set in the 32nd Century with Mary Wiseman reprising her role as Lieutenant Tilly.

Does the untitled Section 31 series still count as having been “announced,” given that there’s been no official news for almost four years at this point? We could finally hear something about that project, too, I suppose. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

So there are a few different possibilities for a major announcement. A brand-new series would be a heck of a way to celebrate Star Trek Day, especially if the announcement came along with things like concept art or maybe even casting information.

Are we going to get an announcement about… Khaaaaaaaan?!

The other big project that’s currently up in the air is the untitled feature film Star Trek 2023. As we recently discussed, I seriously doubt whether the film will make its intended December 2023 release date given that most of the main Kelvin timeline cast don’t appear to be on board yet, but Star Trek Day could surprise us with some more information about the project.

So those are the potential projects that I think we could hear something about. As I said, my money would be on some kind of 25th Century Picard replacement if you forced me to make a bet… but there are definitely cases to be made to hear something about a Starfleet Academy series or perhaps a some kind of Khan project, too.

The new USS Stargazer.

This year’s Star Trek Day will be hosted by Tawny Newsome (Ensign Mariner on Lower Decks) and Paul F. Tompkins (Dr Migleemo on Lower Decks) who co-host The Pod Directive, Star Trek’s official podcast. I’m sure they’ll make a great presenting duo – though part of me feels a little sad that Wil Wheaton won’t be on hosting duties. His energy and passion for Star Trek really elevated last year’s event.

I’m curious to see what may be teased about Discovery Season 5. Filming is currently underway in Toronto, and a behind-the-scenes tour hosted by Wilson Cruz (Dr Culber) promises appearances by some of the cast members and a look at new sets. I’m not sure when Discovery’s fifth season will make its debut; it seems right now as if Picard and Strange New Worlds will be ready first, even though Discovery Season 4 wrapped up back in March, so we could see one or both of those arrive before Season 5 is ready. Still, it’ll be neat to catch a glimpse behind the curtain – and maybe there’ll even be a teaser of some kind!

Dr Culber in Discovery Season 4.

We’re edging closer to the first anniversary of Prodigy’s premiere, and we’ve been promised a second batch of ten episodes to round out that show’s first season before the end of this year. With a Prodigy panel on the agenda for Star Trek Day, I have to assume we’ll get some more details about those episodes – hopefully including a premiere date. If I had to guess, I’d say that the second half of Season 1 could directly follow on from Lower Decks, which could mean a premiere date in late October or early November.

Prodigy has not been particularly well-supported by Paramount, in my view, at least not so far. Splitting up its first batch of episodes into chunks of four and five respectively with a long gap in between is not a great way for a new series to gain traction – especially with its young target audience. There’s also a lack of toys and tie-in products, and while there are plans in place to address that, at time of writing none of those items are available for purchase. Paramount has a lot of work to do to really sell Prodigy – and I really hope they get on with it, because it’s a unique project within the Star Trek franchise and one that could turn a whole generation of kids into Trekkies if handled better.

We’ll hear something about Prodigy at Star Trek Day.

Either Lower Decks or Strange New Worlds stars could go into more detail about the upcoming crossover, and although it’s still early days we could get some kind of teaser for Strange New Worlds’ upcoming second season. I don’t expect to see any clips from the crossover at Star Trek Day – that’s just a hunch, of course, but something tells me it’ll be kept under wraps until much closer to the episode’s premiere. But we could learn more about Season 2, including whether any new cast members will be coming on board. There’s at least one and perhaps two spots open if the producers wanted to make additions, although I hope they don’t go overboard and try to cram in too many new characters – especially not characters from The Original Series.

Season 1 managed to strike a good balance between legacy and new characters, and I’d hope that would continue in Season 2. There must be a temptation to add characters like Scotty, for example, in engineering, but I hope that the show’s writers can resist – at least for now. There may be scope to bring in more legacy characters in later seasons, but for now I’d like to spend more time with some of the newbies who we’re just getting to know.

Behind-the-scenes with Captain Pike and the Enterprise bridge crew.

There’s also a decent chance, in my view, that we’ll hear about a Season 3 renewal for Strange New Worlds. Season 2 has already finished its main production phase, and with Discovery Season 5 well underway, it’s definitely time for those conversations to be happening behind-the-scenes. It seems utterly unfathomable to me that there won’t be a third season (and a fourth…) given how well Season 1 was received. Pre-production may be already happening, so it wouldn’t shock me at all to get a formal announcement at Star Trek Day.

In a similar vein there could be announcements for a fifth season of Lower Decks, a third for Prodigy, and perhaps even a sixth for Discovery – though the latter may be premature at this stage. As Discovery has been running since 2017 (and in production since 2016), it’s not an absolute certainty that we’ll get more after Season 5, but at the same time the 32nd Century feels like a really interesting setting to spend more time in, so I’m hopeful that there’ll be more to come from Captain Burnham and the crew.

Captain Burnham in Discovery Season 4.

So those are my main thoughts/predictions. I’m also looking forward to some of the other events that will be part of the live broadcast, including a tribute to Nichelle Nichols, as well as a couple of fan-focused events, some music, and even some stand-up comedy. Star Trek Day’s stated runtime is two hours, and that feels about right for something like this. As mentioned, last year’s event may have dragged just a little – at least for me – so it seems as though some lessons may have been learned from that. But as they say, live events have the potential to take unexpected turns, so I won’t be shocked if Star Trek Day ends up running a little over that time limit!

I guess that’s about all there is to say. I’m glad Paramount is doing this, and I’m glad the event will be free to stream on the official Star Trek website instead of being locked behind a Paramount+ paywall. It’s a nice way to celebrate all things Star Trek, and even if there are no massive announcements about brand-new shows or films, I still think it’ll be a fun time. There’ll be glimpses behind-the-scenes, chats with cast members, and hopefully a lot of positivity and excitement about the Star Trek franchise.

I’m looking forward to Star Trek Day, and when the event is over I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on the broadcast, as well as perhaps take a longer look at any major trailers, teasers, or announcements. Stay tuned here on the website in the next few days because I have a list of a few potential upcoming Star Trek projects currently in the works – and who knows, we may hear about some of those at Star Trek Day!

Star Trek Day will be live-streamed on the official Star Trek website and social media channels on the 8th of September 2022 beginning at 3:00pm Eastern Standard Time/8:00pm British Summer Time. The Star Trek franchise – including all shows and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass: thoughts and impressions

I’ve got to be honest with you right at the start: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass disappointed me before I’d raced a single lap… or even downloaded it. That’s because I was really hoping to see Mario Kart 9 this year; a brand-new game with new features rather than just an expansion pack for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The original version of Mario Kart 8 released for the Wii U back in 2014 (though I played a preview build at a press event in 2013; lucky me!) so I’ve been waiting to see what Nintendo would do next for a long time. This Booster Course Pass just felt underwhelming when it was announced compared to what I’d been hoping for.

With 2022 being the thirtieth anniversary of the Mario Kart series (Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES all the way back in 1992), and with Nintendo’s love of celebrating big milestones and anniversaries, again the timing for a new game felt right. But I guess Nintendo is sticking to the “one Mario Kart game per console” thing, and the Booster Course Pass is intended to throw players a bone and give the game a bit of a refresh as the Switch enters what must be the latter part of its life. I have no doubt that there’ll be a Mario Kart 9… but now it seems like it’ll be on whatever console Nintendo makes in the years ahead rather than coming to the Switch.

Pink Gold Peach in a promo image for the Booster Course Pass.

But the Booster Course Pass makes Mario Kart 8 Deluxe “feel like a new game,” right? That seems to be the cliché that a lot of folks have trotted out to describe the expansion pack. I’d answer that question with a firm “no.” An expansion pack like this refreshes the game, gives it a new lick of paint and shuffles things around, but the same Mario Kart 8 gameplay and visual style is still front-and-centre, even as new racetracks are added. For players who’d been getting bored of that, or who had drifted away from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in search of new experiences, this will be at best a shot in the arm; a temporary boost to bring them back for a while. But the novelty of the new courses will fade faster than it would had there been a brand-new game this year.

But is it fair to judge the Booster Course Pass by that standard? No expansion pack is really intended to be a wholly new game, and there are undoubtedly some fun tracks that have been added to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe this time around. Not only that, but the format that Nintendo has used here is a fun one; tracks will be added in “waves” of eight at a time until the end of 2023. The total number of tracks added by the time the Booster Course Pass is complete will be forty-eight – doubling the number of racetracks in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

The Booster Course Pass includes tracks from past Mario Kart titles.

I quite like the “wave” approach to the expansion pack. Building up the Booster Course Pass slowly over the span of a couple of years keeps the game feeling fresh for longer compared with dumping all of the racetracks at once in a single event. Your mileage on that may vary, though, and there’s nothing wrong with holding off on picking up the Booster Course Pass until late 2023 when the final wave of racetracks has been added. At a cost of £20 ($25 in the United States) it felt a bit steep at first for only eight additional racetracks; the value of the Booster Course Pass will feel a lot better when all forty-eight are playable!

So who is this expansion pack really for? I don’t think it’s necessarily the natural next step for the Mario Kart series in general, rather the Booster Course Pass is for people who’ve started to get bored of what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has to offer. Once you’ve played Rainbow Road, Toad Harbour, and GBA Cheese Land a hundred times apiece, this expansion pack shakes things up and provides some new layouts, new scenery, and a bit of a new challenge. For someone new to the Nintendo Switch and/or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’d say you don’t have as much to gain by picking up the Booster Course Pass at this stage, but it could be worth it later on. It just depends on how repetitive you begin to find the forty-eight courses that come with the base game!

The Booster Course Pass may feel like better value in a year’s time.

I’ve made a couple of lists here on the website of racetracks that I’d want to see in a future Mario Kart title, and two of my favourites have appeared already in the first couple of waves of the Booster Course Pass. As with racetracks across the rest of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, older tracks have seen more changes to both mix things up and to fit with the game’s anti-gravity, flying, and underwater mechanics that weren’t present in earlier titles.

Both Coconut Mall and Mushroom Gorge, which were tracks that debuted on the Wii, feel more or less unchanged in the Booster Course Pass. Both tracks were fantastic in Mario Kart Wii and make wonderful additions here. Their musical accompaniments are likewise neat, and both feel like a nostalgia blast! I have fond memories of playing these racetracks with friends during the Wii days, and replaying them in HD on the Switch has been a blast.

Coconut Mall is back!

Kalimari Desert and Choco Mountain have returned from the Nintendo 64, and the former in particular is one of my all-time favourite Mario Kart racetracks. Choco Mountain is a fun course, although I would say that its all-brown colour palette makes it feel a little bland, and that’s something that could’ve been worked on or adapted for this new version.

Kalimari Desert, though, is absolutely fantastic in the Booster Course Pass. It’s more linear this time around – each of the three laps follows a definite route, meaning players don’t have as much choice when it comes to taking risky shortcuts through the tunnel or over the train tracks. But the adaptations that have been made are fantastic and really showcase the course at its best. There’s something about the “American Southwest” aesthetic that I’ve always loved about Kalimari Desert, and seeing it brought into the modern day thanks to a visual and gameplay overhaul has been wonderful. Although the track also appeared on the 3DS back in 2011, this new version feels like the definitive take on Kalimari Desert.

Kalimari Desert is one of my favourite Mario Kart tracks… ever.

Mario Kart Tour is a crappy mobile game that is bedevilled by many of the pay-to-play and pay-to-win microtransactions that blight the mobile gaming scene. As a result I’m not familiar with most of its racetracks, so the inclusion of several in the Booster Course Pass has given me my first real opportunity to play them. At time of writing (wave two) there have been four racetracks from Mario Kart Tour added; there may be six more to come for a total of ten.

I’ve been lucky enough earlier in my life to have visited both Paris and New York – the settings for two of the Mario Kart Tour tracks included in the Booster Course Pass – and I have to say that New York Minute in particular really hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. There were some genuinely recognisable locations in Central Park and the downtown area that I vividly remember travelling to with friends years ago, and again I wasn’t expecting this brand-new track to give me the nostalgic feels in the way that it did! The music for New York Minute is one of the best in the game; the perfect jazz accompaniment to a beautiful racetrack.

New York City comes to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!

The Mario Kart Tour tracks also have fun and varied layouts, with each of the three laps taking different routes. I think this keeps things interesting and makes it a lot harder to just drive on “autopilot” even after playing each of the tracks a dozen times. The three other Mario Kart Tour tracks – Paris Promenade, Tokyo Blur, and Sydney Sprint – all hit a number of tourist attractions and key locations in their real-world settings, and it’s something both fun and a little different to race through a Mario Kart track based on a real-life locale.

Having first played Super Mario Kart in the early 1990s, not too long after it was released here in the UK, I’m a dab hand at practically all of the SNES courses that have been included in Mario Kart 8! The sole SNES inclusion in the Booster Course Pass (again, at time of writing after wave two) is Mario Circuit 3, and it’s perhaps the least-interesting from my perspective. Not much has been done to the course’s layout, and with Donut Plains 3 as part of the base game I guess it just wouldn’t have been my first choice. There are better SNES courses, like one of the Vanilla Lake tracks or possibly a Bowser Castle or Koopa Beach that might’ve offered a bit more diversity. That isn’t to say Mario Circuit 3 is bad, just that as an addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it doesn’t offer as much originality as some of the other SNES courses could’ve.

Though there’s nothing wrong with SNES Mario Circuit 3 per se, there are other SNES tracks that might’ve been more fun.

Rounding out the retro courses we have Toad Circuit from the 3DS, which is fine, Snow Land from the Game Boy Advance, which is a cute winter-themed track with an icy road, Waluigi Pinball from the DS, which is one of the most unique concepts on show in the Booster Course Pack so far, Sky Garden from the Game Boy Advance, which reminded me a lot of Cloudtop Cruise from the base game in terms of the way it’s been adapted, and finally Shroom Ridge from the DS – a racetrack with traffic.

There are two brand-new tracks, too: Sky High Sundae and Ninja Hideaway. I like food-themed tracks, so Sky High Sundae was a visual treat! It’s also one of the rare tracks to fully take advantage of Mario Kart 8′s anti-gravity racing feature, which is neat. Ninja Hideaway is a Japanese-themed track with a couple of flying sections that break up what is otherwise a pretty basic layout – albeit one with a fun aesthetic.

Sky High Sundae.

So that’s the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I’ve tried to judge the additional racetracks on their own merits as much as possible, and there are definitely some fun inclusions that make Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth returning to for lapsed players and those who’d been getting bored of the same lineup over and over again.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that it would’ve been better for Nintendo to include these tracks as part of a new game: Mario Kart 9. There could’ve been transformational gameplay changes, perhaps some new drivers from both Nintendo titles and from games and series that have found success on the Switch in recent years, and while the visuals wouldn’t be significantly improved due to the limitations of the Switch’s hardware, changing things up from a gameplay perspective would’ve been worth doing. The Booster Course Pass adds a lot of content and a lot of value to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but a new game this ain’t.

For what it is, though, and for the price, the Booster Course Pass has plenty to offer. There are some fun tracks that I hadn’t played before as well as several blasts from the past that really hit the right nostalgic notes. I daresay the Booster Course Pass will keep Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at the top of the Switch charts now that we’re well into the second half of the console’s life – though whether it’s worth picking up now and trying out each wave of tracks as they arrive or whether it would be better to wait and pick it up in the latter part of next year is going to be up to you.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now for Nintendo Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass is available as an expansion pack for an additional fee. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass, and all other titles and properties discussed above are the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek 2023: what’s going on?

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers are present for Star Trek 2009, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

It’s been a while since we last talked about the currently-untitled Star Trek 2023. The most recent official news we got came back in February of this year, when it was announced that the film would involve a return to the Kelvin timeline that had been established by 2009’s J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek reboot. Since then there’s been very little official news from Paramount – and some of the unofficial news and soundings from some of the actors supposedly involved with the title have been very strange indeed for a film that’s supposedly been greenlit.

Several members of the Kelvin timeline cast – including Karl Urban, who plays Dr McCoy, and Chris Pine, who plays Captain Kirk – have given cryptic, non-commital statements when asked about the film, and it seems as if Paramount may have jumped the gun and announced Star Trek 2023 before everything was officially in place and ready. That’s certainly the impression I’ve been getting.

Spock, Kirk, and Dr McCoy in Star Trek Beyond.

Making a film is complicated, and I think it’s imporant to stress that. It takes a lot of effort to get contracts in place, to agree the division of profits, to line up the schedules of actors and directors, and to cover all of the legal, contractual, and economic bases – and that’s before anyone can begin rehearsing and learning their lines, let alone be on set ready to get started. There’s a reason why so many people are named in the end credits of a film; many of those jobs begin years before production gets underway.

One thing that we can say for near-certain is that, as of August 2022, Paramount doesn’t have all of the main Kelvin timeline actors signed on to Star Trek 2023. For a film with a preliminary premiere date of December 2023, that’s not good – and it almost certainly means, at a bare minimum, that we shouldn’t expect the new film to make that deadline. Perhaps we’d better start calling it Star Trek 2024… or more realistically, Star Trek 2025.

When can we expect to see Star Trek 2023?

Then there’s the question of a script. Last year we got two announcements about a new Star Trek film being written: one by Discovery and Short Treks writer/producer Kalinda Vazquez, and another by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (who co-wrote the scripts for Captain Marvel and 2018’s Tomb Raider) and Lindsey Beer. It wasn’t clear, following the second announcement, whether that meant the Vazquez project is not progressing, whether two Star Trek films may be in early production, or what exactly is going on.

It isn’t unusual for a big film studio to commission scripts, change their minds, and go in a different direction. The film industry can be brutal like that, so we can’t really infer much from the fact that two different scripts appear to have been commissioned – nor that their announcements came within weeks of one another. But the script situation certainly doesn’t help clear things up!

One of the earliest promotional images/posters for 2009’s Star Trek.

At this point, though, we should be seeing some progress on whichever project ultimately became Star Trek 2023. We’re less than eighteen months away from the film’s currently-scheduled premiere – at which point all three previous Kelvin timeline films were already shooting. 2009’s Star Trek took 141 days of filming (not including reshoots and pick-up shots) between November 2007 and March 2008, and the film wasn’t ready until May 2009.

