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.

Fall Guys has finally made it to Nintendo Switch!

I was confused by some of the pre-launch marketing, specifically the talk of a “season reset.” Fall Guys had introduced a lot of new content and new rounds across its first couple of years, including a winter-themed season and a sci-fi one. It wasn’t communicated very clearly, in my opinion at least, whether some or all of this content would be included as part of this “new Season 1,” or whatever it’s called. As it turned out, all of the rounds are available, which is great! The good rounds are still a ton of fun… and the annoying ones are still annoying.

I didn’t get off to a great start, as some kind of error prevented me from even getting to the game’s main menu. I saw something about this on social media from one of Mediatonic’s pages, and considering the increased player numbers as the game launches on two new platforms and simultaneously goes free-to-play for the first time ever, I guess a few bumps in the road can be forgiven! But I hope this issue – which persisted for quite a while – hasn’t had too much of a negative impact on new players and their first impressions of Fall Guys.

The error message that I received.

So first of all, anyone who’s played Fall Guys before (on the same account) will be granted a few freebies – including some new costumes and access to the first Season Pass. That’s nice, and a little bit of generosity from Epic/Mediatonic toward the game’s early adopters. But going free-to-play has, naturally, completely changed Fall Guys’ in-game marketplace. The original “kudos” currency is still present and can be used for some items, but there’s now a second premium currency that must be bought with real cash – and this second currency can be exchanged for other in-game items.

Fortunately, items unlocked prior to the game going free-to-play seem to have remained in my inventory, so I don’t feel a desperate need to shell out a lot of cash for in-game currencies and new items right now. But new players in particular will find themselves affected by the decision to lock many cosmetic items behind a paywall, and Fall Guys is definitely following the business model used by many free-to-play mobile games and Epic’s own juggernaut Fortnite in terms of the way in-game monetisation is handled.

Part of the in-game marketplace.

Too many reviews skip over microtransactions and in-game monetisation, but in my view it’s absolutely worth drawing your attention to this aspect of Fall Guys before we go any further. This is a game that’s very appealing to kids and young people thanks to a cute visual style, the lack of any violence or gore, and a fun party vibe, so parents and carers should be aware of what could lie in store. The original version of Fall Guys, as I noted in my first look at the game a couple of years ago, was very good about making its microtransations entirely optional and allowing simply playing the game to unlock boatloads of in-game currency and a plethora of new items. This new free-to-play version of the game feels more tight-fisted and stingy with its in-game rewards, and the emphasis from this point forward is going to be on those microtransactions and that premium currency.

Mentions of a “Season Pass” have also not eluded me, and it seems like this is another aspect of the game that is going to be monetised and heavily pushed. Paying for the game’s Season Pass – which, as noted, is free right now for players who bought the game prior to its free-to-play move – will unlock a lot of “premium” items and some in-game currency. It seems like these Season Passes will be a big part of the game going forward.

Fall Guys has added a purchasable Season Pass.

As with Fortnite, playing Fall Guys without spending a penny is possible, and none of the Season Passes, in-game currencies, and microtransactions could be described as being either necessary to complete the game nor as offering any kind of in-game advantage. But it’s worth being aware of the fact that this “free” game – like many, many others – could be a gateway to spending not insignificant amounts of real money.

While none of the purchases players can make today will offer any kind of in-game advantage, there’s always the possibility of that changing in future. Updates or changes to the game could potentially see some of Fall Guys’ rounds gated off behind a paywall, or the addition of power-ups, boosters, and the like that could potentially make the game a “pay-to-win” experience. I’ll do my best to keep tabs on things as Fall Guys progresses with its new business model – and I’m sure I’ll have something to say if any kind of pay-to-win mechanics begin cropping up.

So far, microtransactions don’t appear to be pay-to-win.

So that’s how things sit in terms of monetisation from my point of view. Fall Guys is to be commended for not including the dreaded randomised lootbox as part of its monetisation, but that’s a pretty low bar. A free game with dedicated online servers naturally requires some kind of revenue stream in order to be financially viable, and the fact that there are still unlockable items without spending money is a good thing. Monetisation doesn’t feel horribly aggressive right now when compared to some other titles, but it is still present and, speaking as someone who played and enjoyed Fall Guys in its earlier incarnation, monetisation and pushes to spend money feel like a much larger part of the game than they used to be.

But enough about that for now.

Fall Guys plays exactly the same as it used to now that it’s free-to-play, and for newbies I guess I’d describe its gameplay as “deceptively simple.” You can run, grab, jump, and dive – and those are your available moves. Using those moves you have to navigate a huge variety of different rounds – most of which only last a couple of minutes at the most – in order to qualify for the next one. It takes a bit of getting used to, but there’s never been a better time to get started thanks to the influx of new players! It’s a level playing field right now.

Skyline Stumble, one of many rounds in the game.

I won’t go into detail about every round in the game – but I have several lists here on the website of my favourites (and least-favourites), the most recent of which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Suffice to say that most of the rounds are an absolute blast, and the few that I don’t personally enjoy never ruin my gameplay experience because of how short they are and how infrequently they crop up in a game with so much variety.

There are a handful of new rounds that have been introduced alongside the free-to-play update, and the ones I’ve tried so far retain Fall Guys’ signature sense of wild and wacky fun. I can’t wait to get stuck in all over again and figure out my best strategies for approaching some of these new experiences!

Fall Guys will hopefully stick around for a long time to come.

So I don’t think there’s a lot more to say. Fall Guys has gone free-to-play but has retained its fun gameplay, and while there is a definite and noticeable push towards in-game monetisation, at this stage it doesn’t feel excessive. I hadn’t played much Fall Guys over the past few months, but this update gave me another opportunity to dive headfirst into one of my favourite games of the last few years. As I said when Fall Guys was brand-new, it takes something truly special for me to be interested in any kind of online multiplayer title, least of all one that could be described as a kind of “battle royale,” but Fall Guys really is that kind of exceptional, unique game.

I’m pleased to see that the game is now available on Xbox and Nintendo Switch; the latter platform in particular should be a natural fit for this kind of fun, kid-friendly party game. I’d been awaiting the game’s Switch release for a long time, and although I’ve only played on PC so far I hope to jump into the Switch version very soon.

Maybe we’ll see each other out there on the obstacle courses… but I should warn you, the gloves are off! I’ll shove you out of the way without a second thought for a chance at winning my next crown! Good luck and happy falling!

Fall Guys is out now for free (with in-game purchases) on PC, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic and Epic Games. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Paramount isn’t making this easy…

Paramount+ will officially arrive in just a couple of days’ time here in the UK, and there are a lot of questions over its viability as well as its short- and longer-term prospects. The fact that the UK is currently experiencing some of the worst economic issues of the past forty-plus years is going to have a massive impact, and that’s not Paramount’s fault nor is it something that the corporation could have done anything to avoid. But it’s far from the only issue that looks certain to affect the new streaming platform… and practically all of the other problems we’re going to talk about are Paramount’s fault.

In early 2021 I wrote an article here on the website titled The ad campaign for Paramount+ has been surprisingly strong. In that piece I took a look at some of the advertisements that had been created in the run-up to the US launch of Paramount+, some of which featured the likes of Anson Mount and Sir Patrick Stewart. Paramount (which was still known as ViacomCBS at that time) even spent an insane amount of money to advertise during the Super Bowl in 2021 – and Super Bowl adverts are the most sought-after and expensive in the United States.

Sir Patrick Stewart in one of the American Paramount+ adverts that were shown in 2021.

I complimented Paramount at the time for not only the scale of the advertising campaign – which appeared to be pretty extensive over in the United States – but also for the content of some of the ads. The aforementioned Super Bowl commercial played the song Sweet Victory from SpongeBob SquarePants (as a Nickelodeon production, Paramount owns SpongeBob) and that was a masterstroke!

But with the launch of Paramount+ mere hours away, it’s hugely disappointing to have seen nothing of the sort here in the UK.

If Paramount+ is to stand a chance in a hugely competitive streaming market during the worst cost-of-living situation in decades, at the very least there should’ve been adverts for the service somewhere. Paramount+ is launching years behind its competitors, so if viewers are to be expected to take the plunge and part with our cash, Paramount needed to step up weeks ago and do something – anything – to sell it to us.

Paramount+ made a splash at the Super Bowl last year.

Star Trek’s use of social media is awful, I don’t think anyone would dispute that. And in a broader sense, Paramount hasn’t got to grips with social media in the same way as some of the other big entertainment companies. So it’s no surprise to me to have seen practically nothing from any of the official accounts – even the official Paramount+ UK Twitter account has only half-heartedly tweeted out a couple of messages “counting down” to the platform’s launch. There’s been radio silence elsewhere (though I have to credit some particularly dedicated Star Trek fans for doing the job of Paramount’s marketing team for them!)

This is purely anecdotal so take it with a grain of salt, but no one I’ve spoken to has seen any promotional material or advertising for Paramount+ either. I have several friends and neighbours who are subscribed to Sky TV – a well-known satellite television provider here in the UK – and they have likewise seen or heard nothing about the impending arrival of Paramount+. Why does that matter? Well, Sky TV and Paramount+ have teamed up to offer subscribers to certain package deals access to Paramount+ at no additional cost. I would have expected Sky TV subscribers to have seen something – an advert, a reminder… anything at all, really – with Paramount+ so close to its official launch.

Paramount+ has some kind of deal with Sky TV in the UK.

Perhaps Paramount has already given up on the UK, at least for 2022. Knowing how bad the economic outlook is, and looking at how big streaming platforms like Netflix have been losing subscribers may have caused some in the Paramount boardroom to hit the panic button. As a result, a large-scale advertising campaign – something that costs a lot of money no matter how you do it – may have been taken off the table. Paramount may simply be content to get the biggest fans of its biggest franchises on day one, and save the advertising push for a future date when the cost-of-living crisis and inflation have settled down somewhat.

That’s my generous assessment. Now for the less-generous possibility: this is just the latest in a long line of decisions that show how Paramount doesn’t actually value non-American consumers nor the marketplace outside of the United States. The board may see the international launch of Paramount+ not as an exciting opportunity to bring in profit, but as a tiresome chore that must be completed in order to shore up their share of the domestic American market. In order to make Paramount+ look like a good investment, a safe long-term subscription, and a genuine competitor to the likes of Disney+ and Netflix (which, incidentally, it is not), they took the decision to roll out Paramount+ internationally. They did so not because they care one iota about viewership outside of the United States, nor even really to turn a huge profit, but simply to make Paramount+ look better to investors.

The advertising slogan for Paramount+ in the United States.

We’ve talked at length here on the website about the absolutely disgusting corporate attitude present at Paramount, an attitude that says “America First!” with Trumpian gusto. The Paramount board clearly and demonstrably does not care about non-American fans, viewers, or the marketplace in the wider world, and the state of Paramount+ when it lands in the UK this week is yet another testament to that. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which has broadcast seven episodes at time of writing, will arrive in the UK not with all seven episodes available, but with just three. The recently remastered 4K version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture – which was literally created exclusively for Paramount+ and has never been available or broadcast here in the UK – will likewise be unavailable when the streaming service arrives. The Halo series that I recently reviewed has already concluded its first season – but again, only three out of nine episodes will be available to UK subscribers this week.

Paramount has made a conscious choice to make its streaming service worse in the UK – with less content available – than it is in the United States. The corporation and its leadership continues to double-down on this selfish “America First” attitude, so in a way I shouldn’t be surprised that they can’t be bothered to launch even the most basic of advertising campaigns to promote Paramount+. That doesn’t make the situation any less disappointing, though… and this short-sightedness will have serious long-term consequences for the platform’s viability.

Donald Trump would be thrilled.

As things sit right now, I would wager that most folks in the UK are completely unaware of Paramount+. Some super-fans of franchises like Halo or Star Trek may have heard of it through the course of pursuing their fandom, but your average viewer knows nothing about an American-only streaming service. In order to simply raise awareness of the existence of Paramount+, some kind of advertising campaign was necessary. There needed to be television ads, cinema ads, radio ads, ads and promoted posts on social media, banners on websites, and perhaps some kind of “stunt” akin to SpongeBob at the Super Bowl to get people talking. Paramount has done none of that, and the result is now predictable: the service will land on the 22nd of June to absolutely dire subscriber numbers.

Obviously it costs money to advertise on television, in cinemas, online, and so on. But Paramount has had an ace in the hole that they could’ve taken advantage of: the advertisements and promotional material that they put together for the platform’s American launch. Those ads, as I noted when I took a look at them last year, were pretty good – and with a small amount of work they could’ve been repurposed for the UK market. Paramount would’ve still had to pay to air those ads, of course, but they wouldn’t have had the expense of creating them from scratch.

Anson Mount appeared as Captain Pike for the American ad campaign.

Here in the UK, Paramount has a significant media presence already. Their biggest property is free-to-air broadcaster Channel 5, but they own a number of other channels both on Freeview and cable/satellite such as 5Star, Nickelodeon, MTV, and the Horror Channel. At the very least you’d think there’d be a significant advertising presence on Paramount-owned channels in the days leading up to the launch of Paramount+. Doing so would be relatively inexpensive as Paramount wouldn’t have to pay itself to advertise on its own channels! But again, at least as far as I’ve seen, there’s been nothing – or next to nothing – to promote Paramount+ on any of these channels.

Paramount has recently announced plans to market Paramount+ “throughout the summer,” including setting up some in-person events in London, and that’s a positive noise from the corporation. But the time to get people excited for a new streaming platform is really in the days and weeks leading up to its launch – now is the time to have been pushing and seriously trying to sell people on Paramount+ as being the next “must-have” streaming service in their lives. Doing so slowly over the course of the summer isn’t bad… but it may be too late.

The official Paramount+ logo.

As a Star Trek fan (and a casual fan of other Paramount properties), I’m invested in the success of Paramount+. I want it to succeed and be profitable – including here in the UK – because that seems like the best way to guarantee the future of Star Trek and other franchises. I don’t want to see Paramount+ crash and burn – despite the insulting moves the corporation has made and its appalling attitude towards people like me – because that could very well mean the end of the Star Trek franchise. So I want to see a successful, profitable Paramount+ that brings in loads of subscribers. There are some great shows that either are or will be on Paramount+ that have genuine potential to blow up and become huge successes.

But the question is, does Paramount want that? Does the corporation see this international rollout as a glorious opportunity… or is it a torrid chore? Do they care about viewers outside of the United States… or is this merely an expensive exercise in branding? Does Paramount have a genuine ambition to compete against the likes of Netflix, Disney+, and UK television broadcasters… or has the board already resigned itself to lacklustre subscriber numbers for at least the rest of this year?

I wish I knew the answers, and I wish I understood why there’s been so little fanfare for Paramount+ with the service now only a couple of days away from its launch. But one thing is certain: Paramount has done everything in its power to make this launch as difficult and low-key as possible.

Paramount+ will be available in the UK from the 22nd of June 2022 as either a standalone subscription or as part of a Sky TV package. All franchises and properties discussed above – including Paramount+ – are the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Why “announce” Fallout 5?

Xbox recently hosted its Games Showcase event – an addendum to Summer Games Fest, which has effectively replaced this year’s E3 industry event. The Showcase was generally pretty decent, with a focus being on games that will be released over the next twelve months. Some big games like Valheim and Redfall took centre stage, and there was news or updates about the likes of Grounded, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even Fall Guys – the latter of which is belatedly launching on Xbox (and Nintendo Switch) in just a few days’ time.

Having recently been gobbled up by Microsoft’s expanding gaming division, Bethesda had a lot to say about Starfield. Though the game has recently been delayed until the first half of 2023, the Xbox Games Showcase event provided a massive update on the game and showed players a first look at gameplay. That’s what we should be talking about; that should be the headline for Bethesda coming out of their big summer presentation. But it isn’t, at least not in a lot of publications.

Bethesda chief Todd Howard chose to drop the “announcement” – if we can even call it that – that Fallout 5 will be the studio’s next-but-one big project, and that news has grabbed headlines and stolen attention away from Starfield right at the moment when you’d think its marketing campaign should be beginning in earnest. I just don’t really understand why it was necessary to make this so-called “announcement” and confirm what most players and fans had already been assuming.

Firstly, if Starfield brings in rave reviews, massive player numbers, and goes on to be the success that Bethesda and Microsoft must be hoping for, then surely a sequel should enter the conversation. By stating now, before Starfield has even launched, that Fallout 5 will follow The Elder Scrolls VI as Bethesda’s next-but-one project, that seems to push any kind of Starfield sequel even further away. If decisions need to be made in future to change that around for whatever reason, some people are going to be left upset. There’s literally no upside to talking about Fallout 5 at this juncture.

The same could have been said, arguably, about The Elder Scrolls VI when that was similarly “announced” at E3 in 2018. With the game so far off, talking about it so soon seemed premature at best. In that case, though, there was a case to be made that the constant stream of re-releases for Skyrim, the fact that there had never been such a long gap in between Elder Scrolls games, the releases of not one but two Fallout titles, and Starfield being in active development all combined to make it worthwhile to make a commitment to Elder Scrolls fans that their series hadn’t been forgotten.

With Fallout, there just isn’t any need. Fallout 4 was released in November 2015, and that was followed up by the (disastrous and unplayable) Fallout 76 just three years later. Fallout 76 continues to receive attention and updates, some of which have been pretty substantial, so there isn’t that same feeling of abandonment that some Elder Scrolls fans had been feeling in the wake of a lack of follow-up to Skyrim. Though I’d still suggest that announcing The Elder Scrolls VI in 2018 was premature, at least there was a kind of logic to it – a logic that this “announcement” of Fallout 5 lacks.

The Elder Scrolls VI was also announced with a slick teaser – obviously no gameplay, but at least a look at a pretty landscape and a logo. Fallout 5 got no such fanfare, with the news of its planned existence seemingly being an off-the-cuff remark dropped haphazardly in an interview with IGN. Perhaps someone at Microsoft or Bethesda needs to help Todd Howard with his interviews so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again!

Starfield has been Bethesda’s biggest and longest project to date, having been worked on for at least a decade. Production officially began following the release of Fallout 4 in 2015 and ramped up in the wake of Fallout 76′s launch in 2018, so this has been a massive undertaking. The Elder Scrolls VI will be comparable in scale, and if it follows a similar timeline to Starfield it may not be ready until 2027 or 2028. If Fallout 5 likewise takes five-plus years in active development, we’re potentially talking about a release window sometime in the early/mid-2030s. So why on earth should we be talking about this game now?!

One of the reasons why video game corporations like sequels is that there’s a built-in fanbase. Fans of Fallout 3 turned up for Fallout 4; fans of Oblivion turned up for Skyrim… and so on. Starfield represents much more of a risk compared with the likes of a new Elder Scrolls or Fallout title, and as a result it needs to be handled carefully, marketed cleverly, and not overshadowed by the bigger and more illustrious franchises that its parent company owns.

The mere act of mentioning Fallout 5 – which had not been discussed by anyone senior at Bethesda or Microsoft prior to this – has completely stolen Starfield’s thunder coming out of the Xbox Games Showcase, and that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. Bethesda’s mistakes and stumbles – some of which go back several years – have already meant that there’s a bit of a caveat in the minds of some players when they think about Starfield, so the game needs every boost it can possibly get. Being overshadowed by a new title, especially one that’s probably ten years away from being released, doesn’t help and has actually hurt Starfield at the moment players should be beginning to pay attention and, from Bethesda’s point of view at least, get excited for its launch next year.

Maybe this was just a mistake; a throwaway remark that Todd Howard didn’t really intend to make. If so, I guess it’s fair to say that we all make mistakes, these things happen, and to try to move on from it and refocus on Starfield. But it won’t be easy to do. There are already a ton of articles about Fallout 5 being “announced,” and that will lead to questions from fans and the gaming press drawing attention away from Starfield at what was supposed to be its first moment in the spotlight.

We could have spent today talking about the gameplay that was shown off, how things like jumping and jetpacking look like fun, and how incredibly excited I am to design and build my own spaceship! But instead we’re talking about a marketing screw-up and a game that, to be blunt, I’m not sure I’m going to live long enough to see! It was a mistake to even mention Fallout 5 this early, and if Starfield exceeds expectations and becomes Bethesda and Microsoft’s “next big thing,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a sequel planned sooner than expected. That could push back work on Fallout 5, upsetting fans. There was literally no upside to this at all, and the resultant reaction to Todd Howard’s statement has drawn attention away from Starfield at the precise moment when fans should have been excitedly talking about its gameplay reveal, new features, and the scale of the galaxy that Bethesda has created. What a mess!

Starfield will be released in the first half of 2023 for Xbox Series S/X and PC and will also be available via Xbox Game Pass. Fallout 5 has no release date scheduled. Starfield, the Fallout franchise, the Elder Scrolls franchise, and other titles and properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft and Bethesda Softworks. Some promotional images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Diablo Immortal is a monument to everything wrong with modern gaming

Because the controversy surrounding Diablo Immortal’s notorious announcement was so long ago – four years ago, in fact – I guess I’d just assumed that the crappy mobile game had already been released sometime in the last few years. I was surprised when I began seeing ads for the game all over my social media pages, and even more surprised to learn that Activision Blizzard has only just finished pushing this absolute turd of a game out of its corporate anus.

Diablo Immortal could stand as a monument to everything that’s wrong about modern gaming and the state of the video games industry. It seems to be desperately chasing every cash-grabbing trend going, degrading a brand that has been part of the gaming landscape for more than a quarter of a century. It’s a contemptible title, one whose inevitable failure I will genuinely be celebrating.

What a piece of shit.

You may have heard this figure floating around during conversations about Diablo Immortal: $110,000. For those of us in the UK, that equates to over £90,000, and according to analysis done by Bellular News it’s the total cost of fully upgrading a player’s in-game character. This figure is based on the fact that many of the game’s upgrades aren’t able to be unlocked by gameplay and are only available via lootboxes.

There are some games out there that take the piss when it comes to how much they cost. Strategy games from developer Paradox Interactive are notorious for their expansions, DLC, and add-ons, the combined cost of which can push some of their biggest titles to well in excess of £300. Look at the likes of Europa Universalis IV or Cities Skylines as examples of what I’m talking about.

Promo screenshot of Diablo Immortal.

And then there are multiplayer titles that try to coax players who the games industry dehumanisingly and offensively refers to as “whales” into spending massive amounts of money on one-time-use items like ammo, power-ups, and other such fluff. Often the excuse is that players have the option to pay to “skip the grind,” as if the grind hadn’t been deliberately and intentionally built into the game in the first place in order to force as many players as possible into paying more and more money just to be able to play.

Diablo Immortal has taken on all of these money-grubbing trends, seeming to see it as a challenge to get away with as much egregious bullshit as possible. The result is that the game is completely drowning in monetisation to the point that simply playing and enjoying it on its own merit is impossible – something that, sadly, too many publications and self-proclaimed “journalists” and “reviewers” have refused to discuss in any depth. Many purported “reviews” of video games nowadays end up being little more than puff pieces; marketing material that may not have been bought and paid for, but that’s worth about as much as if it had been. The threat of revocation of access and a loss of freebies serves as an incentive for some publications to set their ethics aside – as some of the reviews for Diablo Immortal demonstrate. But I guess that’s something we need to talk about in more depth on another occasion.

There’s disagreement between professional reviewers and players about Diablo Immortal.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, corporations suddenly realised the potential that mobile gaming had as a platform. With the explosion in popularity of smartphones came a massive growth in gaming – though many players didn’t necessarily realise that they had been converted to become “gamers” for the first time! But it’s off the back of this particular trend that Diablo Immortal was belatedly conceived; the idea being to take an established brand with good name recognition and a solid reputation and shart it into a typical, done-before mobile game mould.

That’s what Diablo Immortal is. It isn’t a Diablo game like the previous entries in the series. It’s a mobile game with a Diablo veneer; a festering, rotting puddle of raw sewage that Activision Blizzard has attempted to cover up with Diablo branding. But everyone could smell the stink coming. From as far back as its announcement in 2018, the fact that Diablo Immortal was going to be nothing more than a trend-chasing cash grab was readily apparent to everyone from fans to industry watchers. The extent of Activision Blizzard’s piss-taking, and the absolute lack of shame that the corporation seems to have about it, may have caught some folks off-guard, but make no mistake: this was the inevitable, predictable outcome.

For the low price of just $110,000 you can fully upgrade this character!

Some folks have taken to calling the game Diablo Immoral, dropping the T, and honestly I wish I’d thought of that first because it’s so clever! It perfectly embodies the disgusting corporate approach to every aspect of this game, and the state it’s in as a result. Not only that, but it captures the sense that many Diablo fans have that this cash-grab is a corruption of the franchise they love.

The danger here is that Activision Blizzard’s plan will backfire. Rather than the Diablo branding for this shitty mobile title bringing in boatloads of cash, the appalling, predatory nature of its in-game lootboxes and microtransactions may actually end up harming the franchise and its reputation. With Diablo IV in the works, that could be disastrous.

How badly will Diablo Immortal hurt Diablo IV?

The acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft – which is still in the works and hasn’t been completed at time of writing – may mean that there’s less of a financial risk, but reputational damage on this scale can take time to recover from and can be a weight around the neck of brands and franchises for years. Look at Bethesda or BioWare as examples – recent titles that have been extremely underwhelming have led at least some fans and reviewers (myself included) to begin placing a caveat on any potential hype for new titles. So it will be with Diablo IV – sure, the game could be good, but do you remember how shitty Diablo Immortal was and how scummy its in-game marketplace was? That could well be the narrative going into the next major game in the series.

Perhaps Diablo Immortal was too far along in its development to have been extensively reworked or cancelled, but honestly, it may have been to Microsoft and Activision Blizzard’s benefit to at least put the project on pause. After being hit by a major scandal recently, the last thing Activision Blizzard needs as this Microsoft acquisition goes through is more bad press. Yet here we are.

Activision Blizzard is facing a major sexual harassment lawsuit.

So that’s Diablo Immortal, I guess. A typical mobile cash-grab with the Diablo logo haphazardly affixed to it. Don’t be fooled by the branding or the expensive marketing campaign that’s seen ads for the game pop up all over social media: Diablo Immortal is a piece of shit. It’s garbage that doesn’t deserve to be associated with a franchise that has delivered a lot of enjoyment to folks through the past twenty-five years.

Do yourself a favour and wait for Diablo IV. I really wish this had been an out-of-season April Fools’ joke.

Diablo Immortal is, regrettably, out now for PC, iOS, and Android. Diablo Immortal is the copyright and unending shame of Activision Blizzard. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Halo (TV series): Season 1 review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Halo and several of the Halo video games.

Despite Paramount’s best efforts to keep the first live-action Halo series away from viewers in 95% of the world, I was recently able to binge-watch it. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going in; I knew of only a couple of the performers from their past work, and although there was supposedly a significant budget attached to the series, I can’t recall a single time that a video game has been successfully adapted in this way. And no, the “so-bad-it’s-good” Super Mario Bros. doesn’t count!

Video game adaptations have been notoriously difficult to get right, but I think Halo offers a glimpse at what’s possible. By telling a story spread across nine episodes instead of condensing it to a two-hour film, there was more depth and more time able to be spent bringing the world and the lore of the long-running series into a new format. In that sense, I think we could hold up Halo as an example of why video game adaptations may work better on the small screen – and especially in the current media environment as streaming projects – than as feature films.

The Master Chief with fellow Spartan Kai.

I’m not particularly well-versed in the depths of Halo lore. I played the first game on the original Xbox when it was new, and I’ve played most of the mainline games now thanks to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. But I haven’t played spin-offs like the Halo Wars strategy games, nor read any of the books or comics that have been produced. So as I sat down to watch Halo, I wasn’t particularly worried about things like “canon” or consistency with what’s come before – and that was probably for the best!

Halo seems to exist in its own space; a standalone project, a reinterpretation of the stories shown in the games but without the pretence of being a prequel or direct adaptation. Many of the same elements exist in the world of Halo as did in the show’s source material – the Master Chief, Dr Halsey, the UNSC, the Covenant, and so on – but they’re being reinterpreted and used in different ways.

Dr Halsey.

In order to turn the Master Chief from a faceless everyman into a relatable protagonist, that had to happen. The Master Chief in the Halo video games basically exists as an excuse to blast aliens; a television series like this needs to have a fully-rounded character with his own thoughts, motivations, and feelings to guide the plot and to get us as the audience invested in his story. This was accomplished thanks to the help of the “Keystone” – a magical macguffin that began to give the Master Chief access to memories and feelings that he hadn’t had before.

The nature of the Keystone wasn’t readily apparent, and I liked the sense of mystery that brought to the table. Only the Master Chief and his Covenant-raised counterpart Makee were able to interact with the object, and that limitation gave legs to the story. While the Master Chief wanted to learn more about his family and the life he never knew, those around him all wanted – in slightly different ways and with varying degrees of maliciousness – to use him and his connection to it for their own purposes.

The Keystone was at the centre of the season’s storylines.

This was one aspect of Halo that I felt worked well – at least, most of the time. Aside from the Master Chief and, to an extent, his fellow Spartan Kai, everyone else that we met had their own agenda, their own biases, their own prejudices, and their own moral ambiguity. On the “good” side of the conflict we have the UNSC and its leadership – but in order to get ahead, practically all of them became morally compromised along the way. There’s a message there about how the military, politics, and power work that wasn’t lost… but wasn’t exactly subtle, either.

Through the eyes of Miranda Keyes we also got to see the way the UNSC’s power structure and chain-of-command operate. Despite being intelligent and well-qualified, she found herself cut off from information that she could have used to better perform her duties; cut out of the loop not only of the conspiracy involving her parents and the Spartan programme, but also without the necessary clearances and access to information that would have made part of her job – translating the Covenant’s language – much easier.

Miranda Keyes’ story showed us the realities of working with the UNSC.

I expect that some of the show’s mysterious elements – particularly the somewhat-disconnected events of the rebellion and mysterious portal on the planet of Madrigal – may have been quite different from what some fans of the Halo games were expecting from the series. Although Halo started with a bang thanks to a truly excellent battle sequence between the Spartans and a group of Covenant elites, there were definitely moments across the show’s nine-episode run where fast-paced action and combat took a back seat to these unfolding storylines.

As I found myself getting invested in the Master Chief’s story and wanting to learn more about where he came from and what happened, I actually enjoyed this aspect of Halo… but I can understand that it may not have been what everyone expected or wanted from an adaptation like this. What I’d say in defence of Halo is that it’s worth keeping in mind that the games were designed to be interactive and to be played through; the series is designed to be watched. A game needs more combat and action to keep players invested – if the series had been nine episodes of gunfighting and running around it might’ve been truer to its source material but it would almost certainly have been far harder to watch!

Learning about the Master Chief’s family and personal history was a big part of Season 1.

Halo did some interesting things with its battle sequences in terms of cinematography. The first-person perspective that was surprisingly close to how things look in the Halo games is something rarely seen on screen in this way, and it was done much better than it had been in projects such as 2005’s Doom adaptation. Halo integrated things like the Spartans’ heads-up display into its storytelling at key moments, with things like the low shield alarm signalling that a character was in danger. It generally worked well, and as a callback to the games it was something that I appreciated.

Dipping in and out of this first-person perspective was smooth enough for the most part, but there were definitely a handful of moments across the season where combat sequences felt a little jumpy and too quick; I ended up missing things and debating whether or not I should rewind parts of several episodes as a result. I fully agree that it wouldn’t have been desirable to show every battle and combat sequence entirely in first-person, though, and the series balanced this pretty well. The first-person camera could’ve ended up feeling like a complete gimmick; it’s to Halo’s credit that that isn’t the case.

An example of the first-person camera.

I suppose one of the big questions fans will be left wrangling with is whether this approach – the slowly-building character-oriented mystery with action elements – was the right one for Halo. For me, as someone who’s enjoyed this kind of story across multiple genres and in different ways, I found it enjoyable enough. But as I said at the beginning, I’m not any kind of Halo super-fan, and I could certainly entertain the argument that there wasn’t a need to completely rework the story and parts of the lore of the franchise.

