Thoughts on a Starfleet Academy series

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 3, Picard Season 1, 2009’s Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

We’ve known for a while that there are more Star Trek projects in development in addition to the shows and films currently in production. As early as the announcement of Star Trek: Picard in 2018 rumours were flying around, and not long after the official announcement of the Section 31 series – a show whose fate I fear hangs in the balance right now – came confirmation that further Star Trek television shows were actively being worked on. One of those shows we now know to be Strange New Worlds – but there are other projects both for film and television that remain officially unannounced.

September’s Star Trek Day broadcast featured an interview with Alex Kurtzman, the man in charge of the Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS. In the interview, Kurtzman hinted – though stopped short of confirming outright – that one of the shows in early development will be focused on Starfleet Academy. Today I thought it could be fun to consider what a Starfleet Academy series could look like, and answer the crucial question: “is it a good idea?!”

Alex Kurtzman teased a Starfleet Academy series at Star Trek Day.

As the Section 31 series has unfortunately demonstrated now that it appears to be on the verge of outright cancellation, developing an entirely new television series is not a straightforward process. However, the fact that Alex Kurtzman was willing to discuss the prospect of a Starfleet Academy series at all – and in a pre-recorded interview that ViacomCBS allowed to be broadcast, no less – means that we have to take the idea seriously. It’s still possible that the proposed series won’t make it to our screens in its presently-envisioned form, but ViacomCBS is clearly laying the groundwork for a future announcement.

Sometimes companies like to tease or even leak information like this to gauge the reaction and see what fans think. Any new Star Trek television series has to have appeal beyond the existing fanbase, of course, but if Trekkies aren’t at least interested if not enthused at the prospect of a new show, that could mean the corporation chooses not to press ahead. If I were to speculate – and as always, I’ll tell you up front that I have no “insider information” – I would say that might well be the fate that befell the Section 31 series.

We’re still waiting to hear news about the poor Section 31 show…

We’ve recently talked about some of the poor business decisions that ViacomCBS has made in regards to the Star Trek franchise, so it wouldn’t shock me to learn that none of it is planned and the corporation is just winging it! But I like to think that there is some direction and control to the way the Starfleet Academy series has been teased, and that there are folks over at the company analysing the response from the fanbase to see how Trekkies feel about the idea.

So… how do Trekkies feel about the idea? I’m not the most active person on social media, but even so I would’ve expected to see some chatter. Prior to the announcement of Strange New Worlds, for example, I quickly lost count of the number of posts and messages I saw from fans who were clamouring for a “Captain Pike show.” So far, from my limited perspective at least, I’m not seeing any of that for a Starfleet Academy series. Maybe people who study social media in more depth than I do, or who are members of fan clubs and the like, have heard more from the fan community about this – but I think it’s worth noting that the prospect of the show has, thus far at least, failed to get large numbers of folks excited.

I haven’t seen much talk in the fan community on social media about a potential Starfleet Academy series just yet.

To be fair, though, the only mention of a Starfleet Academy series from anyone close to the production of Star Trek came in that one Star Trek Day interview. The Alex Kurtzman interview lasted only a few minutes and was by no means the main event in a broadcast that lasted for three hours and also debuted trailers and teases for shows that have already been announced. So perhaps the reason for the muted response is that a lot of folks are still unaware of the concept – or if they are aware they’re still waiting for something more official.

For my part, I think the series has a lot of potential. I’d place it far higher on my list than any of the other rumoured or quasi-official pitches and concepts that have been floating around out there! Whether it’s Captain Worf, Captain Proton, or the Ceti Alpha V miniseries that we talked about a while ago, a Starfleet Academy show has – in my subjective opinion at least – far more potential to be interesting and exciting.

I’d definitely prefer a Starfleet Academy show to a Captain Proton show!

Starfleet Academy is not a new concept for a series. As early as the 1960s, while The Original Series was still on the air, Gene Roddenberry was actively considering a prequel which would have focused on Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy meeting for the first time at Starfleet Academy. The concept was revisited by Gene Roddenberry at least twice: in the early 1970s, prior to work commencing on the project that ultimately became The Motion Picture, and again in the mid-1980s before work began on The Next Generation. Seeing Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy at Starfleet Academy would eventually be realised in 2009’s Star Trek film.