While I could entertain the notion that Star Trek 2023 is working to a tighter schedule – not unlike some past entries in the cinematic franchise, such as Generations in 1994 – even then we’d expect to have heard a lot more positive noises about the film’s pre-production. At the very least I’d have expected all of the principal cast members to have confirmed that they’re signed on to the project, even if other aspects of production are still up in the air.

Star Trek: Generations had a relatively short production schedule.

As recently as last month (July 2022), Kirk actor Chris Pine said the following about reprising his role: “If it happens, I think all of us would come back.” That doesn’t exactly sound like someone who’s signed a contract – or is even getting ready to sign one. That sounds speculative, hypothetical, and it’s not the only comment from a Kelvin timeline star that raises concerns.

“As soon as they can figure out our moment we can we could all be together, I’m sure we’ll do it.” So said Scotty actor Simon Pegg in June of this year, and a month earlier in May, Dr McCoy actor Karl Urban said “I have heard that it is happening, but I’ve been hearing that for the last three years… All I know is they are developing it, they’re writing a script…” From these comments, it sounds like neither has signed on to the project officially.

Montgomery Scott actor and Star Trek Beyond writer Simon Pegg.
Photo Credit: Sean Reynolds from Liverpool, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While none of the actors have ruled out working on Star Trek 2023, it’s significant at this stage that none of them have committed to it, either. According to some reports, earlier attempts to get the film made in the immediate aftermath of Star Trek Beyond in 2016 were hampered by financial issues, and actors and their agents have a history of using public statements as part of salary negotiations. Perhaps that could account for some of what’s been said – but again, that means the film is clearly at a very early stage with no guarantees of going ahead.

If we were to see Star Trek 2023 arrive on time in December next year, realistically the film should be on the verge of beginning principal photography. That would mean not only would the script be finished but sets would have been built, outdoor filming locations secured, costumes sewn, and all of the actors would need to have cleared their schedules and be ready to go. The fact that we’re still hearing comments from members of the cast that seem to confirm that they haven’t made any significant commitments or made space in their schedules tells me that the film is nowhere near that stage – and that means that its December 2023 release date feels completely unrealistic.

A scene being shot for 2009’s Star Trek.

I have to be honest: if I’d been in charge of the Star Trek franchise for Paramount, I wouldn’t have greenlit this project. Don’t get me wrong, I wish it well and I hope it succeeds both as a fun Star Trek story and as a film that turns a tidy profit and brings new audiences to the franchise. But with so much other Star Trek on our screens from Prodigy to Strange New Worlds and beyond… I can’t help but feel that the money thrown at this project could be better-spent.

The Kelvin films were undoubtedly what Star Trek needed in 2009, not only rebooting the franchise but showing that there was still life in it. We would never have got Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, and the rest of modern Trek without the Kelvin films’ success on the big screen. So in that sense I thank them for carrying the torch and paving the way for the current renaissance that Star Trek is enjoying.

With Strange New Worlds doing phenomenally well, it feels like there’s less of a place for the Kelvin timeline.

But as I’ve argued before on more than one occasion, there are drawbacks to a new Kelvin timeline project. A new film set in the alternate reality risks overcomplicating what can be an already convoluted franchise, with different projects occupying different time periods and timelines. The unique premise of the films also no longer exists, taking a look at “young” Kirk and Spock in their Academy days and youth. And with Strange New Worlds coming online – and blowing up to become the most-watched Star Trek show on Paramount+ in the United States – there’s a real risk that a new Kelvin film would retread too much ground with many of the same characters also appearing in that series.

So if Star Trek 2023 is faltering, could it be for the best? Aside from the fact that Star Trek Beyond seemed to tease a sequel, is there really a pressing need to revisit this alternate timeline right now? With so much else happening in the Star Trek franchise, I think I’m inclined to say “no.”

The end of Beyond definitely teased a sequel.

I will always support Star Trek as best I can, and I always feel that more Star Trek is good news! If Star Trek 2023 manages to get off the ground, I’ll wish it all the best and do what I can on my small corner of the internet to get hyped up for it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be devastated to learn that it isn’t going to happen. With so much other Star Trek on our screens, I just don’t feel that another Kelvin film is a necessary addition to the franchise’s current and upcoming lineup. And with Strange New Worlds in particular including characters like Spock, Uhura, and even Captain Kirk, there’s a danger that it could feel underwhelming, as if the two projects are stumbling over one another without offering anything new to say about these characters.

There’s definitely room in the Star Trek franchise for a new film or two – whether they get a full cinematic release or end up going straight to Paramount+. But maybe it would be better if Paramount redirected its efforts into new projects, or perhaps a film based on Discovery, rather than pressing ahead with this new Kelvin timeline project. If things seemed to be going smoothly I guess I wouldn’t be thinking that way, but if the film is already struggling and looks set not to make its intended release date, maybe that’s a sign that it isn’t meant to be.

Regardless, I’ll keep my ear to the ground! If there’s more news about Star Trek 2023 in the weeks and months ahead, I’ll do my best to cover it here on the website.

Star Trek 2023 is currently scheduled to premiere on the 22nd of December 2023. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What on earth happened to Batgirl?

This story is a very strange one, so buckle up! If you haven’t heard the news, Warner Bros. and DC Films recently announced the cancellation of Batgirl, with news reports suggesting that the film was considered “irredeemable” by the studio after disastrous test screenings. What’s so strange about this, though, is how far along in its production Batgirl was at the time of its cancellation.

Films get cancelled all the time, but almost never this late in the game. With principal photography complete, enough post-production work done to get the film ready for test screenings, and a partnership with streaming platform HBO Max to distribute the film, practically all of Batgirl’s reported $90 million budget has been spent. Canning it at this stage is incomprehensible… no matter how subjectively “bad” test audiences may have found the film to be.

Did test audiences really hate Batgirl that much?

But is that all there is to say? The film was “so bad” that Warner Bros. and DC Films pulled the plug, and that’s it? Many industry watchers don’t think so, and there’s a rumour flitting around – unsubstantiated at this stage, it must be said – that Warner Bros. and its corporate ownership may have taken this decision in order to offset debts and losses elsewhere in the company.

Warner Bros-Discovery – the parent company of both Warner Bros. films and DC Comics – is tens of billions of dollars in debt, and by cancelling Batgirl the corporation may have been able to write off the loss against its substantial debts, perhaps saving or even earning money in the process. That would be on top of the money saved on the film’s marketing and theatrical release.

Warner Bros-Discovery is the corporation responsible for this mess.

Whether that was the intention or not, it does seem as though Warner Bros-Discovery will indeed benefit financially from the film’s cancellation, and that leads us to some very challenging questions about the state of corporate entertainment in a broader sense. This situation is basically unprecedented in modern times; for a film to be cancelled while being functionally complete, potentially locked away in a vault or destroyed, never to be shown in public, it’s something that just hasn’t happened in a very long time.

Other corporations will be watching, looking to see what kind of backlash Warner Bros-Discovery may face, and what kind of consequences – if any – there may be. If the prevailing consensus in a few weeks’ time is that they got away with it and made a tidy saving in the process, perhaps we’ll see this happen again at other corporations in future. You know what corporations are like – once they see an opening, and the waters are tested to confirm it’s safe, they all start jumping in.

Is this whole situation to do with writing off debt?

I don’t know whether Batgirl would’ve been any good. I felt that The Batman, released earlier this year, was okay for what it was, but as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of comic books and their cinematic adaptations, perhaps it was never really going to be “my thing.” But that’s basically irrelevant at this point, because there clearly was an audience for Batgirl, and as we’ve seen by the reaction on social media, fans of comic books and even cinema in general have turned up to condemn this move from Warner Bros-Discovery.

There have been some well-received comic book adaptations in recent years – Avengers Endgame and Joker spring to mind as just a couple of examples. But even if Batgirl was never going to hit those high notes, did it not still deserve a chance? Even if it was going to end up being critically panned alongside Morbius or Inhumans, shouldn’t it have been left to audiences to find that out for ourselves?

The only official promo photo released for Batgirl.

With the cost of releasing a film digitally relatively low – Warner Bros-Discovery owns HBO Max, at the end of the day – it doesn’t seem worth it to spend all of this money on Batgirl only to cancel it at such a late stage. Even if test audience reactions were so negative that a theatrical release was taken off the table, sticking the film on a streaming platform has almost no downsides. Nothing Batgirl could’ve done would’ve damaged the reputations of Warner Bros. or DC Comics in a significant way, so if the film flopped then so what? That happens all the time, and studios dust themselves off and move on. All that would’ve happened if Batgirl had been poorly-received is that it wouldn’t have gotten a sequel and would’ve been quietly forgotten, not being incorporated into any version of the foundering DC Extended Universe.

So that’s where this “debt write-off” conspiracy theory has come from. We may never know the true story of what happened to Batgirl, but I think its cancellation is a shame. Having heard some details about the film, I can honestly say that it sounded like a film with potential. JK Simmons was to take on the role of Commissioner Gordon, Michael Keaton was to return as Batman for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns, and Brendan Fraser was to star as villain Firefly. I like all of those performers, and seeing Brendan Fraser take on a role like this would’ve been absolutely delicious; I could see his performance being a highlight even if the story of the film and some of its other elements weren’t especially strong.

Brendan Fraser was set to star as the film’s villain.
Photo Credit: New York Post.

Moreover, Batgirl would’ve starred Leslie Grace, best known for her role in In The Heights. She seemed ready to take on the role of Batgirl, and her take on the character would’ve been an interesting one. In a superhero genre overloaded with male superheroes and ensembles, almost any picture with a female lead is going to feel different, interesting, and exciting.

All of these performers, as well as the film’s directors and other members of the creative team, have been insulted by this move. If it’s true that Warner Bros-Discovery is doing this to take advantage of a loophole and pay down its mountain of debt, then it’s even worse. Allowing Batgirl to take the fall – and be heinously attacked in the process, with worlds like “irredeemable” being thrown around – is just awful, rotten treatment by the studio and its corporate overlords.

So I think it’s disappointing that Batgirl was cancelled. The circumstances are incredibly bizarre, and I can quite understand why speculation has turned into conspiracy theory pretty quickly. The reaction online has been overwhelmingly negative, and if Warner Bros-Discovery stick to their guns and don’t release the film, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see bootleg copies popping up on pirate websites in the weeks ahead. Ironically, Batgirl may have just become one of the hottest and most sought-after films of the year. I know I for one would be very interested to see what all the fuss has been about.

Batgirl is the copyright of Warner Bros. and DC Films. No release is currently scheduled. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Remembering Nichelle Nichols

What can be said about Nichelle Nichols that hasn’t already been said over the last few days? Her loss is felt profoundly by the entire Star Trek fan community – a rare moment of togetherness in what can be a divided fandom at times. But beyond that, news of her passing has resonated across the world of entertainment and beyond. She was a unique person, someone whose influence and hard work may not have been centre-stage for everybody, but whose tireless commitment to the causes she supported – and to fans of Star Trek – will never be forgotten.

At a time when the United States was still in the process of outlawing racial segregation, Nichelle Nichols became an icon for the civil rights movement. The character of Uhura took her place on the bridge of the USS Enterprise not as a servant or a maid, not as a subordinate, but as an equal member of the crew; an officer with the respect of her shipmates. Such roles were incredibly rare on American television at that time, and the statement made by Uhura’s presence on Star Trek was one of racial equality and hope for the future.

Nichelle Nichols, 1932—2022.

There’s a frequently-cited story that it was Martin Luther King who convinced Nichelle Nichols to remain on Star Trek when she considered leaving to return to the stage after the show’s first season. Star Trek, according to King, was one of the few shows he allowed his children to watch – and Uhura’s role was the reason why.

Star Trek told morality tales and gave commentary on contemporary issues of race and civil rights across its three seasons, and Uhura was a powerful presence in many of those stories. Nichelle Nichols brought the character to life with a quiet, understated charm, and quickly became an irreplaceable part of Star Trek.

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in The Undiscovered Country, 1991.

While we as Trekkies might remember Nichelle Nichols from her role as Uhura, her legacy extends far, far beyond the Star Trek franchise – and even beyond the realm of entertainment itself. Beginning in the 1970s, she worked with NASA to help drive the recruitment of new, younger astronauts from diverse backgrounds. The first African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-Americans to travel into space joined the space programme as part of Nichelle Nichols’ initiative. She quite literally changed the face of NASA and diversified space exploration.

The documentary Woman in Motion goes into detail about Nichols’ work with NASA, and if you haven’t seen it it’s well worth a watch. I love a good documentary, and Woman in Motion presents her story in an understandable way. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know much about her involvement with NASA prior to watching Woman in Motion, but it’s a story that absolutely should be told – and I’m glad it was able to be told before Nichelle Nichols passed away.

Nichelle Nichols on the Woman in Motion poster.

Over the past few days we’ve seen an outpouring of grief and remembrance from Nichelle Nichols’ Star Trek co-stars, actors and creatives in the Star Trek franchise, many others from the world of entertainment, and countless people who felt inspired by her. Many people have shared their own stories of what it meant to see Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, how Nichelle Nichols inspired them to get started in their chosen career, or the words of advice she had from those lucky enough to have met her in person.

For one person to have such an impact and leave such a legacy is phenomenal, and the thousands upon thousands of tributes that we’ve seen are just a small fraction of the lives that Nichelle Nichols touched in one way or another. Those lives were changed not because she played a role on Star Trek, but because of what she did with that role, that fame, and the spotlight that was placed upon her. Other actors could’ve happily taken their pay and done nothing more – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all – but Nichelle Nichols went the extra mile. She recognised what her role meant to millions of people across the United States and around the world, and she did everything that she could to make it matter. That’s why it’s been so hard to know what to say, and why her loss hits so profoundly. She wasn’t just another performer – she was so much more than that to so many people.

Nichelle Nichols with Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green.

We’ve been lucky to have Nichelle Nichols with us for as long as she was. It was only in her final couple of years that she began slowing down her activities; she attended her final Star Trek convention less than a year ago. In all of that time she offered to fans and everyone else the kind of boundless, unbridled optimism that defines Star Trek itself: always smiling, always happy to be seen with fans, co-stars, and new actors alike.

I’m going to miss Nichelle Nichols. I’ll miss hearing about her appearances at conventions and the interactions she had with fellow fans and friends of mine within the Star Trek fan community. I’ll miss the stories she could tell about working on the show and its films. And I’ll miss seeing her with the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Zoe Saldaña, and Celia Rose Gooding. The comfort I take is that she lived a full life, one in which she put her talents to good use both on-screen and off. She leaves behind a legacy most people could only imagine, and her impact on the worlds of Star Trek, entertainment, and even space exploration itself will outlive her, continuing long into the future.

Some images used above courtesy of Star Trek/Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks theory – evil Boimler

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine Season 3.

With Lower Decks’ third season fast approaching, I wanted to write up a theory that I’ve had kicking around since the second episode of Season 2. Lower Decks’ episodic nature hasn’t lent itself to a ton of theory-crafting so far – although I do have at least one more in the pipeline, so stay tuned for that! – but this one feels plausible; it’s the kind of narrative choice that I could see the show’s writers making.

First of all, let’s briefly recap what happened to Ensign Boimler from the end of Season 1 to the beginning of Season 2. After impressing Captain Riker, Boimler took a transfer to the USS Titan at the very end of Season 1, leaving Mariner and the Cerritos behind and being promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Boimler would serve under Captain Riker for a short while, and one of the Titan’s assignments at this time involved following up with the newly-aggressive Pakleds.

Boimler got a transfer at the end of Season 1.

Lieutenant Boimler was assigned to an away mission to the planet Karzill IV as part of this assignment, and after getting caught in a firefight he was able to save the day and allow the rest of the team to make it back to the Titan. However, as this mission drew to a close a transporter accident created a duplicate – or clone – of Boimler, resulting in two identical Lieutenant Boimlers, indistinguishable from one another.

For seemingly arbitrary reasons, Starfleet decided that only one Boimler could remain aboard the Titan, and the other would have to take a demotion back to the rank of ensign and return to the Cerritos. After one Boimler returned to the Cerritos we’ve followed his actions, and the second Boimler hasn’t been mentioned since. But could that be about to change?

Boimler betrayed!

Although we were told that the two Boimlers were indistinguishable from one another – totally identical – the second Boimler, the one who remained aboard the Titan, seemed much more outgoing than the Boimler we’ve gotten to know. Not only that, but he seemed more than a little devious in tricking “our” Boimler to return to the Cerritos so that he could continue on the Titan and advance his career. Could we be looking at the beginnings of an “evil twin” (or “evil clone,” I guess) storyline?

It wouldn’t be the first time that such a story has appeared in Star Trek! Going all the way back to The Original Series we had stories like The Enemy Within that split Captain Kirk into two distinct personalities, one “good” and one “evil.” And of course there’s the classic Mirror, Mirror that showed our heroes’ evil alternate universe counterparts.

Two Captain Kirks!

The Next Generation followed this up by creating Data’s own “evil twin” – Lore. Lore would tangle with the crew of the Enterprise-D on more than one occasion, doing things like allying with the Crystalline Entity and raising an army of abandoned ex-Borg, as well as trying to corrupt Data and sway him to his cause.

Most significantly we have Thomas Riker, the first transporter duplicate in Star Trek and whose character clearly inspired the Boimler storyline in Kayshon, His Eyes Open. Not only was Thomas difficult to work with for William Riker after being rediscovered, but he would go on to rebel against Starfleet, join the Maquis, and even steal the USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine.

Thomas Riker.

Lower Decks has brought back a lot of Star Trek tropes and story beats, and many of them have been used for one-off gags or as cute callbacks to past events. It can be difficult to tell whether there’s some deeper meaning to the whole transporter duplicate story because of that. In the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open it worked well as a surprising twist, a way to kick Boimler back to the Cerritos, and as a cute wink to fans of The Next Generation, especially considering Riker himself was present. The storyline could end there with Boimler’s twin never being mentioned again.

But at the same time, Lower Decks has used some of these classic Star Trek moments and story beats to set up longer arcs, or returned to them later. There’s a symmetry to some of the show’s episodes and storylines, too. The way the Cerritos saved the USS Archimedes in the Season 2 finale after having to be saved in the Season 1 finale is one of the best examples of this – and we could also point to the Pakled storyline itself as an unfolding multi-episode arc.

Captain Riker and the Boimlers.