It would have been possible, even with the caveat that video games are designed to be played and a television show is designed to be watched, to adapt the story of one or more of the games. A blend of the stories of Halo: Reach leading into the events of Halo: Combat Evolved has potential as an exciting story, but one with scope for at least some of the elements of mystery and characterisation that the series ultimately included. I’m not exactly upset about “what might have been,” but at the same time, I can’t help wondering. The first game in particular, the one that established the Halo universe, the Master Chief, and many other elements that Halo used in its first season, could have been brought to screen with a few tweaks rather than telling a completely new story.

A Covenant Elite.

I was only familiar with a couple of the actors before I sat down to watch Halo – I’d seen Natascha McElhone in Designated Survivor and Burn Gorman in Turn: Washington’s Spies and The Man In The High Castle. Both were fine performers who excelled in their roles in Halo, and it was neat to see them again. Burn Gorman in particular has a menacing style that made him perfect for the role of the villainous Vincher, and his scenes were delicious to watch.

Other standout performances from the cast that I’d highlight include Yerin Ha, who took on the role of young Kwan, and Kate Kennedy, who excelled as Master Chief’s Spartan ally Kai. There was a vulnerability in the way Kennedy portrayed the otherwise-invincible Spartan warrior, and the way Kai began to follow in the footsteps of the Master Chief was an interesting – and occasionally cute – sub-plot that I hope is expanded upon in Season 2.

I enjoyed Kai’s sub-plot.

Both Captain Keyes, played by Danny Sapani, and his daughter Miranda, played by Olive Gray, were fun characters. Sapani brought the right weight or gravitas to the role of the Master Chief’s commanding officer, but as the story unfolded I didn’t really get the sense that Keyes and Master Chief knew each other all that well. There were moments of exposition… but I think seeing some of their past, even if only via a flashback, would’ve done better at building up this relationship.

Of course, all attention was on Pablo Schreiber, who took on the challenging role of this adaptation of the Master Chief. There will always be some long-time fans who have a hard time adapting to a recasting or reinterpretation of a classic character, so right off the bat I have to commend Schreiber for being willing to take on the role! Master Chief has existed for more than twenty years at this point, and this was our first real exploration of his characterisation – and our first time seeing him with his helmet off!

Pablo Schreiber with the iconic Master Chief helmet.

The mysterious elements of Master Chief’s past worked well, and seeing him gradually explore his memories and come to terms with some new feelings and emotions was interesting – but more could have been made of some of those things. Because the Master Chief quite quickly left Kwan with his ex-Spartan friend for protection, one avenue to exploring those new feelings was pretty abruptly brought to an end, and while there were interesting aspects to his relationship with Makee, there were definitely aspects of this storyline left on the table as the curtain fell on the season.

As an acting performance, though, Pablo Schreiber did the best he could with the material that he had, and I found him to be a fun and convincing protagonist for the most part. The Master Chief’s arc across Season 1 has set the stage for a story that could branch off in several different directions as both humanity and the Covenant chase these artefacts and the titular Halo ring-world… so there’s scope, when the series returns, to see more.

The Master Chief as Season 1 drew to a close.

Halo felt like a thoroughly modern serialised made-for-streaming television show. In the wake of projects like Lost and Game of Thrones, studios and entertainment corporations have been looking at their properties for anything that could be adapted into a similar, multi-season epic, and Halo feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as the returning Star Trek franchise, some of the Marvel and Star Wars projects, and shows like The Witcher over on Netflix. In that sense, there’s not a whole lot of originality in the core concept; it’s a familiar framework that has been moulded to fit this particular franchise.

By choosing to riff on the Halo concept rather than remake or directly adapt any of the stories from the games, the sense of anticipation and mystery that was clearly intended to be a big part of the series absolutely stuck the landing, and I’m still curious to learn more about the magical macguffin that was at the heart of the story. However, some storytelling decisions split up key characters perhaps too early in the story, leaving the Master Chief and UNSC characters entirely disconnected from events on Madrigal after Kwan returned there. Of course it’s possible for future seasons to reunite these story threads and connect them – it feels like it’s possible that the same mysterious faction responsible for the Keystones may have created Madrigal’s portal, for example – but as things sit right now, we definitely have a series in two halves.

The main cast of Halo Season 1.

All that being said, Halo got off to a good start and I’m curious to see what will come next. Rumours of a shake-up over at 343 Industries/Paramount may mean that a new showrunner and producers are being brought in for Season 2, which will begin filming imminently at time of writing, so we may see a shift in the way the series is written and structured to take on board feedback from fans and critics from this first outing.

I give credit to Halo for ambitiously trying to bring a long-running franchise into a completely different environment. Adapting video games has never been easy and has rarely been successful, so make no mistake: this was a risk. For my money, it’s a risk that largely paid off, and what resulted was a decent season of television that has set the stage for more adventures in this surprisingly deep fictional universe. Were there elements both narrative and technical that were imperfect? Sure, but that doesn’t ruin what was a decently engaging drama. The mysteries kept me engaged, the performances from both leading and secondary actors were great, and moments of action, while perhaps spread a little thin, made sure that Halo didn’t forget its roots.

Halo Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in regions where the service is available. The Halo franchise – including the Halo television series – is the copyright of 343 Industries and Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten changes I’d like Star Trek to make on the production side

Here on the website I often talk about potential Star Trek projects, storytelling and narrative choices, and some of the things that I’d like the franchise to do in upcoming series and films. This time I thought it could be interesting to do things a little differently – today we’re going to look at some technical and production-side changes that I think would benefit Star Trek going forward.

The renewed Star Trek franchise hasn’t been shy when it comes to trying new and different things since its return to the small screen in 2017, and while there are some ongoing issues – particularly relating to the way parent company Paramount is handling things – there are still a number of successes that deserve to be commended. This piece isn’t meant to detract from the accomplishments that Star Trek has made in recent years.

There’s a lot to celebrate in modern Star Trek!

But there’s always room for improvement and new ideas! Sometimes that might mean pushing the boat out further and trying genuinely different things – a lesson that another sci-fi franchise could learn from Star Trek, in my opinion! Other times, returning to something that has previously been demonstrated to work well or be popular could be the way to go. There are different ways to approach such a big subject – and naturally, everyone is going to have different perspectives based on their own ideas and preferences.

I’m not an entertainment industry professional. The closest I came to that was working in the video games industry some years ago, and even then I was working in marketing rather than in a creative or technical capacity. So I’m categorically not an expert at how television shows are created and brought to screen! But I know what works for me, what I personally think looks and feels good, and I have some ideas for what I’d like to see from Star Trek in future. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

I’m no Alex Kurtzman!
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information,” nor am I in a position to set policy at Paramount! So it’s quite likely that much of what we talk about today will never make it to screen. This is a wishlist from a long-time fan, and nothing more. It’s also entirely subjective – so if you hate all of my ideas or I don’t include things that seem like common sense to you, that’s okay! We all have different perspectives and points of view; these are mine, and I share them in the spirit of civil and polite discussion about the future of Star Trek.

With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at ten technical and/or production-side changes that I’d like to see the Star Trek franchise make.

Number 1:
4K and HDR.

4K UHD logo.

If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, “4K” is a screen resolution also known as “ultra-HD.” Whereas a standard HD video image might be 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels high, 4K video footage is typically 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high. The increased number of pixels means that image clarity is massively improved, and more detail can be shown with each frame.

“HDR” is an acronym that stands for “high dynamic range,” and in basic terms it makes bright colours brighter and darker colours darker, making for a more true-to-life image on screen. When viewed on an HDR-compatible television or screen, HDR footage looks significantly more real than non-HDR video.

Exaggerated visualisation of the difference between HDR (left) and SDR (right).
Image Credit: LG Electronics.

Both 4K and HDR are increasingly common in home entertainment, and streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ are offering an increasing amount of their new content in 4K with HDR support. So far, no new Star Trek shows have been created in 4K HDR, despite the technology being available, and Paramount+ doesn’t support it right now. This has got to change – and soon – in order for Paramount+ to offer a comparable service to its competitors, and the Star Trek franchise is a great place to start.

There have been a limited number of 4K re-releases, such as the Director’s Edition of The Motion Picture, but realistically it’s now time for Star Trek to transition to producing its newest content in 4K HDR.

Number 2:
Go big for the sixtieth anniversary.

The 60th anniversary is approaching…

At time of writing it’s just over four years to go before the Star Trek franchise will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary. At the time of the fiftieth in 2016, Discovery hadn’t yet premiered and while there was a whole lot of celebrating, it wasn’t possible to do a lot on screen. Star Trek Beyond was the only project to release that year.

But the sixtieth should be different! There are currently five Star Trek projects in production, with at least two others supposedly being worked on behind the scenes. By the time we get to 2026 the franchise should still be going strong, and that raises the possibility of some truly spectacular events to mark the milestone.

Let’s make it a party to remember!

The 30th anniversary of Star Trek in 1996 saw projects like Trials and Tribble-ations and Flashback from Deep Space Nine and Voyager respectively that paid homage to the franchise’s history. Bringing back classic characters, telling fun fan-servicey stories, and more could all be part of a big sixtieth anniversary celebration – but I’d like to see some kind of major crossover event!

Imagine how much fun it could be if a crossover special were created that featured characters from every iteration of Star Trek. Star Trek’s version of The Avengers, where characters from every show and film found themselves – somehow – in the same timeline and era, needing to battle some nefarious villain. It might be terrible, it might be criticised for being too heavy on the fan-service, but as a one-off project there’s nothing I’d like to see more!

Number 3:
Make better use of indoor sound stages and the AR wall.

The AR wall during filming for Discovery Season 4.

To be fair, I think the investment that Paramount has made in the AR wall is already beginning to see some results (though I can’t be the only one playing a game of “spot the AR wall,” can I?) But since Star Trek returned to the small screen, it hasn’t been smooth sailing in terms of getting diversity in filming locations.

I felt this most acutely during Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard, and if you’ve been a regular reader since 2020 you may recall that I commented on it in my reviews as the season wore on. In short, every planet that Picard and the crew visited was a barely-disguised southern California, and in a ten-episode season that took them to a new locale almost every week, that became painfully obvious to the point that it detracted from the story in places.

The faraway planet of… southern California.

This has also been something I’ve started to notice with Discovery, too. Certain filming locations (like a disused quarry) crop up multiple times, supposedly representing entirely different planets, and there’s just no need for it. Some of the outdoor shoots that I’ve felt were problematic barely lasted five minutes, so for the sake of a short sequence or a handful of scenes, making use of an indoor sound stage is preferable.

Partly this is because we’ve been spoilt by the likes of Game of Thrones with its multi-national filming locations all across Europe! But partly, it must be said, it’s because Star Trek’s producers have lacked either the budget or the creativity to do something different. The AR wall will be a big help going forward, I have no doubt, but getting diversity in the franchise’s filming locations is a big request of mine. Once you start to notice these things, you can’t un-see them!

Number 4:
Make better use of social media.

Some of the most popular social media platforms.

Star Trek’s social media has been atrocious over the past couple of years, and in 2022 there’s no excuse for that. Social media can be a massive asset to any franchise, particularly in the run-up to big releases. But the way Star Trek has handled it has been poor.

Star Trek’s official social media channels – and the rest of Paramount’s, too – need to coordinate better. If a trailer is broadcast for a new or upcoming project, it needs to be available on every platform within minutes. Official Star Trek and Paramount+ YouTube channels don’t do this for some incredibly stupid reason, and it can be hard to find a good-quality copy of the latest trailers sometimes – something that I notice because of trying to get screenshots and still frames to use here on the website.

A regular sight for non-American fans.

Moreover, Star Trek needs to be more conversational and interactive. Social media isn’t just a billboard; an empty advertising space to display posters and teasers and talk about what’s coming up. It’s a place to interact with fans. That means that when fans have questions, someone needs to be there to provide answers. If fans make art or jokes or memes, someone needs to react and respond to those.

In 2022, social media can literally make or break a television series. Projects as diverse as Game of Thrones and Squid Game blew up thanks to social media, and Paramount has continually failed to recognise what an asset social media could be if they used it right. This is one example, in my opinion, of how Paramount’s leadership remains stuck in the past. 20th Century thinking won’t cut it anymore, and wasting money on things like billboards in Times Square or posters on the London Underground won’t bring in viewers. Social media is where it’s at – so a complete overhaul of the way it’s handled is a must.

Number 5:
Ditch the cinematic “letterbox.”

The “letterbox” in Short Treks.

I admit that this one is very much a matter of personal taste, but I find that the “cinematic” format used for modern Star Trek episodes is just a bit… gimmicky. Most television shows use a 16:9 or maybe a 16:10 aspect ratio; modern live-action Star Trek episodes have insisted on using a 2.4:1 aspect ratio that’s more commonly seen in films.

If you’re watching a film at the cinema, that’s basically become the industry standard. But most televisions – and even many fancy home theatre setups – still use 16:9 or 16:10 screens, meaning that Star Trek episodes have awkward and ugly black bars above and below the picture. I just feel that this is an unnecessary gimmick, and that I’d prefer to see episodes in a standard widescreen format.

The “letterbox” in Strange New Worlds.

To be fair, this isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to the Star Trek franchise, as it’s been seen in shows like The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi over in the Star Wars franchise as well, and seems to be increasingly in vogue for modern television series. But to me it still feels like a gimmick at best, and something that may end up making TV shows of this era feel dated in years to come.

Any time I watch a video with ugly black bars around it, it makes me feel like I’m not seeing the full picture; as if something has been cut off. This applies when watching older shows in 4:3 as well. So if everyone could stick to a standard widescreen format that would be great!

Number 6:
A return to more episodic storytelling.

Discovery set the stage for serialised storytelling in modern Star Trek.

To be fair, this has already happened with the likes of Lower Decks and, of course, Strange New Worlds. But it would be great to see more of a focus on episodic, “monster-of-the-week” storytelling from Star Trek going forward. That was where the franchise began, and there are many benefits to this approach.

In the wake of projects like Lost and Game of Thrones we saw a lot of television shows try to take a more serialised approach – with varying results. Some series and franchises can pull it off more successfully than others, but the fundamental weakness in this approach – as Lost, Game of Thrones, and some recent seasons of Star Trek have shown – is that you have to absolutely nail the full story, and particularly have a well-written, thoroughly planned ending.

There’s a reason why no one talks about Game of Thrones anymore.

In short, the weakness in serialised storytelling is that one or two bad episodes, particularly if they come at the end, can sour an entire season or even an entire series. Look at how the two-part finale of Picard Season 1 put a downer on the whole season, or for a more extreme example how Game of Thrones’ eighth season effectively killed off the entire series.

Episodic storytelling is less risky in that regard! One bad episode doesn’t ruin an entire story, and that’s a big point in its favour. But moreover, the Star Trek galaxy is well-suited to these kinds of one-and-done stories. It allows for a lot more freedom and creativity, and would allow us as the audience to take a look and many more aliens, many more planets, and to get a much broader perspective. There’s a place for serialised storytelling within Star Trek – but not in every project.

Number 7:
Properly address international distribution issues.

There’s a world beyond America’s borders…

One of the main weights around the neck of the Star Trek franchise right now is the appalling international distribution situation. It really feels like Paramount doesn’t care in the slightest about any non-American fans – and in the globalised, connected marketplace we’re in in 2022, that’s not acceptable.

Star Trek is one of the big selling points for Paramount+… but if the streaming platform isn’t available and there are no concrete plans to make it available in the short-term, Paramount needs to do something else to ensure non-American fans can watch the latest episodes of Star Trek. As I’ve already pointed out, Paramount Global owns or co-owns a massive number of television channels all across the world, and they have the ability to do deals with the likes of Netflix, Google, Amazon, and others.

Paramount’s approach feels very Trumpian.

The lack of international distribution for Lower Decks Season 1, Prodigy, Strange New Worlds, and most egregiously Discovery Season 4 was entirely Paramount’s fault. They chose to broadcast these shows in the United States without getting international broadcasts set up, and they could have either worked harder to get that set up or delayed those shows if they couldn’t.

There are many Trekkies outside of the United States who feel hurt by this – and as I continue to point out, this harms the reputations of Paramount and Star Trek all across the world. Paramount needs to do more – and quickly – to address this situation and ensure that fans all over the world can watch and share in every new episode of Star Trek. If they won’t do that, the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ will be in serious jeopardy. It’s that simple.

Number 8:
More official merchandise.

Playmates is one of the brands that Star Trek has worked with in the past.

As I said last year when Prodigy premiered, it was incredibly poor from Paramount to broadcast a television show aimed at kids while offering no kid-friendly tie-in products like toys, playsets, and dress-up costumes. Merchandise is a money-maker in itself, of course, but it’s also a great way to signal that the Star Trek franchise is back and here to stay.

One of my earliest Star Trek memories isn’t an episode or film, but a product. My uncle showed my a toy phaser that he had when I was very young, and that memory has stuck with me. For kids, toys and games can push them to check out a television show or franchise for the first time, and just by seeing Star Trek-branded products on shelves, more people will be aware of the fact that new shows and films are being made.

A modern action figure of Q.

Star Wars has an excellent approach to merchandise – and that’s always been the case. In the 1990s Star Trek was a close competitor, and I have a number of figures in my collection from that era. Even relatively minor characters like Morn found themselves turned into action figures – and Star Trek needs to get back to doing that. There’s a place for expensive collectables too, but more than anything Star Trek needs the playsets and toys that it used to be so good at creating.

We’re seeing moves in the right direction here, with the likes of Mego and Playmates coming online and starting to produce more toys and products, but Paramount still needs to do more. At this rate, Prodigy’s entire first year will have come and gone without a single toy or tie-in product being created, and to me that just screams “amateurish.”

Number 9:
Restart the Short Treks series and create more one-off stories, mini-episodes, and TV movies.

There’s a lot of untapped potential in Short Treks.

There are many Star Trek concepts and ideas that don’t have a place in the wider franchise. Some pitches from well-known actors and writers may not make for a great film or series, but could be adapted to be a one-off, a mini-episode, or even a TV movie. With the investments that have been made in sets, the AR wall, and so on, it’s easier than ever to do this.

These one-shot projects would also be commercially useful for Paramount+, convincing subscribers to remain engaged with the platform in between seasons of Star Trek’s main shows. That was the original purpose behind Short Treks (even if it was never stated up-front!) and it makes a lot of sense.

One Short Treks episode told us more about Saru.

Short Treks as a format could be the gateway to some incredibly diverse and varied stories, potentially revisiting classic characters and episodes in a way that the franchise’s main shows wouldn’t be able to. And aside from the fan-service, one-shot episodes and TV movies could be excellent gateways into the Star Trek franchise for newbies or for viewers who’ve just begun to dip their toes into Star Trek.

By making use of existing sets and props as much as possible, at least some of these projects could be relatively inexpensive to create – another big point in their favour.

Number 10:
Use less CGI in favour of more practical effects and props.

A combination of practical and digital effects in Star Trek: Picard.

Some episodes of modern Star Trek are overladen with CGI, including in places where no CGI should really be necessary. CGI is great in some instances, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have to be used in every case for every shot!

Star Wars has found success by returning to physical props and puppets and making use of more practical effects, and those moves have won praise from many fans. Star Trek could absolutely go down the same road, creating more models, physical props, and prosthetics for alien races instead of relying entirely on CGI.

The USS Discovery at warp.

Some older episodes of Star Trek haven’t aged well because of some of their sets and props, but I think that can also apply to CGI. CGI-heavy projects from 10-15 years ago can look pretty amateurish by today’s standards, so we shouldn’t worry too much about how “dated” something may or may not look in the years ahead.

There are some wonderful sets, some amazing prosthetics, and some fantastic props that have been created for modern Star Trek. And as I pointed out above, relying too much on one set or one outdoor location can be detrimental, too! But for my money, Star Trek could absolutely make use of more physical props, puppets, and visual effects.

So that’s it!

The Star Trek Universe logo.

“If I ruled the world…” or in this case, if I were in charge of the Star Trek franchise, those are some of the changes I’d like to make. Some are more important than others, naturally, and none of this is to say that what Star Trek has been doing so far is bad. Just that there are changes that could be made to improve things. In my subjective opinion, of course!

I hope that this was a bit of fun, and you can find longer articles that go into more detail about some of the subjects discussed above right here on the website. If you’re new around here, I write about Star Trek a lot! So stay tuned for more Star Trek content to come.

The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series 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.

Can Star Wars survive on nostalgia alone?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2.

At time of writing we’re halfway through Obi-Wan Kenobi – the Disney+ miniseries following the Jedi Master’s adventures in between the prequel films and the original trilogy. This article was partly inspired by that project, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet. And I’m trying to avoid jumping the gun and being overly critical of Obi-Wan Kenobi until I’ve seen the remaining episodes.

So the question I want to wrangle with today is a complicated one, and we can look at it in different ways and from different angles. Can the Star Wars franchise survive if all it does is look backwards? Can it coast indefinitely on past successes? Are these deep dives into minor chapters of its sole original story all we can ever expect to see? Or maybe, one day soon, will Star Wars have to try something genuinely new and different?

Can Star Wars continue to rely on bringing back characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi?

For all the talk of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, Star Wars has really only ever told one single story since it premiered in 1977. Every project that we’ve seen since then padded out that story; the prequels provided background information about characters like Anakin and Obi-Wan, the sequels picked up the stories of Han, Luke, Leia, and of course Palpatine, spin-off projects like Rogue One fed directly into the events of the original films, and even The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett brought back the Force and Luke Skywalker.

The Star Wars galaxy has tens of thousands of years of history; the Republic existed for millennia prior to the rise of the Empire. And it has an uncertain future in the wake of Palpatine’s schemes. Yet every single Star Wars project brought to screen so far across more than forty-five years of the franchise’s existence has taken place within the same sixty-year span of galactic history centred around the rise and fall of the Empire.

Every Star Wars project to date has been set within the same sixty-year period.

In addition, of the tens of thousands of inhabited planets that exist in the vast Star Wars galaxy, the franchise continues to revisit the same ones over and over again. Tatooine, for instance, has been a major setting despite its purported status as an “unimportant backwater.” Most recent Star Wars projects have, to their credit, visited a new planet or two… but the same handful of old ones keep cropping up over and over again.

Star Wars feels like it has an incredibly rich and deep setting, one with millennia of history and a vast landscape of different worlds inhabited both by humans and some very interesting non-human aliens… but on both the big screen and in the new streaming shows, we’re continually shown the same few years and the same few locales over and over again. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and finding row upon row of dishes from all across the world, then constantly refilling your plate with chicken nuggets. I like chicken nuggets as much as the next person… but let’s try something different next time.

The Jedi Temple on Coruscant during the prequel era.

None of this is to say that I haven’t enjoyed at least some of what Star Wars has offered up over the last few years. I named Rogue One my favourite film of the 2010s, and with good reason – it really is an outstanding story. And despite the heavy nostalgia plays, I was surprised to find myself having a good time with The Book of Boba Fett earlier this year. So Star Wars can, at least for the moment, continue to find enjoyable ways to play in the tiny corner of the vast sandbox that it’s been restricted to. But can that continue for very much longer?

I suppose this gets at a more fundamental question: is Star Wars defined by the handful of characters that we’ve met so far? Are the likes of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker all that Star Wars can ever be? Or is there room for fans to find brand-new characters to fall in love with; characters who are different from the hero and villain archetypes that the franchise has introduced so far?

Is Star Wars bigger than Luke Skywalker? And do fans even want a Star Wars project without these familiar characters?

Many Star Wars fans seem happy to continue to explore the lives of characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Boba Fett, and Luke Skywalker, seeming to prefer that the franchise take a path not dissimilar to the old Expanded Universe. In the EU, that same handful of characters was thrown haphazardly into multiple stories set before, during, and after the events of the films – and with modern Star Wars retaining a focus on those classic characters in that same time period, it feels like we could be going down a familiar path.

However, there are other options available if someone higher up at Disney or Lucasfilm is feeling bold. Set aside characters like Leia and Han Solo and step away from the rise of Palpatine. Tell a story set in a completely different era, perhaps one that doesn’t focus on the Jedi and the Force. Visit completely different worlds, introduce a new alien or two, and tell a story that isn’t simply a riff on what the franchise has already done.

Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar.

The Star Wars galaxy could be a setting for all kinds of different projects. There’s no reason why we couldn’t see everything from an ER-inspired medical series to a hard-boiled film noir crime drama – all set in the Star Wars galaxy. Forget the story outlines that have been seen already and take the setting as a blank canvas. Instead of telling a repetitive tale about a young Jedi from a desert planet who fights a nasty but ultimately redeemable family member/villain, do something else. Literally anything else.

Would Star Wars fans want to see a show in this setting that steps away from the Jedi, the Force, and the Empire? Surely there has to be room for that in a setting as vast and untapped as the Star Wars galaxy. By diversifying the way it tells stories, Star Wars could build a solid foundation for the future.

Would anyone be interested in a medical drama set in the Star Wars galaxy, for instance?

It seems obvious that this nostalgia-heavy, backwards-looking Star Wars can’t last forever. Heck, it can’t last more than a few years at most, because sooner or later the franchise is going to exhaust all of the characters and settings that the original films and the prequel films had to offer. What will come next after The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Will it be Jar-Jar: A Star Wars Story? Even if Star Wars pulls out every single minor character and tries to expand their role into a fully-fledged Disney+ series, there’s a hard limit on how long that can last.

And there’s a real danger, too, that revisiting classic characters to give them additional stories could detract from powerful moments in the original Star Wars saga. The Book of Boba Fett may have gotten away with bringing its obviously-dead title character back to life, but one thing fans seem to universally agree on is that The Rise of Skywalker failed to successfully resurrect Palpatine, and that his ham-fisted inclusion in a story that was never meant to be his ended up being a weight around the neck of the sequel trilogy.

“Somehow Palpatine returned.”

This was my concern going into Obi-Wan Kenobi – and no, there aren’t going to be any major plot spoilers here, don’t worry. But in a general sense, I was worried that any story featuring Kenobi set in this time period would have to be incredibly careful not to overwrite or damage moments like his reunion with Darth Vader aboard the Death Star.

Even if it could avoid those pitfalls, there was still an open question about how ultimately necessary a series like Obi-Wan Kenobi would be. We’ve already seen the most interesting and most important parts of Kenobi’s story; what could this miniseries add to that that wouldn’t end up feeling incredibly tacked-on? How would it avoid the trap of sending Kenobi on a rip-roaring adventure that you’d think he might’ve mentioned?

Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s duel aboard the Death Star.

Several of Star Wars’ recent projects – including ones I personally enjoyed, like Rogue One – could have been reworked to be set at a different time, in a different location, and featuring different characters. The same fun stories could be present, but by stepping away from the familiar into something different and new, there’d be no danger of treading on the toes of any of the powerful and impactful moments from earlier Star Wars stories.

When I think about the idea of expanding Star Wars and telling new stories in its wonderful galaxy, my mind doesn’t immediately go to Luke Skywalker and a handful of other classic characters. We’ve seen their lives play out already, and adding new chapters partway through – or unnecessary epilogues – just doesn’t feel worthwhile. Moreover, what we’ve seen so far are the most interesting and most important chapters of their lives, dealing with the rise and fall of the Empire, the death and rebirth of the Jedi Order, the Galactic Civil War, and so on. At best, anything else feels tacked-on, and at worst it undermines parts of that original, powerful saga.

The twin suns of Tatooine.

Both for the sake of telling engaging and exciting stories and as a point of simple practicality, Star Wars can’t keep relying on the same few characters, the same few planets, and the same tiny sliver of its vast and expansive setting. Sooner or later the creative team will have exhausted the potential of every major and minor character from the originals, the prequels, the sequels, and spin-offs… and what then? The choice will be either to bring Star Wars to an end or to try something else.

There’s so much untapped potential in a setting as wide and deep as the Star Wars galaxy. There are tens of thousands of years of history to explore, an uncertain future to chart, and more planets, aliens, and factions to explore than we could reasonably list. We could see a story charting the very beginnings of the Republic and Jedi Order, or the franchise could step away from its familiar niche into completely different genres; mystery, crime, horror, adventure, even romance or comedy. All it would take is a degree of boldness on the part of the producers in charge – a willingness to try something experimental with the franchise they own.

So that’s my answer to the question posed above. Star Wars can’t keep doing this forever. Something’s going to have to change if the franchise is to survive long-term, and the sooner attempts are made to make the switch – to figure out what might work and what won’t – the smoother the transition will be. After forty-five years, it’s time for Star Wars to set aside the Skywalkers, Palpatines, and Kenobis.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films 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.

Paramount continues to show disdain for non-American fans

Here we go again. Paramount continues to double-down on the disdain its corporate leadership has for anyone who doesn’t happen to live in the United States. First came the news that the London edition of Destination Star Trek – one of the biggest conventions outside of the United States – was being cancelled with only a few weeks’ notice, and shortly after that we learned that when Paramount+ finally arrives here in the UK later this month, it won’t bring with it all of the episodes of Strange New Worlds that have been broadcast in the United States.

Let’s break these down and deal with them one at a time.

It’s been over a decade since I was last able to attend an in-person convention. Unfortunately my health pretty much rules out things like that these days! But London’s Destination Star Trek has been an event that a lot of folks have on their calendars. Hosted by a company called Massive Events, under license from Paramount, the convention is one of the few big official events to take place outside of the United States and (pandemic disruption aside) has been running for a number of years.

Destination Star Trek’s cancellation announcement.

Not only was the event cancelled on very short notice, but there was a mess for several days surrounding the issue of refunds. At first, Massive Events were unwilling to offer full refunds, instead only offering tickets to a hypothetical future event. Perhaps under advice from their legal team, that line has now changed. If anyone reading this has tickets for Destination Star Trek that they haven’t refunded yet, I believe you only have about ten days to contact the company to sort out your refund, so you better hop to it!

Take this with a grain of salt, but fan-site Trek Central has been reporting a “leak” from an insider at Massive Events that places the blame for the cancellation entirely at the feet of Paramount. According to Trek Central’s “whistleblower,” Paramount simply has no interest in promoting big conventions and events in Europe. Small events may continue to happen, they claim, for “promotional purposes,” but the days of officially licensed conventions in Europe may be over.

Attendees at a recent edition of Destination Star Trek London.
Image Credit: StarTrek.com

I’ll link the full article from Trek Central below so you can see their piece in full, and as always I encourage critical thinking and ensuring you’ve done your homework and placed everything in its proper context! But suffice to say that if Trek Central’s “insider” is right, this just confirms our worst fears about the appalling nature of Paramount’s corporate attitude.

I’ve written about this several times here on the website, but Paramount Global as a whole is in a pretty bad place. Corporate leadership needs a complete clear-out, with old and outdated thinking in dire need of being replaced by new people who have a better understanding of the way entertainment works in this day and age. The damage done to Star Trek by continuing to treat non-American fans like second-class citizens can and has spilled over into Star Trek’s domestic market, and I don’t understand how Paramount doesn’t recognise that.

Paramount Global’s logo.

We live in a globalised, connected world, one in which the internet and social media in particular bind us all together. For all intents and purposes, the entire world is one big marketplace for Paramount’s products, and decisions to hurt potential fans and viewers in one part of that marketplace have a huge knock-on effect.

Let me try to break it down for the “America First” Trumpians on the Paramount board: imagine you’ve launched Paramount+ in three out of fifty states: California, Oregon, and Washington. All of your marketing and all of your events target those states and those states only, and you ignore and cut off potential viewers in New York, Wyoming, and everywhere else. You cancel events due to take place in North Carolina, and when Paramount+ finally lands in Nevada a year after its original launch, it doesn’t have the same content – new episodes of new shows are missing.

Donald Trump would be proud.

That’s the approach Paramount has taken to the rest of the world: to cut us adrift, not share their latest creations, and ignore all questions about it. The resultant harm that has been done to the Star Trek brand is impossible to gauge right now, but it’s significant. Projects like Lower Decks and Prodigy should have been gateways into the Star Trek franchise for untold numbers of new fans… but because of Paramount’s pathetic “America First” approach, we won’t know how much bigger or more successful those shows could have been.