Gene Roddenberry would have approved, then! Which is great news for all longstanding Trekkies! I don’t think we need to worry too much that previous attempts to get a Starfleet Academy project off the ground didn’t succeed. The truth is that there were other competing ideas at the time, and even though Gene Roddenberry and others did seriously consider the idea, there were always other competing projects. I think we can all agree that the feature films of the 1980s and The Next Generation were great ideas too!

Gene Roddenberry worked on several Starfleet Academy series and film concepts during his life.

Had Enterprise not been cancelled, I think it’s possible that the Starfleet Academy concept could’ve been revived 15 years ago as well, as part of a renewed expansion of Star Trek that never happened. There were plans afoot in the Enterprise era to expand the franchise yet further, but the show’s declining ratings and the poor critical reception to Nemesis in 2002 ultimately led to the Star Trek franchise taking a short break.

A Starfleet Academy series has three big things going for it, in my view. Firstly, the series could be created to tie in with any current or past Star Trek series. Connecting it to an ongoing show such as Discovery or Picard would make the most sense, and the show could be set in the same time period as either, and connect with characters, factions, and themes. There could even be crossover episodes.

A Starfleet Academy series could potentially run alongside – and cross over with – any of the current crop of Star Trek shows.

This kind of closer connection between ongoing series is something that the Star Trek franchise needs. The closest we’ve got so far has been the appearance of the Qowat Milat in Season 3 of Discovery, connecting the show in a loose way with Picard. But the franchise as a whole needs to do a lot more to tie together the shows currently in production, so having a Starfleet Academy series share a time period and setting with another show would be a boost to the Star Trek franchise overall.

Secondly, if the show were set at Starfleet Academy itself, that would make it the first Star Trek series to take place on Earth. That concept is itself interesting, and there’s potential to learn more about Earth and what life is like for its inhabitants in the future. That’s in addition to taking a deep dive into life at the Academy itself. Such a series could – perhaps – be a little cheaper to produce; filming could take place in and around San Fransisco, and there would be arguably less of a need for expensive new sets to be built from scratch to represent spacecraft and alien worlds.

A tree in the grounds of Starfleet Academy as seen in Discovery Season 3.

Every Star Trek series so far has visited Earth in some capacity, but there’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the Federation’s capital planet. I like the idea of some of the cadets or teachers taking time away from the Academy to get out and explore – showing us as the audience more than a glimpse of life on Earth in Star Trek’s future.

Finally, a Starfleet Academy series has the potential to appeal to a younger audience – just like Prodigy is intended to. In fact, a Starfleet Academy show could easily become the next port of call for Prodigy fans as they immerse themselves further in Star Trek; there’s huge potential to appeal to a tween or teen audience, particularly if younger cadets were the show’s primary focus.

Fans of Prodigy could easily make the jump to a Starfleet Academy show if it had a similar youthful focus.

At the very least, setting a series at the Academy would naturally include a number of younger characters – and its characters like these that have the potential to appeal to a younger audience. Star Trek can’t just be the preserve of an ageing fanbase who remember shows from the ’60s and ’90s with rose-tinted nostalgia! It has to expand and appeal to new fans too – and bringing younger people into the Star Trek fan community is the best way of ensuring the franchise will survive and remain in production in the longer term.

In my view, that’s one of the most important things that a Starfleet Academy series could do – and should be its primary objective as a series. As Lower Decks and Prodigy are demonstrating, branching out and trying to appeal to different audiences doesn’t mean that Star Trek has to ignore its existing fanbase. There’s plenty in Prodigy and Lower Decks to appeal to existing fans, and I would expect no less from a Starfleet Academy show as well.

Lower Decks was intended to bring in new fans as well as appeal to Trekkies – and a Starfleet Academy show could walk that same line.

When a Starfleet Academy concept has been debated in the past, some fans have raised the objection that it would be “too static” – that being stuck on Earth would make the show feel stale in comparison to other Star Trek shows set aboard starships. I understand where such a concern is coming from, but as Deep Space Nine definitively proved, a stationary setting doesn’t have to be boring. And as Deep Space Nine also showed right from its very first episode, it’s possible to have shuttles, runabouts, or even a whole starship seconded to a base.