I think we’ve laid out how it’s at least possible that there could be something more going on with the transporter clone and looked at previous examples of “evil twin” tropes in Star Trek. So that answers the question of “could it happen?” quite nicely – but that’s really just the beginning.

The matter at the heart of this theory is what direction such a story would take, how it could potentially impact (our) Boimler, and what it could do for the series as a whole.

If we look back to episodes like Datalore or Second Chances, I think it’s not unfair to say that those storylines didn’t go on to have a lasting effect. The creation of twins, clones, and duplicates hasn’t actually come to matter in a significant, ongoing way for any Star Trek character so far. Even when those twins made repeat appearances their stories tended to be confined to a single episode – or perhaps a two-parter.

Lore.

It was never really explained in any detail what impact Thomas’ emergence had on William Riker after the events of Second Chances. Even when Thomas returned in Deep Space Nine’s third season episode Defiant, the story unfolded from his perspective without any input from his doppelgänger.

Data’s conflict with Lore is perhaps the biggest of these storylines, with Lore being mentioned a handful of times outside of his main appearances. But because of Data’s nature, he wasn’t as emotionally impacted by Lore’s behaviour as other characters in a similar situation might’ve been. Data even expressed confusion in Second Chances as to the nature of the dispute between Will and Thomas Riker!

Thomas Riker in Defiant.

Although Lower Decks has been largely episodic, we’ve still seen some impressive character work across its first two seasons. The way Ensign Mariner in particular has grown into her role and come to resolve some of her issues with her mother, her friendships, and her position in Starfleet has been wonderful to see – and it’s this more serialised approach to characterisation (a hallmark of modern television storytelling) that could make an “evil Boimler” storyline different to what we’ve seen before in Star Trek.

Boimler’s issues with his transporter duplicate could have an impact on him that extends beyond a single episode – and that could take his character on a journey. Beginning with the sense of betrayal he surely felt at the duplicate’s duplicity aboard the Titan, Boimler could begin to forgive him, only to discover he’s up to no good. He could find it difficult to convince his friends at first, before showing them irrefutable proof of the clone’s misdeeds. And the whole experience of having to face off against someone who literally knows him inside and out and has shared every experience he ever had could both challenge and change him.

Boimler in Season 2’s We’ll Always Have Tom Paris.

We could see a more confident Boimler emerge from under such a storyline – but someone whose friendships have been pushed and stretched before eventually settling. Or we could see Boimler begin to second-guess himself; if the “evil” clone was Boimler himself, perhaps he’d wonder if being “evil” is part of his own nature, and that could cause him to freeze or find it hard to make decisions.

In short, there are a lot of ways that such a story could go – but almost all of them would be good for Boimler’s characterisation in the long run. We’d get a fun episode with the evil twin that could harken back to the likes of The Enemy Within, Mirror, Mirror, Datalore, and others – but the impact of that episode could reverberate across an entire season, giving Boimler a character arc that could be very satisfying to see unfold.

Are we in for some Boimler-on-Boimler action?

So that’s it for now! The theory is that Boimler’s transporter duplicate will – in classic Star Trek tradition – turn out to be evil!

For the reasons laid out above, I think such a story could be fun and interesting. Moreover, I like the idea of the fallout from Boimler’s conflict with his “evil twin” not being confined to a single episode and potentially setting him on a season-long arc as he processes what happened and what it means for himself and his friends. Going down that road could feel deeply cathartic – with Boimler filling in for other Star Trek characters in similar situations who never got the chance to deal with the longer-term implications of what they went through!

I hope this was a bit of fun. Please keep in mind that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will happen in Lower Decks either imminently or in Season 4. I just think it’s a fun concept, and while all the pieces seem to be in place for such a story, it could be that the transporter duplicate will (in the best tradition of Star Trek) never be mentioned again!

Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. Season 3 will premiere on the 25th/26th of August 2022. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek at Comic-Con 2022 – thoughts and impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Seasons 1-2, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise – including upcoming and unreleased projects.

This year’s San Diego Comic-Con is winding down – and we got a lot of Star Trek news to process over the weekend! I didn’t attend Comic-Con myself, but I’ve been following the event online, and there were several big announcements, a big surprise, teasers and trailers, and comments from Star Trek stars past and present to dive into. I’ll do my best to take a look at all of the major points today!

I’m actually a little surprised that there was so much news coming out of Comic-Con; a Lower Decks trailer and something about Picard felt like certainties, but beyond that I was wondering if Paramount might hold things back and put together a repeat of last year’s “Star Trek Day” broadcast event where the franchise could be centre-stage.

A billboard promoting Star Trek at San Diego Comic-Con.

An event like Comic-Con is a double-edged sword in some ways for corporations like Paramount. On the one hand, there’s a lot of attention directed at Comic-Con even from mainstream news outlets, which can be good for promotional purposes. But on the other, Star Trek has to compete for that attention with the likes of Marvel, Star Wars, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series, and many others.

So I hope it was a success from Paramount’s point of view and managed to bring at least some new eyes to the Star Trek franchise. It feels as though Paramount put a significant amount of investment into this weekend’s events and promotional materials, so as someone who hopes to see Star Trek continuing to be a success, I’d like to think it paid off!

The Strange New Worlds panel at Comic-Con.

So let’s start with Star Trek: Picard. We didn’t get to see a proper trailer, instead getting another teaser that showed off the main cast of Season 3. I’m still quite disappointed with how the casting situation has been handled, and the fact that we aren’t going to get to spend more time with characters like Elnor and Soji feels like a backwards step – at least in some respects – for a franchise that should be moving forward. But that decision has long ago been taken, so let’s consider what we did see instead of what we didn’t!

First of all, Seven of Nine’s field commission seems to have been made permanent, and she’s seen in uniform for the first time. That was neat, and seems to further her wonderful arc from both seasons of the show so far. The design of Worf was perhaps the most interesting to me; after the Klingons had undergone a major redesign for both the Kelvin films and Discovery, the design of Worf shown off in the Picard Season 3 teaser is much closer to the post-Motion Picture Klingon look that Worf had during The Next Generation’s run.

Glimpses of the main characters.

Absent from the teaser was Brent Spiner – so we still don’t know who he may be portraying. It’s tempting to suggest that his absence may be hiding some major design secret (such as a reimagined Data, Lore, or B4) but I’m not convinced of that yet. Altan Inigo Soong (from Picard Season 1) feels like the most obvious choice for Spiner to portray, but we don’t know that for certain.

At the panel, Sir Patrick Stewart indicated that a visit to “more than one” USS Enterprise could be on the cards in Season 3, which could imply anything from travelling through time to a Search for Spock-inspired starship theft! Precisely which Enterprise(s) Picard and the crew may visit wasn’t stated – so could it be Pike’s Enterprise, perhaps?

Sir Patrick Stewart speaking during the Picard panel.

There’s actually not much else to say about Picard right now. The teaser didn’t give much away, and aside from design choices like several characters wearing leather jackets, we don’t actually know a whole lot more about the show’s final season than we did before Comic-Con. Some of what was discussed – like a potential female villain and revisiting the Enterprise – sounds interesting, and Picard Season 3 is definitely one of my most-anticipated right now. But after an underwhelming Season 2 and the disappointment of the rather callous cutting of under-used characters, there’s no doubt it has serious work to do. Nothing I saw at Comic-Con has me anxious or worried… but because what we saw was relatively barebones, nothing blew me away either.

The upcoming video game Star Trek: Resurgence made an appearance at Comic-Con. Still scheduled for release later this year, the panel didn’t go into a lot of story details for obvious reasons, but the game seems to be shaping up nicely. It looks to be very much in line with Telltale Games titles from the past few years – the likes of Batman, The Wolf Among Us, and The Walking Dead, to name but a few – and considering that developer Dramatic Labs is made up of a number of ex-Telltale creators, that makes sense! I’ll be sure to take a detailed look at Resurgence when it launches, so stay tuned for that!

Resurgence’s Captain Solano.

I wasn’t expecting to see any kind of teaser or trailer for Strange New Worlds Season 2; although filming recently wrapped up we’ve only just finished watching Season 1, so Season 2 is likely ten-plus months away! There was no news about a potential third season renewal either – although I suspect that’s just a matter of time!

The biggest news from the Strange New Worlds panel, though, was the surprise announcement of a crossover with Lower Decks. I’ve been longing for a proper crossover between the current crop of Star Trek shows – so this is great news! Strange New Worlds had moments of humour and comedy in its first season, so the pairing is not as unnatural as it might first appear. I’m not quite sure how the episode will blend live action and animation, though – will Boimler and Mariner appear as cartoons on a live-action set? That’s something to watch out for!

A truly unexpected crossover is on the cards!

The crossover episode will air as part of Strange New Worlds’ second season sometime next year, and will be directed by Jonathan Frakes. Frakes has directed some of Discovery and Picard’s best episodes and knows the Star Trek franchise inside and out, so I’m really hopeful that this crossover will end up being as much fun as it sounds! I might not have chosen to stick Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds together, but with both shows hitting their stride after successful debut seasons, the time is right for a crossover. Hopefully it will be the first of many as Star Trek’s renaissance continues!

There were some interesting pieces of merchandise shown off at Comic-Con, too. I didn’t see any Prodigy toys or figures, but there were some prototypes from Playmates and EXO-6 showing off their latest figures of the likes of Captain Kirk, Locutus of Borg, and other classic characters. Factory Entertainment also debuted their Motion Picture insignia and Type II “dustbuster” phaser – which I hope will come to the UK!

A new “dustbuster” phaser replica may be coming soon!

Alex Kurtzman teased us with news that there may be two unannounced Star Trek projects in early production. With Picard finishing its run after Season 3 next year, I feel like an announcement can’t be far away for at least one new project, but what that project may be is still unknown! One potential series is the untitled Section 31 spin-off that was announced back in 2019, but my gut says that project probably won’t see the light of day. There’s been talk of a Ceti Alpha V miniseries focusing on Khan, and there’s also a rumoured Starfleet Academy series. Any of those could be announced before the end of the year – so watch this space!

I wonder, though, if one of these unannounced projects could be a 25th Century post-Picard series, perhaps even a spin-off focusing on Seven of Nine and Raffi. There seemed to be a lot of investment in new sets built for Picard Season 2 that were only seen at the beginning and end of the season, so could those sets be repurposed for a new series set aboard the new USS Stargazer? It’s all speculation at this point, of course, but I can’t help wondering!

The USS Stargazer.

A trailer for Lower Decks Season 3 debuted at Comic-Con, and the series has recently been confirmed to be returning on the 25th of August – in just a month’s time! The trailer picked up from where the Season 2 finale left off, with Captain Freeman in custody and the crew having to figure out what to do next. It seems like we saw several clips from the first episode – at least, that’s the impression I got – so there may be surprises still to come later in the season!

One story will take the Lower Decks crew to Deep Space Nine, and we saw the station and nearby wormhole shown off in the trailer – along with the familiar Deep Space Nine theme. I absolutely adore Deep Space Nine, and after the station was briefly glimpsed in a Season 1 flashback, it will be amazing to head back there for what will be the first post-Dominion War episode in that setting. Series creator Mike McMahan has promised us a look inside the station as well as some familiar faces, too!

The USS Cerritos at Deep Space Nine.

One of those familiar faces seems to be the Klingon General Martok – an important recurring character in the latter part of Deep Space Nine’s run. It may be too much to hope for to get a real Deep Space Nine-inspired story that picks up some of the dangling threads that series left behind… but I can’t help it! I’d love to see the next chapter in the Deep Space Nine story unfold on screen, and even just getting a glimpse or a tease would be fantastic.

Other scenes in the trailer seemed to show a return to one of the first planets visited by Mariner and Boimler in Season 1, stealing the impounded USS Cerritos (presumably to rescue Captain Freeman), Boimler in Cetacean Ops, Rutherford and Tendi at Sisko’s restaurant in New Orleans, Boimler and Mariner acting as Starfleet recruiters, Dr T’Ana performing an amputation, and more! We saw Captain Freeman in uniform alongside Commander Ransom briefly, so I assume she will be able to escape the false charges laid against her!

Dr T’Ana prepares to perform surgery!

The trailer looked like the familiar blend of animated comedy hijinks and throwbacks to The Next Generation era that we’ve come to expect from Lower Decks across its first two seasons. We’ve had some genuinely outstanding episodes so far – and only a couple of duds, really – so more of the same is no bad thing! I’m curious to see how the Captain Freeman cliffhanger will be resolved – will it be a one-episode story or will it rumble on for much of the season?

There was a surprising absence at Comic-Con: Prodigy. There was no mention of Prodigy (aside from a poster as part of the broader “Star Trek Universe” marketing), and that strikes me as odd. We’re supposedly going to be seeing ten more episodes of Prodigy before the end of this year to round out the show’s first season, so it was surprising that nothing was mentioned. We don’t even have an official broadcast date for the next batch of episodes – and there’s currently no new Star Trek being shown for the next few weeks.

There was nothing Prodigy-related at Comic-Con this time.

It’s possible that we’ll come to learn more about Prodigy’s next steps and some of these in-production but unannounced projects in the near future. The 7th of September will be “Star Trek Day,” for example, and we could see another presentation of some kind to mark the occasion. Prodigy could also follow Lower Decks and kick off the second half of Season 1 in late October or early November – this would keep Star Trek on our screens through the holiday season and into 2023.

There was a comment from William Shatner about Star Trek that a lot of folks have picked up on on social media. At Comic-Con, Shater claimed that Gene Roddenberry would not approve of the direction of modern Star Trek, saying that the franchise’s creator would be “spinning in his grave” at the many of the creative and narrative decisions that have been taken. I think it’s worth pointing out that Shatner was similarly dismissive of The Next Generation, the Kelvin reboot films, and practically every Star Trek project that doesn’t feature his take on Captain Kirk. I don’t think we need to dedicate a lot of time to what Shatner has said; he’s entitled to his opinion, of course, and really the question of whether Gene Roddenberry would or wouldn’t approve of certain shows, episodes, or stories is rather a moot point. Modern Star Trek is doing some great things – and I for one hope it’s here to stay!

William Shatner spoke at Comic-Con.

So I think that about wraps things up.

For me, the biggest and most interesting piece of news is the Lower Decks-Strange New Worlds crossover. A story like that has massive entertainment potential as both shows have demonstrated respect and reverence for past iterations of Star Trek. It seems to me that the crossover could be a real “made for fans” moment – but perhaps also one that could bring in new viewers to both series. Blending animation and live-action can be a challenge, but Star Trek has always risen to meet technical and creative challenges as it strives to tell new, different, and exciting stories!

The tease of new projects on the horizon is fascinating – but until we start to get information about what those projects may be, it’s hard to get overly excited! I’ve got a few different articles and lists here on the website looking at pitches and concepts – as well as putting together a few ideas of my own – so check those out if you’re interested. As and when Alex Kurtzman and the creative teams see fit to tell us more, I’ll be sure to cover it in-depth and give my thoughts!

So that was Comic-Con. Star Trek put in a decent showing this year, and it seems like we have a lot to look forward to both later this year and in 2023.

The Star Trek franchise – including all shows, films, and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. Some images used above courtesy of Star Trek/Paramount Global on social media. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Saints Row: Boss Factory – impressions

We’re about a month away from the release of Saints Row – the long-awaited reboot of the open-world crime franchise. In the run-up to the game’s launch, developer Volition released Saints Row: Boss Factory, which is the game’s character creator. I took a look at this free download (because you know I love freebies!) and I wanted to briefly share my thoughts today.

First of all, it’s nice to get a demo for once! Demos used to be commonplace in the games industry, particularly in the 1990s and early 2000s, but have more or less disappeared since then. Downloading and booting up Saints Row: Boss Factory felt like somewhat of a throwback to the days when game demos came on CDs attached to magazine covers!

Choosing teeth in Saints Row: Boss Factory.

I put Saints Row on my list of games to check out in the second half of 2022, and it’s been a project I’ve watched from afar since it was first announced. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Saints Row series is just a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” because over the course of fifteen years it’s carved out its own niche in the open-world space. But there’s no denying that, with Grand Theft Auto V wearing out its welcome and Grand Theft Auto 6 nowhere to be seen, Saints Row has the potential to fill that void for many players.

This reboot aims to tone down some of the silliness that has typified the franchise’s most recent instalments – and if you ask me, that’s probably for the best! Rebooting the series and taking it back to its roots feels like a good move, especially in an environment where many players are looking around for a new open-world crime experience.

There are a huge range of colour options in Saints Row: Boss Factory (and note the prosthetic arm!)

So for all of those reasons and more, Saints Row has been on my radar! But that isn’t really what prompted me to talk about Saints Row: Boss Factory. Sure, it’s nice to get a demo. And it’s a great way for Volition and Deep Silver to remind players that the game is coming up! But from my point of view, Saints Row: Boss Factory actually serves as a great example of what in-game character creators can look like in 2022.

Games like Cyberpunk 2077, Elden Ring, Fallout 76, and many more have put together great character creators in recent years. And that’s important because having a customised, personal character is a big part of what makes (some) video games the immersive experiences that players can get lost in. Speaking for myself, I love tinkering with a character creator, choosing every aspect of my character’s appearance, and really tailoring them to the gameplay experience I want to have.

For all the game’s issues, Cyberpunk 2077 has a stellar character creator.

One of the disappointing things for me about Cyberpunk 2077 (aside from the shocking state that the game was in at launch) was that, despite having an absolutely excellent character creator and seeming to bristle with hundreds of clothing and outfit options, the mandatory first-person perspective meant that you almost never got to see the face and body you spent so much time making! That was combined with the fact that, in order to get the best gameplay experience, every few minutes you needed to pick up some new article of clothing because it offered better armour stats.

But we’ve drifted off-topic! A good character creator can absolutely make a difference, and a bad or mediocre one can drag down a game. Just look at last year’s Mass Effect: Legendary Edition as an example. The game used Mass Effect 3′s character creator – a character creator that was already limited even by the standards of the game’s original launch in 2012, so by 2021 it felt very basic with only a handful of different hair and other options. Remaking or expanding the character creator would’ve made Mass Effect: Legendary Edition so much better.

The character creator in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition was a bit of a let-down.

So that brings us to Saints Row: Boss Factory. The character creator is incredibly impressive, with customisation options for basically every aspect of the character’s face and body. Every race is represented – including hair styles – and players can make their character a male, female, cis, trans, or non-binary thanks to a huge variety of options.