If Paramount hopes to break into the top tier of streaming services and make Paramount+ into a genuine competitor to the likes of Netflix and Disney+, this ridiculous and outdated approach to the rest of the world needs to go. Why should I sign up for Paramount+ here in the UK if doing so won’t give me access to the same episodes and the same content as viewers in the United States? As I’ve said before, Paramount+ does not exist in a vacuum and fans can easily find alternative methods of accessing that content.

It’s some kind of visual metaphor…

There needs to be a root-and-branch overhaul at Paramount, and particularly in its streaming division, if there’s to be any hope of salvaging Paramount+ and the Star Trek franchise. Strange New Worlds has been an impressive series across its first five episodes – but if those episodes are cut off and only available via piracy, Paramount isn’t getting any attention or benefit from that. Casual viewers – who make up the vast majority of any television show’s audience – won’t even be aware of the existence of Strange New Worlds if Paramount+ isn’t available in their part of the world, but more significantly for Paramount, many potential American viewers won’t become aware of it either.

For every social media post that doesn’t reach many people, for every hashtag that doesn’t trend, Paramount’s influence is reduced. And because social media is global, fans across the world need to be able to talk about their shows and films together. When a huge portion of the audience can’t do that, it doesn’t just harm the reputation of Paramount in those areas, it harms it at home, too. That’s the lesson that the Paramount board has continually failed to learn.

Leaked photo from the Paramount boardroom.

These disgusting moves won’t stop people like me from being Trekkies. I’ve been a fan for more than thirty years, when I first watched The Next Generation during its original run here in the UK, and that isn’t going to change. But what Paramount’s approach guarantees is that there will be fewer and fewer new fans from the UK, Europe, and all across the world. Where Star Trek was once as powerful and as influential as Star Wars and other big brands, that reputation will continue to diminish. Fewer fans means less online chatter, and less online chatter makes it harder for any new Star Trek project – or any other project from Paramount – to gain traction, even within the United States.

Although I’m not about to quit the Star Trek fandom, these moves harm fans’ enjoyment of new shows. If we’re constantly made to feel like we aren’t important, it’s hard to get as excited or as engaged for a new show, and while I’ve been happy to watch Strange New Worlds and Prodigy over the past few months, I haven’t been talking about them online, reviewing them, or bigging them up on social media. Paramount has taken away at least some of my excitement and enjoyment – and I’m hardly alone in feeling that way.

By the time Strange New Worlds has landed in the UK, most Trekkies will have already seen it.

If this approach continues, with the United States being prioritised over everyone else, franchises like Star Trek won’t last long. Paramount+ is about to launch at perhaps the worst possible time into an incredibly difficult market, and there are no guarantees that it will be anywhere close to successful here in the UK. If Paramount wants to convince Star Trek fans that it’s worth the investment, they need to demonstrate that. They need to stop cancelling conventions and stop ignoring us on social media, but more importantly they need to make every episode of every show available to everyone.

Why should I pay for Paramount+ if I can’t watch the latest episodes of Star Trek? If the service I’m getting is clearly and demonstrably worse than the same service an American would get, how does Paramount possibly expect to sell it to me? Perhaps someone senior should ponder those questions.

So Paramount screws up and continues to disappoint its non-American fans. What else is new?

You can find the Trek Central article referenced above by clicking or tapping here.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Film review: Morbius

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Morbius.

It’s Morbin’ time! While working my way through my lunch (a plate of egg and chips – yum) I was in need of something to watch… so I fired up Morbius. This film has acquired a reputation since its release that has not eluded me, and despite the fact that I generally like to watch things free from critical opinions, the general dislike for Morbius – the film sits at 17% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes – has been unavoidable.

But when I looked ahead to cinematic points of interest at the start of the year, Morbius had actually ended up on my list. From my perspective as someone who isn’t into comics and doesn’t care too much about their cinematic adaptations, it’s somewhat of a rarity to take even a passing interest in a project like this. But because Morbius is produced by Sony and not affiliated with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, I felt there was the potential, at least, for a decent one-off film.

The titular Dr Michael Morbius.

The premise of Morbius is interesting, and as someone who hasn’t read any of the source material I was curious to see what the film would do with its “doctor-becomes-a-vampire” concept. As someone who is disabled, the idea of looking for a cure or a medical solution, no matter the cost, is a relatable and understandable one, and while Morbius certainly put a fantasy spin on that concept, the bare bones of the project felt like it had a good starting point.

There were some sequences during the film’s opening act that successfully communicated at least some of that feeling. Jared Leto gave his character’s disability a relatable spin, if not always a completely believable one, and as the foundation for the story I felt that the way it was handled was okay. There are certainly more realistic and sympathetic presentations of disability in cinema, but I daresay that most viewers aren’t coming to a film like Morbius to see the day-to-day life of a disabled person. The life-limiting condition afflicting Dr Morbius and his friend wasn’t even named; I inferred that it was a fictional ailment, and given that the story didn’t have a lot of time to spend on the minutia, that was probably the right call.

There was potential in the “desperate to find a cure” angle that the film could’ve made more of.

The sequence toward the beginning of the film showing younger versions of the central characters was surprisingly raw, and I didn’t expect to see such a brutal depiction of bullying when I sat down to watch Morbius. Though it was hardly anything that hasn’t been seen before in other films and television series, the way in which young Lucian/Milo was taunted and then beaten by a gang of youths was powerful stuff – all the more so because of his nameless health condition. In fact, that sequence was probably the closest that Morbius got to being uncomfortable in terms of its violence; much of the rest of the fighting and gore was pure fantasy.

Jared Harris excels in every role I’ve ever seen him perform, and although there’s one specific moment that we’ll come to with his character that didn’t work, for my money Morbius was a better film for his inclusion as Dr Nicholas. He approached the character with the same seriousness as his roles in projects like Lincoln and Chernobyl, lending Dr Nicholas an outsized gravitas that grounded the character and every scene he appeared in. Even when dealing with some fantastical and silly storylines, Harris gave a wonderful performance.

The bullying sequence toward the beginning of the film.

There was, however, an odd moment as Dr Nicholas was killed off. As he spoke his final words to Morbius, there appeared to be some very clumsy audio work. A different take on the line – or perhaps a new line – had clearly been recorded later and very poorly spliced into the scene, and the result was that Dr Nicholas’ mouth didn’t move in sync with the words he spoke. If it hadn’t been a close-up shot focused on his face perhaps it would’ve passed by unnoticed, but it didn’t – and a combination of poor editing decisions led to what should’ve been one of the film’s more powerful moments falling flat.

Speaking of falling flat, I had a hard time following the motivations of the film’s villain. Milo – a.k.a. Lucian, former friend of Dr Morbius – seems to be a fairly bland “evil for the sake of it” villain, with no real motivation other than “I can kill people now, so I will.” I didn’t find that aspect of his character interesting in the slightest, and it gave the film a very uninspired and uninteresting feel from the moment it became obvious who was going to be the villain of the piece.

Matt Smith’s character.

I’ve only ever seen Matt Smith in a couple of other roles outside of Dr Who, so I was curious to see how he’d get on when tackling a villain. There was a fun Dr Who reference, as Smith emphasised the word “eleven” at one point early in the film (his was the Eleventh Doctor). However, I found his performance to be somewhat over-the-top, especially once his character had undergone the transformation into his vampiric form. There was the potential for a more nuanced approach leading to a more sympathetic villain, and while we got glimpses of that through Milo’s initial desperation for a cure at any price and later as he died, in between was pure pantomime. Smith’s performance did nothing to damp down that aspect of what was admittedly a poor script.

In fact, those past couple of sentences could encapsulate Morbius in general. What started out as a film with an interesting premise and characters – including the title character – who behaved understandably in light of life-limiting illnesses quickly devolved into an incredibly basic “good guy versus bad guy” CGI-heavy action flick. Nuance and character development went out the window as the film raced through a series of increasingly silly – and increasingly unexplained – action sequences.

One of several CGI-heavy fight sequences.

At first we seemed to be on course to see Dr Morbius discover and hone different abilities. Following his initial transition aboard the ship, he began noting down different feelings and sensations, developing and refining his echolocation, speed, agility, and strength. Learning to “fly” or glide was perhaps a step too far, but it might’ve worked had there been more of a buildup to it. But what I couldn’t understand was how Dr Morbius had the ability – seemingly from nowhere – to summon bats. And more than that, where did all those bats come from? There weren’t that many in his lab when we saw them earlier in the film, yet he seemed to summon thousands out of mid-air at the film’s climax.

There were attempts in Morbius to use light, shadow, and fog in clever ways, concealing parts of what was happening on screen or allowing things to be seen through a haze. These perhaps didn’t work as perfectly as they could have, but I will credit director Daniel Espinosa with making an attempt to use the camera in different ways rather than relying wholly on CGI.

Dr Morbius in his prison jumpsuit.

CGI animation work in Morbius is rather divided. On the one hand, wider shots generally looked quite good, and the “smokey” effect used for Dr Morbius and Milo’s fast-paced vampire moves was a neat one that I hadn’t seen used in that way before. On the other, the CGI faces used for Dr Morbius and in particular Matt Smith’s Milo were poor, despite what I’m sure was a high budget and the best efforts of some talented animators.

The vampire faces seemed to take those used in the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a starting point, perhaps trying to blend in more bat-like features such as flattened noses. As concepts, there was nothing particularly wrong with the way they looked – but the animation work used to bring them to the screen wasn’t up to par, and the faces ended up feeling artificial and video game-y, particularly when the characters “roared” or made other oversized movements.

Though the designs were neat, I was unimpressed with the execution of Morbius’ CGI faces.

One sequence in particular bugged me, and I’ll try to explain why. This isn’t something unique to Morbius by any means, and I’ve spoken before about how the choice of filming location can impact a production. In this case, a particular sequence in which Milo and Dr Morbius argued and battled was supposedly set in a New York City subway station – but it was painfully obvious that it was, in fact, shot at a London Underground station. This completely snapped me out of the film, and I just don’t really understand why so many productions like this use inappropriate or just plain bad filming locations.

The London Underground and the New York City subway are pretty different from one another, with completely different architectural and design aesthetics, so why choose a London Underground station for a shoot like this? If filming was taking place away from New York, couldn’t a small section be recreated on a sound stage? Why go to all the trouble of a location shoot only to pick a location that’s completely obviously wrong? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m nitpicking… but I think a lot of viewers – or at least viewers in the UK – will have picked up on the fact that that sequence was not filmed in New York!

The London Underground has such a distinctive look that I don’t understand why it was chosen to stand in for the New York subway.

So that’s about all I have to say, I guess. Morbius is not entirely without redeeming features. Jared Leto, Jared Harris, and Adria Arjona all put in great performances with the material they had available, and there were some clever concepts and ideas in the film’s opening act that, had they been in focus for longer and explored in more detail, could have led to a more interesting film overall.

As it is, Morbius descended quite quickly into being a fantasy-action film with a bog-standard “goodies versus baddies” premise. I didn’t find any of its fantasy elements to be frightening or horrifying – and coming from someone who can be quite sensitive to jump-scares and the horror genre, I think that says something. Morbius is far from being the worst film I’ve ever seen, nor even the worst comic book superhero film I’ve seen, but it’s hardly anything spectacular or worth devoting a lot of time to.

I don’t think that Morbius deserves the 0/10 that some folks seem to insist on awarding it; it has enough of a saving grace thanks to some solid performances and a decent opening act to avoid that fate. But it’s not a film I’m in any hurry to revisit.

Morbius is out now and can be streamed for a fee on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, and more. DVD and Blu-ray versions will follow later this year. Morbius is the copyright of Sony Pictures Entertainment and is based on Morbius, the Living Vampire from Marvel Comics. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Paramount+ versus the cost of living

I’m trying to get my thoughts in order with June just around the corner. Here in the UK we’re just over three weeks away from the (alleged) launch date of Paramount+, and despite my criticisms of Paramount Global and the jokes I’ve made on social media, I truly want to be able to sign up for the platform and give my financial backing to the renewed Star Trek franchise. But I’m not sure that I can, at least not at the moment.

As a disabled person on a fixed income, the current inflation and cost of living crisis is hitting me particularly hard. Since the start of this year I’ve cancelled my plans for an upgrade to my slow internet connection and also let go of my Netflix subscription. I’d originally signed up for Netflix in order to be able to watch Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, and although there are still Netflix projects that interest me, the removal of the Star Trek franchise from the platform was a big factor in choosing to cancel that subscription.

I originally signed up for Netflix to be able to watch Star Trek: Discovery.

Right now I have two subscriptions that I pay for: Xbox Game Pass and Disney+. In order to be able to afford Paramount+, realistically I’d have to cancel one or the other. And the problem there is simple: I regularly use and enjoy both. Subscribing to Game Pass has meant that I’ve only had to buy one game since the start of the year (Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, in case you were wondering). It’s a good service – for now, at least – that offers a decent number of games, and although I don’t spend as much time gaming as I did say a decade ago, Game Pass still has a lot to offer.

Disney+ has a few new shows that I’m interested in, like the current Obi-Wan Kenobi series, but more than that it’s a service that carries a lot of shows that I’ve enjoyed in years past. The likes of Futurama or Scubs make great background viewing; light entertainment that I don’t need to think too deeply about. Kids’ cartoon Phineas and Ferb is one of my comfort shows that I turn to on days when my mental health is poor, and Disney+ even carries shows like Lost and a diverse array of documentaries and films.

I watch quite a lot of things on Disney+ these days.

I feel like the debate I’m currently having internally about streaming kind of encapsulates a broader issue with the oversaturated streaming market, but more significantly for Paramount Global and the Star Trek franchise, it shows how being too late to the party can be incredibly costly. I’m not trying to decide between Paramount+ and Disney+ in a vacuum with both services on an equal footing; I already have Disney+, so in order to be able to afford Paramount+, Paramount needs to convince me to give up what I already have.

Perhaps the cost of living crisis of 2022 has blown the lid off things – it certainly has for me, at least – but these kinds of conflicts were inevitable, and not every streaming service currently on the market can survive. Perhaps current events will accelerate the decline of some of the lesser ones – such as CNN+, which cost parent company Time Warner over $300 million and lasted barely one month – but with the market having become so crowded and so anti-consumer, there simply isn’t room for everyone.

There have been some high-profile streaming failures already.

I’ve argued this point before – in an article that you can find by clicking or tapping here – but I really think it makes a lot of sense for some of the lesser companies to get out of the streaming game and focus instead on making content, not trying to make their own platform. The Star Trek franchise could be a good example of how this could work; Discovery was sold to Netflix, but Picard and Lower Decks were sold to Amazon Prime Video. Other media companies could take a similar approach, selling their shows and films to the highest-bidding streaming platform without making a cast-iron commitment to always work exclusively with a single platform.

That has to be the future, doesn’t it? It isn’t affordable for most households to pay for four, five, or six different streaming subscriptions even at the best of times, so something’s got to give sooner or later. As inflation and the cost of living continue to bite around the world – and with no sign of things improving at least in the short-term – I’d expect similar conversations to be happening in a lot of households. It’s possible that we’ll even start to see the impact of this on the streaming market pretty soon.

It’s increasingly unaffordable for folks to keep adding new streaming subscriptions.

I’ve written about piracy here on the website on more than one occasion. Although it can be hard to explain how I feel in just a few words, I’ll give it a shot: when a series, film, or video game is made available, I’m firmly in the camp that says “pay for it.” If everyone turned to piracy there’d be no future for entertainment; it wouldn’t be possible to keep creating new films, games, or shows if no one was paying for and supporting the creation of those projects. So with Paramount+ slowly stumbling its way towards its UK launch, almost by default I felt sure that I’d be signing up.

As a big Trekkie and someone who loves the Star Trek franchise, I want to be in a position of contributing to its success, even when Paramount Global as a corporation has misbehaved when it comes to international fans. The reason for that is pretty simple: I want Star Trek to be financially successful so that it’ll continue to be produced for many years to come. I don’t want to be a pirate, especially not when it comes to Star Trek. The fact that Paramount forced fans like me into piracy with their decisions over Discovery Season 4, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds remains a source of disappointment.

I want to see Star Trek succeed.

But now, with the cost of living and inflation biting me in the backside, I’m left wondering whether my best option in the short-term is to rely on my DVDs and Blu-rays for older shows and pirate the final few episodes of Strange New Worlds. By the time Paramount+ lands in the UK there will only be three weeks left in the first season of Strange New Worlds – and even if Prodigy or Lower Decks are going to be hot on its heels, it hardly seems worth signing up for a new subscription to get three episodes of a single series.

Perhaps I’m clutching at straws trying to justify accessing media that I can’t afford. Maybe it’s the curse of those of us on low and fixed incomes that, in a world of dozens of streaming subscriptions, it’s too expensive to be able to afford to watch everything. Do the cost of living crisis and inflation justify piracy? Is piracy, as some like to claim, a form of theft? If I can’t afford Paramount+, shouldn’t I find ways to cut other things out of my budget so that I can – and if I’m unable or unwilling to do that, shouldn’t I then stick to that commitment and stop watching these new Star Trek shows?

Piracy remains a tempting option.

These are some of the questions rolling around in my head at the moment! Maybe I should just shut up, review new episodes of Star Trek and whatever else, and let everyone reading assume that I paid for everything completely legitimately. But this website is my only real outlet for talking about some of these issues, and with the cost of living and inflation being big worries at the moment and weighing on my mind, I wanted to talk about it and not just cover it up and pretend like everything is fine.

This is far from the worst financial crisis I’ve personally had to deal with. Ever been so broke that you had “sleep for dinner?” I’ve been there. I’ve been to the supermarket with only a bunch of coins that I managed to scrounge up from pockets and down the back of the sofa, buying food for a couple of days without knowing when or how I’d be able to afford the next shop. And I’ve been in a position of turning off the heat and wearing a coat, gloves, and three pairs of socks in the living room in order to save money. Compared to that – and compared to what many folks are going through right now, too – having to choose between different streaming services because I can’t afford all of them… well it doesn’t exactly matter, does it?

I’ve been in worse financial positions at other points in my life…

But at the same time, there is a broader point here. Paramount+ is about to launch in an incredibly difficult market, one in which some of the biggest fans of the corporation’s most popular franchises are going to struggle to afford the service. The longer-term prospects of Paramount+, and whether it will ever be able to break into the top tier of streaming platforms alongside Netflix and Disney+, remains very much in question – and with that question comes fears for the longer-term sustainability of Star Trek. As a fan, that concerns me.

Decisions going back a decade or more on the part of big entertainment corporations have led to this point, and while the current jump in inflation and rise in the cost of living may have exposed some of these issues of affordability sooner than expected, it was inevitable that we’d reach this point in such an oversaturated marketplace. As a Star Trek fan I want to support Star Trek and I want the company that owns it and the platform on which it’s available to be financially successful – but I can’t commit to backing Paramount+ with a long-term subscription at the moment. If the cost of living crisis worsens in the months ahead – and with energy bills set to rise significantly in October, just in time for the winter, it very well may – I’ll be needing to cut back even more on the few services I already pay for, and there’ll be absolutely no place for anything new.

It’s a tough market, and Paramount Global’s many mistakes and offensive decisions have not endeared the corporation or its latest venture to the people who should be its biggest supporters. I wish Paramount+ well as a Star Trek fan who wants the franchise to succeed… but I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to make a long-term commitment to it right now.

Paramount+ is available in the United States, Scandinavia, Australia, and parts of Latin America now, with launches in the UK and South Korea in June 2022. Further international launch dates are yet to be announced. Paramount+ and the Star Trek franchise are owned by Paramount Global. Some stock images used above are courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1, 2, and 3 theory: the super-synths

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1 and 2, as well as the teaser trailer and casting announcements for Season 3. Further spoilers are present for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Even as we continue to wind down from Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard, my thoughts have already turned to Season 3! Although the new season is still in production and is probably a year away, I wanted to get one of my big pre-season theories written down ahead of time. This one ties together events in all three seasons of the show – and I think that could make it a satisfying story if it were to unfold.

There are some legitimate concerns about Picard Season 3, at least from where I’m sitting. The fact that most of the new cast members have been unceremoniously dumped in order to make way for the returning characters from The Next Generation really stings, and I’m truly disappointed that we won’t get to spend more time with the likes of Elnor and Soji next time around. I wanted to acknowledge that before we proceed with the theory, because both the cutting of characters and the fact that several of them have disappeared without a proper goodbye is poor form from Picard’s producers and creative team.

Most of the Picard cast are not returning for Season 3.

So let’s talk about this theory, then! In short, what I’ve come up with connects events in both Seasons 1 and 2 with what has been teased about Season 3, potentially meaning that Picard will turn out to be one long connected story after all. We’re taking the mysterious anomaly encountered at the end of Season 2 as a starting point and asking “who could have created something like that?” The Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid believed it was artificial in nature and had the potential to wipe out all life in an entire sector of space. That seems like the first phase of an invasion or attack – so who can we think of in Star Trek who could create a weapon on that scale?

We could absolutely pick on factions like the Dominion, Enterprise’s Sphere-Builders, or Species 8472. All of those – and many more – were potential suspects when it came to another mysterious anomaly in Discovery’s fourth season, too, and for good reason! But when we consider the elements that have already been introduced in Star Trek: Picard in particular, one faction more than any other appears to stand out: the super-synths from Season 1.

The super-synths as glimpsed in Season 1.

To briefly recap if it’s been a while since you watched Et in Arcadia Ego: the super-synths claimed to be “an alliance of synthetic life,” and it was implied that they resided far beyond the Milky Way galaxy. I nicknamed them the “Mass Effect Reapers” for their similarities to that video game faction! The super-synths literally moved stars to point to a beacon that they’d left behind on the planet of Aia, and in a vision that seemed jumbled and terrifying to organic minds they promised to come to the aid of any synths who requested their help.

The super-synths believed that all organics would eventually attack and destroy their synthetic creations; that war between synthetic and organic life was inevitable. The plans they left behind could open a portal to their home in dark space, allowing the super-synths to show up anywhere in the galaxy at a moment’s notice. It was left ambiguous as to whether their offer to help synths in their fight against organics was actually genuine or whether it was some kind of elaborate trap.

The super-synths’ portal over Coppelius.

Although Admiral Picard was able to convince Soji to close the portal she had opened before the super-synths could arrive at the planet of Coppelius, the portal was open for a significant amount of time. In that time the super-synths would’ve seen a civilisation of synthetics on Coppelius asking for their help, and two massive fleets of starships engaged in a stand-off over the planet. Whatever their intentions may have been, Soji and Sutra’s actions have ensured that the super-synths are now aware of the Milky Way, the Federation, the Romulans, and the Coppelius synths.

The super-synths then disappeared from the plot and weren’t mentioned again. It isn’t clear what happened to them, what their goals may have been, nor how they would have reacted to the portal being closed at the last moment. What we do know is that the super-synths possess powerful technology – technology that seems to allow them to hop from one part of the universe to another in an instant.

The super-synths left a beacon on the planet of Aia.

This brings us to the anomaly encountered by the Borg and the Federation at the end of Season 2. The strange anomaly was described by Seven of Nine as being akin to a “transwarp conduit.” The Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid was unsure of who created it, but considered them to be “a threat” requiring close observation. The anomaly was also described as being one piece of a larger puzzle – something that could tie in with a theory like this one!

Given what we know of the super-synths based on their appearance in Season 1, creating something on this scale seems well within their capabilities. They left behind instructions on how to create a portal to their domain, and what is a transwarp conduit if not a portal between two points in spacetime? Then there’s the scale of the attack: the initial outpouring of energy was enough to destroy an entire sector of space, something that hardly seems impossible for a faction that can literally move entire stars.

A joint Federation-Borg fleet defends against the anomaly at the end of Season 2.

So I think we have enough evidence based on what we saw on screen in the Season 2 finale to make the case that the anomaly may have been created by the same faction of super-synths that very nearly arrived at Coppelius in Season 1. But what of Season 3?

Not much has been officially teased so far about Picard’s upcoming third season – but we have a little to go on. Besides the announcement of returning cast members, we heard a few new lines of dialogue and caught a glimpse of both Admiral Picard and Captain Riker in a teaser trailer released to mark First Contact Day last month, and nothing there contradicts anything I’ve suggested above.

In fact, we could try to build a case for the Season 3 teaser hinting at this theory!

Captain Riker in the Season 3 teaser.

Firstly, the clips we saw of Admiral Picard and Captain Riker showed them readying themselves for combat, wielding some kind of phaser pistol (possibly the kind seen briefly in Seasons 1 and 2). At least part of the season, then, is going to involve a fight of some kind against a hitherto-unseen enemy! That’s hardly conclusive, of course, but it doesn’t contradict the idea that the main enemy is the super-synths.

Secondly, we have a handful of lines heard in voiceover. Geordi talked about “rushing into danger” during his time aboard the Enterprise. Worf speaks, saying that “sacrifice is required.” Dr Crusher spoke directly to Picard, telling him that “the galaxy comes calling.” In typical understated style, Riker talked about a “good old-fashioned road trip,” before Troi rounded things out by letting Picard know that he “will not be alone.” Again, nothing conclusive there – but also nothing contradictory. All the characters seem to be talking about gearing up for a big mission or battle.

Admiral Picard with a phaser pistol in the Season 3 teaser.

But the most interesting line in the trailer – and one that could perhaps be pointing to some kind of connection to synthetic life – came from Brent Spiner’s currently-unknown character. Spiner’s inflection sounded very emotive, definitely not like Data or B4. My first thought was that he could be portraying Lore (Data’s “evil twin” from The Next Generation), but he could also be portraying Dr Altan Inigo Soong – the son of Data’s creator who was a major character at the end of Season 1.

The line that stood out to me was this: “Evolution is not an act of preservation; it’s addition.” That line is ambiguous, naturally, but if we assume that Spiner’s character has something to do with synthetic life and synthetic research, he could very well be talking about the creation of new synths or the search for new synthetic life. He could also be talking about some kind of fusion between organic and synthetic life – perhaps Borg assimilation.

Will Brent Spiner’s Dr Altan Inigo Soong be a villain next season?

We don’t know what goals or objectives the super-synths might have, but if they view organic life as a threat it’s possible that they plan some kind of assimilation-like process to forcibly convert organics to become partially synthetic. That could be what Dr Soong is referring to – and he could be the super-synths’ advocate if they arrive in force and broadcast their intentions. Akin to someone who has been “indoctrinated” by the Reapers in the Mass Effect series, Dr Soong may be doing the super-synths’ bidding. That could set up Brent Spiner’s character to be one of the season’s main villains (again).

Am I clutching at straws? Well, that’s possible. But because of how deliberately coy the writers and producers of Picard have been about several key aspects of the storylines of both Seasons 1 and 2, I think this idea is a solid possibility. We don’t know what the super-synths wanted, but we do know they’re technologically very powerful and more than capable of creating portals and anomalies. We don’t know where the mysterious anomaly in Season 2 came from, nor why the Dr Jurati-Borg Queen hybrid considered it and its creators to be a threat. There’s enough ambiguity in those two points alone to reasonably connect them.

The Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid.

Ever since Season 1 came to a rather unspectacular conclusion, I’ve been hoping that Star Trek will do something more with this faction of super-synths. I suggested that they could be involved with the main storylines in both Seasons 3 and 4 of Discovery, as they seemed to be a faction with the technological power to do something like the Burn or to create something like the DMA. Those theories didn’t pan out, of course, but it’s possible that things will come full-circle and we’ll see them again before Picard comes to an end.

What we’d get, if this theory were to pan out, would be a transformation in the way Star Trek: Picard has operated. Rather than being three essentially standalone seasons with three distinct, separate stories, everything would be connected. What happened on Mars that sent Picard into a decade-long depression would be connected to the final fight against the super-synths; they’d be responsible for all of it. It would bring together the stories of Seasons 1, 2, and 3 in a neat way. The first two seasons could still be enjoyed as standalone affairs; nothing in Season 3 would overwrite any of that. But for fans who want to see a broader connection, this theory would deliver it!

The anomaly in Season 2.

Setting this theory aside for a moment, one of the concerns I have about Season 3 is that the events of Seasons 1 and 2 will be ignored. The fact that most main cast members aren’t returning has really ramped up the sense that Picard Season 3 may try to ignore everything that’s just happened – or relegate it to a couple of short scenes at the beginning of episode 1 – and rush ahead to become The Next Generation Season 8.

In particular, the mysterious anomaly that was shown off at the end of the season could be ignored as part of this push to get to a new story. I truly believe that would be a mistake; not only was the anomaly massively important to the plot of Season 2, but it was also very deliberately unexplained. Who could create something like that? Why would someone do that? Was it meant to be an attack against the Federation? How did the Borg know it was coming? There are many questions like this that Season 2 chose not to answer; if Season 3 ignores them as well then it’ll be very disappointing.

Will the dangling story threads of the anomaly and the Borg be concluded in Season 3?

Regular readers may recall from my Picard Season 2 reviews and commentary that I wasn’t wild about many of the storytelling decisions made last time. This new season is an opportunity to build on what came before; to make some of the first two seasons’ underwhelming events matter in a way that they currently don’t. If the Season 2 anomaly, for example, was just a naked plot device to give the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid something to do then it’ll remain a disappointing element of an already underwhelming season. But if it turns out that Season 3 revisits it in a big way and builds on what we saw last time, it has the potential to transform this aspect of Season 2 and make it matter.

So I think that’s all there is to say this time. To briefly recap my theory: the super-synths from Season 1 were responsible for creating the mysterious anomaly that almost destroyed an entire sector of space at the end of Season 2. They will use this anomaly – and perhaps others like it – to travel to the Milky Way galaxy, where they will become one of the main villains of Season 3.

The beacon used to summon the super-synths.

I quite like this idea of bringing the story of Star Trek: Picard full circle, as well as bringing together the seemingly disconnected events of Seasons 1 and 2 in a natural, understandable way. Nothing we’ve seen on screen would prevent the Season 1 super-synths from also creating the dangerous anomaly in Season 2 – so if Season 3 ignores both of those things to go in a different direction… well, this might just have to become my own personal head-canon!

It’s always worth saying that no fan theory, no matter how fun or plausible it may seem, is worth getting too worked up over. This is an idea that I came up with to bind together events in Star Trek: Picard that may ultimately be unrelated. This theory may go nowhere – and that’s okay! I like it when Star Trek can surprise me and take me to different and unexpected places, so I always like to caveat my theories by saying that I have no “insider information,” I’m not trying to claim that anything we’ve talked about today will ever be seen on screen, and I hope you’ll join me in welcoming the story of Season 3 – whatever direction it ultimately goes.

Having touched on this theory briefly the other day I wanted to give it a full write-up here on the website. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more Star Trek content in the weeks and months ahead – including a look at any major news or trailers for Picard Season 3. Until next time!

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will stream on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video around the world some time next year. Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream now and are also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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.

Sniper Elite 5: First impressions

I’m a total newbie to the Sniper Elite series, but I found myself swept up in the hype for the latest entry. With Sniper Elite 5 being available on Xbox Game Pass on release day, there was no reason not to give it a shot! The game was even available to pre-load (i.e. to download ahead of its actual launch) which is a time-saver on my slow internet connection. Although this isn’t a review of Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft once again gets high marks from me for their subscription service!

First up, Sniper Elite 5 on PC seems to have a bug related to its anti-cheat software. This bug prevented me from launching the game after it had been installed, but luckily there was a simple workaround: right-click and then choose “run as administrator” in order to make it work. An easy fix, but unfortunately for Sniper Elite 5 it didn’t exactly get off to a spectacular start as a result.

Lining up a shot in Sniper Elite 5.

However, the game itself seems to be well-polished. I didn’t encounter any major bugs and only one visual glitch in the couple of hours that I’ve spent with Sniper Elite 5 so far. Considering that recent years have seen too many games rushed out the door to meet arbitrary release windows, the fact that Sniper Elite 5 at least on PC seems to be in a decent, playable state is good news. It shouldn’t need to be good news, but that’s a reflection of where the video games industry as a whole is right now.