Starfleet Academy has its own ships – this is something we’ve seen in several past episodes. Deep Space Nine’s sixth season episode Valiant even showed a crew of cadets aboard a very advanced ship, and Prodigy is also showing a younger crew aboard their own vessel. In short, a Starfleet Academy series could easily have episodes set aboard a ship or visiting other worlds – as well as stories that make use of technologies like the holodeck to give the cadets experience.

Kirk as a cadet in 2009’s Star Trek.

I’d say that a Starfleet Academy series is absolutely worth pursuing. It might not be my first choice – I have a few ideas of my own, which you can find by clicking or tapping here! – but it absolutely has merit, and sounds far better than any of the other pitches or proposals I’ve heard in recent years. Its biggest selling point to me is its potential to bring in new audiences, as well as to give young fans of Prodigy a series to graduate to that would keep them in the fandom.

So watch this space! I don’t believe an announcement is imminent, despite the recent talk of the show at Star Trek Day. Picard still has at least two seasons left to run, Lower Decks and Prodigy have at least one more apiece, and while there have been no official announcements I’m expecting to hear that Discovery will get a fifth season and Strange New Worlds will get a second at some point in the near future. Between those shows and the various feature film projects, Star Trek is quite busy going into 2022, 2023, and even 2024! So we might not hear anything official just yet… but keep your eyes and ears open!

The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Axanar, Discovery, and the fan community coming back together

The video referenced in this article can be found below.

I sporadically check in with fan project Star Trek Axanar. After Tim Russ’ and Walter Koenig’s Star Trek Renegades, Axanar was the fan film I was most interested in seeing when it was announced a few years ago. I was surprised to see Alec Peters – the creator and star of Axanar – had released a video titled In Defense of Alex Kurtzman – Why Star Trek is going to be OK on the fan film’s official YouTube channel a few days ago, and while I don’t normally do “responses,” I thought it was very interesting and worth drawing your attention to.

If you aren’t familiar with the development of Axanar, here’s a quick recap – and it should explain why the aforementioned video came as a bit of a surprise. In 2014, a fan film titled Prelude to Axanar was released. Produced by Alec Peters, the film served as a prologue to a longer crowd-funded fan film he and his team hoped to create. Star Trek Axanar would look at Garth of Izar, the famed Starfleet captain who was encountered by Kirk and co. in The Original Series’ third season episode Whom Gods Destroy. Fleet Captain Garth was the hero of an event known as the Battle of Axanar, and Peters intended to depict the events surrounding the battle in this fan film, which would feature a number of Star Trek actors.

However, CBS took exception to Axanar and ended up suing Peters and the team behind the fan film. The details of the lawsuit are complicated, but suffice to say CBS went after the production on copyright grounds, and the end result was a set of rules handed down that all fan films would be expected to follow. In addition, the Axanar team lost a lot of time and money that had been originally intended for the film.

Prelude to Axanar was released on YouTube in 2014.

All of this took place in the run-up to the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, and proved incredibly divisive for the fan community. Many folks backed Peters and Axanar, feeling that CBS was being unfair and attacking Star Trek’s most passionate fans. Others suggested that the motivation behind the lawsuit was that CBS was concerned that Axanar would be better than Discovery. Though it wasn’t the main reason why some Trekkies aren’t fans of Discovery and other modern Star Trek productions, the real-life battle over Axanar was certainly a factor.

CBS – now ViacomCBS – has certainly been tone-deaf when it comes to the fandom on occasion. I’ve talked at length about the decision to broadcast Lower Decks in North America only, and we can also point to things like the forced shutdown of fan project Stage 9 at a time when ViacomCBS doesn’t seem to be making any Star Trek games or comparable interactive experiences. So I can certainly understand the position of fans who took an anti-CBS position in the wake of the Axanar lawsuit.

I’ve written previously about divisions within the Star Trek fandom, and how people often present it as “old” Star Trek versus “new” Star Trek. Since 2017 Star Trek has been, in many respects, different from how it was in the 1960s or even the 1990s. And as I always say, individual tastes are subjective – we like different things, even within a single franchise. Some fans love The Wrath of Khan, others like The Motion Picture, just to give a single example. As the Star Trek franchise approaches its fifty-fifth anniversary and its 800th episode, it’s no wonder there are debates about which series or style of storytelling are the best!

ViacomCBS hasn’t always done right by Star Trek fans.