Whether you’re trying to make a photo-realistic copy of yourself (something I always struggle with, for some reason!) or create the weirdest-looking creature ever glimpsed by mankind, I daresay you can do it with Saints Row: Boss Factory. I’ve had a blast messing around with all of the different options already, and if Volition has put as much care and effort into the rest of Saints Row as they have to its character creator, I think we’re in for a fun time when the game arrives next month!

Some of the skin tone options in Saints Row: Boss Factory.

One thing I loved about earlier Saints Row games that returns this time are the different voice options. There are eight different voices in Saints Row: Boss Factory – four masculine and four feminine – and they offer a variety of different accents and personalities to really bring a custom character to life. It must be one heck of a task to record all of the dialogue for the game eight times over, but this level of dedication is something special! I’d love to see other games, particularly role-playing experiences, offer something similar.

Most of the sliders in Saints Row: Boss Factory move a long way in both directions – meaning you get a lot of customisability for each individual feature. Not only that, but each one can be moved in tiny increments, allowing for anyone with the time and attention to detail to really nail each and every aspect of their character. It’s a lot of fun for someone like me – but in the right hands this powerful tool with so many different options should allow players to create basically any character that they can imagine!

Look at all of these different options just for one single facial feature!

So I think that’s it for now. Saints Row: Boss Factory has surely succeeded at getting me even more interested in Saints Row – which is due out in just over a month’s time. But beyond that, it’s another great example of what a character creator can (and should) be in 2022. Creating your own character and being in control of every aspect of their appearance is part of what makes video games the immersive and engaging experiences that they are, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with playing a set character, if the choice is there I’ll always opt to change up my character’s look.

Saints Row: Boss Factory was a fun little experience in and of itself, and I’m genuinely looking forward to the full game’s release.

Saints Row: Boss Factory is available to download now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Saints Row and Saints Row: Boss Factory are the copyright of Volition and Deep Silver. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten Strange New Worlds episode pitches (that will never be made!)

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Discovery. Minor spoilers are also present for Strange New Worlds Season 1.

Strange New Worlds was absolutely fantastic across its first season, hitting ten for ten and leaving me – and many other Trekkies – clamouring for more! This time, I thought it could be fun to put together a list of a few episode concepts that I would love to see in future seasons of the show as Captain Pike’s adventures aboard the Enterprise continue!

There are so many different alien races, stellar phenomena, factions, puzzles, and more from past iterations of Star Trek that I’d love to see a new and different take on that one list may not be enough! While we do have to keep in mind that Strange New Worlds takes place before the events of The Original Series – and thus the vast majority of Star Trek stories – there’s still plenty of room for writers, creators, and fans like us to play around in the vast sandbox that is the Star Trek franchise!

Captain Pike and his bridge crew.

So the obvious caveat here is that I have no “insider information.” I’m not trying to claim that any of the story pitches below will ever make it to screen; I just think they’re neat ideas that I personally would like to see. And as I always say, everything here is entirely subjective! If you hate all of my ideas, or if I don’t include something that seems obvious to you, that’s okay! There’s plenty of room in the Star Trek fan community for respectful disagreement and civil conversations – and there’s absolutely no need to get upset about fan-made episode ideas that almost certainly won’t ever make it to the screen.

So with all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Pitch #1:
Reintroduce the Xindi.

Two of the five different Xindi races.

Although a character supposedly representing the Xindi was briefly glimpsed in Discovery Season 4 last year, they’ve only appeared in a big way in Enterprise. The Xindi served as primary antagonists for much of the show’s serialised third season, and had been plotting to destroy Earth under the manipulation of time-traveling aliens. With Strange New Worlds being set a full century after those events, it would be great to catch up with the Xindi and see what came next for them.

As of the 26th Century, the Xindi were supposedly Federation members – so perhaps we could see moves in that direction. Maybe the Xindi have entered a period of isolation, and that could explain their total absence from Star Trek stories set in the 23rd and 24th Centuries – not that such an explanation would be strictly necessary.

Either way, I think it could be fun to bring back the Xindi for a one-off story, particularly one in which they aren’t just an antagonist.

Pitch #2:
Save Captain Lorca!

Captain Gabriel Lorca.

This could be a great way not only to bring back an interesting character, but also to give at least some Strange New Worlds characters a chance to cross over to the Mirror Universe. At the end of Discovery Season 2, Captain Pike heavily implied that he was aware of the existence of the Mirror Universe, so that could be an interesting angle to work if a crossover were on the agenda.

In short, I don’t believe that crossing over to the Mirror Universe was the death sentence for Captain Lorca that other characters in Discovery Season 1 believed it to be. I think that someone with Lorca’s skills could have found a way to blend in and go into hiding, and if he could find a way to send a distress signal from the Mirror Universe that could lead to Captain Pike planning a rescue!

Captain Lorca was one of the highlights of Discovery’s first season, and it would be fun to get a look at the prime version of the character.

Pitch #3:
Make first contact with a faction from The Next Generation era.

A Cardassian delegation.

Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway made plenty of first contacts during their respective missions in the 24th Century, but they also introduced us to a lot of factions that Starfleet had already met. We had, for instance, the Cardassians, the Lurians, and the Sheliak – all of whom were new to us as the audience, but not to the characters on the show.

So it could be fun to see a mission of first contact with an alien race like the Cardassians. Did first contact go well? Could there be some foreshadowing of events that will unfold in the 24th Century? How would Captain Pike deal with one of these races that we’ve seen before? I think it could be a neat concept, if done right, and one that would tie together different eras of Star Trek in a big way.

If I had to pick one race or faction for this episode, I’d pick the Cardassians.

Pitch #4:
Bring back a main character from Enterprise.

The crew of Enterprise.

Another “crossover” idea, this episode would bring back one of Enterprise’s main characters for one last assignment. As we’ve seen from episodes like Relics, creative use of technobabble can be used to bring in basically any character, so I don’t think we can really rule anyone out! That being said, there is one character more than any other who could still be alive in this era and who could have a major role to play: T’Pol.

As the first Vulcan to work extensively with humans and Starfleet, T’Pol could have a lot of advice to give to this younger version of Spock. As Spock continues to wrangle with his human and Vulcan heritage, someone like T’Pol could step in to offer guidance. She could do this independently, or we could see her included as part of a Vulcan delegation that the Enterprise has to deliver.

It would be fascinating to learn what came next for the entire crew of the NX-01 Enterprise, but if I had to pick one character this time it would be T’Pol.

Pitch #5:
Battle the Borg!

The first Borg drone ever seen in Star Trek.

I would absolutely love to see Captain Pike and the crew take on the Borg. I think this one would have to be set in some kind of Borg-dominated alternate reality, though, rather than being set in the prime timeline. Although Star Trek has made a huge mess of Borg-Federation contact, I’d still rather avoid treading on the toes of The Next Generation in that regard.

But it could be amazing to see the Enterprise crew having to figure out how to make it home safely while having to defend themselves against one of the most terrifying adversaries in all of Star Trek. Season 1 already showed us a great take on the horror genre – and bringing in the Borg could really succeed at ramping up the fear factor.

With the Borg having made relatively few appearances in modern Star Trek, this could be a fun and unexpected way to include them.

Pitch #6:
Set up a story that will be paid off in The Original Series.

The USS Enterprise in Where No Man Has Gone Before.

There are a number of episodes from The Original Series that could be expanded upon and given new backstory. We could visit Deep Space Station K-7, for example, from the classic episode The Trouble With Tribbles. Or Captain Pike could escort the lawyer Samuel T. Cogley to his new posting at Starbase 11.

There are dozens of such examples; stories that The Original Series has already told that could be fleshed out. Even if a wholly new story was concocted for a character or location that was visited – as we’ve seen in Season 1 with the Gorn, for example – it would still be a cute nod and wink to longstanding Trekkies.

Strange New Worlds has leaned on The Original Series for inspiration already – so this would really just be more of the same!

Pitch #7:
A backdoor pilot for the Section 31 series.

Ash Tyler.

At time of writing, it feels as though the purported Discovery spin-off based around Section 31 won’t be going ahead. But Strange New Worlds could change that by reintroducing the shadowy organisation. After Pike and Spock tangled with Section 31 during Discovery’s second season they might have a score to settle, and it could also be fun to bring back Ash Tyler for a guest appearance – he was named Section 31’s new leader after the battle against Control.

A Section 31 episode that brings back Ash Tyler – and perhaps even Georgiou – could test the waters to see whether the concept still has potential. Strange New Worlds is definitely the Discovery spin-off that fans wanted, but particularly in light of Georgiou’s character development in that show’s third season, the Section 31 idea shouldn’t be written off and feels more viable now than it did when it was first announced.

Even if no spin-off happens, it would still be nice to get some furtherance of the Section 31 storylines that we saw a couple of years ago.

Pitch #8:
What happened between Sarek and Spock?

Sarek in Discovery Season 2.

As Strange New Worlds continues to develop Spock’s character, it would be interesting to see his conflict with his father. This was first broached in The Original Series episode Journey to Babel – Sarek’s first appearance – but a canonical reason for it has never been established. It’s been implied that Sarek disapproved of Spock joining Starfleet instead of enrolling at the Vulcan Science Academy, but it’s never been fully confirmed.

James Frain put in a decent performance as Sarek in Discovery’s first two seasons, and with Spock being a big part of Strange New Worlds he seems like a logical choice to bring back. Spock has stated that he and Sarek were “estranged” during this era, but there’s still the possibility of some kind of contact between the two.

I’d be curious to see if there’s more to the Spock-Sarek split than we’ve seen so far!

Pitch #9:
Travel back in time.

Could time travel soon be on the agenda?

Time travel stories – especially those that involve visiting the modern day – are seldom my favourites in Star Trek. But time travel has been part of the franchise since its inception, and even more than half a century and 850 episodes later, there are still ideas that haven’t really been tried. We’ve seen practically every Starfleet captain visit modern-day Earth – but we’ve only seen a handful of episodes set in Earth’s past.

I’d be interested to see Captain Pike and the crew visit the middle ages, the 1700s, or the First World War, just to pick three examples. How did they get there? I don’t know. What would they have to do there – aside from figure out a way home? I don’t know that either! But taking time travel to an era that Star Trek has never explored would be fascinating.

Maybe Captain Pike could even view time travel as a way to postpone his inevitable accident?

Pitch #10:
A “bottle episode” set during a long voyage.

The Enterprise’s saucer section as seen in Season 1.

In Star Trek we often see our heroes warping from one destination to the next at the drop of a hat, and while travel times between locations are occasionally mentioned, we don’t often get to see the reality of some of these long-distance voyages. The Season 5 premiere of Voyager perhaps came closest to this (before it introduced us to the Malon) but if you think about it there must be a lot of downtime for the crew of the Enterprise in between missions.

So this episode would focus on different members of the crew and how they spend their free time. The Enterprise is en route to deliver supplies or conduct a scientific experiment, but that just serves as background to show us how Captain Pike and the crew handle a weeks-long voyage across space with nothing to do. We could see the Enterprise’s recreational facilities, learn some of the characters’ hobbies, and generally slow things down and take a break from the action for a while.

Being set entirely aboard the ship could also cut costs – allowing for more of the budget to be allocated to other, more demanding stories!

So that’s it!

Season 1 promo poster.

Those are ten of my ideas (or “pitches”) for Strange New Worlds episodes that I’d like to see in future seasons of the show. I doubt any of these will ever get made… but you never know! It’s fun to speculate and come up with episode concepts regardless.

If you missed my spoiler-free review of Season 1, I had an amazing time with Strange New Worlds and I can’t recommend the series highly enough! I’ve been telling as many people as I can to give it a shot, because I feel it has the potential to be a gateway into the Star Trek franchise for newcomers.

So I hope this was a bit of fun for today! There will be more Strange New Worlds content to come in the months ahead as we await Season 2 – so stay tuned!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. Further international distribution has not been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

“My cash-grab is NOT a cash-grab!” exclaims man who’s definitely working on a cash-grab

Since I covered the announcement of The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered last year, I’ve left the project alone. I’m flat-out not interested in a game that’s been remastered or reworked for the second time in just nine short years, especially when the PlayStation 4 version is perfectly playable. I don’t seek out projects that I don’t like with the intention of crapping all over them; there’s more than enough negativity in gaming communities online that I don’t want to add to it.

But a widely-reported remark from a developer/animator (whose name I won’t share to avoid piling on) really pushed me over the edge. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered (or whatever it’s going to be called) is a cash-grab. It’s the second remake of a game that was released in 2013 at the tail end of the PlayStation 3’s life, and it’s being resurrected for the second time entirely as a cheap cash-grab by Sony.

The Last Of Us is being re-remade.

After sharing my initial thoughts back when the announcement was made, I was content to ignore this new remaster. I have no plans to buy it – especially not with a ridiculous £70 price tag (or close to £100 for the deluxe version) – so that was that. Comment made, time to move on. But for one of the senior developers to have the audacity to speak about the game in such a brazen and dishonest way… I just couldn’t let it lie.

The Last Of Us is a good game. It was a great way to close out the PlayStation 3 era for Sony, and it was the game that convinced me to buy my first ever PlayStation console. I consider it one of the best games of the 2010s, and even though its sequel struggled under the weight of a clumsy narrative that tried to be too smart for its own good, the original game hasn’t been sullied by that controversy and remains one of the best examples of narrative, linear, single-player adventures.

The Last Of Us is undeniably a great narrative experience.

But this second attempt to “update” The Last Of Us for a new console generation is motivated purely by profit. Sony is cheaping out; recycling a game that they already have rather than investing in something new. By reusing things like recorded dialogue and motion-capture performances, and by not having to pay a team of writers to come up with a new story, the project can cut costs compared to making a new game from scratch.

There are remasters and remakes that are absolutely worth your time. Resident Evil 2, for example, was remade a couple of years ago from the ground up, and updating a title from 1998 to bring it into the modern-day with a new engine, new voice acting, and so on was absolutely worth doing. It introduced the title to a crowd of new fans who didn’t play it the first time around – and for whom going back to a clunky PlayStation 1 title would be offputting.

The remake of Resident Evil 2 feels much more worthwhile.

The Last Of Us doesn’t have that excuse. Not only is the PlayStation 3 version still perfectly playable in its own right, the PlayStation 4 remaster is an iterative improvement, bringing sharper graphics and ensuring that the game can be played on both PlayStation 4 and new PlayStation 5 consoles. As I said when the project was announced last year, I can’t imagine it would be worthwhile to resurrect the game for a second time – not so soon after the first two versions were released.

New video game generations have offered diminishing returns over the years. There was a huge difference between games from 1980 to 1990, and from 1990 to 2000. But even by the turn of the millennium, things were slowing down. The difference in graphical fidelity between a game from 2000 and one from 2010 was less noticeable than it had been in previous decades, and the difference between a game from ten years ago compared to a brand-new game released today can be so small that it’s difficult to spot.

Is this image from the PlayStation 3, 4, or 5?

Grand Theft Auto V is the same game fundamentally as it was when it was released in 2013 – the same year as The Last Of Us – and it’s still going strong. There have been tweaks as the game was brought to new consoles, but those changes have been criticised for being incredibly minor. Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and many other games from the past decade likewise hold up incredibly well and are still a ton of fun to play.

The only reason for a project like The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered to exist is to be a cash-grab. That’s why it was dreamt up and that’s all it will ever be. It might be a good cash-grab – and with a game as good as The Last Of Us at its core it should be, provided the new team doesn’t screw it up – but it’s still a cash-grab. And I don’t want to claim that the people working on it aren’t working hard – I’m sure that they are. I’m sure a lot of energy and passion has gone into this cash-grab from the developers. As someone who worked in the games industry, I know how passionate developers can be, and even when a game isn’t great, good developers will still give it their all. That’s commendable.

Promotional image for The Last Of Us.

But that doesn’t excuse trying to present a project like this as something it’s not. The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered may end up being decent with pretty graphics and neat animation work that talented developers put a lot of time, effort, and passion into making. But that doesn’t make it any less of a cash-grab. I genuinely hope that it will be good – because I don’t want the reputation of The Last Of Us tainted by being associated with a sub-par remaster. But this isn’t a fundamentally new or even different experience; anyone who’s played the original game won’t need to play this version.

And that’s what makes it a cash-grab. It’s an attempt by Sony to, well, grab as much cash as possible for as little investment as possible. Without spending the big bucks that would be needed to create The Last Of Us Part 3, or any other brand-new game, Sony hopes to grind out a remaster that will save them some money but still rake in the cash from fans of the original game. And that strategy will probably succeed, if past experience is anything to go by.

For just $100, you can own the “Digital Deluxe Edition!”

Buy The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered if you want. Or don’t. If you haven’t played the game yet, it might even be worth waiting for the new remaster to get the most up-to-date and visually polished experience. It’s definitely a game worth playing… but I’m not convinced that this version will be, at least not for me – nor for most folks who’ve already played it.

But whether it’s good, bad, or mediocre, and regardless of how hard individual developers have worked on it, The Last Of Us Remastered… Remastered is a cash-grab. Trying to pretend otherwise is either pure and selfish dishonesty or abject self-delusion.

The Last Of Us Part 1 will be released for PlayStation 5 on the 2nd of September 2022, and for PC at an unspecified later date. The Last Of Us is the copyright of Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Strange New Worlds Season 2 theory: Una Chin-Riley

Spoiler Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, including the season finale. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Discovery.

This theory is going to get into major spoiler territory for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, including the very last scene of the final episode of Season 1. If you aren’t fully caught up on the events of Season 1 – and you decided to ignore the spoiler warning above – this is your last chance to nope out!

So today I thought it could be fun to speculate about Una Chin-Riley – a.k.a. Number One. Captain Pike’s first officer had an interesting season, with a truly unexpected backstory that connected back to the events of Star Trek: Enterprise while simultaneously setting the stage for some significant development in her relationship with La’an in particular.

Let’s talk about Una!

The decision for Una to be an Illyrian was a genuinely interesting one, and I felt sure that there’d be something more to come after the revelation of her true heritage in Ghosts of Illyria. It took until the closing moments of the season finale, but eventually we got there! Una’s arrest was the perfect tease on which to end the season, setting the stage for what will presumably be the first part of Season 2 in truly spectacular fashion.