I’d been dimly aware of the Sniper Elite series, but I’d never given it serious consideration until now. I’d seen pictures and clips online from time to time – especially of the franchise’s signature X-ray kill cams – but beyond that I kind of dismissed it. In shooter games I rarely choose to play as a sniper if I have a choice, and stealth missions have never been my favourites in any action or adventure titles. So for those reasons and more, past games in the Sniper Elite franchise just never seemed like “my thing.” I’m not sure what it was that Sniper Elite 5 did with its marketing to change my mind and convince me to give it a shot this time around; perhaps it’s simply the relative lack of big new games as a result of pandemic-enforced delays.

Taking cover.

Regardless, I was curious enough to give Sniper Elite 5 a go, and I’ve been having fun. For some reason I had it in my head that this would be a first-person game; perhaps the screenshots and clips I’d seen in the past left that impression, as first-person mode is basically required for sniping. But when not using binoculars or the sniper scope, the rest of the game takes place from a third-person perspective. That was unexpected for someone who (clearly) had no idea what they were letting themselves in for! I like the mix that this provides; third-person gameplay for stealth and action combines well with looking down the sniper scope from a first-person perspective.

Gameplay itself is polished, and both major sides of the game – sniping and third-person stealth/action – work well. Sniper Elite 5 has some neat level design with expansive open areas and isolated, hidden spots that are perfect for spying or lining up the perfect shot. So far I’ve only participated in a couple of missions, but I like what I’ve seen.

Whee!

In terms of graphics and visuals, Sniper Elite 5 looks decent. I wouldn’t describe any of it as being stunning or beautiful; for my money there are more visually spectacular titles. The use of a lot of green, khaki, and brown tones is period-accurate for World War II France, but perhaps that kind of colour palette doesn’t lend itself to being described in those terms. Graphically, Sniper Elite 5 could go toe-to-toe with many games of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 generation, but at least on my PC I didn’t feel it could offer much more than that.

This is a broader point that we should probably talk about in more detail some time, but the lack of availability for the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5 has meant that many games are still being developed with the previous console generation – and its limitations – in mind. Sniper Elite 5 is playable on hardware that’s almost a decade old at this point, and that’s naturally going to hold it back. Every new console generation brings with it cross-gen titles like this, but the unique difficulties faced by new machines seems to have dragged out this period. By this point in the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5’s lifecycles, I’d expect to see more titles like Sniper Elite 5 ditching last-gen consoles in favour of new hardware.

Sniper Elite 5 looks okay… but visually it’s nothing to write home about.

Voice acting in Sniper Elite 5 isn’t spectacular. It has a stilted, almost wooden quality that reminds me a little too much of amateur dramatics clubs and drama classes at school! Ten years ago I wouldn’t have found that to be worth remarking on, but a lot of modern titles have put way more effort into their voice acting and scriptwriting. Even games that don’t rely on big-name actors or celebrities to bring their characters to life have still managed to sound pretty great and realistic; I find that the writing and voice acting in Sniper Elite 5 kind of snaps me out of the moment.

The saving grace here is that cut-scenes seem to be relatively few and far between, with long sections of uninterrupted gameplay in between. German characters all speak German (with English subtitles) at least by default, which I will admit is a nice feature and adds something to the realism of the World War II setting.

I’m not wild about the voice acting or scriptwriting.

If you’ve ever played a third-person stealth game, you’ll be familiar with the way gameplay works in Sniper Elite 5. There’s a well-implemented cover system, the player character can conceal himself by ducking down, lying prone, or hiding in bushes or long grass. Enemies have line-of-sight that must be avoided, enemies can become alerted to the player’s presence and raise alarms, and making noise or firing weapons can draw attention. Nothing on this side of the game felt particularly groundbreaking, but all of it felt polished and well-constructed. Even as someone brand-new to the series, playing Sniper Elite 5 felt natural and intuitive, and I didn’t have to scrounge around to figure out the controls or how to interact with the environment.

Sniping works basically the same way it does in any first-person shooter, but with a few added extras that some faster-paced titles overlook. Most sniper rifles (as well as binoculars) have different zoom levels, the player character’s breathing can be controlled to steady the scope, and different body parts on enemy targets – including internal organs – can be targetted to get different results. Each shot feels unique, and I would wager that the game offers a decent amount of replayability; going back and redoing a mission will almost certainly lead to different ways to take down targets.

The view down the sniper scope.

This brings us to one of the Sniper Elite series’ signatures: kill cams, and particularly X-ray kill cams that show the damage inflicted inside of a target’s body. These things are pretty gory – even by the standards of a World War II video game – but they can be turned off in the menu if players aren’t interested in that level of brutality. For me, I’m pretty desensitised to that kind of thing, but I can understand if the raw, visceral nature of these slow-motion sequences is offputting to some folks.

As a technical feat, I think the inclusion of these X-ray cams is quite clever. Not only does the game have to detect where a bullet hit an enemy and whether they’re wounded, killed, etc., but it has to show a ballistic path from the barrel of the gun all the way to the target’s body. Then it has to calculate precisely where in the body the bullet would enter, which internal organs would be damaged, and what that would look like, then render it on screen in slow-motion but without stopping or interrupting the main cycle of gameplay. Regardless of whether it’s “your thing” or not, as a feat of game design I find it to be very impressive!

An example of the game’s X-ray kill cam.

Weapons can be customised in Sniper Elite 5, and this adds an additional dimension to gameplay. The player character can carry several different weapons at a time – as well as grenades, binoculars, health packs, and the like – and each main weapon can be customised and upgraded. Not all upgrades are available from the start, needing to be unlocked as the campaign progresses.

It can be fun in any game to customise a weapon and get it working exactly the way you want it to! Sniper Elite 5 offers a lot of options in this regard, and balancing the trade-offs between a more powerful but slower and louder weapon versus a quick and nimble one with a shorter range and less power is all part of the immersion and the experience. It’s possible to customise the player character’s weapon differently for different targets and different missions, and when combined with a variety of different weapons to choose from, this is another way in which Sniper Elite 5 makes the experience feel different each time. Cosmetic changes to weapons also show up in third-person mode when walking around, and I always appreciate details like that!

Customising a sidearm.

So I think that’s about all I have to say about Sniper Elite 5 at this stage. I may come back for an additional write-up/review once I’ve beaten the main campaign, but I’m not sure about that yet so don’t hold your breath! For now, suffice to say that I’m glad I stepped outside of my usual gaming niches to try something a little different. Stealth and sniping have never been my favourite aspects of action or shooter games, but Sniper Elite 5 manages to implement them in a fun way. Coming from me, that’s a pretty big compliment.

I’m not sure how I’d feel if I paid full price for Sniper Elite 5 on one of the new consoles, especially given that its graphics and visuals are definitely last-gen by today’s standards. But considering I was able to get the game on release day (and even pre-load it) via Xbox Game Pass for PC, I honestly can’t complain.

So watch out, Nazis! Sniper Dennis is coming to town!

Sniper Elite 5 is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Sniper Elite 5 is also available on PC and Xbox platforms via the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Sniper Elite 5 was developed, published by, and is the copyright of Rebellion Developments. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten 25th Century Star Trek concepts

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

With Season 3 of Star Trek: Picard purportedly being the series’ last, I’m not ready to give up the 25th Century! Ever since Nemesis in 2002, I’d been desperately keen to see Star Trek show us what happened next; to move its timeline along. After the briefest of glimpses in 2009’s Star Trek, it was Picard that finally scratched that itch! Although Discovery is still in production with a fifth season being worked on, that show’s 32nd Century is far removed from the characters, factions, and themes of The Next Generation era. That’s why today I wanted to consider ten possibilities or concepts for shows that could pick up the baton from Picard.

For me, The Next Generation era – i.e. the late 24th Century setting that also includes Deep Space Nine and Voyager – is the franchise’s “golden age.” These shows – and the four films made during that time, too – represent the bulk of Star Trek’s 800+ episodes, and while there are definitely points of interest in the 22nd Century and 23rd Century that the franchise could revisit, for me it’s this time period that I’d like to see picked up for more adventures.

Captain Picard.

With Star Trek: Picard having established the dawn of the 25th Century as its setting, I really do feel that there’s scope to build on what’s been created so far. Season 3 may spend more time with Starfleet, but as of the end of Season 2 at least, there’s a lot we haven’t seen of this era. Picking up some of the characters, factions, storylines, and themes from past iterations of Star Trek is a big part of why spending more time in this era is worthwhile, but that doesn’t mean that every potential 25th Century project has to be a straight-up sequel to something that’s come before. I’d be thrilled to see a Strange New Worlds-style semi-episodic exploration-focused series with a brand-new cast, for example, set in this time period.

Although Picard Season 3 is still being worked on and likely won’t hit our screens until next year, I sincerely hope that the creative teams over at Paramount have already considered their next move. Alex Kurtzman (who is in charge of the Star Trek franchise for Paramount) has stated that there are other concepts in early development, and that as the current shows come to the end of their runs, these new shows would begin to be worked on. Whether any of the series concepts that he was referring to are going to be set in the 25th Century is unknown – but there are significant advantages to doing so.

Alex Kurtzman was interviewed by Wil Wheaton for Star Trek Day back in September and commented on the potential Starfleet Academy series.

I would wager that a significant portion of the Star Trek fan community would rank at least one of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager in their top two favourite shows. And fans under the age of forty literally won’t be able to remember a time before The Next Generation! Most fans of my age will have either come to Star Trek during The Next Generation era or will have encountered it soon after becoming a fan; The Next Generation era was dominant from 1987 to 2002.

Fans who were invested in storylines like the Dominion War, the Maquis, Voyager’s journey home, and many, many more are interested to know what came next for their favourite characters. Picard has shown us a little of this – with a focus on Admiral Picard himself, naturally – and there have also been teases and glimpses in Lower Decks, Prodigy, and potentially in Discovery’s 32nd Century, too. But there’s a heck of a lot of room to do more.

The new USS Stargazer.

With Strange New Worlds flying the flag for the 23rd Century, and Discovery off doing its own thing in the far future, there’s a gap in live-action Star Trek that at least one 25th Century project needs to fill. Having established a few interesting details about what we must now call the Picard era, it would be positively criminal for Paramount to just abandon it. There are so many characters who we could catch up with, so many incomplete storylines to resume, and so many codas and epilogues still to be written.

Time is marching on, too – a sad reality for all of us. It won’t always be possible to bring back original actors and the characters that they portrayed, so it’s really a case of “if not now, when?” Wait too long to greenlight projects set in this time period and it may be too late to bring back certain characters.

So with all of that in mind I’ve put together a list of a few Star Trek projects that I personally think could be interesting and could pick up the baton from Picard. Although I feel confident that conversations are happening about future projects set in this era behind closed doors, my usual caveat applies: I have no “insider information.” I’m not trying to claim that any of these ideas will be picked up and make it to screen. This is a wishlist from a fan, and nothing more! It’s also entirely subjective, so if you hate all of my ideas or I don’t include something that you think should obviously be included, then that’s okay! There’s plenty of room within the Star Trek fan community for respectful disagreement and civil conversations!

Concept #1:
Starfleet Academy

The emblem of Starfleet Academy.

When Lieutenant Tilly departed the USS Discovery early in Season 4, she became an instructor at Starfleet Academy in the 32nd Century. With her departure episode feeling like somewhat of a backdoor pilot thanks to introducing us to a handful of cadets, I’m sure I’m not alone in assuming that the heavily rumoured Starfleet Academy series will be set in the 32nd Century with Tilly as a major character. So that’s a big caveat to this potential project!

But a 25th Century Starfleet Academy series has a lot of potential, too. As a direct spin-off from Picard it could bring back characters like Raffi and Elnor, the latter of whom has already been established as a Starfleet cadet. That could even give meaning to Elnor’s unexpected survival at the end of Season 2.

Cadet Elnor in Picard Season 2.

A 25th Century Starfleet Academy series would be perfect for bringing back all sorts of characters from Star Trek’s past. We could learn, for instance, that Miles O’Brien is still at the Academy teaching engineering – as was established at the end of Deep Space Nine. Even if Chief O’Brien wasn’t a major character he could still make occasional appearances in that role.

One of the big advantages to a Starfleet Academy series right now is how it could serve as a kind of soft landing for new, younger fans who’ve been enjoying Prodigy. A series starring young adult cadets (or featuring cadets in major roles even if they aren’t the exclusive focus) would be a natural next step in so many ways, and could be a gateway into the Star Trek fandom for legions of newcomers. Just as holo-Janeway has been a guide in Prodigy, a returning character could fill a similar role here.

Concept #2:
The Seven and Raffi show

Seven of Nine and Raffi in the Picard Season 2 finale.

When Season 2 of Picard premiered, I really thought that a USS Stargazer spin-off with Captain Rios in command would be a fantastic new series. That can’t happen now (and after Rios’ disappointing regression in Season 2, I don’t think I’d want it anymore anyway), but there is still the possibility to see a direct spin-off. This version would feature Seven of Nine and Raffi.

Although Seven of Nine’s captaincy of the USS Stargazer in Farewell felt very much like a brevet or a temporary thing, I feel there’s potential to see her given a commission in Starfleet. Raffi certainly felt that she would make an excellent captain! So maybe the next Star Trek series could be Star Trek: Stargazer with Captain Seven and XO Raffi taking the USS Stargazer on all kinds of adventures.

Captain Seven.

Seven of Nine is particularly well-suited to feature in stories that focus on the Borg, but there’s more to her character than that. I’m not sure whether a traditional exploration-focused series would be the best fit; maybe Seven and Raffi’s ship would be a rapid-response vessel designed for combat and tactical missions. An overtly action-oriented series would be new to Star Trek, so this could be a fun experiment to see how well it could work.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Seven of Nine’s arc across the first two seasons of Picard. It’s been cathartic to see a character I once disliked for her dull and repetitive storylines undergo genuine and lasting growth, and we might just be reaching a point where Seven of Nine is a strong enough character to take on the challenge of headlining a brand-new series of her own… supported by Raffi, of course!

Concept #3:
Captain Sisko’s return

Captain Sisko.

Perhaps better-suited to being a miniseries or limited series, I really love the idea of Captain Sisko finally returning to the galaxy after spending time with the Prophets. At the end of Deep Space Nine, Sisko promised us that he wasn’t really gone and that he would return “one day.” After more than twenty years, could “one day” finally be just around the corner?

It’s worth acknowledging that Avery Brooks has seemed less willing than some other former Star Trek actors to reprise his role, and although there has been speculation as to why that may be, there’s never been any definitive statement from the man himself. I wouldn’t want to see Sisko recast at this moment in time (nor recreated through some kind of CGI process), so if Avery Brooks isn’t interested, the project won’t get off the ground.

In The Pale Moonlight is one of my all-time favourite Star Trek episodes.

One massive advantage to bringing back Captain Sisko is that he’d make a wonderful point-of-view character for us as the audience. As someone who’s spent decades away from the galaxy, Sisko would be just as interested as we are to learn what happened to his friends, to Deep Space Nine, to the Cardassians and Dominion, and so on. A Sisko-focused series could get away with dropping a lot of exposition in a way that feels natural, bringing us up to speed on the events of the past couple of decades without it feeling out-of-place.

More than that, though, I want to spend more time with Captain Sisko. Although picking favourites is hard, Sisko has always been one of the best and most interesting characters of The Next Generation era, and one of the best captains in the Star Trek franchise. Bringing him back would be just as impactful as bringing back Picard has been, and providing an epilogue and closure to Sisko’s story would be absolutely worth doing.

Concept #4:
Section 31

A black Section 31 combadge in the mid-23rd Century.

The untitled Section 31 series was announced in 2019, shortly before Season 2 of Discovery aired. But since then, the supposedly ready-to-go project has been sidelined. Lack of interest from fans was part of the equation, perhaps, but Strange New Worlds certainly stole its thunder too!

The proposed series was to follow ex-Terran Empress Georgiou as she worked with the shadowy organisation that was first introduced in Deep Space Nine, and after Georgiou went through some significant character growth in Discovery’s third season, she finally seemed to get to a place where she could potentially take on the role of a morally ambiguous Section 31 leader without feeling like someone who resorts to violence and literal genocide at the drop of a hat.

Empress Georgiou’s departure.

To briefly recap, Georgiou had to leave the 32nd Century due to suffering from a technobabble illness that appeared to be fatal, and she was permitted to do so by the Guardian of Forever. If a suitable explanation could be found, Georgiou could potentially emerge in the 25th Century, setting the stage for her to play a role in Section 31 in this time period.

Alternatively, a Section 31 show set in this era could drop Georgiou altogether and focus on new characters instead. With Borg, Romulans, super-synths, strange anomalies, and other potential threats to the Federation that we’ve glimpsed in Picard, Section 31 could have a lot of work to do in this era!

Concept #5:
A new exploration-focused series

The original USS Enterprise.

Strange New Worlds is currently flying the flag for semi-episodic “old school Star Trek” with a big focus on exploration. But this is the foundation of Star Trek; the franchise’s roots. Returning to this format in the 25th Century could be absolutely fantastic – and it could be a fun way to include a mix of new and legacy characters.

One of the limitations faced by Strange New Worlds is that it’s set a decade before The Original Series. There’s still a lot of wiggle room in that time period, and we could see Captain Pike make first contact with new and familiar alien races alike. But there are still constraints on which alien races can be included and how, and what stories Captain Pike and the crew could reasonably take part in.

Captain Pike.

In contrast, a new exploration series set in the 25th Century would basically have free rein to hop all across the galaxy, meet brand-new aliens, and bring back classic factions without treading on anyone’s toes. As long as such a series avoided Unknown Species 10-C (basically the only major new faction introduced in Discovery’s far future that Captain Burnham made first contact with), a show like this one could do what The Original Series, The Next Generation, and to an extent Voyager all did: set out on a mission of exploration with a blank canvas.

Seeking out strange, new worlds is where Star Trek began; it’s the core mission of Starfleet and the main goal of the Federation. Strange New Worlds is already proving that fans enjoy a series with that kind of focus, so picking up that concept and reworking it to be set in the Picard era absolutely could work.

Concept #6:
Hospital ship

The USS Pasteur – a Federation medical ship.

In the ’90s, when I was watching and enjoying the shows of The Next Generation era, this was a concept that I thought could be a ton of fun! I imagined “ER in space,” with a hospital ship like the USS Pasteur being the show’s main setting and a chief medical officer as the main protagonist. My original version of this concept would’ve seen characters like Dr Pulaski and Dr Bashir return; a team-up of some of my favourite medical characters from other Star Trek shows.

Although Dr Pulaski is unlikely to be part of such a series now, there’s definitely scope to bring back the likes of Dr Bashir or Voyager’s EMH, as well as secondary medical staff like Nurse Ogawa, as part of a series that also introduces new characters.

Nurse Alyssa Ogawa.

The hospital ship would travel around the Federation and beyond, lending its services to planets, bases, and starships in need. There’d be illnesses and diseases to cure, natural disasters to bring aid to, and the ship could even be part of major military engagements and battles, tending to wounded soldiers and crewmen. Star Trek has shown us all of these basic concepts before, but this time they’d have an overtly medical focus.

There’s a huge audience for shows like House, ER, and Grey’s Anatomy, and a medical Star Trek series could have an appeal that extends far beyond the franchise’s typical sci-fi niche. Without the constraints of the real world, and with numerous aliens as both staff and patients, there’s almost unlimited potential in terms of creativity as well. We could see new deadly diseases created that could be timely reflections of our pandemic-afflicted world, and we could even take a deeper dive into diseases and medical conditions that have been referenced in past iterations of Star Trek.

Concept #7:
Captain Kim

Ensign Harry Kim.

It’s become a bit of a joke in the Star Trek fan community: Harry Kim spent seven years as an ensign without being promoted. Perhaps he could finally get the command he’s always wanted and headline a new Star Trek show in the process!

Harry Kim would be the second major character from Voyager to play a role in this era of Star Trek, and that could lead to crossovers. It could be a lot of fun to see an older and more mature Harry Kim reunite with Seven of Nine – perhaps for the first time in many years. The series could even feature a Voyager reunion of the kind seen in Endgame. And of course, any time we’re talking about Voyager these days there’s the potential to tie in with themes and ideas present in Prodigy.

An older Harry Kim (from an alternate future) in the episode Timeless.

Captain Kim could show us a different side of Starfleet. Perhaps he’s in command of a hospital ship as we were discussing above, or perhaps his vessel is much more scientific in its mission; charting anomalies and stellar phenomena rather than making lots of first contact missions. A series like that would be more personality-driven and serialised rather than episodic with a “monster-of-the-week” to engage with, and I think someone like Harry Kim would excel in that kind of role.

Out of everyone on Voyager, I’d suggest that Harry Kim has perhaps the most potential for growth if he were to return. Considering that we met him on his first mission after graduating – and that he stuck with that “young and eager” characterisation for a long time during Voyager’s run – there’d be something rather cathartic about being reintroduced to an older, more mature Captain Kim.

Concept #8:
A Klingon series

General Martok, a 24th Century Klingon leader.

This one would be quite a radical departure from anything that Star Trek has tried before. Leaving the Federation and Starfleet behind, this show would be set aboard a Klingon vessel. A Starfleet officer could be present as a point-of-view character and a way to help us as the audience find both a way in and a frame of reference, but the rest of the characters would be Klingons.

With Worf returning for Picard Season 3, he could become a recurring character on a Klingon-focused series. A character like Worf bridges the gap between the Klingon Empire and Starfleet, and along with a Starfleet officer aboard the ship he could also help ground the series.

Kol, a 23rd Century Klingon who recently appeared in Discovery.

What I like about this idea is that it would be something genuinely bold and different. We’ve spent a lot of time with the Klingons across various iterations of Star Trek – they’re probably the faction we know the most about after the Federation itself. But there’s still plenty of room to expand our understanding of the Klingons, and to show us the next chapter for their Empire in the aftermath of the Dominion War and their alliance with the Federation.

What kind of mission would a Klingon vessel have? If it’s exploration, how different would their approach be to what we’d expect from Starfleet? A Klingon series could also show off different roles for Klingons beyond that of “warrior.” How does a Klingon crew treat its engineers, scientists, and medical personnel, for example? Far from being one-dimensional “baddies,” there’s plenty of room for nuance and to show us a different side to the Klingons, and different Klingon personalities.

Concept #9:
Captain Worf

Could Michael Dorn finally get his Captain Worf series?

Sticking with the Klingons, Michael Dorn has been talking about his pitch for a Captain Worf series for the better part of a decade at this point! Although I confess that I remain sceptical of the proposal for a number of reasons, with Worf’s imminent return in Picard Season 3, it has to be considered at least a possibility that there’ll be some kind of backdoor pilot or an attempt to test the waters to see if a Captain Worf series could be viable.

As the character who’s made the most Star Trek appearances (280+, not counting upcoming appearances in Picard Season 3), I feel that we’ve seen more than enough of Worf! We’ve seen his inner conflict between his Klingon and Starfleet identities, his struggles with fatherhood, his marriage and the grief he felt at losing Jadzia… and I’m just not sure where else there is to go.

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

But despite my personal reservations, a Captain Worf series could prove me wrong and be the right move for Star Trek once Picard ends. Like Picard itself, a Captain Worf series would be anchored by its familiar face but perhaps rounded out with a fun group of new characters. There would be potential, perhaps, depending on how things go in Season 3, to bring in someone like Raffi as Worf’s first officer, tying the show to Picard in an even greater way.

As with Seven of Nine and Raffi above, a Captain Worf series could go all-in on action, with Worf commanding a tactical vessel and rushing into dangerous situations and combat missions. Or, in an attempt to put a completely different spin on the character, maybe Captain Worf would be in command of a lightly-armed science vessel on a mission of exploration! That could be a fun way to go and a twist on the expected premise of the series.

Concept #10:
Super-synth invasion

The mechanical noodles of the super-synths.

Spoiler alert for a future theory article, but one of my guesses about Picard Season 3 is that the Admiral and his friends will have to face off against the super-synths from Season 1 – and that they’re responsible for the anomaly in Season 2. That would be a neat way to tie all three seasons of the show together!

But assuming that doesn’t happen, I’d love to revisit the super-synths that we only caught a glimpse of in the Season 1 finale. Assuming that their intentions were hostile, and that they planned to attack organic life in the Alpha Quadrant, could a new spin-off revisit that concept and perhaps show the super-synths making their invasion attempt?

Did Soji paint a target on the Alpha Quadrant thanks to her beacon?

This is a reworking of another concept that I’ve had kicking around for some time: a Borg invasion series. But with the Borg having already played a big role in Season 2, perhaps the super-synths could be subbed in to become the antagonists of a series (or miniseries) that sees the Federation involved in a war for its very survival.

This kind of existential threat has been used and re-used in Discovery, and I could understand if some fans wouldn’t want to see it brought back so soon! As I’ve said recently, it’s my hope that Discovery will try something different in Season 5! But it would be fun to bring back the super-synths and to revisit the Federation at war for the first time since Enterprise’s conflict with the Xindi – and it could be a great way to bring in a mix of new and legacy characters.

So that’s it!

Admiral Picard.

Those are ten concepts for Star Trek shows that I think could pick up the baton from Star Trek: Picard in the years ahead, sticking with the early 25th Century and potentially expanding on what Picard has already done.

My “first contact” with Star Trek back in the early 1990s was The Next Generation, and I was a big fan of Deep Space Nine and Voyager during their original broadcast runs as well. With live-action Star Trek series set in the 23rd and 32nd Centuries, it seems to me that Picard’s eventual finale is going to leave a pretty significant hole in the franchise. Even if every major character from The Next Generation returns and gets an amazing goodbye, there are still characters, themes, storylines, and more from Deep Space Nine and Voyager that I’ve been longing to see picked up for more than two decades!

Deep Space Nine.

If it were up to me, the early 25th Century would probably be the main setting that I’d want to use for the majority of new Star Trek projects. There was even scope a couple of years ago to bring Captain Burnham and Discovery into this time period, and I think that could’ve worked exceptionally well too. I don’t think that Picard necessarily needs a direct spin-off, bringing back main characters in a huge way, but I’d dearly love to see the setting and time period re-used in future.

I’m hopeful that Season 3 will be a fun adventure with the crew of The Next Generation, and that it can serve as a launchpad for one or more new Star Trek projects set in this era. Whether any of my own ideas will make it… well, I doubt it. But who knows! More than ever it feels like Paramount is listening to Star Trek fans; without a massive fan campaign we would never have seen Strange New Worlds. So there’s a possibility, perhaps, if Picard Season 3 is well-received that a spin-off or follow-up could indeed make it. Time will tell!

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video around the world sometime in the next year or so. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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 untapped potential of Short Treks

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3, Discovery Seasons 1-4, Short Treks Seasons 1-2, and minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

At time of writing, the most recent episode of Short Treks aired two-and-a-half years ago in the run-up to Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Since then, Paramount has been content to put the format on ice, and although it’s been mentioned more than once in interviews and conversations, no new episodes or seasons have been forthcoming. I think that’s a shame, because in 2022 Short Treks has a lot of potential – arguably more than it did just a few years ago.

As a concept, Short Treks always felt nakedly commercial to me. At a time when many subscribers to what was then still called CBS All Access would watch their favourite show and then cancel their subscription, the corporation in charge hoped that dropping a handful of short episodes in between seasons would be enough to keep some of those folks paying their subscription fees. Promises that Short Treks stories would tie into the world of Star Trek: Discovery in a big way were part of this, too.

Cadet Sidhu in the Short Treks episode Ask Not.

However, as Short Treks rolled on, there seemed to be a bit more leeway given with the kind of projects that were greenlit. Short Treks became more experimental, producing an overtly comedic episode, two animated episodes that used wildly different storytelling and animation styles, as well as continuing to connect with ongoing or upcoming Star Trek projects. It’s this experimental aspect and the potential to create some truly different and interesting one-off stories where I feel Short Treks could excel in the years ahead.

Not every Star Trek character or concept can be spun out into a film or an entire season of television, and there’s scope to use Short Treks to tell one-off stories that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Robert Duncan McNeill’s Captain Proton pitch, for example, could absolutely work as a one-off short story, and I think that could be a cute nod and wink to fans of Voyager.

Captain Proton might work well in this format.

There would be scope to bring back legacy characters in this format as well, particularly if actors are unable or unwilling to make a longer commitment. Fans have asked for a long time to see Captain Sulu aboard the USS Excelsior, for example, and a Short Treks story featuring George Takei could be a truly excellent way for the franchise to celebrate his decades-long association with Star Trek. Rather than trying to shoehorn legacy characters into ongoing shows – or writing out main characters to bring back legacy characters, as happened in the case of Picard Season 3 – giving some of them their own Short Treks stories could be an alternative option.

The Short Treks format could even operate as a kind of backdoor pilot to test the waters and see how fans respond to concepts that could go either way. Michael Dorn’s Captain Worf pitch, for example, could be converted into an episode or two of Short Treks, recycling sets built for Picard Season 2, as a way to see how interested fans would actually be and whether the character truly has spin-off potential.

Could a successful Short Treks story finally lead to the Captain Worf spin-off that has been pitched?

Star Trek has never shied away from being an experimental franchise, and that continues in its modern iterations. But given the serialised nature of shows like Picard and Discovery in particular, the scope to go completely off-topic and to different thematic and narrative places is more limited than it ever used to be. Short Treks could be the catalyst to bring more of that experimentation back to Star Trek.

The episodes The Girl Who Made The Stars and Ephraim and DOT showed off a very different style of animation and storytelling to anything we’ve seen so far in any iteration of Star Trek, and with advancements in animation happening all the time, there’s even the potential to use animation to bring some of these concepts to life. Where it might seem prohibitively expensive to tell a story set in an alternate reality where the Borg have conquered large swathes of the Alpha Quadrant, for instance, an animated Short Treks story could delve into that concept in a way live-action couldn’t.

Ephraim the tardigrade.

When we look at the production side of Star Trek, too, Short Treks has a lot more to work with than it did in the 2010s! New sets have been constructed in recent years for Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery’s 32nd Century that could all be taken advantage of to tell stories set in different eras. With a few changes here and there and some clever set redresses, Short Treks stories could be set in basically any era of Star Trek without having to spend excessive amounts of money on design and construction.

Then there’s the AR wall – the massive video wall that’s been used to great effect in Discovery and Strange New Worlds to bring depth and scale to some of the sets. The AR wall opens up all kinds of possibilities for unique designs: starships, planets, and more could be brought to screen without having to construct new sets. It would even be possible to use the AR wall to reconstruct something like the bridge of the Enterprise-D and tell a new story set during the events of The Next Generation.

The AR wall first began to be used during Discovery’s fourth season.

If Star Trek chooses to settle on one primary era for its main shows – such as the 32nd Century or the 25th Century, for instance – then Short Treks could be the way to keep other eras and alternate timelines alive. Short Treks would be great to tell one-off Mirror Universe stories, for example, or stories set in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries if those aren’t going to be the franchise’s main focus in the years ahead.

A particularly fun idea could see Short Treks expand on our knowledge of the events of individual episodes. We could see one of the battles of the Dominion War from the perspective of another Federation ship, for example, with its crew coming to the aid of the USS Defiant. Or how about the same battle from the Cardassian side? A Short Treks episode could absolutely do that.

How cool would it be to get a story from the Cardassians’ perspective?

There are many Star Trek stories that, while not exactly incomplete, are definitely able to be built upon to show us more. The Lower Decks Season 2 episode wej Duj took a unique format showing us the crews of several different ships who were all part of one larger story, and Short Treks could do something similar. By picking up story threads that we only caught glimpses of in classic episodes, there’s scope to expand our understanding of some of these stories.

There’s also huge potential to dip into the wider lore of Star Trek. What happened in the years in between The Undiscovered Country and The Next Generation Season 1, for example? This massive eighty-year span of Star Trek’s history contains many interesting events that have been mentioned or referenced but never explored on screen, and Short Treks could change all that. We could see, for instance, the “Tomed incident” that led to the Romulans entering a prolonged period of isolation and find out what happened to cause the Federation to give up cloaking technology.