There are a few points to consider before we jump into the main theory list. First of all, the fact that Captain Pike visited an alternate future in which Una is still incarcerated almost a decade after the events of Season 1 does not, in itself, mean that that will be her fate. That was an alternate timeline, after all, one which Pike’s actions have now erased. So I don’t think we can dismiss Una, saying “that’s it, she’s off the show” and close the book! There’s obviously going to be something more to come – though whether it will fully restore her to a leading role in Starfleet is still an open question.

Una was arrested at the end of Season 1.

One of the interesting things about a show like Strange New Worlds is the potential it has to explore different aspects of Star Trek’s 23rd Century and answer questions that most fans didn’t even know they had! One such question could be “where was Una after the events of The Cage?” She didn’t participate in Spock’s off-the-books quest to transport Captain Pike to Talos IV, despite being one of only a handful of people who knew about his impending disability and the powers of the Talosians.

Una was also never seen, nor even mentioned, during the entire run of The Original Series and its films. On the production side of things that’s at least partly because Majel Barrett, who was the first actress to take on the role, was playing the character of Nurse Chapel. But again it leaves the question of Una’s fate open-ended. A senior officer with such promise serving on the Federation flagship would usually be gunning for a promotion and their own command; was that what Una hoped to do?

Majel Barrett as “Number One” in The Cage.

It could be that the explanation for Una’s absence from the events of The Menagerie and other significant moments in the second half of the 23rd Century is that she was either locked up or exiled for her deception and illegal genetic enhancements. That would be a pretty depressing way for the story to go, but it wouldn’t contradict anything we know of from other Star Trek productions. Personally, I’ve never felt any of these absences were glaring omissions that have been crying out to be explained away – but perhaps some of the show’s writers disagree.

There’s also a potential narrative reason to shuffle Una out of the way, and that comes from the character of Spock. Firstly, Spock long ago took over Number One’s original “cool and logical” persona that debuted in The Cage. And secondly, while Captain Pike was surprised to learn in A Quality of Mercy that Spock was his new Number One, as Trekkies we know that Spock’s arc will take him through being Captain Kirk’s first officer and trusted confidante all the way to becoming a captain in his own right, an ambassador, and beyond. Perhaps part of the next chapter of Strange New Worlds will involve setting the stage for Spock to step up and grow into that kind of role, either by serving as Pike’s XO aboard the Enterprise or potentially by pairing him up with a younger Jim Kirk.

Spock and Captain Kirk.

However, I’m not convinced that we’ve seen the back of Una just yet. Strange New Worlds already killed off Hemmer – in one of the most shocking and tragic sequences in the entire season – and La’an’s request for a leave of absence to track down the family of Oriana could mean that she will have less of a role to play in future, too – potentially being absent for some or all of next season. With at least one and possibly two characters already gone, it would be one heck of a shake-up to lose Una as well.

With the exception of Lower Decks, modern Star Trek shows have struggled with consistency. Discovery has famously had four different captains across its four seasons, and Picard took two very different approaches to its characters in the two seasons that we’ve seen so far, with some noteworthy absences in Season 2. In short, it would be to the benefit of Strange New Worlds – and the Star Trek franchise overall – to settle down and to find room to breathe; to expand and develop the characters who are already in play before rushing off to make more and more changes. So if I had a vote, I’d find a way to keep Una around!

Una as she appeared in Discovery Season 2.

All of this leads up to my theory list about Una. The first part of the list will consider possible culprits for grassing her up to Starfleet Command and getting her arrested, and the second part will consider possible outcomes and options for Season 2 that could either bring her back into the fold or see her depart the series.

My usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything discussed here will be part of Season 2. This is pure speculation from a fan and nothing more! If Season 1 is any indication, Una’s story in Season 2 will go in a wildly different direction that I won’t be able to predict! Secondly, all of this is the subjective opinion of one person. If you hate all of my ideas (or I don’t include your current pet theory) that’s okay! There’s room within the Star Trek fan community for civil conversations and polite disagreement.

With all of that out of the way, let’s look at some theories!

Culprit #1:
Captain Pike

Captain Pike in his ready-room in Ghosts of Illyria.

I don’t believe that Captain Pike would have intentionally told Starfleet about Una’s Illyrian heritage. But in the course of his duties as captain, he may have had to log or otherwise record Una’s disclosure to him – or may have done so in a personal log. If those logs were then sent to Starfleet, it could be that Captain Pike inadvertently flagged up Una’s true origin.

There was room in Season 1 for more development of the relationship between Una and Captain Pike – a relationship that seemed well-established when they appeared together in Season 2 of Discovery. In a busy season, though, their time together was somewhat limited, and I’d like to see more interaction between the Enterprise’s captain and first officer going forward. Making Pike the one who got her arrested – even if it was completely accidental – would risk damaging that relationship. While that could give them a starting point to rebuild from, it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice.

Culprit #2:
Dr M’Benga

Dr M’Benga learned of Una’s true heritage.

As with Captain Pike above, I don’t believe that Dr M’Benga would deliberately reveal Una’s secret to Starfleet. Just as Una had something to hide, so too did Dr M’Benga, and Una was the only one who knew about his daughter being kept suspended in the transporter buffer. He would have no motivation to expose her, and from his perspective doing so may have compromised himself and his daughter’s safety.

However, Dr M’Benga is responsible for the ship’s sickbay and the health of all its personnel, so perhaps he logged somewhere that there’s an Illyrian aboard. Maybe Dr M’Benga noted that the treatment for the contagion that broke out aboard the Enterprise came from Illyrian antibodies; Starfleet Medical must surely keep records of these dangers and their cures for the sake of other ships and crews.

Culprit #3:
La’an Noonien-Singh

La’an in Ghosts of Illyria.

La’an is really the only character who would have any motive for deliberately and maliciously telling Starfleet the truth about Una. Although the two had resolved their differences by the end of Ghosts of Illyria – and grew closer over the rest of the season – La’an was incredibly angry at first upon learning who Una really was. It seems possible to me that La’an contacted Starfleet sometime during the events of Ghosts of Illyria, possibly while under the influence of the contagion.

This could set up La’an and Una for a confrontation, but one for which La’an already feels guilt and remorse. If she is responsible, I think there’s a pathway for forgiveness – and perhaps she’ll find a way to make it right, such as by advocating on Una’s behalf or even trying to break her out of prison.

Culprit #4:
Spock

Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise.

On a number of occasions we’ve seen how Spock is a stickler for the rules – particularly at this early point in his life and career. In Star Trek Into Darkness, his decision to be completely truthful in a mission report ended up getting Captain Kirk in a lot of trouble, so even if Pike, M’Benga, and everyone else had chosen to conceal the truth in their logs, it’s possible that Spock wouldn’t. He may not even see it as a bad thing at first, regarding telling the full, unvarnished truth as part of his job.

One of the interesting things about Strange New Worlds is how it’s taking Spock on a journey; building him up to become the character we’re familiar with from The Original Series. Perhaps one of the lessons Spock will learn in Season 2 is how to bend the rules, how loyalty to one’s friends and the need to keep certain things private can superscede the official rules. That could make for an interesting story and a chance for growth.

Culprit #5:
Una herself

Might Una have turned herself in?

Maybe Una was sick of hiding. Maybe she wanted to get caught. Maybe she hoped to give herself an opportunity to defend her people against Starfleet’s hardline anti-genetic engineering rule. There are a few different reasons why Una might have turned herself in, or anonymously submitted the evidence to get herself arrested.

This would be a bit of a twist, but it could lead to a wonderfully complex story and character arc for Una if it’s handled well. The idea that she was fed up with having to live a lie, or even that revealing the truth to Captain Pike, La’an, and some of her other shipmates was a weight off her shoulders could be an interesting angle to explore. It would also absolve anyone in the crew of any wrongdoing – intentional or not!

So those are the culprits!

Up next we’re going to look at a few different ways that Una’s story could go from here. As above, please keep in mind that all of this is speculation; I’m not claiming that any of these things will happen.

Theory #1:
Una will stand trial with Captain Pike defending her.

Una and Captain Pike on the bridge.

Star Trek can do courtroom drama exceptionally well, and perhaps we’ll be treated to an episode that blends the likes of The Measure of a Man and Court Martial. I can absolutely see Captain Pike stepping up to be Una’s advocate – like Captain Picard did for Data or Captain Sisko did for Worf. How exactly this trial would go is unclear, but with Spock and the rest of the crew also working on it, maybe there’d be a way to win – or to convince Starfleet to make an exception for Una.

That wouldn’t be unprecedented in the Star Trek franchise. Dr Bashir, who was also genetically engineered and didn’t disclose that fact to Starfleet, was permitted to continue to serve after the truth came out. Perhaps what Captain Pike will have to do is convince Starfleet that Una is irreplacable and should be forgiven for her deception.

Theory #2:
Una will be broken out of prison – but will have to go into exile.

Is a dangerous prison break on the cards?

If Starfleet insists that Una needs to be locked up and won’t budge, maybe La’an and some of Una’s other friends will stage a break-out. It wouldn’t be easy – and they could all end up in hot water if things go wrong – but they may see it as a last resort if the alternative is Una being locked up for years in a Starfleet penal colony.

However, even if they succeed it seems unlikely that Una will simply be able to return to the Enterprise. She may have to go into exile, either by returning to the Illyrians or by striking out on her own. Either way, that could mean Una will be departing the series.

Theory #3:
Una is found guilty and imprisoned.

Una in an alien prison in the Season 1 premiere.

With the major caveat that what Captain Pike saw took place in an alternate timeline that has since been overwritten, this was Una’s destiny in that version of the future. Captain Pike, La’an, Spock, and the rest of the crew seemed to have come to terms with her imprisonment by that point, and while we don’t know what happened at the time of her arrest and trial, any schemes that Pike and the others may have had to get her released clearly didn’t work.

Again, this would surely see Una leaving the show, perhaps after one final episode in which she comes to terms with being locked up. I don’t think that would be a fun or satisfying end for her character, though. It would tie up the loose end of Una’s whereabouts as of The Menagerie – but as stated above, I don’t think anyone has ever really challenged or questioned that, making it a solution to a non-existent problem. If Una is to leave the show, I’d rather see her go out in a blaze of glory, saving the ship and crew!

Theory #4:
Diplomacy with the Illyrians.

An Illyrian seen in Star Trek: Enterprise.

If Una is still in contact with her family or other Illyrians, perhaps the Illyrian government will attempt to intervene on her behalf. Just because the Illyrians are not permitted to join Starfleet that doesn’t mean that formal diplomatic relations between the Federation and the Illyrian government don’t exist, and perhaps they’d have something to say about one of their own being arrested, especially if the reason is basically “because she’s an Illyrian.”

This could lead to some kind of diplomatic mission for Captain Pike, and again it could conclude with Una being given some kind of special exemption and being permitted to remain in Starfleet. Having revealed Una’s true heritage, it would be interesting to see more Illyrians show up in Strange New Worlds – perhaps they still hold a grudge after their meeting with Captain Archer during the events of Enterprise!

So those are the theories!

Is Una’s story at an end?

There are lots of different paths that the story could take from this juncture, and the question of whether Una will be back in a big way in Season 2 feels kind of open right now. Along with the departure of Hemmer and the potential absence of La’an, that would be a pretty radical shake-up of the main characters after only one season of the show.

I suspect that Una will be back aboard the Enterprise before too long, though. There’s untapped potential in her relationships with La’an, Spock, Captain Pike, and everyone else that would be wasted if she were to leave so soon. I’d love to spend more time with Una, perhaps seeing her in temporary command of the ship, leading an away mission, or doing other things that first officers in Star Trek are often seen to do. So it’s my hope, at least, that we haven’t seen the beginning of the end for Una on Strange New Worlds.

Captain Pike looks on as Una is taken into custody.

I hope this was a bit of fun. I haven’t had many opportunities to dive so deeply into Strange New Worlds thanks to the frustrating and disappointing international distribution situation, but with Paramount+ now here in the UK, that’s all changing. Hopefully by the time Season 2 rolls around we can talk about more theories like these during the show’s run instead of having to wait until the dust has settled!

I had a great time with Strange New Worlds Season 1, and the fact that it ended on this shocking cliffhanger was fantastic. I’m looking forward to welcoming back Captain Pike, Una, and the rest of the crew – and getting a satisfying end to this storyline, too!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the platform is available. Episodes of Season 1 are being released weekly in the UK. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten Star Trek episodes to watch before Strange New Worlds Season 1

Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Strange New Worlds Season 1, the inclusion of particular episodes on this list may hint at certain themes, characters, storylines, etc. There are also spoilers below for the episodes and stories on this list.

I haven’t been able to talk about Strange New Worlds as much as I would’ve liked thanks to Paramount taking an “America First” approach to the series, the Star Trek franchise, and pretty much everything else on Paramount+. However, with Paramount+ having now arrived here in the UK, I hope to slowly begin to rectify that situation and make up for lost time. On this occasion, I’ve put together a list of ten episodes that I think make great background viewing for Strange New Worlds Season 1.

You can absolutely watch these Star Trek stories before diving into the show’s first season, but if – like me – you’ve already watched Strange New Worlds Season 1, there’s still value in going back to some of them to expand on what the new show’s first season delivered. Ordinarily I’d have written a list like this before the season aired, but having already seen Strange New Worlds that’s allowed me to adapt the list and include a couple of episodes that I would have never considered!

The long-awaited Captain Pike series is finally here!

Strange New Worlds was absolutely fantastic in its first season – and it has me lamenting the truncated ten-episode seasons of modern Star Trek as I could’ve happily enjoyed at least ten more! If you missed it, I’ve already written up my spoiler-free thoughts on the show’s first season, and you can find that piece by clicking or tapping here. At the risk of repeating myself, Strange New Worlds hit ten for ten in its first season – ten outstanding episodes that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I can’t recommend Strange New Worlds highly enough both to fans of Star Trek and to newcomers to the franchise. If you’re new, or if it’s been a while since you last saw some of these episodes, watching them will provide some additional background and backstory heading into Strange New Worlds – or will expand somewhat on some of the stories, factions, and characters if you’ve already watched Season 1. However, nothing below makes for essential or unmissable viewing; Strange New Worlds is a very accessible series that newcomers to Star Trek shouldn’t feel intimidated by!

Who could this be? Watch Strange New Worlds to find out!

As always, please keep in mind that all of this is just the subjective opinion of one person. I’ve chosen episodes that I generally enjoy and that I feel connect in significant ways to Strange New Worlds Season 1. If you don’t like my picks or I miss something you would’ve included, that’s okay! There’s always room in the Star Trek fan community for discussion and polite disagreement.

I’ve tried hard to avoid major plot spoilers for Strange New Worlds Season 1, but the inclusion of certain episodes here may hint at the inclusion of factions, aliens, characters, and storylines. If you don’t want to risk any of that, this is your last chance to nope out!

With all of that out of the way let’s take a look at the episodes I’ve chosen, which are listed below in no particular order.

Episode #1:
The Menagerie, Parts I-II
The Original Series Season 1

Captain Pike as he appeared in The Menagerie.

Technically speaking, The Menagerie was Captain Pike’s first Star Trek appearance. The episode incorporates most of the footage left over from The Original Series’ unsuccessful first pilot, The Cage, but uses a frame narrative to include Captain Kirk and Spock as they look back on the events of Captain Pike’s mission to the planet Talos IV.

After network NBC had spent a significant amount of money on The Cage, one of the conditions attached to The Original Series’ first season was that Gene Roddenberry and his team find a way to use the footage left over from the original pilot. It was either impossible or prohibitively expensive to bring back The Cage star and original Captain Pike actor Jeffrey Hunter for the role, and the recasting of the character is part of the reason for Pike’s severe disfigurement and disability.

What could Spock be doing in engineering?

We could do an entire article on the production history of The Cage and The Menagerie – and maybe one day we should! – but for now, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is Captain Pike’s ultimate destination. The Menagerie exists as a reminder of where Captain Pike’s arc will ultimately lead him, but it’s also an interesting episode in its own right.

The Original Series was beginning to find its feet by this point in its first season, and a two-parter like The Menagerie could’ve blown it off-course. However, the way The Cage was incorporated into the story made for a fascinating and somewhat mysterious presentation, and Spock’s characterisation and his dedication to his former captain in particular are noteworthy. It’s a fascinating episode that managed to be so much more than just a recycling of a failed pitch and that found a unique and innovative way to accomplish what could have been a difficult and annoying task.

Episode #2:
Trials and Tribble-ations
Deep Space Nine Season 5

Can you spot who might be out-of-place?

Trials and Tribble-ations was created for the Star Trek’s thirtieth anniversary in 1996, and it was a fun celebration of the franchise’s roots. The crew of the USS Defiant – led by Captain Sisko – find themselves displaced in time, arriving during the events of The Original Series episode The Trouble With Tribbles.

Sisko and his crew have to preserve the timeline – a nefarious villain is attempting to use a Bajoran Orb to alter the past to his advantage. What results is a genuinely fun romp, and seeing the two crews from two different eras coming together was quite something. I’ve always held Trials and Tribble-ations in high esteem ever since I first watched it!

Two legendary captains meet.

On the technical side of things, Trials and Tribble-ations was incredibly ambitious for its time. Using the same technology that had been used to place Tom Hanks alongside real-world historical figures for the film Forrest Gump – which had been released only a couple of years earlier – the creative team managed to seamlessly blend the Deep Space Nine characters into The Original Series. Some excellent work with costumes and sets – including a recreation of the original USS Enterprise’s bridge – really sold the illusion.

The only character from Trials and Tribble-ations to appear in Strange New Worlds is Spock, with the episode taking place after Pike’s tenure in the captain’s chair. But as a celebration of all things Star Trek, and one of the few stories to bring together the 23rd and 24th Centuries, it’s one you shouldn’t miss! There are also some interesting time travel and timeline-integrity angles to the story’s frame narrative that may just prove interesting to viewers who pay attention.

Episode #3:
Q & A
Short Treks Season 2

Who’s this promising young ensign?

Q & A steps back in time to before the events of Strange New Worlds and Discovery Season 2 to show us Spock’s arrival aboard the USS Enterprise while still an ensign. It’s a cute short story that shows off a younger Spock while also introducing us to Una – a.k.a. Number One. Una had far less screen time than Spock or Pike in Discovery’s second season, so Q & A was one of the first stories to feature her in a big way.