Why did the Romulans isolate themselves prior to the events of The Next Generation?

With sets already built for the USS Stargazer that we saw in Picard Season 2, Pike’s Enterprise, and more, as well as the AR wall, there’s a heck of a lot that Short Treks could do with existing sets that it couldn’t a few years ago. That has greatly expanded the number of potential stories that episodes could tell, and right now it really does feel as though Short Treks is a concept that Paramount is not taking advantage of.

Not only would some of these ideas be interesting and fun for longstanding fans, they could serve as soft landings for newcomers to Star Trek too, providing fans of shows like Prodigy with new experiences that build on their burgeoning fandom. Fans who’ve only just begun to fall in love with Star Trek could find one-off episodes that serve as easy ways into what can be a complicated and convoluted franchise, and that’s another massive benefit to creating stories like these.

Short Treks episodes could ease new fans into the wider Star Trek franchise.

From Paramount’s perspective, the original idea behind Short Treks is still valid. While 2022 may yet see five different Star Trek productions, in years ahead there will still be downtime; gaps in between seasons of the franchise’s main shows. Short Treks stories could fill those gaps, keeping Star Trek alive in the minds of fans and casual viewers alike, providing one more reason to sign up for and remain subscribed to Paramount+.

The experimental nature of some of these stories could see Paramount test out pitches that may be able to be expanded into full series of their own – just like Short Treks episodes featuring Pike, Spock, and Una helped prove that a Captain Pike series would be viable! Stories that draw significant reactions from fans, or that bring back elements from past iterations of Star Trek that prove popular, could be spun off into their own miniseries, show, or even films, setting the stage for Star Trek’s continued expansion.

In short, there are a lot of ways that brand-new episodes of Short Treks could be utilised to not only tell fun, entertaining, and fan-servicey stories, but to give a boost to Paramount+ and provide a way for the creative teams to experiment with completely different ideas that would be difficult or impossible to fit into any of the existing shows. Short Treks has a vast amount of untapped potential.

The first two seasons of Short Treks are available to stream now on Paramount+ (in areas where the service is available). Short Treks is also available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Short Treks 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.

Knights of the Old Republic remake: a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II.

The remake of Knights of the Old Republic is one of the games that I’m most looking forward to at the moment. I’ve talked about this before, but in the early 2000s – when Star Wars had been damaged by two disappointing films – Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel did an awful lot to rescue the franchise’s reputation for me. After twenty years, a remake that brings the game into a new engine and in line with modern titles could be a great way to re-experience it – as well as for new players to experience it for the first time.

Today we’re going to look ahead to the Knights of the Old Republic remake and put together a wishlist; these are things that I truly hope the new version of the game will include.

It goes without saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will actually be a part of a new Knights of the Old Republic game. This is a wishlist from a fan – and nothing more. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get started!

Number 1:
An updated combat system.

Revan’s red Sith lightsaber as seen in the teaser.

Even by the standards of role-playing games in 2003, KOTOR’s combat system was pretty “old-school.” That’s fine, and while turn-based combat isn’t my favourite way to play there was nothing necessarily wrong with the way the game approached battles and fights. But if KOTOR is being remade from the ground up with a view to being modernised for a new audience, I think a new approach is needed.

Turn-based combat feels clunky and slow, and it interrupts the natural flow of gameplay. Combat in the original version of KOTOR feels like a wholly separate event from exploration and the rest of gameplay with a noticeable transition, and I think a less rigid approach would be to the game’s overall benefit. Dropping the strictly turn-based approach in favour of a more fluid combat system doesn’t mean things have to be lightning-fast requiring the reflexes of a professional player! But a redesigned approach to combat would help the game feel like a more natural adventure and less like, well, a video game from the early 2000s.

Number 2:
A proper character creator.

KOTOR’s original character creation screen.

The original version of KOTOR had an incredibly basic “character creator” that only allowed players to choose from about a dozen pre-made portraits. There’s more to a character than the way they look, of course… but in a role-playing game – particularly a third-person role-playing game with cinematic cut-scenes and conversations that routinely show off the player character – being able to really customise the game’s protagonist is something I’d like the remake to offer.

Recent years have seen some truly remarkable character creators. Despite its problems, Cyberpunk 2077 has an excellent character creator, with more customisation options than you can shake a stick at! There’s scope for the KOTOR remake to implement something like that, and doing so would go an awfully long way to improving the role-playing experience.

Number 3:
Additional character classes.

The original game’s class selection screen.

While we’re talking about the game’s character creation, it wouldn’t hurt to add in some new classes. The original version of KOTOR included three starting classes and three Jedi classes that were unlocked partway through, and I think there’s scope to either add some new ones or to perhaps let players pick and choose to create their own custom class.

Classes which combine stealth and combat or Jedi abilities with engineering/tech would be a lot of fun, and would mix things up to make every new playthrough of the game feel different and unique. Look to how the Mass Effect trilogy offers six main character classes as a basic example of what I mean.

Number 4:
A fully-voiced protagonist.

Dialogue options in the opening level of the original KOTOR.

In Knights of the Old Republic every character was fully-voiced – except for one. The player character never spoke, with their dialogue being shown during conversations and cut-scenes as text only. This may have been a creative choice, but I suspect it was done to save file space! Hundreds of lines of recorded dialogue take up space, after all! But this limitation doesn’t exist in the same way in 2022, so there’s no reason not to give KOTOR’s protagonist their own voice after all this time.

Some games have multiple voices available to choose from – the Saints Row series offered this option, for example – and the KOTOR remake could certainly go down that road. But even to just have one masculine and one feminine voice as options, like the Mass Effect games or Cyberpunk 2077, would be fantastic.

Number 5:
Redesigned levels.

The Ebon Hawk touches down on Tatooine.

This one was originally going to be “expanded levels,” but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better! However, twenty years of progress has been made in game design since the original KOTOR was released, so I feel there’s scope to redesign some of the game’s levels to reflect that and make the game feel even more immersive.

For example, the city of Taris could be populated with larger crowds of non-player characters to feel more like the dense urban jungle that the story portrays it as. The deserts of Tatooine could be enlarged to provide more of a sense of scale. Or the forests of Kashyyyk could be remade with a wider variety of plant life – like the version seen recently in Jedi: Fallen Order.

Number 6:
PlayStation 5/Xbox Series X only.

An Xbox Series X box.

And PC, of course! But what I mean is this: the KOTOR remake should take advantage of the latest generation of home consoles and not even try to be compatible with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 generation that’s now almost a decade old. By ditching last-gen in favour of current-gen only, the KOTOR remake will ultimately be a better, more enjoyable, and more visually impressive experience. And isn’t that the main reason to do something like this?

Fans are looking for a game that can take full advantage of two decades’ worth of improvements in technology; if the KOTOR remake tries to remain compatible with last-gen machines, that won’t be possible and at least some of its potential will have been wasted. Although there are still availability issues for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, those consoles are the future and more are being sold every day.

Number 7:
Don’t be shy when it comes to delays.

Cyberpunk 2077. Enough said.

We recently talked about delays when Bethesda and Microsoft announced that Starfield was being pushed back to next year. Without repeating myself too extensively: delays are a good thing! It’s infinitely better for both players and the developer and publisher of a game to delay it until it’s ready rather than trying to force it out too early to meet some arbitrary deadline. So far, we don’t have an official release date for Knights of the Old Republic… but when we do, there’s no need to stick to it if the game needs more time.

Having been burned by recent titles like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Cyberpunk 2077, more and more players are coming around to this way of thinking. A game delay is never fun, but increasingly players understand why it has to happen. I’d rather play a good, bug-free KOTOR remake in 2026 than a bad, rushed, glitchy version in 2023!

Number 8:
No DLC or microtransactions. One complete story.

It shouldn’t cost a packet to play the full version of KOTOR.

Microtransactions in single-player titles are unjustifiable in my view, and I hope that the KOTOR remake avoids this irritating trend. I’m also hopeful that there are no day-one DLC packs, nor any “special editions, “ultimate editions,” etc. The game should be in a complete state at launch, with the full experience available to everyone.

It might be tempting to cut off certain cosmetic items – like lightsaber colours, for instance – and sell them as DLC or as part of a “special edition,” but I really hope this can be avoided. The original version of Knights of the Old Republic didn’t have any of that nonsense – let’s keep the remake free of it as well.

Number 9:
Remake Knights of the Old Republic II!

Could a KOTOR II remake be on the agenda?

Obviously the KOTOR remake is just going to be the first game – but if it’s successful I really hope to see a remade version of Knights of the Old Republic II as well. KOTOR II is probably my favourite part of the duology, with levels like Dxun and Onderon that are truly outstanding. Given the positive reaction to news of a KOTOR remake, could the team working on it be already considering their next move? I hope so!

KOTOR II is a semi-standalone story, and an incredibly fun one in its own right. It would be amazing if a successful and profitable KOTOR remake could be followed up a year or two later by a KOTOR II remake – especially if such a remake could restore some of the content that Obsidian had to cut from the original version of the game due to time constraints.

Number 10:
Set the stage for Knights of the Old Republic III!

The Ebon Hawk.

If remakes of KOTOR and possibly KOTOR II are successful, could a third game finally be in the works? After a twenty-year hiatus, that might be the longest gap in between releases in the history of the games industry… well, unless we count Shenmue III – but the less said about that the better!

Although the MMO The Old Republic made reference to events in the KOTOR games, nothing has been conclusively resolved. And without getting too deep into spoiler territory, both games ended in a pretty open way. There’s absolutely the potential to bring back main and secondary characters for a third entry… so I guess we’ll have to watch this space.

So that’s it!

Darth Revan as glimpsed in the teaser.

That’s my Knights of the Old Republic remake wishlist. I’m hopeful that the remake will be a fun update to the original game and I’m definitely planning to check it out when it’s ready. Knights of the Old Republic isn’t just one of my favourite Star Wars games – it’s one of my favourite games of all time! I can understand why some folks are wary of a remake after lacklustre projects like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition or Warcraft III: Reforged, and the games industry in general doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to remakes and remasters sometimes. But I think there are reasons to be optimistic.

Even if none of my “wishes” end up in the finished game, just having the opportunity to replay Knights of the Old Republic with modern graphics will be fun. The original game was made during the Xbox-PlayStation 2 era and it’s definitely beginning to show its age by now! So any upgrade will be greatly appreciated. I feel optimistic at this early stage that Knights of the Old Republic will get a decent remake. Whenever it’s ready, be sure to stop by the website for my thoughts and impressions.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is being developed by Aspyr and will be published by Lucasfilm Games for PC and PlayStation 5. No release date has been announced. The Star Wars franchise – including all titles and properties mentioned 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.

Six Star Trek “hot takes”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Seasons 1-2, Discovery Season 3, Strange New Worlds, the Kelvin timeline films, Deep Space Nine, and The Next Generation.

Today I thought we could have a bit of fun! There are many so-called “hot takes” about the Star Trek franchise flitting about online, and I thought it could be a change of pace to share a few of my own. These are – based on my limited engagement with the wider Star Trek fan community, at least – opinions that aren’t widely held or especially popular. I’ll do my best to explain why I feel the way I do about each of the six subjects we’re going to consider below.

More than ever, I ask you to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, not objective! I’m not saying that these opinions are factual and unquestionable; this is just my singular perspective on a handful of very complex topics. As with everything in media, there are going to be a range of views, and while I’ll try to justify my opinions below, I know that a lot of people can and do disagree. And that’s okay! There’s room in the Star Trek fan community for respectful disagreement about all manner of things.

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 Trek opinions!

“Hot Take” #1:
Star Trek: Picard transformed Seven of Nine into an enjoyable character for the first time.

Seven of Nine in Picard Season 2.

Star Trek: Picard hasn’t been perfect across its first two seasons, but one thing that it absolutely got right is Seven of Nine’s characterisation. Seven was an unexpected character for the series to introduce – she’d never interacted with Jean-Luc Picard on screen before, and the pair hadn’t even the barest bones of a relationship to build on. In that sense, I was surprised (and maybe a little concerned) when it was made clear that she’d be featured in a big way in the first season.

Perhaps I should explain myself before we go any further. Seven of Nine was introduced midway through Voyager’s run in the two-part episode Scorpion. At first she seemed to be a character with a lot of potential, and I enjoyed what she brought to the table in early Season 4 episodes such as Scientific Method and The Raven. But Seven very quickly became repetitive. Week after week she’d learn some lesson in “how to be more human” from the Doctor or Captain Janeway, but she’d seem to forget all about it and revert to her semi-Borg self by the next episode. This was exacerbated by the fact that Voyager’s latter seasons seemed to include a lot of Seven-heavy episodes and stories, making her a prominent character.

Publicity photo of Seven of Nine during Voyager’s run.

That’s how episodic television works, and I get that. Most other Star Trek characters up to that point in the franchise’s history also “reset” in between episodes, and we could talk at length about how characters like Miles O’Brien could go through some horrible trauma one week only to be happily playing darts at Quark’s a few days later as if it never happened. But with Seven of Nine, a combination of her prominence and storylines that often revolved around learning and taking to heart some aspect of what it means to be human and exist outside of the Borg Collective meant that her week-to-week resets and lack of significant growth really began to grate. Toward the end of Season 7, Seven was given an arc of sorts that threw her into a relationship with Chakotay – but I’m hardly the only person who feels that didn’t work particularly well!

So by the time Voyager ended, I was burnt out on Seven of Nine. Out of all the main characters from Voyager, she was perhaps the one I was least interested to see picked up for a second bite of the cherry – but I was wrong about that. Where Seven had been static and repetitive in Voyager, Picard gave her that development I’d been longing to see, and it was incredibly cathartic! Even though Seven’s post-Voyager life hadn’t been smooth, it had been human, and seeing her experience genuine emotions like anger, betrayal, and later through her relationship with Raffi, love, was something I didn’t know I wanted. Having seen it now, though, there’s no way I’d want to lose this element of Picard.

Seven with Admiral Picard.

The death of Icheb, which was shown in one of Picard Season 1’s most gory sequences, became a key part of Seven’s character arc. His loss devastated her – and the idea that Seven of Nine could be devastated was already a colossal leap for her character. That it spurred her on to one of the most human of desires – revenge – is even more significant for her. And this growth continued across the rest of Season 1, with Seven coming face-to-face with the Borg and even becoming a leader (of sorts) for the liberated ex-Borg on the Artifact.

Even though Season 2 was a mixed bag (at best) with some lacklustre storylines, Seven of Nine shone once again. Her relationship with Raffi added a whole new dimension to her character, and after seeing her experiencing anger and negative emotions in Season 1, Season 2 gave her a chance at love. Season 2 also saw Seven revelling in a new experience, having hopped across to a new timeline and found herself in a body that had never been assimilated. That set her on an arc to accepting herself for who she is – including her Borg past.

Seven without her trademark Borg implants.

Seven’s journey has been beautiful to see, but also cathartic. To me, her journey in Picard feels like it’s righted a twenty-year wrong, finally giving Seven of Nine genuine development and an arc that stuck. While I’m sure fans can and will debate individual plot points (like Icheb’s death or Seven’s off-screen involvement with the Fenris Rangers), taken as a whole I’ve really enjoyed what Picard did with what had been one of my least-favourite characters of The Next Generation era.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more from Seven of Nine – and if you’d told me in 2000-2001 that I’d write those words I wouldn’t have believed you!

“Hot Take” #2:
I don’t like The Inner Light.

Picard/Kamin in The Inner Light.

Often held up as an example of The Next Generation at its best, I’ve never enjoyed The Inner Light. It’s an episode I usually skip over without a second thought when re-watching The Next Generation, but I put myself through the chore of viewing it recently; it’s part of what inspired me to put together this list!

The Inner Light steps away from the exciting adventures of the Enterprise-D to show us a pre-warp civilisation living on a random alien backwater planet, and while exploring strange new worlds is part of the gig, the way this episode in particular does that is just not interesting or enjoyable in the slightest. It’s certainly “different” – and I will concede that point. Star Trek has never been shy about experimenting, after all! But this particular experiment didn’t work, which is probably why we haven’t really seen another episode quite like it.

Picard with the Kataan probe.

I don’t like to say that something “doesn’t feel like Star Trek,” not least because that vague and unhelpful phrase has become associated with a subgroup of so-called fans who use it to attack everything the franchise has done since 2009. But to me, The Inner Light feels about as far away from what I want and hope to see from an episode of Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

By spending practically its entire runtime in the past, with Picard taking on the role of an alien blacksmith in a pre-warp society, The Inner Light abandons not only the entire crew of the Enterprise-D, but also many of the fundamental adventurous elements that are what makes Star Trek, well… feel like Star Trek. Its deliberately slow pace doubles-down on this sensation, and The Inner Light seems to drag as a result, coming across as boring.

Picard/Kamin playing the flute.

I’m not particularly bothered by the way the Kataan probe operates – that seems technobabbley enough to get a pass. But after Picard has been hit by the probe and the majority of the episode is then spent on Kataan with Kamin and his family… I’m just not interested. Sir Patrick Stewart is a great actor, and what happened to the Kataan people is both tragic and a timely reminder of our own burgeoning environmental catastrophe (something that we haven’t even tried to fix more than a quarter of a century later). But despite all of the elements being in place, the story just doesn’t grab me like I feel it should. At the end of the day, I can’t find a way to give a shit about Kataan, nor about Kamin or anyone else.

There are many episodes of Star Trek with races and characters who only appear once, and yet very few of them manage to evoke that same “I just don’t care” reaction. Just within Season 5 of The Next Generation we have characters like Hugh the Borg and Nicholas Locarno, or aliens like the Children of Tama and the Ux-Mal, all of which manage to hook me in and get me invested in their storylines. I’d generally consider The Next Generation’s fifth season to be one of its best, with many of my favourite episodes. But The Inner Light isn’t one of them.

Picard/Kamin overlooking the village of Ressik.

There are points to The Inner Light that did work. The Ressikan flute theme, for example, is a beautiful piece of music, and Picard’s flute-playing ability (which he learned during the events of The Inner Light) would become a minor recurring element for his character going forward, notably appearing in episodes like Lessons. And the underlying premise of a probe that transmits a message in this way could have worked; it feels quite Star Trek-y in and of itself.

But for me, The Inner Light just isn’t fun to watch. It’s boring, uninspiring, and I can’t find a way to get invested in the story of Kataan and its people – despite good performances from Sir Patrick Stewart and the other actors present.

“Hot Take” #3:
Modern Trek needs to pick a single era (and timeline) and stick to it.

Admiral Vance and Captain Burnham in the 32nd Century.

Star Trek, perhaps more so than any other major entertainment franchise, is convoluted. As Trekkies, we love that! The fact that modern Star Trek can explore different timelines, different eras, and broadcast different shows that are entirely separate from one another makes for a diverse and interesting presentation. It also means that we can simultaneously step back in time to before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission while also seeing what came next for Captain Picard twenty-five years after the events of Nemesis.

But try to look at Star Trek from the point of view of a newcomer. Every single one of the five shows currently in production is set in a different time period and location, and just figuring out where to start with Star Trek – or where to go next for someone who’s enjoyed watching one of the new shows – is the subject of essays, articles, and lists. It’s beginning to remind me of Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe – a combination of games, books, comics, and so on that had become so convoluted and dense after decades in production that it felt offputting.

Cadet Elnor in the 25th Century.

In order for Star Trek to successfully convert viewers of one of its new iterations into fans of the franchise, it needs to simplify its current output. A fan of Strange New Worlds might think that their next port of call should be Picard or Lower Decks – but they’d be completely lost because those shows are set more than a century later.

The lack of a single, unified setting also prevents crossover stories – and these aren’t just fun fan-service for Trekkies like us! Crossovers link up separate Star Trek outings, bringing fans of one show into close contact with another. Just as The Next Generation did with Deep Space Nine (and DS9 did with Voyager), modern Star Trek should make the effort to link up its current shows. There are links between Discovery and Strange New Worlds – but any crossover potential has evaporated due to Discovery shooting forward into the far future.

Beckett Mariner and Jennifer the Andorian in the late 24th Century.

This also applies to alternate realities, most significantly the Kelvin timeline which is supposedly being brought back for a fourth film. The Kelvin films served a purpose in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but as I’ve argued in the past, is it really a good idea to bring back that setting – as well as its presentation of characters who have recently been recast for Strange New Worlds – with everything else that Star Trek has going on?

In 2009, it was possible for new fans to jump from the Kelvin films to other iterations of Star Trek and keep up with what’s going on. But we’ve had more than 100 new episodes of Star Trek since then across several different eras, some including recast versions of characters who appeared in the Kelvin timeline films. I’m not so sure that a new Kelvin timeline film serves its intended purpose any more.

Captain Pike in the 23rd Century.

I wouldn’t want to see any of the shows currently in production shut down before their time. We’ve only just got started with Strange New Worlds, for instance, and I’m hopeful that that series will run for at least five seasons (to complete Captain Pike’s five-year mission!) But as the current crop of shows wind down, the producers at Paramount need to consider their next moves very carefully. Where should Star Trek go from here, and where should its focus be?

Discovery’s 32nd Century is certainly a contender, and setting the stage for new adventures years after the stories we know provides a soft reboot for the franchise while also opening up new storytelling possibilities. But it would also be great to see Star Trek return to the late 24th or early 25th Centuries of the Picard era, picking up story threads from The Next Generation era – Star Trek’s real “golden age” in the 1990s. Setting all (or almost all) of its films, shows, miniseries, and one-shot stories in a single, unified timeline has many advantages, and would be to the franchise’s overall benefit.

Stay tuned, because I have a longer article about this in the pipeline!

“Hot Take” #4:
Far Beyond The Stars is an unenjoyable episode, albeit one with a very important message.

Benny Russell in Far Beyond The Stars.

This is my way of saying that “I don’t like Far Beyond The Stars” while still giving credit to the moral story at its core. Star Trek has always been a franchise that’s brought moral fables to screen, and Far Beyond The Stars does this in a very intense – and almost brutal – way, shining a light on America’s racist past and present.

But as I’ve already discussed with The Inner Light above, the way in which this story is presented doesn’t really work for me. I find Benny Russell’s story sympathetic… but because what’s happening is so far removed from the events of Deep Space Nine, it’s difficult to turn that investment over the course of a single episode into anything substantial. The “it was all a dream or a vision” explanation also hammers this home; whatever was happening to Captain Sisko was taking place outside of the real world – perhaps inside his head, perhaps as a vision from the Prophets – and thus it doesn’t feel like it matters – in the context of the show – in the same way as other, similar stories.

Julius and Benny.

Far Beyond The Stars is comparable to The Inner Light insofar as it steps out of the Star Trek franchise’s fictional future. In this case, the story returns to our real world a few short years in the past. While there are occasional flashes of Star Trek’s signature optimism, the darker tone of the story combines with its real-world setting to feel different; separate from not only the events of Star Trek, but its entire universe.

“But that’s the whole point!” fans of Far Beyond The Stars are itching to tell me. And I agree! Far Beyond The Stars knows what it’s trying to be and knows the kind of story it wants to tell and goes for it, 100%. I’d even say that it achieves what it set out to. But that doesn’t make it a fun watch, an entertaining story, or an episode I’m keen to revisit. As with The Inner Light, I almost always skip over Far Beyond The Stars when I’m watching Deep Space Nine.

The unnamed preacher.

Perhaps if I were an American, more of Far Beyond The Stars’ real-world elements would hit closer to home. But when I first saw the episode in the late ’90s here in the UK, I confess that at least parts of it went way over my head. That’s perhaps my own bias showing – but the whole point of this exercise is to discuss parts of the Star Trek franchise beginning with my own biases and opinions!

Having re-watched Far Beyond The Stars after spending time living in both the United States and South Africa – two societies which continue to wrangle with legacies of structural and systemic racial discrimination – I definitely felt its hard-hitting message a lot more. In fact, Far Beyond The Stars could be a great episode to use as a starting point for a broader conversation about race and structural racism. But having a moral message – especially a very on-the-nose one – doesn’t always make for the most interesting or enjoyable story.

Sisko sees himself reflected as Benny Russell at the end of the episode.

I don’t find Far Beyond The Stars to be “uncomfortable” to watch. The racial aspects of its story have purpose, and even with the progress that America has made since the turn of the millennium, many of the racial issues that Far Beyond The Stars highlights are just as relevant today as they were twenty-five years ago. But I guess what I’d say about the episode is that it doesn’t deliver what I personally find interesting and enjoyable about an episode of Star Trek.

Taken as a one-off, I can put up with Far Beyond The Stars. It didn’t become a major recurring thing in Deep Space Nine, and while Captain Sisko would recall the events on more than one occasion, it didn’t come to dominate the latter part of Deep Space Nine’s run in any way. So in that sense, I’m content to set Far Beyond The Stars to one side, acknowledging what it brought to the table in terms of allegory and morality while being content to rewatch it infrequently.

“Hot Take” #5:
Canon matters – up to a point.

The original USS Enterprise.

There seems to be a black-and-white, either/or debate in the Star Trek fan community when it comes to the franchise’s internal canon. Some folks are adamant that the tiniest minutia of canon must be “respected” at all costs, criticising things like the redesign of uniforms or even the recasting of characters because it doesn’t fit precisely with what came before. Then there are others who say that “it’s all just a story,” and that canon can be entirely ignored if a new writer has an idea for a story. I don’t fall into either camp!

Canon matters because internal consistency matters. Internal consistency is – for me, at least – an absolutely essential part of the pathway to suspension of disbelief. If I’m to believe that transporters and warp cores exist, the way they work and the way they’re presented on screen has to be basically consistent from one Star Trek story to the next.

The USS Discovery at warp.

The same applies to characters. If a character has a background as an assassin and that’s a central part of their characterisation in one story, the next episode can’t arbitrarily change that and make them into a marine biologist because the plot demands it. Characters need to feel like real people, and the world they inhabit needs to operate by its established rules.

Luckily for Star Trek’s writers, there is a lot of flexibility in those rules! Most of the specifics of how individual pieces of technology work have never been delved into in any detail, and there’s a lot we don’t know about even the most basic of things within the Star Trek universe. So new writers find themselves with considerable leeway if they want to make a change or do something differently for the sake of a story.

A combadge from an alternate timeline.

But there is a limit to that – or at least there ought to be. And the Star Trek franchise has tripped up by introducing new elements that seem to tread on the toes of what has already been established, even if they don’t technically overwrite anything. Spock’s family is a case in point. The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned, and then Discovery came along and gave him an adopted sister as well. Neither of these additions overwrote what we know of Spock’s family history… but they definitely came close.

On the other side of things, I’m quite okay with Star Trek making changes and updates to its visual style. The redesign of the USS Enterprise that debuted in Discovery and has been expanded upon for Strange New Worlds is a great example of one way that the franchise has modernised its look without really “damaging” established canon. All that’s required to get around the apparent visual changes – for anyone who feels it’s necessary – is to say that the Enterprise must’ve undergone some kind of retrofit in between Pike’s command and Kirk’s.

Sarek and Michael Burnham in Discovery’s premiere.

Where canon matters to me is in terms of characterisation and story. If we’ve established, for example, that the Vulcans and Romulans are related to one another, then future stories must remain consistent with that; there can be no “Romulan origin story” that tries to say that they evolved separately, for example. Likewise for characters. We all love a good character arc – but if a character’s personality and background are established, changing those fundamentals in an arbitrary manner should be off the table.

So to the canon purists, my message is going to be “loosen up a little!” And to the canon ignorers, what I’d say is “internal consistency matters.”

“Hot Take” #6:
The Kelvin films got a lot right – and could be textbook examples of how to reboot a franchise.

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

Even today, more than a decade after 2009’s Star Trek kicked off the Kelvin timeline, I still have Trekkie friends who have refused to watch them. Other fans who showed up at the cinema were unimpressed with what they saw, and the Kelvin films can feel like a controversial part of the Star Trek franchise sometimes. For my two cents, though, although the Kelvin films were imperfect and certainly different to what had come before, they managed to get a lot of things right. I’d even say that Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness could be used as textbook case studies in how to reboot a franchise successfully!

Modern Star Trek – from Discovery to Picard and beyond – would simply not exist without the Kelvin films. When Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, it really did feel as though the Star Trek franchise itself had died and wouldn’t be returning. Even as someone who hadn’t been a regular viewer of Enterprise, that still stung! But if there had been doubts over the Star Trek brand and its ability to reach out to new audiences and bring in huge numbers of viewers, 2009’s Star Trek shattered them.

Transwarp beaming.

Into Darkness eclipsed even the massively high numbers of its predecessor and remains the cinematic franchise’s high-water mark in terms of audience figures and profitability, so it’s not exactly shocking to learn that Paramount hopes to return to the Kelvin cast for a fourth outing next year! These films took what had been a complicated franchise with a reputation for being geeky and nerdy and skimmed off a lot of the fluff. What resulted was a trio of decent sci-fi action films that may just have saved the franchise’s reputation.

The Kelvin films also gave Star Trek a visual overhaul, modernising the franchise’s aesthetic and visual style while still retaining all of the core elements that longstanding fans expected. Transporters were still there – but they looked sleeker and prettier. Warp drive was still present – but a new visual effect was created. Many of these aesthetic elements have remained part of the franchise ever since, appearing in the various productions that we’ve seen since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017.

The USS Enterprise.

By establishing an alternate reality, the Kelvin films found scope to take familiar characters to very different places. We got to see how Kirk and Spock met for the first time at Starfleet Academy – a premise that Gene Roddenberry had considered all the way back during The Original Series’ run – but with a twist. Star Trek reintroduced us to classic characters, but put its own spin on them, providing a satisfactory in-universe explanation for why so many things were different.

But at the same time, the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock from the prime timeline anchored the Kelvin films, providing a link to what had come before. This reboot wasn’t about erasing anything; it was an expansion of Star Trek into a new timeline, one that had basically unlimited potential to tell some very different stories. The trio of films took advantage of that, and while I would argue that there’s no pressing need to revisit the Kelvin timeline right now, I absolutely do appreciate what they did for Star Trek.

Two Spocks.

As a reboot, the Kelvin films succeeded in their ambition. They reinvented Star Trek just enough for mainstream audiences to discover the franchise – many for the first time. Some of those folks stuck around and have become big Trekkies all off the back of what the Kelvin films did. They updated Star Trek without overwriting anything, and they set the stage for further expansion and growth. By every measure, the Kelvin films were successful.

That isn’t to say they’re my favourite part of the franchise! But as a fan who wants Star Trek to stick around and continue to be successful, projects like the Kelvin films are essential.

So that’s it!

Were those takes as hot as a supernova?

I hope that this was a bit of fun rather than anything to get too seriously upset about. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about the episodes, films, characters, and storylines that Star Trek creates, and whether I’m thrilled about something, hated it, or have mixed feelings, I will always try to explain myself and provide reasons for why I feel the way that I do. But at the end of the day, all of this is just the subjective opinion of one person!

We’re very lucky to have so much Star Trek content coming our way in the next few years. It seems like the franchise will make it to its sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new films and episodes still being produced, and there can’t be many entertainment franchises that could make such a claim to longevity!

There are definitely points on the list above that I could expand upon, and I’m sure I could think of a few more “hot takes” if I tried! So stay tuned for more Star Trek content to come here on the website as we move into the summer season.

The Star Trek franchise – including all 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.

To recast or not to recast?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Book of Boba Fett. Minor spoilers are also present for Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy recently made a statement that has drawn a lot of attention. In an interview with magazine Vanity Fair, Kennedy stated that one of the lessons that the Disney-owned studio learned from the lukewarm response to Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018 was that recasting classic characters isn’t possible. In her words, “it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”

This has kicked off a discussion online, not least among fans of the Star Wars franchise and Solo in particular. Today I want to add my two cents to the conversation and use the debate around Kennedy and Solo to talk about recasting characters in a general sense, as well as touch on some alternatives that studios have turned to in recent years.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

First of all, I encourage you to read the full piece in Vanity Fair so you’re aware of what was said and its context. Online debate often centres around a single phrase, soundbite, or fragment of a sentence, and it isn’t always clear how someone’s words were intended. In this case, for example, Kennedy seems to have been talking about the need for Star Wars to move on – something I’ve talked about at length here on the website – and expand beyond the confines of the “Skywalker Saga” and the handful of familiar characters who made up those stories.