There are some great shots of the internal workings of the USS Enterprise’s turbolifts – something that a geek like me is always going to be interested in! In fact, Q & A must be one of the very few episodes, along with parts of The Next Generation’s fifth season episode Disaster, to make a turbolift its primary setting. That format could feel restrictive, but Q & A makes it shine through some excellent character work and occasionally hilarious writing.

One of the Enterprise’s many turboshafts.

Q & A was one of three episodes of Short Treks to bring back Pike, Spock, and Una – and these short stories began to expand upon their roles and set the stage for Strange New Worlds. They were also experimental; teases to fans that also served to see whether the much-requested “Captain Pike show” was a viable concept. Short Treks did some genuinely interesting things in its second season – which is why I’ve argued that the concept should absolutely be revived!

Captain Pike is less of a presence in Q & A than he would be in Ask Not, but that’s no bad thing. We got to spend more time with Una, and seeing her in her role as first officer – in part through the eyes of a young Spock, fresh out of Starfleet Academy – was fascinating!

Episode #4:
Unification, Parts I-II
The Next Generation Season 5

An older Ambassador Spock in the 24th Century.

We just talked about how interesting it was to see young Spock when he was first assigned to the Enterprise – so now let’s jump forward in time by more than a century to see a much older Spock in a completely different chapter of his life! The two-part episode Unification brought Spock into The Next Generation in a truly interesting story that built upon the Vulcan-Romulan connection that had been introduced in The Original Series.

I adore crossovers, and aside from a brief cameo in the premiere of The Next Generation, this was the first crossover involving main characters that the franchise had attempted. Its success laid the groundwork for the likes of Relics, Flashback, Defiant, Caretaker, These Are The Voyages, and many more.

Spock and Data.

Unification found a way to give Spock genuine development to reflect decades of his life that we hadn’t seen on screen. It was great to see him alongside not only Captain Picard but also Data – the two characters share many characteristics and filled similar roles in their respective series. The mystery at the heart of the episode and subsequent revelations about Spock’s work and the Romulans’ schemes made for a story that was tense, dramatic, and exciting.

Strange New Worlds isn’t all about Spock, but seeing what his life would be like decades after the events of the series is worthwhile. It puts into context not only the stories that unfold around Spock, but his own actions, behaviours, and thoughts. The Spock we meet in Unification is different from the Spock of Strange New Worlds – but not unrecognisable.

Bonus Episode #4½:
Unification III
Discovery Season 3

Cleveland Booker and Michael Burnham watch a recording of Spock.

The two-parter became a three-parter when Discovery added to the legacy of Unification in its third season. Taking Spock’s work with the Romulans as a starting point, Unification III shows us how subsequent generations of Romulans and Vulcans looked to Spock as an inspiration. His legacy is all over this story – and it would carry through into future episodes of Discovery in its third and fourth seasons.

Spock would go on to be an important part of Vulcan history, remembered fondly even centuries after his death for the process that he started. Seeing Michael Burnham react to that was sweet, and knowing that Spock has a legacy within the Star Trek timeline that extends far beyond his own lifespan is something incredibly meaningful.

Episode #5:
Arena
The Original Series Season 1

The Gorn captain.

An absoloute classic of The Original Series, Arena features Captain Kirk’s iconic battle against an unnamed Gorn captain – the first Gorn encountered in Star Trek. I might be in the minority here, but I absolutely adore the way the rubber-suited Gorn looks. There’s something menacing about its tyrannosaurus rex-like head, its silvery, almost insectoid eyes, and its sharp crocodilian teeth. But at the same time, there’s a light-hearted campiness to the way the Gorn comes across on screen thanks in part to the limitations of 1960s special effects – and perhaps also due to the bold pattern on his (or her?) costume!

There’s more to Arena than just the scuffle at Vasquez Rocks, though! There’s a more philosophical side to the story, one that shows how far humanity has come by the 23rd Century – and how far there is still to go to make progress. Despite the conflict, both Spock and Kirk demonstrate a willingness to try diplomacy and show mercy – something that impresses the highly-advanced Metrons.

The Enterprise crew watch helplessly as Captain Kirk battles against the Gorn.

The way in which Captain Kirk was able to outsmart and defeat the Gorn captain shows his ingenuity at its best – and presents a contrast between “brains” and “brawn” that made it clear how even a strong and physically imposing enemy can be defeated. There’s a great metaphor there for dealing with bullies!

Arena is one of those episodes that I believe every Trekkie – even those who aren’t fans of The Original Series – needs to see at least once. Despite the Gorn not becoming a recurring villain in The Original Series or even during The Next Generation era, the original design of these reptilian aliens has become iconic, and as a story that fully encapsulates the Star Trek franchise’s approach to science-fiction, Arena has it all.

Episode #6:
Damage
Enterprise Season 3

Enterprise has seen better days…

Damage comes quite late in the fully-serialised story of Enterprise’s third season, but it’s worth a watch regardless. At this point in the story, Captain Archer and his crew are running out of time to prevent the Xindi from launching a super-weapon against Earth, and Archer’s desperation to do anything to complete his mission forces him down a very dark moral path.

In essence, Captain Archer must choose between failure – which will almost certainly lead to the total annihilation of Earth itself – and his morality, leading to him basically turning to theft and piracy in order to survive in the harsh Delphic Expanse. It’s a fascinating story that features a brand-new alien race, but also one that’s an introspective character piece focusing on Archer’s decisions.

Captain Archer is forced to confront an impossible decision.

There are other story threads in play in Damage, including T’Pol’s exposure to Trellium-D – a compound toxic to Vulcans that caused her to begin to lose control over her emotions. The way in which Vulcans suppress their emotions in favour of logic is something that Enterprise explored in depth, and it’s a fascinating part of Vulcan culture that subsequent Star Trek projects have also touched upon.

Enterprise’s third season was a tense and exciting one overall – and Damage is one of the highlights for its strong character work and examination of how Starfleet’s enlightened morality can end up falling by the wayside when the going gets tough. Captain Archer is pained by the decision he makes – but that doesn’t stop him from making it.

Episode #7:
Through the Valley of Shadows
Discovery Season 2

Visiting the Klingon monastery on Boreth.

Although I’d encourage you to watch Discovery Season 2 in its entirety, I felt that Through the Valley of Shadows was really the only episode that had a significant impact on Strange New Worlds. It’s here where Captain Pike has to make a decision about his fate and his future that sets him on a particular path – one that will culminate in devastating disability.

Although Pike was willing, in the moment, to make the sacrifice in order to obtain the time crystal, the decision he made has a huge impact on him. With only a couple of episodes left in Season 2, Discovery didn’t have a lot of time to address how this would affect him – but Strange New Worlds certainly does, and this is really the starting point for Pike’s season-long arc.

Captain Pike comes face-to-face with his own future.

Discovery’s second season was a big improvement on its first, and I think it’s fair to say that bringing Captain Pike and Spock into the show in a big way was a masterstroke! Through the Valley of Shadows reframes Pike’s accident and disability in an entirely different way, and while there are sci-fi trappings of time-travel macguffins and talk of fate and destiny, what lies just under the surface is a story that I find incredibly relatable.

I’ve been Captain Pike at this moment. Sitting down with a doctor, hearing bad news about my health, knowing that things won’t get better but will get worse, that my ability to do basic things like walking will become increasingly difficult… these are all experiences that I’ve personally had and that I saw reflected in Captain Pike. Whether intentional or not, the decision to have him become aware of his future – and choose to embrace it for the greater good – kicked off a story about disability and declining health that really resonated with me. Its approach to this complex topic was sensitive, understandable, and darkly beautiful.

Episode #8:
Prime Factors
Voyager Season 1

Harry Kim and Eduana using a Sikarian spatial trajector.

Prime Factors flips Starfleet’s Prime Directive on its head. The Prime Directive is Starfleet’s most important standing order, and it states that “no starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.” We’ve seen the Prime Directive – and the principles upon which it is based – play a huge role in episodes of practically every Star Trek series, with captains having to decide whether to interfere, how to interfere, and what the consequences may be.

Prime Factors takes the opposite approach, and asks how it would feel to our heroes if they were on the other side of this kind of policy. How would Starfleet react to being denied a request for help or trade because it conflicted with an alien society’s principles? The resultant episode was absolutely fascinating.

Tuvok and Captain Janeway.

At this relatively early point in Voyager’s run, the fact that Captain Janeway and her crew really are stranded on the far side of the galaxy with no way to get home is beginning to sink in. Prime Factors is one of several episodes that teased the crew with a potential way to complete part of that journey – before yanking it away again.

The episode is also an interesting one for Harry Kim, who we get to see at his most eager to get home, and for the relationship between Captain Janeway and Tuvok. Although Chakotay would really take over the role of “trusted advisor” as Voyager got settled, initially it was Tuvok who was being established as Captain Janeway’s closest confidante and most reliable friend.

Episode #9:
Balance of Terror
The Original Series Season 1

A Romulan warbird firing its plasma torpedo.

Balance of Terror is the episode that first introduced the iconic Romulans to Star Trek – as well as revealing their connection with the Vulcans that we talked about in Unification above. Inspired by war films – particularly naval war films and those set aboard submarines – from a generation earlier, there’s a really tense, claustrophobic feel to the conflict between the Enterprise and this new, terrifying threat.

Balance of Terror expertly sets up the background of Federation-Romulan relations and uses that to create tension and conflict on the bridge of the Enterprise when a surprising connection between the Romulans and Spock’s own Vulcan people is revealed. The episode also raises the stakes by giving the Romulans not one but two super-weapons: the devastating plasma torpedo and a cloaking device. This was the first on-screen appearance of a cloaking device in Star Trek.

Captain Kirk in Balance of Terror.

Of particular note here is Captain Kirk’s approach to the conflict. After discovering the Romulan vessel and its technology, Kirk decides to pursue it, hoping to intercept it before it can cross back into Romulan space. Was this uncompromising approach the right call?

Balance of Terror is a fascinating episode for its tone, for its approach to bigotry and prejudice in the enlightened future Star Trek presents, and for its introduction of a faction that would go on to play a major role in the Star Trek franchise. It’s another episode of The Original Series that I consider to be a must-watch for all Trekkies.

Episode #10:
Star Trek 2009
Kelvin Timeline film

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin Timeline.

Technically a film rather than an episode, 2009’s Star Trek kicked off the Kelvin timeline with a soft reboot of the franchise. It’s a textbook example of how to write a successful reboot, and after the Star Trek franchise had begun to fade and lose viewership toward the latter part of Enterprise’s run, the 2009 reboot came along and definitively proved that there was still plenty of life in it yet! We wouldn’t have Discovery, Strange New Worlds, and the rest of modern Star Trek without this film and its two sequels.

For our purposes today, though, 2009’s Star Trek shows us a different timeline with alternate versions of Captain Pike – who plays a prominent role in the story – as well as Spock and Uhura. Seeing these versions of the characters and noting their differences and similarities to their prime timeline counterparts could be worthwhile going into Strange New Worlds.

Spock, meet Spock!

Star Trek 2009 also chronicles the next chapter of Spock’s life after the events of Unification (which we took a look at above). Spock’s relationship with the Romulans and his plan to help them avert a catastrophe are what led to him being dragged into the alternate reality, and the meeting between the older and younger versions of the character is a powerful moment.

Seeing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and others in their Starfleet Academy days was a concept that Gene Roddenberry had toyed with even as far back as The Original Series in the 1960s. 2009’s Star Trek took that concept and put a spin on it, updating the franchise for the 21st Century and introducing it to legions of new Trekkies. It’s a good film in its own right, and one whose legacy is the rejuvenated Star Trek franchise that we’re continuing to enjoy today.

So that’s it!

Promotional poster for Strange New Worlds.

Those are my picks for ten episodes to watch before Strange New Worlds to prepare for what the series will bring – or afterwards, if you prefer, to lend some context to some of the character arcs and storylines.

There are at least ten more episodes and films that I could’ve chosen; it wasn’t easy to whittle down the list to the ten picks above. Having already seen Strange New Worlds Season 1, I confess that I picked several different episodes that I might not have chosen otherwise. But that’s the benefit of hindsight!

As I said in my spoiler-free review of the first season, Strange New Worlds is utterly fantastic and well worth a watch for Trekkies and newcomers to the franchise alike. I can’t praise it highly enough – and I can’t wait for Season 2!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available. New episodes are being released weekly on Paramount+ in the United Kingdom. Further international distribution has not been announced at time of writing. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other episodes, films, and shows discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Strange New Worlds: Season 1 Spoiler-free thoughts

Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, spoilers are present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Discovery Seasons 1-4 and Short Treks.

Despite Paramount’s best efforts to keep Strange New Worlds away from fans in 95% of the world, I’ve been able to watch the first season over the past ten weeks. With the finale recently airing and the curtain falling on the show’s first season, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my spoiler-free thoughts on each of the episodes.

I had hoped to write full reviews of every episode of Strange New Worlds as they aired, as well as perhaps concocting a few theories along the way, but the show’s unavailability internationally has made that difficult. As much as I love Star Trek and want to see it succeed, I felt unable to offer Paramount and the series my support due to the offensive and misguided way the corporation has treated its non-American fans – treatment that is regrettably still ongoing at time of writing.

The first poster that was revealed for Strange New Worlds.
(I have it framed on my living room wall!)

However, stay tuned in the weeks and months ahead, because I daresay I will eventually publish individual episode reviews. Paramount+ has finally landed here in the UK – though it didn’t bring all of Strange New Worlds with it – so I can go back and re-watch the episodes any time. As Paramount+ continues its international rollout, I hope that Trekkies who avoided piracy will be able to watch the show.

The international broadcast situation and Paramount’s failings in that regard feel all the more egregious because of just how damn good Strange New Worlds has been across its first season. This is the Star Trek show that fans have been asking for and waiting for, a show that recaptures the episodic nature of The Original Series and The Next Generation but updates it with season-long arcs and modern trappings. It’s a show that feels so very similar to those classic stalwarts of the Star Trek franchise, and one that definitely has huge potential to reach out across the growing divide in the fan community to bring back into the fold people who felt disappointed or uninterested in Discovery, Picard, and even Lower Decks.

A behind-the-scenes photo of the Enterprise’s bridge crew.

Strange New Worlds updates the look of Star Trek, retaining some visual elements from Discovery and the Kelvin films, but blends that look with a very classic aesthetic with a clear inspiration from The Original Series. After the bland all-blue uniforms of Discovery, the bold primary colours are unapologetically back. The USS Enterprise is brightly-lit and colourful too, with some wonderful sets that have updated the look of areas like the bridge, sickbay, and engineering while retaining key design elements to make it clear that this is a Star Trek show.

The use of practical special effects and puppets has created some really incredible creatures and aliens, some of which have had a genuinely “old-school” feel that reminded me of some of the alien races from The Original Series and The Next Generation era. These effects have combined with some excellent CGI animation and increasingly creative use of the expensive AR wall. It’s clear that Paramount’s visual effects artists are becoming more and more comfortable with this fancy piece of kit, and Strange New Worlds has found some fun ways to blend in the AR wall and make it seamless.

Behind-the-scenes filming with the AR wall.

Like classic Star Trek shows have always done, Strange New Worlds tried its hand at some very different genres across Season 1. There was plenty of sci-fi, exploration, and action, but the show also dipped its toes in comedy, drama, warfare, and even horror at one point. Combined with a diverse range of planets to visit and alien races to meet, this gave Strange New Worlds an incredibly varied feel. A worse show might’ve ended up feeling jumpy or even unsettled, but the characters at Strange New Worlds’ heart kept it on track throughout thanks to some truly wonderful writing and world-building.

The theme music that has been composed for Strange New Worlds jumped right up the list to become one of my absolute favourite Star Trek themes. I felt an influence from the classic Superman theme by John Williams that blended perfectly with elements from The Original Series theme to create an exciting, adventurous up-tempo piece of music to really set the stage for every new episode. It’s a wonderful piece of music that I just know is going to become a celebrated part of the franchise.

Behind-the-scenes in sickbay with Dr M’Benga and Una Chin-Riley.

I’d happily recommend Strange New Worlds to any fan of Star Trek, and I’d challenge even the most ardent Discovery-hater to give it a fair shake. More than that, I feel that Strange New Worlds has huge potential to bring in new Star Trek fans alongside Lower Decks and Prodigy, as it’s a very accessible show. Perhaps folks who’ve tried Star Trek in the past and found it wasn’t to their taste won’t be swayed, but for anyone who’s been on the fence or curious about where to start, Strange New Worlds would make for a wonderful and engaging first contact.

For longstanding Trekkies like myself, Strange New Worlds feels like a return to a long-forgotten format, but not in a way that’s regressive. Strange New Worlds has taken the episodic, exploration-oriented format that was at the heart of the franchise in its golden age but updated it for 2022, keeping things like character growth and arcs while still finding ways to play in different genres and with different aliens and settings. It’s the best of both worlds, and while the series builds on what Discovery, Picard, and even Lower Decks and Prodigy have achieved, for me it surpasses all of them.

Promo photo of Spock, Pike, and Una.

I’ll hold up my hands and admit to having found a few nitpicks across the first season, including a couple of character arcs that either felt under-developed or rushed, but generally speaking the quality was high and the episodes outstanding. It’s rare for me to be able to say this, but Strange New Worlds hit ten for ten in its first season – ten genuinely great episodes that I thoroughly enjoyed.

What I’ll do now is briefly summarise my spoiler-free thoughts on each of the episodes in turn.

Episode 1:
Strange New Worlds

Captain Pike on horseback in the season premiere.

The season premiere was an episode that showcased Captain Pike. We got to see his internal struggle as he wrangled with the knowledge of his impending disability, and we got to see him at his best as he resumed command of the Enterprise. There are parallels to Picard Season 1, particularly the contrast between where Pike began the story in terms of his emotional and mental state and where he finished it; finding his place and restoring his confidence were absolutely crucial parts of the episode.

Strange New Worlds was a strong premiere and a great way to kick off the series. It took Star Trek back to its roots and showcased the exploration and missions of first contact that were key parts of the shows that we remember. There were moments of action and humour as we were introduced to most of the new crew for the first time, and what resulted was a solid foundation for the season to build upon.

Episode 2:
Children of the Comet

Cadet Nyota Uhura.

Children of the Comet had an interesting premise and pitted the Enterprise against an adversary who was able to easily overpower the Federation flagship – and yes, Strange New Worlds has confirmed that the Enterprise is the flagship in this era! There were some truly outstanding visual effects both practical and animated, and we got to see a really beautiful episode that, as the title suggests, focused in large part on a comet.

Uhura was a big part of this story, and this new, younger version of the character has a lot of space to grow into the person we remember with fondness from The Original Series. Celia Rose Gooding stepped up and put in an outstanding and complex performance as we saw the young cadet navigate her first away mission to a very alien environment.

Episode 3:
Ghosts of Illyria

Spock and Captain Pike on an away mission.

I have to confess that I’d almost entirely forgotten about the Illyrians prior to watching Ghosts of Illyria. The alien race appeared once in Enterprise’s third season – so I really recommend checking out the episode Damage for context before watching this one! Nothing in Damage is essential, but having that extra bit of background was definitely useful.

This was a big episode for Una Chin-Riley – a.k.a. Number One – as well as for the relationship between Captain Pike and Spock. Ghosts of Illyria also told us something important about Dr M’Benga that would go on to define his arc across much of the rest of the season. There were some clever and innovative concepts here, and what resulted was a fun episode.

Episode 4:
Memento Mori

La’an Noonien-Singh.

Memento Mori raised my first real nitpick of the season! But despite that, it was a tense and thoroughly enjoyable ride that drew inspiration from battles in classic Star Trek stories like Balance of Terror and The Wrath of Khan – as well as the war films that served to inspire those episodes. Throughout Memento Mori there was a sense that everyone was in danger and that not all of our favourite characters would make it out alive.

We got to see Captain Pike at his absolute best in Memento Mori, showing off why he’s long been considered one of Starfleet’s finest commanders. It was also a great episode for Lieutenant Ortegas – the Enterprise’s navigator – and for La’an Noonien-Singh, who had to confront her own inner demons and traumatic memories.

Episode 5:
Spock Amok

T’Pring and Spock in Spock’s quarters.

An episode about Spock confronting his conflicted inner nature and the way he feels about the human and Vulcan sides of his heritage doesn’t seem at first like it would be the foundation for a comedic story, but Spock Amok ended up being absolutely hilarious with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that could rival even Lower Decks for its unapologetic sense of fun. Spock Amok had emotion at its heart, though, with Spock’s struggle played for more than just a cheap laugh.

The episode’s B-plot featured Captain Pike attempting diplomacy with an unusual alien race who felt like they couldn’t possibly be from any other science-fiction franchise. In that sense, Spock Amok is a Star Trek episode through and through!

Episode 6:
Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach

Captain Pike wielding a phaser.

This episode’s title feels like it was lifted directly from The Original Series – as does the concept it brings to the fore. Captain Pike finds himself caught between his feelings for an alien woman he met in the past and his duty to the Federation. There’s a continuation of Dr M’Benga’s character arc from earlier in the season, one that flips the idea of the Prime Directive on its head in a way that reminded me very much of the Voyager Season 1 episode Prime Factors.

Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach pushed the limits of narrative complexity within a single episode, with a dramatic mystery involving the attempted kidnapping of a young boy who was destined to play a key role in the leadership and future of his planet. A worse episode could’ve made its central mystery feel convoluted or even rushed, but Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach balanced this complexity perfectly, despite having other storylines in play.

Episode 7:
The Serene Squall

Nurse Chapel seems to be in trouble!

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy The Serene Squall based on its premise and the teases we got prior to its broadcast – but I was wrong! The crew face off against space pirates in what was both a tense and fun story that also found time to throw in an unexpected twist. Perhaps the resolution to the narrative was a tad rushed in its final act, but that would be my only real criticism.

There was an incredibly powerful moment with Spock early in the episode that reframed his internal human-Vulcan split, and without giving too much away, it was something I found absolutely fascinating – and more than a little relatable! I think Spock’s characterisation here was the highlight of the episode for me, and pairing him up with Nurse Chapel was a great creative choice.

Episode 8:
The Elysian Kingdom

Dr M’Benga isn’t in uniform!

The Elysian Kingdom is two very different episodes rolled into one. On the one hand, there’s a funny, almost pantomime story in which the entire crew – sans Hemmer and Dr M’Benga – take on roles from a children’s story book. On the other, there’s an intensely emotional story with Dr M’Benga.

The Elysian Kingdom follows on from episodes like Mirror, Mirror or Bride of Chaotica insofar as it allows all of the main cast a chance to play around and step out from their usual roles. I have no doubt that it was an incredibly fun episode to work on – and that comes across in the performances from practically everyone involved. My only real gripe is that the final act and conclusion wrapped up very quickly.

Episode 9:
All Those Who Wander

It’s Hemmer time!

Of all the episodes in Season 1, the most important one to go into un-spoiled has to be All Those Who Wander. It’s an incredibly powerful episode with a thrilling horror theme, and there’s clear inspiration from the film Alien throughout. It’s also an episode that builds to a shocking emotional climax – and I won’t say any more about that lest I risk spoiling it!

Star Trek can do horror really well, as episodes like Empok Nor demonstrated years ago. For me, All Those Who Wander takes the horror angle right up to the edge of my personal comfort zone – but never beyond it. It’s not the most kid-friendly episode, that’s for sure, but it’s an incredibly tense and thrilling ride from start to finish with a wonderfully atmospheric setting.

Episode 10:
A Quality of Mercy

Spock, Pike, and [Spoiler] on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Captain Pike receives a visit from, well, “The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.” That’s about the best way I can describe A Quality of Mercy! There are some outstanding visual moments that really show off the USS Enterprise, a callback to a classic episode of The Original Series, and a storyline that furthers Captain Pike’s season-long arc.

A Quality of Mercy sees Season 1 end on a high note – and with a little tease for something more to come. It’s an action-packed episode with some real emotional punches, and a love letter to fans of The Original Series in particular. All in all, an absolutely outstanding episode and a great way to close out one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever put to screen.

So that’s it!

Promo photo of Lieutenant Ortegas.

Strange New Worlds is off to a roaring start, and I can’t wait for Season 2 already! Good news in that regard – the show’s second season recently finished filming and will be broadcast next year. Here’s to Season 3 – and beyond! Hopefully Paramount will have gotten its act together by then, ensuring that this amazing series is available to audiences all around the world.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the show that fans had been asking for since Captain Pike and Spock appeared in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery in 2019. Its mere existence would already be a massive win for Star Trek fans and proof that Paramount is willing to listen to feedback, but the fact that the show has been such an amazing experience across its first season and exceeded expectations that were already sky-high is absolutely fantastic!

Commander Una Chin-Riley – a.k.a. Number One.

Not only has Strange New Worlds Season 1 laid the groundwork for future stories with Captain Pike and co. aboard the Enterprise, but I feel it offers a template that future Star Trek projects should take a serious look at. The serialised season-long stories of Picard and Discovery have been interesting – and some have worked better than others – but Strange New Worlds’ more episodic approach has been absolutely wonderful, allowing for a more diverse array of stories that both revisited elements from Star Trek’s past while also introducing us to brand-new aliens, planets, and cultures.

I was bitterly upset that Paramount’s pathetic and indefensible “America First” attitude cut off Strange New Worlds from so many of the fans who campaigned to make it happen, and unfortunately I can’t deny that that has tainted the experience. But if we can look past the corporate nonsense, Strange New Worlds itself has been an absolutely phenomenal show, one that I hope will continue for at least four more seasons to fulfil Captain Pike’s promised “five-year mission.”

Whether you’re new to Star Trek or whether you’ve enjoyed past iterations of the franchise, it’s easy to recommend Strange New Worlds. I sincerely hope you’ll give it a try.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the platform is available. Episodes are being broadcast weekly on Paramount+ in the UK. Further international availability has not been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Six Star Wars “Hot Takes”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, from A New Hope to Obi-Wan Kenobi and beyond.

A little while ago I gave six of my “hot takes” on the Star Trek franchise, so this time it’s Star Wars’ turn to receive some controversial opinions! These are all opinions on the Star Wars franchise that, at least based on my limited engagement with the broader fan community, are either unpopular or will prove to be divisive.

This is supposed to be a bit of thought-provoking fun, so more than ever I ask you to keep in mind that all of these opinions are subjective, not objective! I’m not trying to claim that my perspectives on these broad and complex topics are in any way factual or unquestionable; I’m simply offering up my singular take on these points for the purposes of entertainment. I’ll try to explain why I feel the way I do – but I already know that many folks can and will disagree. And that’s okay! The Star Wars fan community is big enough for respectful and civil disagreement about all manner of subjects.

With all of that out of the way, this is your last chance to jump ship if you aren’t interested in some potentially controversial Star Wars opinions!

“Hot Take” #1:
The sequel trilogy having problems hasn’t magically redeemed the prequel trilogy or made it any more enjoyable.

Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.

One of the strangest arguments, in my view, that has been put forward in recent years by critics of the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that the prequels look so much better by comparison. Although I find Revenge of the Sith to be an okay film, I’ve never been wild about the first two parts of the prequel trilogy in particular, and the fact that The Rise of Skywalker and, to a lesser extent, The Force Awakens have issues doesn’t change any of that.

The prequels had a planned story from the start, and George Lucas knew which characters he wanted to include, what roles he wanted to give them, and what their arcs would look like from beginning to end. There were changes and edits along the way, but the broad strokes of the story had been planned in advance. This is something that the sequel trilogy lacked, with different writers and directors being given free rein to tell whatever stories they wanted – something widely considered to be a mistake. But just because the producers of the sequel trilogy screwed this up, that doesn’t mean that the uninspiring, overexplained backstory that comprised much of the prequels is any better as a result. It was a planned story, sure, but an unnecessary, bloated, and occasionally just plain boring one that did a lot to detract from the intimidating nature of Darth Vader in particular.

Padmé and Anakin in Attack of the Clones.

Though it’s difficult – and perhaps even a little unfair – to try to summarise the main issue with an entire trio of films in just a few words, I’d say that the sequels went wrong by trying to be too much of a copy of the original films, and then by trying to course-correct following the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi. But the prequels went wrong by telling a story that was ultimately unnecessary; we didn’t need three films chronicling the minutia of Anakin Skywalker’s rise and fall to know that he was an evil villain who could be redeemed by the residual love that he had for his son.

And in many ways, the prequels undermined the story that the original trilogy had told. The inclusion of things like a nine-year-old Anakin being the builder of C-3PO was just plain dumb, and smaller things like Yoda not being the Jedi who trained Obi-Wan, as he would later claim to Luke, ended up contradicting points in the original films. Some of these are arguably nitpicks, but in a story that was weak and muddled, smaller points like these become much more noticeable and begin to pile up.

A Republic battle cruiser in Revenge of the Sith.

At the end of the day, many of the prequels’ biggest defenders are folks who grew up watching them as kids. For many people in their teens and twenties, these films were their first point of contact with the Star Wars franchise. And there’s nothing wrong with loving the prequel trilogy – there are points from all three films that I enjoyed, and I even put together a list of some of my favourites for Star Wars Day a couple of years ago.

But just because the sequel trilogy had issues with its production and its narrative, that doesn’t mean that the prequels are somehow made better in hindsight. For me, the prequels remain a disappointment, and although I was scathing in my review of The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it in 2020, for me it’s still a toss-up as to whether it’s marginally better or worse than The Phantom Menace.

“Hot Take” #2:
Star Wars needs to end its overreliance on the same handful of legacy characters.

Darth Vader loomed very large indeed over the Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

Since it premiered all the way back in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has focused on a tiny number of characters, only a few of whom have been explored in any detail. Prequels, sequels, spin-offs, and even supposedly-unrelated projects have all brought back into play the same handful of characters again and again, and sooner rather than later I’d like to see that stop.

The Star Wars galaxy is, in my view, one of the finest fictional settings ever created. It has both a breadth and a depth that other settings could only dream of: dozens of factions, hundreds of alien races, thousands of inhabited planets, and tens of thousands of years’ worth of galactic history – all of which could be explored in a way that would be absolutely riveting. But so far, writers and creatives have been limited to one tiny corner of this potentially vast sandbox, forced to re-use the same characters, revisit the same planets, and stay within the confines of the same relatively short sixty-year span of galactic history centred around the rise and fall of the Empire.

Boba Fett reappeared in The Mandalorian Season 2.

One of the reasons I love the video game Knights of the Old Republic so much is because it stepped away from much of what was familiar about Star Wars. There were some recognisable planets, and of course we spent time with the Republic and the Jedi, but beyond that the story took place thousands of years prior to the events of the films and introduced an entirely new cast of characters. There were definite inspirations from the original and prequel trilogies, but Knights of the Old Republic was separate from them.

That’s what I’d like to see Star Wars do more of. Instead of telling us another story about Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, tell us something else. Introduce us to a new Jedi, a new Sith, or better yet, new Light and Dark Side factions. Or abandon the Force altogether for once and show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with space magic live! That’s what I hoped that a series like The Mandalorian might do.

Luke Skywalker in The Book of Boba Fett.

George Lucas once spoke of symmetry in Star Wars, saying that its stories should “rhyme.” But there’s a huge difference between rhyming and being a carbon copy of what came before, or between rhyming and diving ever deeper into less and less important chapters of backstory. Unfortunately, because Star Wars has never broken away from its previously-established characters, doing so now is something that must feel like a risk to the suits at Lucasfilm and Disney – and if there’s one thing that makes corporations uncomfortable, it’s risk.

However, as I’ve recently argued, Star Wars can’t just coast forever on nostalgia for its original films and the only real story it’s ever told. Sooner rather than later those characters and settings will be exhausted, spent of all storytelling potential. Then the only remaining choice will be to either try something genuinely new and different… or to bring the entire franchise to an end.

“Hot Take” #3:
The Last Jedi will be highly-regarded in fifteen or twenty years’ time.

Luke Skywalker heads out to meet the forces of the First Order.

I unapologetically love The Last Jedi – it’s the highlight of the sequel trilogy for me by far. But I recognise that it was divisive in the fan community, and that some narrative decisions seem to have been made to be deliberately challenging to the expectations its audience had. For me, those points succeeded – and just like Star Wars fans eventually came to accept patent nonsense like “from a certain point of view,” or the arbitrary and unexplained decision to make Luke and Leia into brother and sister at the last moment, in time I think many of The Last Jedi’s story beats will just become accepted part of Star Wars lore.

Moreover, as fans who are kids today grow up and look back on the sequels, we’ll probably see a reappraisal of those films within the wider discourse of the fan community. Just as the prequels are supported today by fans in their teens and twenties, in fifteen or twenty years’ time I think we’ll see a similar movement in support of the sequels from fans for whom those films were their first contact with the Star Wars franchise.

Ben Solo’s turn to the Dark Side was shocking and unexpected.

In particular, the merits of The Last Jedi will come to be reappraised. The film wasn’t perfect, but it got a lot of things right, and after The Force Awakens had played it very safe by basically copying large parts of the plot of A New Hope, The Last Jedi really tried hard to take Star Wars to completely different narrative and thematic places.

Unfortunately many of its successes were overridden by The Rise of Skywalker – which itself will gradually become accepted as part of the wider lore of Star Wars, too – but that doesn’t mean that the film can’t be enjoyed on its own merits. Decisions like Rey’s parents being “no one” of consequence or Kylo Ren fully embracing his inner Dark Side to claim the mantle of Supreme Leader are – at least in my opinion – storylines that had massive appeal and huge potential. I’m sure that they’ll be looked upon much more kindly in the years ahead.

The Holdo Manoeuvre.

If the Star Wars franchise continues its current trend of doubling-down on cheap nostalgia plays and samey, almost repetitive storylines, then The Last Jedi’s attempts to shake things up will come to be seen in a new light. Star Wars is in real danger of becoming stale – if every story focuses on the same few characters, or characters who are so similar as to fill functionally the same role, then the franchise will feel like it’s lost a step and stopped innovating.

It may take a while for attitudes to shift, and there will of course be some fans for whom The Last Jedi will always remain one of the worst parts of the Star Wars franchise. But I really do believe that in a few years’ time the film will find more defenders than detractors, and will come to be an accepted and even celebrated part of Star Wars’ cinematic canon. Hopefully there’ll still be a Star Wars at that point, with new films and shows being created!

“Hot Take” #4:
So-called “Jedi Robes” were originally just typical desert attire and not something ceremonial or unique to the Jedi Order.

“Old Ben” Kenobi with Luke and R2D2 in A New Hope.

One thing that’s always bugged me, even as far back as Return of the Jedi, is how so-called “Jedi Robes” are basically just the typical outfit one would expect to wear in a desert environment like Tatooine. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s outfit in the original film was never intended to be some kind of ceremonial marker of the ancient Jedi Order, but rather a costume inspired by desert cultures around the world.

Look at typical outfits worn in North Africa and on the Arabian peninsula as examples. The typical thobe (thawb) and bisht that are worn by men in those regions was part of the inspiration for the outfit, along with outfits worn by Bedouin and nomadic peoples. These outfits are designed to be worn in hot desert conditions, and that’s exactly what we see in “Old Ben” Kenobi’s costume when he encounters Luke Skywalker.

This mistake was first made with Anakin’s ghost in Return of the Jedi.

Luke is actually dressed very similarly to Kenobi at that point. The outfit he wears is similar to what Kenobi was wearing under his cloak – a kind of loose-fitting belted tunic. Again, this is something pretty standard in desert regions and makes sense for a planet like Tatooine. There’s nothing about either of their outfits that screams “religious order,” and it’s always struck me as odd – and more than a little arbitrary – that Kenobi’s desert cloak ended up being the basis for the ceremonial robes worn by everyone in the Jedi Order.

In-universe, it doesn’t even make sense for “Old Ben” to be cutting about Tatooine in his Jedi robes – if indeed that’s what they’re supposed to be. He’s in hiding on that world, and as we saw in the opening act of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, changing out of his robes into civilian attire would help him blend in. Putting his robes on to go exploring would draw unnecessary and unwanted attention to him at a time when he’s still one of the Empire’s most-wanted Jedi survivors.

Members of the Jedi Council in their robes in Attack of the Clones.

It would’ve been nice to see more diversity in the outfits worn by Jedi Knights and Masters, particularly during the prequel era. We could have seen a whole new range of costumes introduced, including elaborate ceremonial attire if there was a need for that. But simply copying what “Old Ben” wore on Tatooine and slapping it on every Jedi character has never made sense.

While I accept that this is now an established part of the lore of Star Wars and isn’t going to change, it’s something that’s always bugged me!