I absolutely agree with that sentiment! The Star Wars galaxy is such a vast and exciting setting, one with thousands of years of history, an uncertain future, thousands of planets, trillions of inhabitants, and so much potential! So far, the Star Wars franchise has doubled-down on showing us the same handful of characters and the same tiny sliver of that setting over and over again, and I for one am starting to get sick of it! Star Wars can be more than Luke Skywalker – if it’s willing to put in the effort.

Canto Bight, one of many interesting locales in the Star Wars galaxy.

So in that sense, I agree with Kathleen Kennedy! But taken as a starting point for a discussion about recasting characters, I couldn’t disagree more.

It’s profoundly ironic that Kennedy made this statement during the build-up to the broadcast of Obi-Wan Kenobi… a series that centres around a character who was recast from the original Star Wars films! The Star Wars prequel trilogy recast a number of characters – and recast characters were even ham-fistedly edited into the so-called “special editions” of the original films, with the original voice of Boba Fett being re-dubbed, the original Emperor Palpatine being overwritten in The Empire Strikes Back, and most notoriously, the Force ghost of Anakin Skywalker being changed in Return of the Jedi.

Disney and Lucasfilm panicked in the late 2010s. The divisive reaction to The Last Jedi and underwhelming numbers for Solo: A Star Wars Story saw the Star Wars franchise refocused to bring back a lot more of what corporate leadership hopes will pass for nostalgia. This accounts for the existence of shows like The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as certain narrative decisions in The Rise of Skywalker. It isn’t the first time that corporate cowardice has got in the way of entertainment, and it likely won’t be the last.

The Book of Boba Fett is an example of Star Wars recycling characters.

I’d argue that the wrong lesson has been learned from Solo if Disney and Lucasfilm believe that the biggest takeaway is that they should never try to recast characters. Alden Ehrenreich’s performance was far from the worst thing about that film, and if audiences and Star Wars fans felt that he “didn’t feel” like Han Solo, the blame needs to be placed with the way the script was written and the way the story was told. Solo was a fairly clumsy overplaying of the nostalgia card in my view; a film with an interesting premise that was hampered by shoehorning in characters from the original trilogy and that made the same mistake with Han Solo as the prequel trilogy had with Anakin Skywalker: overexplaining his backstory.

But all of that is incidental. Even if we accept the premise that Solo was a failure and that the performance of its lead was a significant factor – neither of which I’m fully on board with, but I’ll grant for the sake of argument – is the right response really to say that no classic characters should ever be recast again? That seems like a horrible overreaction!

Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The Star Wars franchise has done some very interesting things with digital de-ageing and CGI character creation. The way Luke Skywalker was brought to screen in The Book of Boba Fett as an entirely CGI character was technologically stunning, and at first I thought I was watching a lookalike. The technology needed to create CGI characters and perfectly replicate the face – and even voice – of real actors is already here, and while Disney may be a pioneer of the technology, they’re far from the only ones to be using it. We’ve recently seen digital de-ageing make an appearance over in the Star Trek franchise, for example.

I’ve had an article in the pipeline for well over a year that I really ought to get around to finishing one of these days! It’s all about CGI characters in film and television, because I’m convinced that we’re not far away from a film or TV series bringing back to life a dead actor to play a leading role. I can already picture a snooty director who insists that the lead role in their film could only ever belong to someone like Lawrence Olivier or Orson Welles and decides to digitally recreate them rather than cast someone else!

A CGI recreation of Mark Hamill was used to bring Luke Skywalker into The Book of Boba Fett.

That’s connected, in a way, to what we’re talking about here. Some actors and performers are so iconic that I can absolutely see a time – perhaps very soon – when a film or TV series will use a CGI lead mingling with real actors. A digital creation with a fake face and fake voice that are indistinguishable from the real thing. And as that technology improves and becomes more accessible, it may even become possible for amateurs to do something similar. Imagine a Star Trek fan-film where a fully-realistic CGI Captain Picard is the lead. We’re edging closer to that kind of reality!

But is Sir Patrick Stewart inseparable from Captain Picard? Is Mark Hamill the only possible Luke Skywalker? Or are these roles – and many others across the realm of entertainment – more than just one actor? Look at Shakespeare as an example: how many actors have taken on the role of Hamlet, Prospero, or Richard III? And even in cinema, how many different performances have there been of characters like Count Dracula or Ebenezer Scrooge?

Is Christopher Lee the only possible Dracula in all of cinema?

If the argument is that certain characters can only ever be portrayed by one person, doesn’t that limit them and restrict them to a single possible interpretation? There have been very different takes on iconic characters over the years, and while audiences may have a preference for one or another, that doesn’t mean that only one interpretation is valid. Taking a character and giving them to a new actor expands the potential of that character.

In the Star Trek franchise we’ve seen the main characters from The Original Series recast for the Kelvin films, and while I know of some Trekkies who absolutely hated that idea, as time has passed since the 2009 reboot, more of those folks have come around. 2009’s Star Trek did a lot of things right as a reboot of the franchise, and a big part of its success was down to the way those classic characters were reinterpreted.

Star Trek hasn’t been shy about recasting characters!

Some Star Trek characters have been recast multiple times – by my count, Strange New Worlds features the fourth actor to play Captain Pike and the third to play Spock. Early reactions to Strange New Worlds have been incredibly positive – and the series has even drawn praise from some fans who hadn’t enjoyed anything else that modern Star Trek has had to offer. Recasting Pike, Spock, and other classic characters has clearly not harmed Strange New Worlds.

And the same could be true for Star Wars. Maybe Solo wasn’t the best film the franchise has put out, but that shouldn’t mean that experimenting with different takes on classic characters should be entirely shut down. There’s scope for new actors to take on the roles of Luke, Leia, and others – just as there was for Ewan McGregor to become Obi-Wan Kenobi or Alden Ehrenreich to become Han Solo. Arbitrarily deciding that recasting can never work off the back of a single underwhelming film is an unnecessary overreaction – especially considering that recasting has already worked in Star Wars, with an upcoming series standing as testament to that fact.

Obi-Wan Kenobi was recast in 1999 – and the recast character was so popular that he’s about to get his own spin-off series.

At the same time, there’s a place for digital character creation, recreated characters, and CGI characters, and I fully expect to see a lot more of that type of thing in the years ahead. For my two cents, digital de-ageing and CGI characters probably work best as side-characters rather than main protagonists – and I think Star Wars has got away with using them in that context so far. It will be a new challenge to see a film or TV series where the leading role is taken over by a CGI character.

So in conclusion, I’m glad that Kathleen Kennedy is finally willing to consider expanding the Star Wars franchise beyond the tiny fragment of its wonderful and vast setting that we’ve seen so far. That part is the good news! However, I don’t agree that there’s no place for recasting characters in a general sense. New actors have the potential to bring a new interpretation to the role, and if you look across at other films, franchises, and TV shows, it’s abundantly clear that recasting can and does work.

All properties and franchises discussed above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, corporation, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 theory – what happened to Q?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As the dust settles on Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard, there are still questions that remain. Season 3 may build on some of what Season 2 brought to the table – the strange anomaly, most notably – but other narrative elements will fade into the background and won’t be revisited. For me, one of the unexplained elements that I found intriguing as the season wore on concerns Q. Specifically, what was it that caused this once-immortal superbeing to be reaching the end of his life? What caused Q to die?

For the sake of the story that Picard Season 2 aimed to tell, finding a cause for Q’s death was not strictly necessary. The point of Q’s story and Picard’s relationship with him wasn’t to figure out what was happening, find a cure, or reverse it, but to come to accept it and for Q to find forgiveness and redemption at the end of his life. In that sense, there wasn’t really a narrative problem with the idea of Q dying – but as Trekkies and as fans who’ve followed Q’s journey over the span of more than three decades, it definitely feels like there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. Even if Q’s death was inevitable, explaining why it was happening in the first place would have felt satisfying.

I’m such a Q fan that I have this Mego action figure of him!

We’ll probably have to address this in more detail when I get around to writing a proper retrospective-review of Season 2 as a whole, but one aspect of Q’s death that I feel wasn’t handled well is how nonchalant Picard seemed to be about it. Despite all the trouble he’s caused, the story here was about Picard finding a way to forgive Q and embrace the friendship he had been offering for decades. Wouldn’t someone like Picard have wanted to find out why his friend was dying? And wouldn’t someone like Picard want to do everything in his power to prevent it?

Even if we drop the “friendship” angle, Q is a unique life-form from Starfleet’s perspective. As a being who had been considered to be functionally immortal – or as close to it as the Federation has ever encountered, at least – learning more about the Q as a race and what could possibly harm them seems like an opportunity that a Starfleet Admiral shouldn’t have passed up. Even if it wasn’t possible to find a way to save Q’s life, I would have expected Picard to offer to try. And even if Q was unwilling to share too much information about his condition, his people, and the state of the Q Continuum, I would have expected Picard to have at least asked – and to have not immediately taken “no” for an answer.

Wouldn’t Picard have wanted to understand why Q was dying – and perhaps have offered to help save him?

Perhaps a longer season (or a season that was better-paced and didn’t waste time reaching its conclusion) could have dedicated more time to Q and included some of those questions. In Farewell, the Season 2 finale, Picard seemed to very quickly acknowledge that Q was dying, accept that fact at face-value, and made no effort to follow up on it or ask questions about it. While I understand why it happened that way in terms of the story, it leaves Q’s death feeling like it’s missing something critical – something that could’ve furthered our understanding of both Q himself and the Q Continuum as a whole.

So today, that’s what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to consider a handful of possibilities for why Q might’ve died at the end of Picard Season 2 and look at the pros and cons of each from both an in-universe and production-side perspective. It goes without saying that all of this is speculative and purely subjective; Q’s cause of death is highly unlikely to be explained on screen in the near future, and if you don’t like my ideas or I miss out something you do like, remember that this is all just the opinion of one person!

With all of that out of the way, let’s begin.

Theory #1:
Q was being punished by the Q Continuum.

Q after having been made mortal. And nude.

In The Next Generation Season 3 episode Deja Q, we saw Q come face-to-face with mortality for the first time. In that story, Q had his powers taken away by the Q Continuum – or whatever passes for the leadership of the Q – and found himself a mortal human. This seems to establish the principle that the Q Continuum has the power – in both a legal and physical sense – to strip individual Q of their immortality.

Though somewhat contradicted by the events of the Voyager episode Death Wish – in which it was strongly suggested that a member of the Q Continuum dying is something its leaders sought to prevent at any cost – Deja Q at least gives us something to work with. It was the first episode that established that certain members of the Q Continuum could inflict this kind of punishment on others, and while the specific nature of the Q Continuum and its power structure (if such a thing exists) is suitably vague, we at least have a starting point of sorts!

Another member of the Q Continuum – someone with the ability to make Q mortal.

Based on what we know about Q himself, and specifically his role in causing the death of a fellow Q, sparking a Q Civil War, and creating the first “baby” Q in thousands of years, perhaps we can piece together that the Continuum were not happy with Q’s behaviour and actions. Could it be possible that, after what Q did in episodes like The Q and the Grey, the leadership of the Continuum turned on him?

Given that we’ve also seen the Q Continuum strip powers – and immortality – away from at least two other Qs, this kind of punishment by the Continuum has to be a pretty high probability for explaining what happened to Q. Regardless of what reasons the Continuum may have had, as far as we know they’re the only ones powerful enough to force a Q to become mortal.

Theory #2:
The entire Q Continuum has been attacked.

The Q Continuum as it appeared in Voyager.

This was a theory that I hatched during Season 2 – so it may be familiar to you if you followed along with my weekly theory posts! In short, it seemed possible to me that one explanation for Q’s condition could be related to the Q Continuum itself. If the Continuum had been attacked by some outside force, maybe that could explain what was happening to Q – and it could also explain a cryptic line in Discovery Season 4. Admiral Vance explained to Captain Burnham that the 32nd Century Federation has had no contact with the Q Continuum in over 600 years – and while the events of Picard Season 2 took place approximately 780 years before that conversation, perhaps the two are linked somehow.

One line from Guinan in Picard Season 2 is also of interest here. Guinan described a “cold war” between her people and the Q Continuum in the past, a conflict that was eventually resolved. But based on what we know of the two races, a “cold war” doesn’t seem plausible, does it? The Q are immortal and god-like, and while the El-Aurians certainly have abilities of their own, they’re very much a race of mortals – a race who were conquered by the Borg. So any conflict between the Q and the El-Aurians should’ve been a one-sided rout. That is, unless the El-Aurians knew of some kind of weakness inherent in the Q.

Did the El-Aurians discover some kind of weakness in the Q Continuum?

Some kind of weak point in the Q Continuum would seem to be the only possible explanation for how the El-Aurians could pose any semblance of a threat. That weakness (whatever it may be) could be something that another faction discovered, and instead of negotiating as the El-Aurians had, they might’ve gone on the attack. Or after the El-Aurians were assimilated by the Borg, the Q Continuum’s weakness could’ve become known to them – which could mean that the Borg are responsible for attacking and defeating the Q.

So there are possibilities here – some of which are more plausible than others, admittedly – based on what we know! It isn’t clear whether the powers of an individual Q are tied in any way to the Q Continuum – but it’s possible that they are. If so, perhaps a weakness in the Continuum weakens every surviving Q, and the defeat or destruction of the Continuum would reduce the power of any Q who remained. It seems a possibility to me – even though it was never stated on screen.

Theory #3:
The Q Continuum was destabilised after its Civil War.

“Colonel Q” led one of the factions during the Q Civil War.

Voyager established that the Q Continuum devolved into civil war in the late 24th Century, with two opposing factions. The war came to an end with the birth of a new Q – the first such child in thousands of years. However, as Captain Janeway suggested toward the end of the episode: it doesn’t seem like having a baby would solve the underlying tensions within the Q Continuum.

While the causes of the war and its details were, in Q’s words: “beyond the understanding of humans,” it stands to reason that not only were the underlying issues not fully resolved, but that the fact that the Q Continuum was at war with itself in the first place would be hugely destabilising. After what seems to have been millennia of peace and quiet the Q Continuum was shattered by civil conflict, and as we know from out here in the real world, the consequences of wars – even brief ones – can be incredibly devastating and long-lasting.

Q was injured during the conflict.

Even if war never resumed between the two factions, there was still a lot of cleaning up to be done, rebuilding to achieve, and the need for reconciliation between one-time enemies. We don’t know for sure what kind of resources the Q Continuum might need to sustain itself, but it’s possible these were reduced or exhausted by the war, too. In the conflict’s aftermath, it’s even possible that two distinct Q Continuums were created.

Taking the Q Civil War as a starting point, we could argue that a general destabilisation of the Q Contniuum itself may have occurred. In the aftermath of the Civil War, perhaps the Q Continuum even collapsed, and individual members of the Q were left to fend for themselves. Without the support and resources of a united and undamaged Continuum, perhaps individual Q began to lose their powers and their immortality.

Theory #4:
Death by natural causes.

Did Q simply reach the end of his natural lifespan?

This seems to be what Picard Season 2 at least implied was happening to Q. Q gave no explanation for his impending death, seeming not to know why it was happening, and the explanation could simply be that Q reached the end of his natural life. To us, members of the Q Continuum may seem immortal, but it’s possible that they have a natural lifespan – even if it’s imperceptible to humans because it’s measured in millions or billions of years.

Q, despite appearances, may be one of the oldest members of the Q Continuum, and could thus be the first – or the first in many years – to reach such a ripe old age. He may not know what’s happening to him because death is incredibly rare in the Q Continuum, and a death by natural causes or old age simply hasn’t happened in a very long time.

Perhaps Q is the first of his race to reach this point.

We also don’t know how long Q has been flitting about the galaxy – nor how long it has been for Q in between visits to Picard. From Picard’s point of view, he last saw Q approximately 30 years ago (during the events of All Good Things at the end of The Next Generation). But has it only been 30 years for Q?

A being that can travel through time could have spent millions or billions of years away from Picard before reuniting with him. Q could have travelled back in time to the Big Bang and done other things for 13.8 billion years… then gone back to the Big Bang again and spent another 13.8 billion years killing time and doing his own thing before finally returning to Picard. In short, Q may be far, far older than we assume, and it might’ve been a lot longer in between visits than the 30 years of linear time that Picard experienced. All of these could explain why Q was coming to the end of his life.

Bonus Theory:
Q didn’t really die or was saved at the last moment.

Q’s final snap.

If there’s no body, is anyone in film or TV really dead? Star Wars uses this trope to an excessive degree! But maybe it’s true in Star Trek, too. After Q’s final “snap” that sent Picard and the crew of La Sirena back to the 25th Century, we don’t know what became of Q. Did his body dissipate into energy? Was he vaporised? Did his empty corpse collapse in a French vineyard while Rios and Teresa looked on?

Though it would completely undermine the powerful and deeply emotional sequence at the end of Season 2, maybe the real end to this story has yet to be written. Somehow – perhaps through the intervention of another member of the Q Continuum – Q actually survived, or was reborn immediately after sacrificing himself.

Q in what he described as “the afterlife.”

This… would not be my choice. As much fun as Q can be, establishing his death – and making it a huge part of the story of Picard Season 2 – was incredibly important and felt final. To undo that in any way would devastate the entire narrative arc of Picard Season 2. Given that most of the rest of that season’s storylines were weak, taking away one of the most powerful and most emotional moments would leave very little left.

There is scope for Q to return. His time-traveling nature could see him pop up in other stories as long as they took place prior to the events of Picard Season 2 from his perspective. His cameo in Lower Decks Season 1 is a case in point. But to bring back Q in a big way and claim that he somehow survived… I can’t see it working. It would take away so much of what made Picard Season 2 matter. With Picard seemingly ending after Season 3 as well, there’s less of an argument for including Q in a big way in future stories. He’s primarily a Picard-centric character, so if Picard is killed off or his departure from Star Trek is made permanent, there’s less of a reason to bring back this individual Q. Other members of the Continuum, sure. But this Q should probably remain dead.

So that’s it!

Picard and Q embrace.

Picard Season 2 didn’t explain what happened to Q. In terms of the way the story unfolded, it was ultimately “unnecessary” in order to get Picard and Q to come together and for Q to send Picard home to the 25th Century. The reason for Q’s declining health could have been built into the story, giving him additional motivation and focus, but again that didn’t have to happen based on the way the story was written. Finally, Q’s decline meant two things for the story: firstly, he wasn’t unbeatable any more, potentially giving Picard and the others a chance to stop him. And secondly, it meant that Q’s final act of the season – and final moment as a Star Trek character – was one of self-sacrifice, giving up his life to get Picard and his friends home.

Whether all of that worked just as well without an underlying cause is debatable. And I definitely believe that there was room within the story of the season to explain why Q was dying – and perhaps even to tie that into some other part of the franchise – even if such an explanation wasn’t entirely necessary for the story. The season’s story may not have been hanging from this one narrative thread, but even so it might have been worth it. It would certainly have been satisfying for returning fans from The Next Generation era.

Q as he appeared in Lower Decks.

I don’t think anything we saw on screen during Season 2 of Picard actively rules out any of the theories above – although I’d certainly entertain the argument that Q might’ve mentioned something incredibly major such as the Borg assimilation of the entire Q Continuum! But with Star Trek seemingly setting Q aside for the foreseeable future, it falls to us as Trekkies to speculate and propose answers to one of Season 2’s biggest unexplained story points.

I hope this was a bit of fun – or at least interesting. Personally I’d have liked the writers of Picard Season 2 to have come up with some explanation for Q’s death that felt conclusive. Although the Q Continuum and its denizens are difficult for humans to understand, that doesn’t mean there’s total free rein to throw Q into all kinds of different stories and just use “it’s a mystery” or “you’d never get it” as excuses to cover up the fact that no real answer to the question was created in the first place! So while the cause of Q’s death may not have been critical for the story that Picard Season 2 aimed to tell, not even attempting to make up some semblance of an explanation for it definitely leaves me feeling like something was missing as the story came to an end.

In a better and more enjoyable season of Star Trek, maybe I could see past that and revel in the story that was told rather than picking at threads and asking “why wasn’t this included?” But because Picard Season 2 was, at best, a mixed bag with episodes of inconsistent quality… the fact that it ended leaving behind something that feels like it could’ve been significant feels all the worse. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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.

Starfield: Why game delays are a good thing

If you missed the announcement, Bethesda Game Studios’ upcoming sci-fi role-playing game Starfield has been delayed. Originally planned for a November 2022 release, that has slipped back to “the first half of 2023,” which potentially means that the game is a year or more away. With Starfield having shown off a cinematic teaser and some concept art but no real gameplay yet, perhaps the delay was not entirely unexpected! Regardless, some folks are upset by this move, with some PlayStation super-fans even hailing it as a “failure” for Xbox. Obviously that isn’t the case, so today we’re going to use Starfield as an example of why delays really are a good thing.

First up, it’s never fun when a game I’m looking forward to receives a delay. I don’t think anyone is trying to pretend that a delay to a highly-anticipated title – particularly a lengthy delay of six months or more – is something that fans and players are thrilled about or want to see. Instead, I’d describe delays as “understandable.” Particularly in light of a number of recent titles that have been disappointing due to feeling like they weren’t ready to go on launch day, I think more and more players are coming around to that point of view.

Concept art for Starfield.

Increasingly, these kinds of announcements are treated with maturity and understanding by players – and you need only look to some of the comments and responses to Bethesda’s announcement about Starfield as a case in point. Yes, there are some folks who are angry or unhappy – toxicity exists within the gaming community, who knew? And there are the aforementioned PlayStation ultra-fans who are taking a victory lap. But many responses were positive, saying something along the lines of “if it needs more time, that’s okay.”

Failing to delay a game when extra development time is clearly required never ends well. A game’s reputation is largely set within a few hours of its release, and attempting to change the narrative once “it’s bad” or “it’s full of bugs and glitches” has become the overwhelming impression is nigh-on impossible. For every No Man’s Sky that manages to pull off some kind of rehabilitation, there are dozens of titles such as Anthem, Aliens: Colonial Marines, or Warcraft III: Reforged. It’s much better to launch a decent game out of the gate than to try to fix a broken mess after players are already upset.

Concept art for Starfield.

One game has done more than any other in recent years to soften attitudes in favour of delays and to remind players just how badly it’s possible to screw up a premature launch: Cyberpunk 2077. Despite receiving a significant delay earlier in 2020, Cyberpunk’s launch in December of that year was so catastrophically bad that the game ended up being forcibly removed from the PlayStation store, found itself widely criticised by players, and it even saw CD Projekt Red’s share price take a tumble from which it has yet to fully recover.

Starfield exists in a similar space to Cyberpunk 2077 – both are role-playing games, both include science-fiction elements, both are open-world titles, and so on – so many of the players anticipating Starfield have been burned already just eighteen months ago by a game that was released far too soon. Those players, perhaps more than any others, are inclined to understand the reasons behind this decision. And even folks who didn’t personally get caught up in the Cyberpunk 2077 mess are at least aware of what happened.

Cyberpunk 2077 needed a delay or two of its own.

In 2022, with so many games having been released too soon, the attitude from players in general has shifted. Where delays may once have been met with a louder backlash from those who felt disappointed, reactions today are more mature and understanding. That’s not to say toxic or aggressive individuals don’t exist or that there won’t be any criticism of such a move, but rather that the scale of backlash that delays receive is now less significant than it used to be.

At the end of the day, even the most aggressive critics of delays are still likely to buy a game that they’re excited for when it’s ready. It would take some serious self-harming spite to say “because you didn’t release the game in 2022 I’m never going to play it ever!” so from Bethesda and parent company Microsoft’s point of view, the longer-term damage is limited. That isn’t true for every company, though.

Bethesda is owned by Microsoft.

Delays have a disproportionate impact on smaller companies and independent developers, because a delay in those cases can potentially mean that there won’t be enough money to fund their project. If a developer only has enough money in the bank to keep the lights on and the computers powered up for a certain number of weeks, then there’s naturally going to be a hard limit on how far they can push back a release – and the income it brings. In those cases, more leniency can be required when assessing a game.

But when we’re dealing with Starfield, Bethesda, and Microsoft, that’s a non-issue! Backed up by one of the biggest corporations on the planet, Bethesda doesn’t need to worry about running out of cash, and from Microsoft’s point of view it’s infinitely better to ensure that Starfield gets all the time that it needs to be ready for prime-time. This is Bethesda’s first big title for Microsoft, their first new IP in years, and a game that has a lot riding on it for the success of Microsoft’s Xbox brand and Xbox Game Pass. Getting it right is so much more important than rigid adherence to arbitrary deadlines, so if release windows need to shift then from a business perspective that’s what makes the most sense.

Starfield is likely to be a big title for bringing in new Game Pass subscribers.

There are instances where release dates are announced that seem, even at the time, to be unrealistic. Bethesda’s 11th of November 2022 release date for Starfield, for instance, came eleven years to the day after another of their titles: Skyrim. In addition to getting the game out in time for the Christmas rush, there was also clearly something poetic or symmetrical about such a release date that was appealing to Bethesda. But they recognised that the release date wasn’t practical and changed it – good for them!

As consumers in this marketplace, I think we have a responsibility not only to call out and criticise companies when they get it wrong, but to at least acknowledge when a correct decision has been made. As I always say, I have no “insider information” – so I don’t know what condition the current version of Starfield may or may not be in – but if the developers, testers, and management at Bethesda have recognised that the game isn’t far enough along to be in with a realistic chance of hitting its release date, then the smart move is to announce a delay as early as possible. That seems to be what they’ve done, and I commend them for it.

Concept art for Starfield.

In an industry and a marketplace that is too demanding of its employees sometimes, delays can be incredibly welcome respite. I’ve talked before about “crunch” – a practice that I have some personal experience with having once worked in the games industry – and that’s another reason why delays can be a positive thing. Maybe Bethesda could have crunched the teams working on Starfield hard enough to get some semblance of a playable title ready in time to hit its planned release date – but if doing so would have come at the expense of those developers and their health, then I wouldn’t want to get Starfield this year.

Crunch is a bigger subject that we’ll need to talk about at length on another occasion, but if a delay like this one helps to minimise the stress and difficulty of working under such conditions, then suffice to say we have one more reason to be supportive.

I’m looking forward to Starfield, despite some missteps by Bethesda in recent years. If this delay means that the game will be significantly more polished, free from as many bugs and glitches as possible, then I’m all for it. If this delay means that developers and staff at Bethesda aren’t pushed too hard and overworked this year, then I’m all for it. And if this delay means that Starfield will be an all-around more enjoyable experience, then I’m all for it. Though there will be critics and a vocal minority of toxic “fans,” more and more players are coming around to this way of thinking. Delay Starfield if necessary, and if it isn’t ready for the first half of 2023 then delay it again! All that really matters is that the game is in the best possible shape when it finally arrives, and if that means waiting a little longer, that’s fine by me.

Starfield has been delayed and is now due for release sometime in the first half of 2023. Starfield is the copyright of Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, and the Microsoft Corporation. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking ahead to Avatar: The Way of Water

It’s been a while since we talked about Avatar. Actually, scratch that. It’s been a while since anybody talked about Avatar and its upcoming sequels, with the sci-fi blockbuster having largely dropped out of our collective cultural conversation in the decade since its release. But with the first of four planned sequels due for release in just a few months’ time, James Cameron’s sci-fi series is kicking off its marketing campaign.

In addition to the film’s official title being revealed, we also got the first teaser trailer. Having caught a glimpse of Pandora and the Na’vi, I thought it could be interesting to look ahead and preview what the film may be when it finally hits cinemas later this year.

James Cameron, director of Avatar: The Way of Water.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Avatar. I didn’t hate it or even particularly dislike it, but it was the kind of blockbuster that I just haven’t felt a desperately pressing need to revisit. While its story and characters weren’t bad by any means, nothing Avatar did managed to succeed at creating a world that I can’t get enough of. Avatar was fine – but unlike something like Star Trek or Star Wars, the first film didn’t inspire a huge fan community nor create the sense of scale or the feeling that there’s a great deal more to its world that we desperately need to see.

I re-watched Avatar about eighteen months ago, and I’ve probably seen the film four or five times over the past decade. But could I tell you its plot in any detail or recite some of my favourite lines? How about picking my favourite character(s)… or even remembering the names of the main ones? Aside from the moon of Pandora, is there anywhere else in Avatar’s fictional universe that I’d want to explore? The answer to all of the above is “no,” as you may have guessed.

Official logo for Avatar: The Way of Water.

So that’s the position I’m in as we look ahead to Avatar: The Way of Water (which my brain keeps calling The Shape of Water like that other film from a couple of years ago). But although I might be cruel enough to call some aspects of Avatar “forgettable,” there are reasons for positivity. For one, the science fiction realm always has space for new and expanding franchises, and while I doubt any will ever topple Star Wars or Star Trek, there’s definitely scope to add the likes of Avatar into the mix.

Like its predecessor, Avatar: The Way of Water has a colossal budget, and we will undoubtedly be in for a film whose design, aesthetic, and visual style will be beautiful and immersive. With CGI and other special effects having improved dramatically over the past decade, some of the “video gamey” feel of the first film – with its slightly too smooth and shiny textures – should have been mitigated. While The Way of Water will still be so heavily reliant on CGI as to be basically fully-animated for long sequences, CGI animation in 2022 can look a heck of a lot better than it did in 2009.

A Na’vi taking a swim.

To my surprise, I must admit, the teaser trailer for The Way of Water racked up well over ten million views on YouTube in the 48 hours after it was published there, with several million additional views across other social media platforms. For a time, the teaser trailer was the #1 trending video on YouTube, so there’s clearly still interest in Avatar from the general public – even if most folks haven’t rewatched the first film in a long time!

The teaser trailer itself was a stylised affair, heavy on the soundtrack, that showed off a few interesting-looking locations but that revealed practically nothing by way of narrative or plot. At this stage that could be okay; it’s a tease to renew interest in a franchise that has been dormant for more than a decade. But I wonder if there was enough substance in the 90-second teaser to really kick off a marketing campaign that will need to rebuild interest in the world of Avatar between now and the holiday season.

Sully.

There were a few moments in the teaser trailer that looked genuinely interesting. At one point we saw what appeared to be Na’vi and humans working together, or at the very least Na’vi being shown around a human facility that seemed to be under construction. Whether that means that humanity’s presence on Pandora is growing is not clear. We also saw Na’vi carrying human weapons and wearing what appeared to be body armour; again this could suggest some kind of team-up between at least one human faction and Sully’s Na’vi tribe.

We also got our first look at the much-vaunted underwater motion capture technology, something that has apparently been developed by James Cameron and his team for the new film. The technology wasn’t ready a decade ago, but having worked on it over the past few years, The Way of Water is now leaning on it as a selling-point.

Are humans and Na’vi cooperating?

There have been great underwater sequences in films before, and the very brief clip shown off in the teaser trailer isn’t a lot to go on. I think we’ll have to reserve judgement on how well the underwater motion capture stuff works – as well as how “groundbreaking” or original it makes the finished picture look – until we’ve seen a lot more footage. I don’t want to jump the gun and say it was underwhelming based on a few seconds’ worth of video that was compressed for YouTube!

It’s no bad thing to experiment and try new techniques; that’s the only way that cinema – or any medium, come to that – can ever grow and develop. Whether the gruelling process of underwater motion capture will catch on and become something we see other titles pick up in future is anyone’s guess at this stage. I would say, though, that behind-the-scenes photos and interviews seem to suggest that this particular filmmaking process is hard work!

Underwater motion capture for Avatar: The Way of Water.

James Cameron put a lot of energy into Avatar. A whole Na’vi language was constructed by linguistics experts, and while that isn’t something entirely unique for a sci-fi property (hello, Klingon) it does show how seriously Cameron and others took the project. Seeing Avatar expand beyond its original film and begin to take advantage of some of that hard work is something I’d like to see happen, and there’s always going to be room for more high-quality sci-fi.

Expanding on the story of Avatar – which was left somewhat open-ended back in 2009 – could be fun, and I hope that the story will go in a different and perhaps unexpected direction. The original film took flak for its perceived unoriginality, so this first sequel could be an opportunity to break away from that.

Though I’m not going to rush out and be the first in line for Avatar: The Way of Water on release day, I’m hopeful that it’ll be a decent sci-fi title when it’s ready. As the first of four sequels to the original film, this could be a franchise that we’ll discuss a lot in the years ahead.

Avatar: The Way of Water is scheduled to be released on the 16th of December 2022. The Avatar series – including The Way of Water – is the copyright of 20th Century Studios and/or The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Picard theories – Season 2 finale

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 and casting information for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: DiscoveryEnterprise, VoyagerFirst Contact, and The Next Generation.

After a plodding and occasionally frustrating season, Star Trek: Picard wrapped up this week. Going into the season finale we still had more than twenty theories on the table – though some were definitely beginning to feel unlikely! This week we’re going to conclude my Season 2 theory list and take a look at how some of those remaining theories landed.

Across the season as a whole, I had some theory successes – as well as more than a few misses! But as I always say, all of this is just for fun – so the theories that ended up being completely wrong are totally fine by me! It was enjoyable to spend the extra time thinking about where the story of Picard Season 2 could be headed, and even when I was wide of the mark it was still a great excuse to dive deeply into the Star Trek galaxy.

So without any further ado, let’s start wrapping up the theory list. We’ll begin with the theories that were confirmed, then take a look at the ones that were debunked. There are also a couple of theories that may survive going into Season 3, so stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead for a preliminary Season 3 theory list!

Confirmed theory #1:
A character from The Next Generation made an appearance.

Wesley Crusher!

Wesley Crusher’s return was one of the high points of the season finale for me! After a thirty-year absence from the role, Wil Wheaton stepped back into the shoes of Wesley Crusher and showed us a glimpse of his life as a Traveler. The fact that this was kept secret and not spoiled ahead of time made it one of the biggest surprise moments in the finale – and while I had been speculating that at least one character from The Next Generation would appear all season long, I would’ve never guessed that it would be Wesley!

With the rest of The Next Generation crew reuniting next season, it’s incredibly sweet that we got this moment with Wesley before Picard wrapped up. It would’ve been amazing to see him reunite with Picard himself, of course, but just seeing Wesley back in action, knowing that he’s living an amazing life and that he still exists in the Star Trek timeline was absolutely fantastic.

Wesley’s appearance also tied together the Travelers from The Next Generation with the Watchers and Supervisors from The Original Series – and connected in a big way with Tallinn’s role this season. It was an incredibly creative way to bring these storylines together and to connect with over fifty years’ worth of Star Trek’s history. All in all, one of the season finale’s best moments.

Confirmed theory #2:
Seven of Nine was given a Starfleet commission.

Captain Seven!

Maybe it would be fairer to call this one “semi-confirmed,” as Seven’s commission from Admiral Picard in Farewell seemed very much like a brevet; a less-than-official or impermanent role that came about as a result of the unique circumstances of working with the Borg. But regardless, I had speculated that Seven would join Starfleet before the end of the season, and technically that happened!

It was a fun moment to see Seven assume command of the USS Stargazer, but moreover I was impressed with the way her season-long arc took her from a place where she hated the Borg (and the Borg side of herself) and was advocating for shooting first and asking questions later all the way to placing her trust in the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid. Seven’s growth got her to a place where her trust and her actions allowed her to play a definitive role in saving the entire quadrant from the mysterious anomaly.

Confirmed theory #3:
The Borg’s request for help from the Federation turned out to be genuine.

This is the disaster that the Borg wanted to prevent.

It was implied in The Star Gazer at the beginning of the season that the Borg’s message may have been a ruse; a deception that was intended to be the pretext for a new Borg invasion of the Federation. However, just because some of our characters believed that to be true didn’t mean it was true, and I wondered whether the story might end up saying that the Borg were genuinely asking for the Federation’s help.

That turned out to be correct – in a roundabout way, of course. The Borg weren’t fleeing from some unknown assailant, as I had speculated, nor were they crippled following the events of Voyager’s finale. Their intention was to help – to join with the Federation and use their technology to prevent the attack on the Alpha Quadrant by whoever sent the mysterious anomaly.

Confirmed theory #4:
The masked, hooded Borg was not the “real” Borg Queen.

The Borg Queen, unmasked.

I daresay this one had been increasingly obvious for at least half of the season, and especially after the way Hide and Seek had ended a week earlier, it seemed all but certain that the Borg Queen on the bridge of the Stargazer would turn out to be the Dr Jurati hybrid as opposed to the original Borg Queen. This turned out to be true – although why Farewell attempted to treat this as a big, shocking revelation is something I’m not sure of!

Ever since we first saw the masked Borg Queen at the beginning of the season I felt sure we’d find out who was behind the mask. Along with Dr Jurati, earlier in the season I’d suggested Admiral Janeway, Soji, and Renée Picard as possible candidates.

Confirmed theory #5:
Elnor was restored to life in the 25th Century.

Cadet Elnor aboard the USS Excelsior.

I’m afraid that I don’t like the way that Elnor’s story was handled as the season wrapped up. On the one hand, I’m pleased that a character like Elnor – who has a lot of potential as someone young and from a unique background – hasn’t been permanently killed off. However, his survival undermines Raffi’s season-long arc of coming to terms with guilt and grief, as well as renders one of the best and most emotional moments in Hide and Seek entirely impotent.

Regardless of all that, I had been speculating that Elnor would be saved ever since he was killed, and as I said last time, I wasn’t prepared to drop the theory with only one week remaining in the season. I’m glad I didn’t – because it turns out I was right and this is another one I can place in the “win” column for Season 2!

Confirmed theory #6:
Rios chose to remain in the 21st Century with Teresa and Ricardo.

Rios chose to stay behind.

This was another disappointing storyline, unfortunately. As I’d been saying all season long, the way Rios regressed as a character from his presentation as a Starfleet captain at the beginning of the season was ridiculously poor, and his choice to stay in the 21st Century really just capped off what has been a truly disappointing season for him.

Rios spent most of his time in Season 2 disconnected from all of the other main characters, spending his time only with Ricardo and Teresa, so even his goodbye with the other characters didn’t hit as hard as it could’ve. As I said last time, I never really felt that Rios and Picard were anything more than acquaintances; work friends, not real friends. Also, I guess Rios must’ve not been paying attention in history classes at Starfleet Academy, because World War III is about to break out, followed by the post-atomic horror. He’s about to live through the worst fifty years in all of human history in the Star Trek timeline. So… good job, idiot.

Confirmed theory #7:
Q shielded Picard and the crew from the changes to the timeline.

Oh, Q.

The season finale finally saw us get an explanation from Q as to what he’d done and why. As part of a plan to help Picard overcome trauma and grief from his childhood and his mother’s death, Q set a very elaborate plan into motion, changing the past and ensuring that Picard and the crew of La Sirena were the only ones unaffected.

As we saw in the finale, Q’s powers could be used to send people’s consciousnesses through time or even across the divide between different realities, meaning that must’ve been what he did in the first place to set up this puzzle. It had seemed all but certain that this was the case, but until we heard from Q himself and gave him the chance to explain what had happened I wasn’t ready to call it confirmed.

So those theories were confirmed.

We have one theory that I’m calling “semi-confirmed,” but we won’t be sure about its status until we start to learn more about Season 3.

Semi-confirmed theory:
The season will end on a cliffhanger.

The mysterious anomaly.

What’s going on with the anomaly? We didn’t get any kind of explanation for what it was, where it came from, or who might be responsible for attempting to destroy the entire Alpha Quadrant… so I think that this is setting up at least part of next season’s story. If that’s correct, then this theory that I’d been running all season long will, in a roundabout way, turn out to be correct!

However, if the anomaly isn’t revisited next time, we’ll have to call this one debunked. At the moment it feels like we’ll have to come back to the anomaly in some way, just based on its mysterious and unexplained nature, but then again the Season 1 super-synths (and other Season 1 plot threads) didn’t come back into play in any way during Season 2… so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, I’m calling it “semi-confirmed” for now.

So that theory was semi-confirmed.

Now we’ll go through the theories that were debunked by Farewell and definitely won’t be returning for Season 3!

Debunked theory #1:
Some or all of the main characters from The Next Generation will rescue Picard from 2024.

The main cast of The Next Generation in Season 5.

I had wondered if, with Picard stranded in the 21st Century, some or all of the main characters from The Next Generation would show up to rescue him. Given that Q’s powers seemed to be in decline, and with few other options for getting back to the 25th Century, it seemed like a plausible idea, one that could’ve potentially set the stage for Season 3. It would’ve also tied in thematically with what we saw at the end of Season 1, where Acting Captain Riker arrived at the last minute to save the day.

However, it didn’t happen. Q was able to use the last of his energy to get Picard home, and the only character from The Next Generation to appear was the aforementioned Wesley Crusher.

Debunked theory #2:
The “two Renées” comment refers to Picard’s nephew.

René Picard – not to be confused with Renée Picard.

Though it would’ve been somewhat of a bolt from the blue, I was wondering if the Borg Queen’s cryptic comment in Hide and Seek about there being “two Renées” might’ve been referring to Picard’s nephew. In the prime timeline, René Picard was the son of Jean-Luc’s brother Robert. The two were killed in a fire at the vineyard during the events of Star Trek: Generations, and I wondered if the Borg Queen may have been referring to that moment as it was another significant one for Picard and his family.

As it turned out, “two Renées” were required to complete the mission. With Dr Adam Soong on the prowl, Tallinn disguised herself as Renée and allowed Dr Soong to kill her in order for the real Renée to board the Europa Mission spacecraft, setting up her significant discovery and the role she would ultimately play in creating the brighter future that we’ve come to know in Star Trek.

Debunked theory #3:
An alternate reality is about to be created.

“An alternate reality?”

With the Dr Jurati-Borg Queen hybrid departing Earth in the 21st Century, and a cryptic message about “two Renées” to consider, I wondered if the end of the season might’ve seen some kind of permanent divergence in the timeline. One timeline may have been the familiar one, but the other could’ve been completely different either because of a very different Borg Collective or even because of the actions of Dr Adam Soong.

That didn’t happen, however, and it seems as though the prime timeline has been restored without the Confederation timeline – or indeed any other alternate reality – coming into existence. That keeps things nice and simple, at least!

Debunked theory #4:
The loose ends from Season 1 will be tied up.

What happened to Narek?

I’m disappointed that Picard Season 2 did basically nothing at all to wrap up any of the loose ends from Season 1 – and there were quite a few. A rushed finale last time around left significant chunks of story still on the table, and there were some pretty sizeable unanswered questions remaining. Even just a few lines of dialogue would’ve been something, but we didn’t get that.

It’s possible that Season 3 may bring back a faction like the super-synths, in which case we may learn more about them or see other connections to events from Season 1, so I’m not entirely giving up on this one. But explanations for what happened to Narek, what became of the surviving ex-Borg, the fate of the beacon on Aia, and so on could’ve been addressed this time. It’s a shame that there wasn’t time to do so.

Debunked theory #5:
Picard and the crew will “borrow” Renée’s Europa Mission spacecraft to get home.

The Europa Mission launch.

With La Sirena having been surrendered to the Borg Queen, the question of how Picard and the surviving crew might make it home came up. I wondered if part of the reason for making Renée an astronaut with access to a spacecraft might be so that Picard and the others could use it to return to their own time period. Comments earlier in the season about how records of the Europa Mission had been lost could’ve also fed into this theory.

As above, it was ultimately Q who saved the day, sending Picard and the crew home using what remained of his power. I wasn’t especially fond of the Renée and Europa Mission storylines, so this could’ve been a way to make them feel more directly relevant to the plot.

Debunked theory #6:
Q is not responsible for changing the timeline.

Q’s final snap.

This is a theory that I put together before the season had even aired a single episode! In short, I felt that making Q the direct antagonist of the season would go against his established characterisation, and that there didn’t seem to be a plausible reason why Q might want to punish Picard in such extreme fashion. It also seemed odd that pre-season marketing had essentially revealed one of the season’s biggest narrative points months in advance, so I wondered if there might be more going on than we had been led to believe.

Whatever we might think of Q’s reasoning, it turned out that he was responsible for changing the timeline after all – something that had been seeming increasingly likely as the season wore on. The resolution to this story was undeniably rushed, and I would question the idea of putting so many lives at risk – as well as getting people killed and transforming the destinies of others – but ultimately this is how Q decided to help Picard learn to let go of his trauma and grief and choose to become the person he has been. In a sense, there were echoes of Tapestry – a Season 6 episode of The Next Generation – in the way this came about, making it feel in line with other Q stories at least to a degree.

In retrospect, clinging on to this theory for as long as I did may have been a mistake, and it could have arguably been debunked at an earlier stage.

Debunked theory #7:
Other candidates for changing the timeline.

The super-synths.

Earlier in the season I’d proposed a few other candidates who might’ve been responsible for changing the timeline if, in fact, Q had been innocent! Though there are many factions in Star Trek that could potentially possess time travel technology and might wish to mess with the Federation, based on what we knew about Picard I proposed three candidates: the Zhat Vash, the secretive Romulan sect who were the main antagonists in Season 1, the super-synths from the Season 1 finale, and the Borg. By the time we got to Farewell this week, only the Borg seemed even slightly plausible.

But with the revelation that Q was responsible for changing the timeline and setting everything up, none of that came to pass! It could’ve made for an interesting story in some respects, with Q being less an outright antagonist and more of a helpful force, guiding Picard to the conclusion of the mystery. But that would have been an entirely different story!

Debunked theory #8:
The Borg are fighting a war – and they’re losing.

The Borg ship in Farewell.

The Borg’s cry for help at the beginning of the season led to a lot of speculation! Why might the Borg be asking for help, and why from Picard specifically? One possibility seemed to be that the Borg may be on the losing side of a war. We’d seen this story play out in the Voyager episode Scorpion – in which Seven of Nine was first introduced – when the Borg bit off more than they could chew by trying to assimilate Species 8472! It seemed at least possible that something similar could have happened this time around.

As above, we learned that the Borg’s motive was significantly more altruistic. Led by the Dr Jurati hybrid, this version of the Collective aimed to prevent an anomaly from causing a destructive event that would’ve wiped out the Alpha Quadrant.

Debunked theory #9:
Kore Soong will team up with Picard and the crew of La Sirena.

Kore Soong.

Although the arrival of Wesley Crusher (one of the finale’s best moments) salvaged an ending for Kore, her storyline this season was one of the absolute worst and most meaningless. Kore was repetitive, and her story felt like a cheap recycling of the Soji and Dahj stories from Season 1. She mainly existed to prop up the otherwise entirely one-dimensional Dr Adam Soong, and while at first it seemed like her existence and mysterious health condition could’ve led to a nuanced and interesting antagonist, that went out the window pretty quickly.

One way to have potentially made something of Kore would’ve been to have her work with Picard and the others to stop her father. It didn’t happen, and that meant that there was literally no on-screen interaction between Isa Briones and the rest of the cast, which was a real shame.

Debunked theory #10:
The Q Continuum has been attacked.

Picard and Q.

While not technically “debunked” outright, Q’s apparent death means that revisiting the Q Continuum is incredibly unlikely in the near future. And as we learned in Discovery Season 4, there’s been no Federation-Q Continuum contact for hundreds of years as of the 32nd Century, so again it seems highly unlikely that spending any more time with other members of the Q Continuum is on the cards.

Earlier in the season it seemed plausible that the explanation for Q’s declining powers could be that the entire Q Continuum had come under attack. If something that Picard had done – or hadn’t done – was responsible, that could have explained both Q’s desire to change the timeline and the angrier, more aggressive presentation of the character.

It didn’t happen, though, and although Q himself seems to be gone, as far as we know the rest of the Continuum is okay!

Debunked theory #11:
Q is angry with Picard for “giving up.”

Grumpy Q.

This is again connected to the angrier presentation of Q that we saw in episodes like Penance. I wondered if Q’s motivation for putting Picard through a punishment might be because he was angry with the way Picard gave up and recused himself from galactic affairs in the decade leading up to Season 1. Because we know Q considered Picard as a friend and a favourite, seeing him depressed might’ve been something that angered Q.

Q saw potential in Picard in The Next Generation – including the potential for humanity to one day achieve a similar level of understanding as the Q themselves, so seeing Picard’s fall from grace could have been part of why Q was so upset.

Ultimately it didn’t turn out that way – and I think I’m glad that it didn’t. Though there are definitely issues with the story as it was written, this presentation of Q would have been much more antagonistic and vengeful.

Debunked theory #12:
The Borg are aware that Picard is now a synth – and his synthetic status is part of the reason why they waited until now to make contact.

Robo-Picard.

In short, I wondered if the reason for the Borg’s re-emergence at the beginning of the season might’ve been connected in some way to Picard becoming a synth at the end of Season 1. Because we know that the Borg seek “perfection” through the merging of organic and synthetic life, Picard’s new synthetic body might’ve been something that they desired to assimilate.

As above, the story of Season 2 was a standalone affair that didn’t connect to Season 1 in a major way. Aside from one mention by Q in the episode Penance and one by Rios in Assimilation, Picard’s synthetic status wasn’t brought up and had no bearing on the plot.

Debunked theory #13:
The Borg ship from The Star Gazer crossed over from the Confederation timeline.

The Borg vessel identified as “Legion.”

Because we didn’t know why the Borg were asking for help, I wondered if their vessel might’ve somehow found a way to punch through from the Confederation timeline to the prime timeline. This might’ve been able to happen if an alternate reality had been created, one in which the Confederation became dominant.

We now know the Borg vessel’s true origin: it was the flagship (or possibly the only ship) of the Borg faction led by the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid, placing it firmly in the prime timeline.

Debunked theory #14:
Rios will bring Teresa and Ricardo to the 25th Century.

Teresa and Rios aboard La Sirena.

An inversion of what actually happened with Rios and Teresa, this story would’ve mimicked that of Kirk and Dr Gillian Taylor in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Dr Taylor accompanied Kirk and the others to the 23rd Century at the conclusion of their mission, and I wondered whether Rios might offer Teresa and Ricardo the same opportunity.

As noted above, Rios ultimately chose to stay in the 21st Century. Though we don’t know whether Q even had the power to send two extra people, it seems possible at least. But for whatever reason, Rios chose to remain behind.

Debunked theory #15:
Teresa and Ricardo are Rios’ ancestors.

That could’ve been awkward…

One way to potentially resolve the Rios-Teresa romance could’ve been to make Teresa and Ricardo his distant ancestors! This would’ve also tied in thematically with a season in which Picard met one of his own ancestors, and it could’ve provided some entertainment value, similar to comparable storylines in the likes of Back to the Future.

Debunked theory #16:
Rios will be killed and Picard will assume command of the new USS Stargazer.

Rios in the captain’s chair of the USS Stargazer.

As Rios’ storyline progressed and his relationship with Teresa deepened, I wondered if he might’ve ended up dead as a way to write him out of the show. Picard hasn’t pulled any punches when it comes to killing off characters, and with a need to free up space in the cast ahead of Season 3, Rios definitely seemed in danger after a story that cut him adrift from the rest of the crew.

Rios would ultimately end up staying in the 21st Century, and the captaincy of the Stargazer has fallen, in the short-term at least, to Seven of Nine. Whether she’ll still be in the chair when Season 3 arrives is anyone’s guess, though!

So those theories were debunked.

We have two theories that Farewell seems to have neither confirmed nor debunked, and those remain possibilities going into Season 3. It depends on what we see in terms of pre-release trailers and the like, but these two might just sneak back in next time. Watch this space!

Returning theory #1:
The Borg Collective was badly damaged in the Voyager episode Endgame and has been unable to recover.

Admiral Janeway and the Borg Queen.

It seemed to be suggested by Dr Jurati in the season premiere that the Borg have been in a weakened state, and I wondered if that might be because of the actions of a time-travelling Admiral Janeway in Voyager’s finale. Janeway introduced a virus into the Borg Queen that severely damaged her, her base of operations, and dozens of Borg vessels on the way to helping Voyager make it back to Earth. Those events have never been addressed on screen, and with the return of the Borg it seemed possible that we might be about to learn more.

It didn’t happen in Season 2, but with the Borg back – at least, one faction of Borg – maybe we’ll discover the extent of the damage to the Collective in Season 3. I’ve long assumed that the Borg were adaptable and clever enough to eventually recover from the damage inflicted upon them, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Returning theory #2:
There will be a Borg civil war between a faction inspired by the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid and the rest of the Collective.

The Dr Jurati-Borg Queen hybrid.

We don’t know exactly how the Dr Jurati-led Borg and the rest of the Collective have interacted in the four centuries since she left Earth. At one point it seemed to be implied that this faction would replace the Borg Collective, but doing so would effectively wipe out the entire prime timeline. So I have to assume that the Dr Jurati-led Borg are distinct and separate from the main Collective – but would the rest of the Borg be okay with that?

I had speculated that we might learn that the Jurati-Borg were fleeing from a civil war, one in which the regular Borg had somehow gained the upper hand. That could have accounted for their request for help from the Federation. However, that didn’t happen in Farewell… but I don’t think we can rule out the idea of these factions being at odds just yet.

So those theories may return in time for Season 3!

The USS Excelsior.

That concludes this season’s theory list. In addition to the pair of stragglers directly above, Farewell did actually inspire a couple of other Season 3 theory ideas, so perhaps in the days or weeks ahead I’ll put together a very preliminary Season 3 theory list. Watch this space for that!

Picard Season 2 wasn’t the best that modern Star Trek has had to offer. Its modern-day setting hampered it to a great degree, and while there were occasional flashes of brilliance, overall the story felt quite disjointed, with individuals or pairs of characters seemingly embroiled in their own distinct narratives for the most part, with only occasional link-ups between different storylines.

The USS Stargazer.

That being said, it was fun to speculate and theorise about the season while it was rumbling along. I had some interesting ideas along the way – some of which would’ve made for a radically different story! At the end of the day, this is all just for fun; a chance to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy. And I had fun coming up with these theories and writing them down while the season was ongoing.

Season 3 already has some issues – and if you want to see me talk about some of my criticisms of the casting in particular, click or tap here for that. However, the return of The Next Generation characters is a tantalising idea, and I’m hopeful that Picard Season 3 – supposedly the show’s swansong – will be exciting, dramatic, and fun.

Over the weeks and months ahead, stay tuned. There’s plenty more Star Trek content to come here on the website, and when we get trailers or news about Season 3 I’ll do my best to take a look at it and give my thoughts. Until next time!

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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: Picard Season 3 – thoughts on the casting situation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 and casting/character announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 and Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-2.

Star Trek: Picard’s second season wrapped up a couple of days ago, and even as the dust settles on the show’s latest outing we’re already beginning to see Season 3 take shape. Filming on Picard Season 3 has been underway for months; Seasons 2 and 3 entered production back-to-back, so we have a good chance of seeing it in the early part of 2023 as things currently stand.

Today I wanted to take a peek behind the curtain and talk about some production-side announcements that are related to Season 3 – in particular, which characters might not be included in the new season. This is serious spoiler territory for Season 3, so if you don’t want to know who may or may not be reprising their roles (and you ignored the giant warning at the top of the article), this is your last chance to avoid Season 3 spoilers!

The USS Stargazer in Farewell.

The only way I can describe what I’ve learned about Season 3 is that the Picard cast has been massacred. At time of writing, we have confirmations (or as-good-as confirmations) that Orla Brady, Isa Briones, Santiago Cabrera, Evan Evagora, and Alison Pill won’t be returning for Season 3. That means Laris, Soji/Kore/Sutra, Rios, Elnor, and Dr Jurati/the Borg Queen won’t be included in any meaningful way in the new season.

These departures make way for the returning main cast members from The Next Generation (minus Wil Wheaton and Denise Crosby), who will be reprising their roles as Riker, Troi, Worf, Dr Crusher, La Forge, and a currently-unknown character in the case of Data actor Brent Spiner. As nice as it will be to welcome them back to Star Trek, I can’t help but feel that this decision is the wrong one – or at the very least that the Picard cast departures have been handled particularly poorly.

The cast of The Next Generation in Season 2.

In Farewell, the Season 2 finale, Captain Rios and Dr Jurati got goodbyes… of a sort. Rios’ goodbye felt permanent as he chose to remain in the 21st Century after falling for Teresa; the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid had less of a “goodbye” and more of a “see you later,” but I guess in the context of her season-long arc we can at least call it an ending. But Elnor, Laris, and Soji didn’t even get the most basic of goodbyes.

Soji was Season 1’s second main character along with Picard himself. She was both the driving force behind the plot of the first six episodes and a major character in her own right, and her story of learning the truth of her synthetic origin and coming to terms with that was something that Star Trek had never really tackled before. More significantly, Soji led Picard to her people’s homeworld: Coppelius.

Soji in Season 1.

The discovery of the Coppelius synths led to the unravelling of the Zhat Vash plot, as well as uncovered the role of Commodore Oh as a spy within Starfleet. It provided Starfleet with an explanation for the attack on Mars a decade earlier and for the cover-up aboard the USS Ibn Majid. It transformed Starfleet from a semi-antagonist with an inward-looking, almost xenophobic edge back into a faction worthy of support. It’s a landmark moment in the history of this post-Nemesis era.

Soji was instrumental in all of that, as well as in contacting and then not contacting the unnamed faction of super-synths. We spent a lot of time with her across Season 1, and I’d point to some of her scenes with Kestra in Nepenthe and her role in The Impossible Box as being two of the big highlights. Unfortunately, Soji was completely sidelined in Season 2, not taking part in the mission back in time or the stand-off with the Borg in any way… but there was still scope to bring her back.

Soji was sidelined for all of Season 2.

Elnor’s absence – if indeed it is confirmed; at this point it’s only been mentioned by actor Evan Evagora on social media – feels utterly inexcusable to me. After Elnor had been killed in the Season 2 episode Assimilation, his death served as a major motivating factor for Raffi’s character arc, and coming to terms with her guilt and remorse were key components of her storyline. This culminated in a beautiful sequence in the episode Hide and Seek in which Raffi was able to speak to a holographic recreation of Elnor and come to terms with what had happened – accepting his death and letting go of at least some of the guilt that had been plaguing her.

This story was already muddled – and I would argue that its beautifully emotional conclusion was severely undermined – by the decision to resurrect Elnor in the Season 2 finale just one episode later. As much as I wanted to see Elnor’s story continue – as I feel he’s a character with huge potential – his death and Raffi’s acceptance of it seemed to be permanent, and undermining what had been one of Hide and Seek’s best moments wasn’t something that the season needed in its final minutes.

Holo-Elnor in Season 2.

But now to learn that Elnor isn’t coming back after all… I just don’t get it. For the sake of two minutes of screen time in the season finale and a look of relief on Raffi’s face, why not just leave Elnor dead if he has no role in Season 3? That would’ve at least given Raffi’s main narrative arc in Season 2 some significance. Most of the impact of what Raffi went through had been blunted by Elnor’s survival, and while we could certainly argue that she learned something from the experience, it smacks of the whole “it was all just a dream” story trope that resets everything back to the way it was.

Given that there seems to be no role for Elnor in Season 3, he may as well have stayed dead. At least his death would’ve mattered, spurring on Raffi to learn a lesson and grow as a person – growth that could stick around and continue to provide inspiration to her in whatever story comes next. Having him survive only to be shuffled off-screen anyway, presumably assigned to a different starship, just feels completely hollow and meaningless.

It seems as though there’s no place for Cadet Elnor in Season 3.

Although Laris hadn’t been a major character, her romantic interest in Picard was one of the main factors involved in kicking off the plot. As it turned out, Q wanted Picard to process grief and trauma that he’d carried since childhood – something that seems to have prevented him from forming longlasting relationships. In that sense, Laris was an incredibly important character for the series – and the closing moments of the Season 2 finale implied that she and Picard will indeed be striking up a new romantic relationship.

But if we aren’t going to see that relationship unfold on screen, if it’s just going to be relegated to that one scene at the end of Season 2, it again raises some pretty big questions. It’s beginning to feel that the decision to bring back The Next Generation characters in Season 3 has already undermined some significant story beats from Season 2, cutting them off at the knees and preventing the next – and final – chapter of the story from developing them further and taking them to their natural conclusions.

Picard with Laris at the beginning of Season 2.

When Star Trek: Picard was first announced, I didn’t want it to be The Next Generation Season 8. That’s a neat idea – but it wasn’t what this series was. I wanted to see some of these new characters grow on me and be given the opportunity to become fan-favourites for the next generation (pun intended) of Star Trek fans.

If the Star Trek franchise is to survive in the long-term, it can’t simply copy what Star Wars is doing and rely on cheap overloads of nostalgia. It has to continue to grow and develop, and new characters have to be given equal standing alongside legacy characters. In thirty-five years’ time, it’s my genuine hope that fans will be just as excited for Star Trek: Elnor as we have been for Star Trek: Picard… but in order for that to happen, we need to be spending more time with these characters. Having them cut entirely from the final season of the show – several of them without any kind of goodbye or send-off – doesn’t just sting because we won’t get to enjoy more adventures with them or see what comes next, but it could seriously damage Star Trek’s long-term prospects.

The Star Trek: Picard main cast. Only two are confirmed to be part of Season 3.

When The Next Generation characters have come back, what’s next? We’ve already had Voyager characters come back in Picard and in Prodigy, so that only leaves Deep Space Nine of the 24th Century shows. If future projects recycle characters from Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, there’ll be nobody left! Star Trek has to expand – to build on the legacy of the shows and characters that came before. What it mustn’t do is keep trying to bring back those characters and relive those past successes.

The Next Generation and the other shows of that era are in the past – and while there’s definitely potential to revisit characters like Jean-Luc Picard, it’s worth remembering that Star Trek is more than just a handful of familiar faces. Since at least 1987, when The Original Series passed the torch to The Next Generation in the first place, that’s a lesson that the Star Trek franchise has done well to take to heart. The Star Trek galaxy is vast, populated with billions or perhaps trillions of individuals across thousands of planets, and it’s ripe for exploration! Narrowing the franchise’s focus to a handful of characters from older shows is not what Star Trek is about – and it never has been.

Captain Rios at the beginning of Season 2.

Until now, I’ve felt that modern Star Trek has struck a pretty good balance between the old and the new. Discovery introduced us to brand-new characters, but tied its main protagonist to Spock and Sarek, before reintroducing Captain Pike. Picard focused on Picard himself, of course, but instead of sending him off on an adventure with his old crew, it brought some genuinely interesting new characters on board. Unfortunately, we’re now learning that several of them won’t stick around… and I find that to be quite disappointing.

I suppose the good news is that these characters still exist, and if Picard serves as a jumping-off point for potential new spin-off series, miniseries, or films set in the early 25th Century, it may be possible to revisit some of them. But I’m not going to hold my breath for that, at least not in the short-term. There are other Star Trek projects in the works, but with characters like Elnor having received precious little development across two seasons of Picard, it’s my suspicion that he’ll simply drop off the face of the galaxy never to be revisited.

Dr Jurati got a significant arc in Season 2… but won’t return for Season 3.

That’s all there is to say for now, I guess. Decisions have already been made and the new season – which will supposedly be Picard’s last – is already well underway in terms of production, so it’s clearly far too late to change any of that now. Star Trek’s past is, of course, filled with one-off characters; guest stars who appeared in an episode or two before disappearing forever. And there have been main cast members who were shuffled off their respective shows in unceremonious ways. None of it is new – but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

I was genuinely looking forward to spending more time with the likes of Elnor, Soji, Laris, and potentially the Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid. Had you asked me shortly after the Season 2 premiere I’d have said that a Captain Rios spin-off has real potential, too. The return of The Next Generation crew isn’t bad… but I wish that their returns didn’t have to come at the expense of some wonderful characters that we’ve only just begun to get to know.

I remain hopeful for a fun season and an exciting adventure with these returning characters… but I confess that I’m quite disappointed to learn that so many Picard cast members had to be culled to make it happen.