“Hot Take” #5:
Star Wars doesn’t need the Jedi and the Force to tell fun stories.

Rey and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.

When The Mandalorian was announced a couple of years ago I felt that it had a truly exciting premise. Following “the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic” sounded absolutely fascinating, and would have been a huge departure from anything we’d seen the franchise do before.

But within two episodes the Force came back into play, and by the end of the second season we’d been reintroduced to Luke Skywalker himself. I still find The Mandalorian to be disappointing as a result; it didn’t live up to expectations and very quickly fell back to retread the same ground as other Star Wars projects.

Finn wielding a lightsaber in The Force Awakens.

The Book of Boba Fett likewise brought the Force and Luke Skywalker into its story, and again there was a missed opportunity to show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t Force-users live. I’m hopeful that one day a Star Wars project will be bold enough to leave the Force behind entirely – and perhaps it’ll finally happen in Andor, Rogue Squadron, or one of the upcoming films or television shows!

As I said above, the Star Wars galaxy is massive and densely-populated – and the vast, vast majority of the population doesn’t use the Force or rely on it in any way. Characters like Han Solo didn’t even believe that the Force existed at first – and that attitude could well be prevalent across much of the population. Showing us characters like that could take all manner of different forms, and I’d be really interested to see some completely different projects set in the Star Wars universe.

A New Republic pilot in The Mandalorian.

Just as a couple of examples, we could see a kind of noir-inspired crime drama set in the underworld of a planet like Coruscant. Or we could see an ER-esque medical drama that follows the exploits of doctors and nurses at a hospital. There’s more to Star Wars than just Jedi Knights, Sith Lords, and the Force, and while we all love a good lightsaber duel… Star Wars can be more than that, if there’s someone bold enough in creative control to make those decisions.

So far, every Star Wars project has included the Force or Force-wielders to a greater or lesser degree. I’d like to see a film or TV show that completely sets the Force aside. Not only would it expand our knowledge of the Star Wars galaxy away from those familiar elements, but it would be thematically and narratively different by default. And telling new and different stories is something that the Star Wars franchise needs to start doing!

“Hot Take” #6:
The prequel trilogy told a story that was ultimately unnecessary.

Young Anakin in The Phantom Menace.

This isn’t saying “the prequels were bad” and commenting on things like the quality of the writing or specific narrative choices. Instead, what I’m saying is that the story of the prequel trilogy didn’t actually add anything of consequence to the Star Wars saga. Everything we knew about characters like Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and of course Darth Vader had already been explained in the original films.

At best, the prequels were padded backstory. They showed us the Clone Wars firsthand, instead of the conflict being left as a rather ambiguous part of the saga’s lore that was referenced but unexplained. They explicitly showed us things like the original duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan that had been referenced, and confirmed that Obi-Wan had been responsible for causing Darth Vader’s life-limiting injuries. But nothing that they brought to the table was necessary or couldn’t be inferred from the original films.

Palpatine seizes power in Revenge of the Sith.

By the time it had been decided to make Darth Vader Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, his pathway toward redemption was possible. He was an evil villain, but he had enough residual goodness and light inside him thanks to the love he had for his son that it was possible for him to betray the Emperor. We didn’t need three films charting Anakin’s rise and fall to tell us that.

Nor did we need to see Obi-Wan Kenobi training Anakin to inform their conflict. Darth Vader told us all we needed to know in a single line when they were reunited aboard the Death Star. Even Palpatine’s scheming and the way he played both sides in the Clone Wars didn’t really do much to explain his role in The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi – and certainly wasn’t necessary to understand his position or role in either story.

The “birth” of Darth Vader.

There are things to celebrate about the prequels, don’t get me wrong. And there’s nothing inherently wrong or problematic about stepping back in time to look at characters in their younger days or to go into more detail about some of the events that preceded what we’d seen in the original films. But the Star Wars prequel trilogy padded out that story without really adding to it anything of substance.

The simple fact is that we knew all we needed to know at the time of the original films for those stories to be exciting and engrossing. I never felt that I was missing any crucial context to understand Luke, Leia, Han, Palpatine, or Vader, and while the prequels certainly expanded the story of Star Wars – and in many ways set the stage for its ongoing success – I feel that the reason the story never really resonated with me is because it never seemed like it was one that needed to be told.

So that’s it!

Han Solo.

I hope we’re still friends after all of that! Just remember that these are simply the opinions of one person, presented here for a bit of fun and perhaps to be thought-provoking.

Despite criticisms of some individual films and stories, I consider myself a fan of Star Wars. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I first sat down to watch the original trilogy at the insistence of a friend in the early 1990s, and I’ve supported Star Wars at the cinema, on television, and in the gaming realm ever since. There’s a lot to love – even if I have some controversial “hot takes” on the franchise sometimes!

Just this year I’ve enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Andor and Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will have to offer, too. So I hope this was a bit of fun as we look ahead to some of those upcoming Star Wars projects.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films, games, and television shows discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We’re halfway through 2022!

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the entries on the list below.

The end of June marks the halfway point of the year, and I think that makes it a great time to take a step back. There are a lot of entertainment experiences that lie ahead over the next few months, and with the nights already starting to get longer it’ll be autumn and then Christmas before we know it! There’s a lot coming our way before we must bid farewell to 2022, though, so today we’re going to take a look at a few of the projects on my radar.

Since the vaccine rollout peaked last year we’ve seen an easing of pandemic restrictions, including in the entertainment industry. That bodes well for at least some of the projects that have been in development! While there are still regulations and guidelines being enforced on film and TV sets, it’s much easier for many productions to work than it has been for the past couple of years. There may be disruptions to come thanks to lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, though… so watch this space!

I’ve broken down my choices into three categories – films, television shows, and video games – and I’ve picked six titles in each category that I’m hoping to pick up and enjoy before the sun sets on New Year’s Eve!

Film #1:
Avatar: The Way of Water

I took a look at Avatar: The Way of Water when we got a brief teaser trailer earlier in the year, but suffice to say I’m curiously interested to see what writer-director James Cameron has to offer this time around. I never felt that the original Avatar was the genre-defining epic that its creators hoped it would be, and over the course of the past decade I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of Avatar has largely dropped out of the cultural conversation.

The Way of Water has a lot to do, then, to reintroduce viewers to a fictional universe that many haven’t revisited since 2009 or 2010. It also has the task of expanding the world of Avatar beyond the events of the first film, showing us more about the world of Pandora, the Na’vi, and this future version of Earth and humankind. There have been some clever technical feats that have gone into the production of this sequel – including gruelling underwater motion-capture shoots – so I’ll be interested to see if it all comes together when the film releases in December.

Film #2:
Jurassic World: Dominion

Technically Jurassic World: Dominion has already been released – but as my health prevents me from doing things like taking trips to the cinema these days, I’m waiting for it to become available to stream! The teaser trailer for the film, which was released back in December, looked great, and the prospect of a reunion of the main cast members from the first film – Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr Ellie Sattler, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm – is a pretty significant draw.

There is always going to be the question of whether the premise of the original Jurassic Park – which was based on a novel by Michael Crichton – can really sustain a multi-film franchise. The first film was brilliant in both premise and execution, but was it a one-trick pony? I’m curious to see what director Colin Trevorrow can do to make dinosaurs both fun and intimidating once more! I’ve been trying to avoid reading reviews and spoilers for this one, and when it’s available to stream I hope to get a review written here on the website – so stay tuned for that!

Film #3:
Minions: The Rise of Gru

Despicable Me was a fun film that managed to be surprisingly heartwarming, and the franchise it spawned has gone on to become one of the biggest animated properties of all-time. The last Minions film was released back in 2015, and this sequel will reintroduce Gru – the antihero/evil villain from Despicable Me – as he teams up with his Minions for the first time.

There’s potential for a lot of fun, kid-friendly hijinks in The Rise of Gru, and I’m genuinely looking forward to another outing with the Minions. Steve Carell has been on top form in previous entries in the franchise, and the film will also feature Star Trek: Discovery’s Michelle Yeoh as part of a star-studded cast.

Film #4:
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

I had a good time with Rian Johnson’s “whodunnit” Knives Out a couple of years ago, so this follow-up definitely holds appeal. Without wanting to give away any spoilers for the first film, suffice to say that I’m excited for one character in particular to make a return!

From what I can gather, Glass Onion isn’t so much a direct sequel as it is a follow-up; a film set in the same world and that will bring back at least one familiar face, but that will also introduce an ensemble cast of new characters and perhaps a new setting as well. Hopefully what results will be just as fun and dramatic as the original!

Film #5:
Hocus Pocus 2

I missed the original Hocus Pocus when it was released in 1993, and it wasn’t until years later that I finally sat down to watch it at the insistence of a friend. What I eventually found was a fun, even somewhat clever film; a light-hearted take on Halloween that’s just right for someone who isn’t a big fan of horror!

The sequel aims to bring back Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy as the three witches from the original for a new adventure that sounds like it will be a riff on the original concept. Keep an eye out for Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones, who will also be reprising his role from the original film. Hocus Pocus 2 might be just right for Halloween 2022!

Film #6:
Beast

Could Beast be “Jaws but with a lion?” Because the marketing material released by the studio makes it sound like that! I quite like a good thriller or monster flick, so maybe Beast will be a bit of fun. I don’t have especially high expectations; it’s unlikely to be a cinematic masterpiece. But it might just be entertaining enough to waste a little time.

Idris Elba is always fun to watch regardless of what he’s doing – see last year’s The Suicide Squad as a case in point! So at least on that front there’s a solid star in the leading role, and the film’s South African setting appeals to me as I used to live there. I’m curiously interested to see what Beast will have to offer when it’s released in August.

Television Show #1:
Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation

Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will be the third Lego Star Wars special released on Disney+, and the first two were fantastic! 2020’s Holiday Special was a barrel of laughs, and last year we enjoyed Terrifying Tales in October, a lightly spooky Halloween special featuring Poe Dameron. The trailer for Summer Vacation had me in stitches, so if the special itself lives up to its marketing then we’re in for a wonderful time!

Expect to see some cheeky marketing for Disney’s “Galactic Starcruiser” themed hotel (which hasn’t been doing particularly well) in a special that will star “Weird Al” Yankovic and will bring back Finn, Poe, Rey, Rose, and other Star Wars characters.

Television Show #2:
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3

At time of writing we don’t have a confirmed premiere date for Season 3 of Lower Decks, but if it follows the same pattern as it did in 2020 and 2021 we might see it in late summer, perhaps mid-to-late August. Season 2 actually ended on a cliffhanger – which I won’t spoil – and I still have a few theories and ideas kicking around that I’ll try to get written up before the new season arrives!

Lower Decks took a couple of episodes to fully get going, but it’s been an absolute blast across its first couple of seasons. Consistently high quality has left the series with only a couple of boring or unenjoyable episodes, and there’s a surprising amount of emotion at the heart of the Lower Decks crew. It’s a Star Trek show through-and-through, and one I find myself getting surprisingly invested in. I’m hopeful for more of the same when Lower Decks returns.

Television Show #3:
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Although The Rings of Power is already (and prematurely, in my view) proving to be controversial in some quarters, I have high hopes for what will be the most expensive television show ever produced! A return to Tolkien’s world is, of course, hugely enticing, but The Rings of Power is aiming to be a spiritual successor to Game of Thrones, telling a multi-season serialised story set in the realm of high fantasy. With a massive budget to back it up, I couldn’t be more excited about that concept!

However, with a high budget and high expectations come dangers. The Rings of Power has a long way to fall if it fails to live up to expectations, and no matter what the producers and creative team try to do, the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy will be the yardstick by which this new series is measured. I hope it can compare favourably!

Television Show #4:
House of the Dragon

Take everything I said in the entry above, copy-and-paste it, and that’s how I feel about House of the Dragon as well! This Game of Thrones prequel is one of several projects currently in production, but as far as I can see the biggest hurdle it has to surmount is not its predecessor’s reputation as one of the best television shows of all time, but the deep disappointment practically all Game of Thrones fans felt at its finale.

Just convincing people to show up for House of the Dragon in light of Game of Thrones Season 8 feels like a big ask… but if the show learns from those mistakes and makes changes, we could be in for something genuinely exciting. The first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were some of the most tense, atmospheric, and exciting ever brought to the small screen, so a return to Westeros – and to the writings of George R R Martin – could be fantastic. Could be.

Television Show #5:
Star Wars: Andor

A prequel to a prequel (or should that be a spin-off from a spin-off?), Andor will follow Rogue One’s Cassian Andor in the years before the events of the film. We might get to see more detail about the early days of the Rebel Alliance prior to the Battle of Scarif, which would be interesting in itself, but more than that I’m curious to see what Star Wars can do with a genuinely different premise. In this case, we’re talking about a spy thriller.

Is there room in the Star Wars galaxy for stories that aren’t just about Jedi Knights, the Force, and lightsaber duels? The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett could’ve begun to show us what the Star Wars galaxy looks like away from those familiar elements, but chose not to do so. So it falls to Andor to potentially become the first Star Wars series to really broaden the franchise’s horizons and show us what’s possible. Is that too much to hope for? Maybe… I guess we’ll have to see!

Television Show #6:
Five Days At Memorial

When done well, a miniseries can be a great format for storytelling. Five Days At Memorial aims to adapt the true story of doctors and nurses working at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Based on a book from 2013, the miniseries will take a look at some of the events that transpired – including how patients were triaged when the hospital’s systems failed and supplies ran low.

Most controversially, some patients were euthanised by doctors at the hospital – leading to a legal case against them in the months and years afterwards. Hopefully the miniseries will be faithful in its adaptation and won’t try to over-sensationalise these difficult events. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.

Video Game #1:
Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova

You wait years for a Star Trek video game and then two come along at once! This year should see the release of Star Trek: Resurgence – a narrative adventure game – as well as Star Trek: Prodigy – Supernova, a kid-friendly adventure title based on the new animated series. With new episodes of Prodigy’s first season set to air later this year, the time is right for a tie-in.

I was disappointed (and a little concerned) that Prodigy kicked off its first season with no toys or tie-in products, but that is slowly being addressed. Supernova looks a little last-gen in terms of its graphics, and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t, but I’m still hopeful for a fun game that ties in with the show, and one that can appeal to the younger audience that the show has been targetting.

Video Game #2:
Stray

Stray has been on my radar for a while, and it’s finally due for release in July! Getting to play as a cat is already a huge part of the appeal, but it sounds as if Stray will have a genuinely interesting mystery at its core: what happened to all of the humans in its world? Players will assume the role of a stray cat in a cyberpunk-inspired city, and solving that mystery will be top priority.

I’m really looking forward to what I hope will be a different experience with Stray. Many games do mystery, third-person exploration, and create atmospheric worlds, but Stray feels like it could offer something that I haven’t experienced before.

Video Game #3:
Grounded

If a game has been in early access for more than two years, should its “release” even count on a list like this? Regardless, I haven’t played Grounded yet – because I largely avoid early access titles – so I’m looking forward to seeing what the full release will have to offer. I loved Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and even visited the attraction at Disney World… could Grounded let me live out a long-held childhood fantasy?

There are survival aspects to Grounded that could either work exceptionally well… or feel annoying, depending on how good the rest of the game is and how much fun I’m having! But I’ve heard good things from players who’ve enjoyed the early access version, so I’m going to give Grounded a shot when it officially releases in September.

Video Game #4:
Return to Monkey Island

Despite loving the first three games in the series, I seem to have fallen behind on my Monkey Island adventures! The fourth and fifth games in the series ended up on my “pile” of unplayed games, and despite meaning to get around to them I still haven’t! Perhaps I should rectify that before Return to Monkey Island – the sixth game in the series – arrives.

Updated versions of the first three Monkey Island games proved that point-and-click adventure titles could still find an audience when they were released a few years ago, and there’s still an appetite for this kind of comedy-adventure. I’m hopeful that Return to Monkey Island will deliver more of the same humour and excitement as the series did in its early days.

Video Game #5:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

After being on my radar for a while, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has finally set a release window. All being well we’ll see the weird-sounding game in September. I honestly don’t know what to expect from this one, as Gollum would never be the kind of character I’d have expected to build a game and a story around. However, there’s clearly more to his story than we saw in the films – or even the books – so this could be an interesting adventure!

With a renewed focus on the world of Tolkien and high fantasy thanks to the Amazon show and other fantasy films and TV shows, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could be a surprise hit. I don’t want to go overboard with the hype, but I’m definitely interested to see what the developers have come up with.

Video Game #6:
Saints Row

It does the Saints Row series a grave disservice to call it simply a “Grand Theft Auto clone,” even if that’s where it might’ve begun. This soft reboot of the series aims to take it back to its roots, setting aside at least some of the over-the-top hijinks of the third and fourth games in favour of a return to the gangland roots of the original Saints Row from 2006.

With no Grand Theft Auto VI on the horizon any time soon, Saints Row might just scratch that open-world crime itch for players who are getting tired of Grand Theft Auto V – but hopefully Saints Row can continue to carve its own niche and stand on its own two feet.

So that’s it!

Those are just some of the projects that we can look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. There are plenty more, of course, and I’m sure there’ll be some surprises along the way, too! Although 2022 has been much better than the past couple of years, there’s still the potential for disruption and delays, so keep in mind that any of the shows, films, and games listed above may not make their currently-scheduled launches. Such things happen, unfortuately!

I hope that this was a bit of fun and a glimpse at what lies ahead. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to research different upcoming projects to see what piques my curiosity, and as someone who takes an interest in the world of entertainment I’m always keeping my ear to the ground to see what might be coming up! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website for reviews, impressions, and write-ups of at least some of the projects we’ve talked about today.

Until next time!

All films, television shows, and video games listed above are the copyright of their respective owner, company, distributor, broadcaster, publisher, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fall Guys goes free-to-play: first impressions

I love Fall Guys – and I’ve had a blast playing the fun party battle royale title since it landed in August of 2020. Following a buyout by Epic Games it seemed inevitable that Fall Guys would eventually go free-to-play, and here we are! The new version of Fall Guys launched yesterday and I’ve had a couple of hours to jump in and have a play around.

First of all, some points to be aware of: Fall Guys is no longer available via Steam, although players who purchased it on that platform before yesterday will be able to continue to play the game – and it will presumably continue to receive updates in line with other versions. Secondly, the game is now available on Switch and Xbox… finally! And thanks to cross-platform play, players on PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox systems are able to play together.