Star Trek: Picard 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 is currently in production and may be targeting a 2023 broadcast. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard, The Next Generation, 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: Picard review – Season 2, Episode 10: Farewell

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2 and casting announcements for Season 3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next GenerationFirst Contact, and Voyager.

So here we are! Although it seems like only yesterday that we were settling in for The Star Gazer after a two-year wait for Picard Season 2, it’s time to bid “farewell” to Admiral Picard and the (remaining) crew of La Sirena. At least the wait for Season 3 – which has already begun filming – shouldn’t be quite as long!

Season 2 took a meandering and frustrating route to reach this end point, and while Farewell had some real emotional highlights and moments of excitement, I can’t shake the feeling that the lessons of Season 1 weren’t heeded. Just as happened last time around, there were a lot of underdeveloped moments, stories that needed longer in the spotlight, and narrative threads that missed the mark not because they were bad, but because the season wasted time getting here. While I can happily say that I enjoyed Farewell, it wasn’t as good as it might’ve been.

Admiral Picard on the bridge of the USS Stargazer.

Most of the story complaints that I have really aren’t Farewell’s fault on its own. They’re actually the consequence of a slow, muddled season that dedicated too much time in earlier episodes to what ultimately ended up as extraneous fluff. The episode Watcher, for example, spent a huge amount of time tracking down Rios and Tallinn – and those sequences could have been massively shortened to move the story along at a more reasonable pace. That would’ve allowed last week’s episode, Hide and Seek, to have fully wrapped up the Europa Mission and Renée stories – stories that Farewell had to blitz through to get Picard and the crew to meet Q and get back to the 25th Century.

Farewell felt like a busy episode from the first moment, and considering how much story was left to cram in, I think that’s to be expected. I will give credit where it’s due and say that the director and editors did a good job; the best they could with the material they had, I suspect. Although several storylines were undeniably rushed as the season raced toward its end, the cinematography and production values remained high.

The USS Excelsior.

Perhaps you might think this is unfair criticism, but it feels to me as though Picard Season 2 blew most of its budget – in terms of both set-building and CGI – on The Star Gazer and the second half of Farewell. That’s where we got back to the new sets that had been built for the USS Stargazer and that’s where we saw a return of the outstanding animation work seen in the season premiere. The Federation fleet that faced down the Borg – and later the strange anomaly – looked absolutely fantastic, and seeing a big, beautiful Federation fleet in action will be something that I never tire of.

I’m sure that we’ll be seeing the new USS Stargazer back in action in Season 3 (and maybe even a spin-off series one day), so that’s definitely something to look forward to. I talked about this in my review of the premiere, but the design of the Stargazer inside and out felt like the perfect natural evolution of the aesthetic and design philosophy of The Next Generation era shows and films. Seeing more of that ship would be a request of mine – and it’s my hope that Picard will serve as a springboard for more adventures in the early 25th Century.

The Borg vessel and the Federation fleet stop the anomaly.

So let’s start with the shortest and least-interesting of the storylines in Farewell. Kore Soong was a non-entity this season. Her presence served only to provide Dr Adam Soong with some degree of motivation – motivation which at first had me thinking he might be a complex and nuanced character, but that quickly fell away. She didn’t do much of consequence, she was flat and uninteresting, and aside from being a supporting character to prop up the very one-dimensional Adam Soong, her presence seems to have been Picard’s producers throwing a bone to Isa Briones, whose main character of Soji hasn’t been present all season long (and didn’t even show up in the little epilogue when the characters got together in Guinan’s bar).

Kore choosing to hack into and delete her dad’s files was something and nothing. It makes sense – I guess – but it doesn’t feel like it accomplished anything for the story other than finding something for Kore to do after walking out on her home and her life. She doesn’t seem to feel conflicted in any way about that decision, even though she appears to have spent her entire life living with her father in that carefully-shielded house.

Kore’s story also came to an end.

However, I was more than happy to forget all about Kore’s wasted storylines because of the totally unexpected arrival of Wesley Crusher. Tying the Travelers into the same organisation that Tallinn and Gary Seven worked for was a masterstroke; I was totally blindsided by something that I genuinely did not anticipate. Having seen more than 800 Star Trek stories over the span of more than thirty years, the fact that the franchise can still pull off genuinely shocking moments like that – moments that also tie into over fifty-six years’ worth of lore – is amazing. Moments like that are why I love Star Trek, and they can go a long way to redeeming even the most mediocre of stories and flattest of characters.

I had been feeling frustrated that, six episodes on from her introduction, Tallinn appeared to have died without her storyline going into any detail at all about the mysterious organisation she worked for. Going all the way back to Season 2 of The Original Series, there had been questions about this faction and what their objectives might be; I felt disappointed that we weren’t going to get any further explanation. But to my delight, the totally unexpected arrival of Wesley Crusher provided at least a partial answer – and tied together The Original Series, his own role in The Next Generation, and the events of this season in absolutely wonderful fashion.

Wesley Crusher made an unexpected but thoroughly welcome return to Star Trek.

As a moment of pure fan-service, I can totally understand why Farewell didn’t spend more time with Welsey and Kore – as much as I’d have loved it. It would’ve been wonderful to see Wesley reunite with Picard, but in an episode that was very busy I can understand why it didn’t happen. And I don’t interpret this moment as setting up a major new spin-off following Wesley, Kore, and other Travelers and Supervisors – again, as fun as that might be for fans! It was simply a cute cameo; a way to both include a classic character from The Next Generation while also providing closure of a sort to Kore’s story.

There are many questions that I have about what might happen next for Wesley and Kore – as well as why he chose to reach out to her. I assume that the Supervisors and Travelers pick individuals who are both brilliant and somewhat out-of-place – Kore won’t be missed if she vanishes from Earth in 2024 in the way that someone else might, for example. But I guess we should save the speculation for a future theory article!

Wesley and Kore.

Captain Rios’ story has been a disappointment all season long, and the explanation why is simple: we caught a glimpse of him in the season premiere living his best life, but the series stripped that away from him and regressed him back to his Season 1 presentation. If Rios had been not the captain of the USS Stargazer but even just its first officer, at least some of that would’ve abated. But because we’d seen him as a Starfleet captain, the way he seemed to forget about his ship and those under his command had been really grating on me since Penance. The conclusion to his story this time, which saw him written out of the series, just capped off that disappointment.

If it hadn’t been for seeing him in command of the USS Stargazer, I think I could’ve let slide much of what Rios went through – although I would still have some questions. The culmination of his arc this time feels less like a natural decision for either him or Teresa to make and more like one driven by a writers’ room desperate to get rid of main cast members in anticipation of the return of The Next Generation characters in Season 3. Along with Dr Jurati, Rios drew the short straw.

Rios’ story was disappointing this season.

I said in my review of The Star Gazer that I’d be happy to see a spin-off following Captain Rios’ adventures, and had he stuck to the new characterisation that we saw back then, I would’ve absolutely been down for that. Unfortunately Rios’ departure now means that can’t happen – but after seeing the way he regressed as a character this season, I was already less keen on spending more time with him and less confident that he could carry a new series.

As with other narrative threads in Farewell, Rios’ departure was rushed. The episode dedicated less than two minutes of its runtime to Rios saying his goodbyes, and whatever decisions or discussions he’d had with Teresa appear to have happened entirely off-screen. Did Rios, for example, offer to take Teresa and Ricardo to the 25th Century? Did he consider the consequences of staying – both for the timeline and for himself? I mean… World War III is literally right around the corner (in Star Trek, not in the real world… I hope), and the first three-quarters of the 21st Century is arguably one of the worst and most difficult parts of Earth’s entire history in the Star Trek timeline. I know that Rios stayed “because he was in love,” but even so… couldn’t he have thought of something else? Maybe he skipped history class.

Rios chose to stay with Teresa and Ricardo.

As the culmination of a season-long arc, one that took Rios away from much of the rest of the action and that marks his final end as a Star Trek character, the send-off Rios got was poor. So much more could have been made of this moment – but at the same time, with Rios having been so disconnected from almost everyone else all season long, it’s perversely fitting that his goodbye was brief and to the point. Despite what he said in an earlier episode about viewing Picard as a “father figure,” and the words they shared as he prepared to remain behind, I never felt that Rios and Picard were especially close. They were acquaintances; business colleagues. Work friends but not real friends.

One of the things that I wanted from Picard, going all the way back to the show’s initial announcement, was to meet some new characters and spend time with them. Obviously in a series with a clear protagonist there’s going to be a limit on the number of characters that can be included and how much detail their story arcs can receive, but there was so much potential in someone like Rios. It was never mentioned in a big way, but Rios is only one of a handful of Hispanic characters to have appeared in a big way in Star Trek, and the first major Hispanic character to be given the rank of captain and to command a starship. There was so much scope to do more with Captain Rios, and I guess I’m just disappointed that a character with potential – perhaps even spin-off potential – was sidelined, regressed, and kind of wasted in this mad rush to bring back The Next Generation characters in Season 3.

So long, Captain Rios…

Another character who fell victim to this need to trim the main cast was Dr Jurati, but in her case at least she seems to have had more of a substantial arc this season. Although I would be remiss not to point out that in both seasons of the show Dr Jurati ended up causing massive, catastrophic problems for Picard! She didn’t do so on purpose, of course, but it’s interesting to see that the writers chose to follow up her murder of Bruce Maddox by transforming her into the new Borg Queen!

It was obvious, of course, by the time Picard and the crew returned to the bridge of the USS Stargazer that Dr Jurati would be the face behind the mask, and so it proved. I was a little surprised that Farewell seemed to treat this as some kind of big revelation; I can’t imagine that even the most casual and uninterested of viewers wouldn’t have been able to put two and two together long before Picard set up Dr Jurati’s unmasking.

The Borg Queen unmasked.

As above, Dr Jurati was a character with potential. She was also someone who felt closer to Picard in terms of friendship than Captain Rios, and there was certainly scope to see her continue in her un-assimilated role in future stories. Unlike with Rios, though, there’s definitely a substantial season-long arc for Dr Jurati that worked well enough. She felt lonely and isolated, never being able to hold down a relationship or partnership, and through a strange marriage with the Borg Queen ended up with hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even millions of friends. She also got the chance to become partially synthetic – which I have to assume she would approve of based on what we saw of her last time.

Since we’re dealing with the Borg, the reason for their appearance at the beginning of the season was paid off. The sudden appearance of an unexplained anomaly that threatened the quadrant meant that the Borg wished to team up with the Federation to save lives, and generally I liked this angle and I think there’s potential in it. My initial thought was that it could be connected to the Season 1 super-synths, but again that’ll be something to discuss in a future theory article.

What is this strange anomaly? And crucially… will we revisit it next time?

My concern on this side of the story stems from the fact that we know that Alison Pill, who plays Dr Jurati and the new Borg Queen, doesn’t seem to be returning for Season 3. If the Borg chose to remain at the anomaly as a “guardian at the gate,” as Borg-Jurati put it, that seems to imply we won’t have anything to do with her next time around – and thus we may not be revisiting this anomaly. I certainly hope that won’t be the case, because if we don’t get back here it will seriously jeopardise this season’s entire story by making it feel meaningless. Thirty seconds of screen time for a weird anomaly that one character believed could be damaging doesn’t really justify an entire season wandering in the past, nor the loss of two (or three) major characters.

The question of what the Borg wanted loomed large over the entire season, even while Picard and the crew scrambled to save the future from their base in 2024. Now that we have an answer to that question – they wanted help to stop the anomaly from harming the Alpha Quadrant – we need to go deeper. There needs to be some greater story arc that can tie into the closing moments of Season 2, even if it isn’t the main storyline of Season 3.

The Borg vessel and the strange anomaly.

One thing that Farewell didn’t have time to explain was the relationship between the Jurati-led Borg and the Borg Collective that we’ve seen elsewhere in Star Trek. Is the Jurati-Borg faction separate from the Borg or did they somehow replace the rest of the Collective? Are there now two distinct Borg Collectives? It seems like there must be – because everyone involved seems to believe that the prime timeline has been restored, and that couldn’t have happened if the Jurati-Queen took over the entire Borg Collective. Events like the Battle of Wolf 359 and the attempted assimilation of Earth in First Contact wouldn’t have happened – or would have been changed entirely – if the Jurati-Queen was leading the whole Collective. But this is something that should’ve been given more of an explanation – and it’s indicative of the fact that Farewell was overstuffed with story threads.

The season also ended without detailing in any way how the Confederation were able to defeat the Borg using 25th Century technology. While this may not have been important for wrapping up the stories that were in play, it was a pretty big point earlier in the season. There was the potential for something that the Confederation had developed to come into play, even at this late stage, and although I’d pretty much given up on learning anything more about the Confederation several weeks ago, the way the season ended now leaves the entire Confederation timeline feeling like one massive contrivance.

The Borg Queen-Dr Jurati hybrid.

The Confederation timeline existed as a spur for other storylines, and if we had never seen it and only heard about it in passing, maybe that would be fine. But for those of us invested in the Star Trek universe, creating an entirely new setting, populating it with characters, and telling us that those characters did something as monumental as defeating the Borg, only to leave all of the hows and wherefores unexplained is disappointing. With no return to the Confederation timeline on the agenda – and the question of whether it still exists in any form in serious doubt – it feels like it served the story but in an unrealistic way.

Presumably Adam Soong had to survive because with Kore taking off with Wesley and the Travelers, there needs to be some way for his family line to continue in order to reach Data’s creator and the other Soongs we’ve met. Villains don’t need to be killed off in order for their defeats to feel satisfying, and seeing Adam Soong realise that he’d been beaten was a well-done sequence overall. I also appreciated the Khan reference – and the date-stamp.

Is this merely an Easter egg… or could it be a tease of something yet to come?

Star Trek’s internal timeline can feel inconsistent if you go all the way back to The Original Series and watch episodes that reference events in the late 20th or early 21st Centuries. I’ve always assumed that Star Trek and the real world diverged sometime around the 1960s, and the reference to “Project Khan” being in 1996 ties in with what we know from Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan about legendary villain Khan’s origins. I’m glad that Star Trek isn’t trying to overwrite any of this – and it makes me wonder if there may yet be a reprieve for the proposed Ceti Alpha V miniseries! At the very least, Adam Soong looking up “Project Khan” seems to imply that he’ll be returning to his work on genetic engineering – tying in with the appearance of another Dr Soong in Enterprise.

As a character who we’ve only just started getting to know and who has great potential, I’m glad that Elnor survived the season and I look forward to his continued participation in Picard – and hopefully in future Star Trek productions as well. However… his survival renders one of the best and most emotional moments from last week completely impotent, and I’m left wondering why Hide and Seek even bothered to include it.

Elnor’s survival makes one of last week’s biggest emotional moments entirely irrelevant.

One of the things driving Raffi all season has been Elnor’s death – and after speaking with a holographic recreation last week in one of the season’s best and most powerful emotional sequences, she seemed ready to come to terms with it and let go of the guilt she’d been feeling. That was one of the highlights of last week’s episode, and a significant moment that seemed to signal that the shocking decision to kill off Elnor in Assimilation would indeed be permanent.

However, that moment now feels like wasted time, even more so considering that several of the storylines present in Farewell could’ve used a few extra minutes. Had holo-Elnor’s role been cut from Hide and Seek, replaced with literally anyone else to fill the “combat hologram” role, the wasted moment with Raffi and the now-gratuitous sequences that seemed to be bidding goodbye to the character could’ve been reallocated to other, more pressing stories. Seeing how Raffi dealt with Elnor’s death earlier in the season isn’t undermined by his survival – but the scene in which she came to terms with it absolutely is. As deeply emotional as that moment was, it now feels like a total waste.

Raffi was relieved to see Elnor again.

Perhaps this is my dislike of the 21st Century storylines showing, but I never really felt all that invested in Renée and the Europa Mission. For the supposedly-most important event in the show that our characters had to protect, the Europa Mission and Renée herself had been absent for several episodes as the season’s story continued its slow plod to this rushed conclusion. I wasn’t mad that the rocket launch was raced past to allow Farewell to get to other storylines… but it wasn’t exactly a spectacular ending for what has been the driving force in the story of the season since the third episode.

There were some moments of tension as Adam Soong’s drones appeared to be in danger of blowing up Seven, Rios, and Raffi, and again when he’d managed to successfully infiltrate the Europa Mission launch. I stand by what I said a couple of weeks ago, by the way: that Adam Soong having been kicked out of the scientific community should be a pretty serious barrier to his involvement in something like the Europa Mission… but his status and finances are something that, once again, Picard Season 2 didn’t find time to go into any detail on.

How Adam Soong was able to buy his way into Europa Mission HQ wasn’t really explained.

This part of Farewell secured Renée’s mission – one which seems to have been beneficial for Earth itself and set humanity on a path that would eventually lead to first contact and the creation of the Federation. It was also an opportunity to kill off Tallinn – her death being the “price” for Renée’s survival rounds out her arc in a reasonable way.

I didn’t understand why Q believes that Tallinn always dies at this stage in “every” timeline; it seems to me that the only threat to Renée came about because of Q’s interference, and thus had Q not intervened there’d be no reason for Adam Soong or the Borg Queen to go after her or try to prevent the Europa Mission at all. So I guess I don’t get that line – it was included, perhaps, to make Tallinn’s sacrifice feel more justifiable, but it raises as many questions as it answers (if not more!)

Why does Tallinn die in “every” timeline?

This sets up a discussion about the nature of Q’s intervention. Although establishing a Jurati-Borg seems to have prevented some kind of cataclysm in the 25th Century, that isn’t why Q did it – at least, not based on what he told Picard in Farewell. This was all about Picard learning to come to terms with his past and his loss and because Q considered him a friend and a favourite.

But there are some pretty notable problems with this setup – and with Picard’s ultimate reaction to it. People died as a result of Q’s actions, and whether directly or indirectly he’s responsible for that. Q was able to wave away Tallinn’s death and resurrect Elnor – so from the point of view of main characters I guess he gets somewhat of a pass. But what about the dozen or more assimilated semi-Borg who died last week? They were human beings; people whose lives were cut short as a direct result of Q’s intervention. Picard was clearly willing to forgive Q for this extended Tapestry redux – but even if we assume that there are no timeline consequences from the loss of those individuals… they’re still people who died and who won’t be resurrected as a result of what Q did. The morality of it bugs me.

Q’s actions cost lives – and Picard seems okay with it.

So we’ve come to the purpose of the entire story: Q wanted to teach Picard to overcome the traumatic moment in his own past. He wanted Picard to learn to embrace the person that he is; to choose to become that person. That’s a familiar theme that we’ve seen from Q in the past, most notably in the episode Tapestry. In that story, Q gave Picard the opportunity to change mistakes in his past – but he did so in order to demonstrate to him that the mistakes are what made him the person he is. It’s not exactly the same story, because in this instance Picard had to embrace a dark and traumatic event that was beyond his control, and recognise that he can’t always save everybody. But it’s close – and I like that. It means that at least thematically, Q stayed true to his characterisation.

In terms of the wider lore of Star Trek, including the role of the Q Continuum in potential future productions, I wish we’d learned why Q was dying. Although Q wasn’t a main character for most of the season, his impending death spurred him on and served as the main motivation for why he was intervening in Picard’s life at this moment – and for that to end without being explained, and without Picard so much as offering to help, feels a bit hollow.

Q’s final snap.

However, on the flip side there’s something very relatable – and dare I say very human – about not knowing what’s happening and finding no explanation for it. Speaking as someone with health conditions, I can relate to what Q has been going through. Knowing that things will only get worse, losing abilities that you’d once taken for granted, and being acutely aware that – as Picard once put it – “there are fewer days ahead than there are behind,” these are all very understandable feelings, and the idea that Q took inspiration from his own failing health to use his remaining time to help someone who he has always considered to be a friend… there’s something sweet about that.

From an in-universe point of view, Q has always been a wildcard. The schemes and puzzles that he concocts can seem incredibly random, but they usually have a point. Riker was given the powers of the Q as a test, Picard was given just enough information to solve the Farpoint mystery, Q helped Picard move through three different time periods to solve the anti-time eruption, and so on. In this case, the point Q wanted to make was served by the actions that he took… but in a very disconnected way. While we eventually got to Q’s point – that Picard needed to let go of his trauma, embrace who he is, and learn to love – it took a very long time through a very jumbled sequence of events. And unlike in stories such as Tapestry, Q’s actions this time had a significant impact on other people.

Q did it all for Picard.

Whatever we may think of the new Jurati-Borg Queen hybrid, would that have been a destiny that Dr Jurati would have chosen for herself? Was it where she needed to end up, or could she have led a perfectly happy life as a 25th Century human? Q stripped that choice from her, and Picard seems content to roll with it. While Renée did ultimately make it onto her spacecraft, Q screwed with her mental health in a major way, sabotaging her therapy and doing what he could to undermine her. Q’s actions directly led to Tallinn’s death, as well as the deaths of a dozen or more humans that had been partially-assimilated. Q also stranded Rios in the 21st Century – and again, while Rios was happy enough to make that choice, he could have also lived a happy life in the 25th Century had Q not interfered.

In short, other Q stories across Star Trek haven’t been so destructive. If there was a bigger purpose – such as the Jurati-Borg stopping some galactic catastrophe – and that was Q’s main objective, perhaps we could overlook it. The scale would be tipped in such a way that, to quote Spock, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” But Q did it all for Picard’s sake – so the needs of the many were, in Q’s view, outweighed by the needs of the one.

Picard with Q.

Maybe that makes sense to Q, but is Picard okay with it? He seems to be fine with learning that Q did all of this, made all of these changes for his sake and his alone – and I’m not sure I buy it. Maybe Q is right – maybe Tallinn always dies in every conceivable timeline. But does Dr Jurati always become a Borg? Does Rios always quit Starfleet to live through World War III? Do all of those paramilitary people die in 2024? Q might be fine with changing people’s lives, but I’m struggling to accept that Picard would be, especially if he knows that Q was doing it all for his sake.

It also raises another question: was there really no other way for Picard to process his trauma? Did it truly require establishing the Confederation timeline, killing all those people, and spending all that time stranded in the 21st Century? Couldn’t Q have just… got Picard into therapy? Or given him those dreams of his mother in the 25th Century?

Picard prepares to embrace Q.

These points may seem nitpicky, but this is the foundation of the story. Everything Picard and the others have been through over the past ten episodes hinges on this explanation. Q set all of this up because Picard couldn’t let go of a trauma he’s been carrying since childhood, and Q felt that trauma was holding him back and preventing him from learning to love and being happy. And because of that, Q decided that the best way to get through to Picard and get him to work through his mental health issues was by changing centuries’ worth of history and forcing Picard to travel back in time.

In a way, it’s a very “Q” thing. But at the same time, where past Q stories have felt at least vaguely connected to the goals he had, this one requires more than a few leaps to get from point A to point B. Maybe you can suspend your disbelief, get lost in this presentation of Q, and happily accept this explanation. For me… I’m struggling a little.

Q’s plot feels quite convoluted this time around.

However, that isn’t to detract from a wonderfully emotional sequence between Q and Picard. Recognising what Q had done and understanding why he did it, Picard found himself willing to embrace the friendship that Q had been offering him for decades. Picard was able to set aside the animosity he had for Q – allowing Q to spend what appear to be his final moments with a friend. As Picard said, he won’t die alone.

Does that make the whole story worthwhile? It was definitely a beautiful sequence, and after clashes, conflicts, and an ongoing “trial,” it was nice to see Picard and Q reconcile as Q reached the end of his life. Themes of love, of letting go, and of acceptance were weaved through these moments, and while we didn’t get an explanation for everything – including why Q is dying and what may have become of other members of his species – it was satisfying enough as we bid what seems to be a final farewell to a character who was first introduced in the very first episode of The Next Generation.

Picard meets with Q for the final time.

Q giving what remained of his life force or energy to send Picard home was likewise a sweet moment; a final act of kindness that, while it arguably doesn’t redeem Q for everything he’s done, went some way to making his final moments positive, and showed that he has perhaps learned a thing or two from Picard along the way. I did enjoy Q’s line that Picard was his “favourite,” along with the implication that, of all the many beings that Q must’ve met over his many years of life, Picard was someone special to him – special enough to spend his final moments with.

I wonder if in a future Star Trek story – perhaps even in Season 3 – we’ll learn what became of Q and why he was dying. As I said above, for the purposes of this story the exact reason (which would likely have been technobabble) doesn’t matter in a narrative sense, but as Trekkies, I think we have a curiosity about the world of Star Trek and a desire to know these things! I would certainly be interested to know why, after seeming to have been alive for billions of years, Q suddenly found himself dying.

An emotional farewell.

That only leaves us with Seven of Nine to talk about – and her field commission as a Starfleet captain that she seemed to receive during the Borg mission. Seven has been one of my favourite characters in both seasons of Picard; the growth and development that she’s received has completely changed my opinion of someone who was once my least-favourite character from Voyager. After seeing how she’d become much more human, how she’d come to terms with the loss of Icheb (something I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned to Raffi as part of the Elnor story, I must say), this season she got to reconcile her history with both the Borg and Starfleet.

Consider where Seven was at the beginning of the season. Like Michael Burnham in Discovery’s premiere episode, Seven wanted to shoot first the moment the Borg emerged. The idea of listening to anything they might have to say was unfathomable to her. Yet by the season finale, after what she went through with Dr Jurati, she was willing not only to listen, but to follow the Borg’s lead. She put her trust in the Borg, overcoming decades’ worth of hostility that she’d been holding onto.

Seven of Nine in the captain’s chair.

Could we see more from Seven in future? The idea of her and Raffi having their own adventures – either within Starfleet or outside of it – is an enticing one, but I guess we’ll have to see what Season 3 has in store for them first. With potentially three departures from the main cast, there’s room for Seven of Nine to stay on board, particularly if the story of Season 3 continues to involve the Borg. At the same time, though, unlike the new characters who won’t be returning, Seven’s arc across both seasons of the show leaves her in a pretty good place. If this is going to be her swansong, she ends the series in a strong position.

Having had a run-in with Q in the Voyager Season 7 episode Q2, it was a shame that Farewell didn’t see Seven and Q say so much as a single word to each other, and again this is the consequence of a season finale that was left with a lot of work to do to wrap everything up. It wasn’t essential, but it would’ve been nice to at least acknowledge that they’d met each other before racing ahead with the rest of the plot.

Seven of Nine and Raffi.

So that was Farewell. It was the best episode since the season premiere, but that’s damning with faint praise. We’ll have to take a broader look at Season 2 as a whole in the days or weeks ahead, because I have to say that, despite an outstanding premiere and a solid final half-episode, this meandering stroll through the 21st Century was far from my favourite season of Star Trek.

Taken on its own merits, though, Farewell tied together as many of the narrative threads as it could. There weren’t huge gaping holes left behind, but a number of story beats weren’t as well-developed as they could’ve been, and the slow, plodding pace of much of the rest of the season meant that we arrived at this point with the season finale having to do a lot of heavy lifting to get across the finish line. Farwell did what it could in the confines of its runtime, but realistically, much of the damage had already been done and there was a limit on how much a single episode could do to redeem an underwhelming season.

The USS Stargazer.

There were some genuinely heartwarming moments along the way. Wesley Crusher’s surprise appearance (which thankfully wasn’t spoiled in advance) may actually be the highlight for me, and I enjoyed seeing Seven of Nine step up to work with the Borg after returning to the 25th Century as well. Picard and Q’s reconciliation feels incredibly sweet – but it isn’t a storyline free from questions. As the season’s main driving force, it ended in a way that left some points feeling unexplained or underdeveloped, and despite the emotional highs, that taints things a little for me.

Where Picard Season 1 was generally a fun ride that was spoiled by an underwhelming ending, Season 2 has been an underwhelming and occasionally frustrating story that somehow managed to pull out a passable ending. Farewell didn’t hit the same high notes as The Star Gazer had ten weeks ago, but by the time Picard and the crew were back home, it came close. If the second half of the episode had been given more time and was stretched out over forty-five minutes instead of twenty-five, perhaps we’d be able to consider it a bit more favourably.

So that’s it for now. I won’t be publishing any reviews or theories for Strange New Worlds over the next few weeks, because unfortunately the series is “officially” unavailable here in the UK. But stay tuned for more Star Trek content here on the website, including the conclusion of my Picard Season 2 theories, some initial thoughts about Season 3, and eventually a proper retrospective-review of Season 2 as a whole. Until next time!

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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.

Ten great things about Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, including the prequels, original trilogy, and sequels.

Happy Star Wars Day! Today is the 4th of May – or as they say in America, May the 4th. So May the 4th be with you! Today is a day for positivity in the Star Wars fan community, so I thought it could be fun to take a look at a few of my favourite things from The Last Jedi. It goes without saying that The Last Jedi was a divisive film among Star Wars fans. However, it was one I generally enjoyed. It wasn’t “perfect,” and I don’t think it hit all of the high notes that it was aiming for, but I found it to be enjoyable.

This article isn’t an attack on anyone else’s position or opinion! If you don’t like The Last Jedi or some of the things we’re going to discuss, that’s totally okay. Practically everything in cinema is subjective, not objective, and there’s a range of opinions on practically every film. Because today is about celebrating Star Wars, I wanted to pick out some of the things that I liked from the film and talk about why they worked well for me. If you want to see how critical I can be of Star Wars… check out my reviews of The Rise of Skywalker or The Mandalorian Season 2!

Yoda in The Last Jedi.

With all of that out of the way, a brief introduction is in order, I think! Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released theatrically in the UK on the 14th of December 2017 – but I didn’t see it until a few months later in the Spring of 2018. My health is poor, and things like trips to the cinema are no longer practical for me, unfortunately. By the time I got around to seeing the film I’d already heard the outcry from some in the Star Wars fandom, and I set my expectations pretty low for what seemed to be a divisive film. Suffice to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that I enjoyed a lot more than I’d been expecting.

After The Force Awakens had played it very safe two years earlier, The Last Jedi attempted to take Star Wars in a very different direction. Rather than repeating what the original trilogy had done, the film took its characters to completely different thematic places, introduced new sub-plots, and potentially set up the sequel trilogy for a radically different ending. The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo some of the most significant points from The Last Jedi, which was a real shame, but taken on their own merit many of these points succeed. For me, The Last Jedi is the high-water mark of the sequel trilogy, and it’s a film that I firmly believe will be considered much more favourably in years to come. Just look at how a new generation of fans has come to celebrate the once-panned prequel trilogy; The Last Jedi’s best days may lie ahead.

So let’s get started on my list! I’ve picked ten things that I admire about The Last Jedi or feel that the film did well. They’re listed below in no particular order.

Number 1:
A subtle and unexpected Rogue One connection.

Jyn Erso in Rogue One.

How was the First Order able to track the Resistance’s fleet while they were in hyperspace? This was a story point that some fans who weren’t paying very close attention didn’t like – but it was actually something that had been set up a year earlier. Rogue One, which was released in 2016, saw Jyn Erso and a rag-tag crew steal the plans to the Death Star in the days immediately prior to A New Hope. Part of their mission saw them travel to the planet of Scarif, where the plans were kept at an Imperial facility.

While looking for the Death Star plans in amongst other Imperial data tapes, Jyn found a record of the Empire’s research into hyperspace tracking. The scene was very brief, with the data tape quickly being discarded in the rush to secure the Death Star plans – but it was a great moment of connection between two disparate parts of the Star Wars franchise!

Jyn and Cassian with the Death Star plans.

Considering that Rogue One and The Last Jedi were set decades apart, these moments of connection are incredibly helpful to bind modern Star Wars together. Far from being just a throwaway line, the scene in Rogue One established that hyperspace tracking technology was something being actively researched by the Empire – while the destruction of the Imperial facility on Scarif provides a convenient narrative excuse for why it wasn’t successfully rolled out during the era of the original films.

It can be an incredibly difficult task to thread the needle like this; to insert a story element in between the pieces of the story that we already know. But Rogue One and The Last Jedi did this perfectly. If only other story beats in the sequel trilogy had this much forethought and this much setup!

Number 2:
Rey is related to nobody.