What I was so pleased to see from Alec Peters and Axanar in this video was a respect for what ViacomCBS and the Star Trek franchise are doing. Alex Kurtzman’s leadership has seen three new Star Trek shows premiere, with at least four others in the pipeline. It looks certain that the franchise will live to see its sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new episodes still being broadcast, and as we enter the 2020s the franchise is, perhaps, on the cusp of a new era that could rival its 1990s heyday.

There is room within a fandom like Star Trek for Discovery and Axanar to coexist. We aren’t gatekeepers, telling other Trekkies that they aren’t “real fans” because the show or film they like best isn’t “real Star Trek.” That has never been what the franchise is all about, and anyone saying such nonsense has missed the point. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees; to get so bogged down in the minutia and detail that we miss the big picture.

The Star Trek fandom has always been a welcoming community. I remember my first visit to a Star Trek fan meetup in England in the mid-1990s, and as a younger guy I was welcomed by other fans to their event. This would have been sometime after Star Trek: Generations has been in cinemas, and while I was a huge fan of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, I wasn’t fully caught up on The Original Series outside of its films. Despite that, fans of The Original Series who I met didn’t tell me that I wasn’t a “real fan” or that I had never seen “real Star Trek.” They were incredibly welcoming, and most people seemed thrilled that the franchise was still alive and kicking.

The logo for Axanar.

The Next Generation was controversial when it premiered in 1987. People who entered the fandom in the 1990s or later – as I did – missed that controversy, but it happened. Deep Space Nine was controversial too, with its static setting and darker tone. I know some Trekkies who utterly hated the Dominion War arc, feeling it went counter to the franchise’s optimistic tone.

The point is that we all have things within the franchise that we like and things that we aren’t keen on. But we would never dream of telling someone who’s a fan of The Next Generation and Voyager but dislikes Deep Space Nine that they somehow aren’t a “real fan.” And the same is true of the Star Trek projects of today. Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks are “real” Star Trek, just as much as any other series or film. It’s okay to disagree about every aspect of those productions, and people will always do so. But they are part of the franchise, and just because they aren’t to some people’s taste doesn’t make them invalid.

Alec Peters and the team behind Axanar have largely avoided commenting on Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks. I was pleasantly surprised to see them do so this time, and even more so to learn that Peters is a fan of Picard. There is a lot to like in modern Star Trek, and a lot to like in past Star Trek too. And Axanar still looks like an interesting proposition, one I will certainly tune in to see when the final version of the film (or episodes) are released.

Discovery is real Star Trek.

There are so many things in the modern world to divide us. But I would argue that, as Trekkies, we have much more in common with one another than we do with, for example, fans of celebrity reality television shows! There are, sadly, people who have begun to make money cashing in on this division, widening the gap between different groups of fans and trying to convince their audiences that only one kind of Star Trek fan is a “real fan.” I’m glad to see that Axanar isn’t on board with that, because there is room in the franchise for all of us. We can be passionate about what we like and dislike, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions about what makes for a good Star Trek story. But there’s no need to get nasty or aggressive toward someone who expresses a different opinion.

Watching the video I was struck by how mature Peters was in his tone. Axanar may have been controversial, but there’s no denying that he – and the team he built to bring the project to fruition – are deeply passionate Star Trek fans. What I took away from his video, though, was that he can appreciate that Alex Kurtzman is a fan too. Kurtzman and Peters may have very different attitudes to Star Trek and storytelling, but to express respect across that divide is something I believe many fans needed to see.

I liked what he had to say about giving Kurtzman time, too. Though I don’t necessarily agree that every Star Trek show’s first two seasons “suck,” as Peters put it, we certainly should give the new team at ViacomCBS time to tell more of the stories that they want to tell. For a lot of younger fans, Star Trek has always been a complete product. Every episode was available on DVD or streaming, and it’s easy for someone younger to look back at the franchise as a single entity, not appreciating the decades of work that went into it. Star Trek developed gradually, over a long period of time, in order to become the franchise it was in the 1990s. For fans who didn’t see any part of that process, for whom Star Trek has always existed in its current form, it’s perhaps easier to criticise modern productions as they find their feet and grow.

A screengrab from the video.

We are certainly in a new era of television storytelling, and this is another point Peters brought up. Star Trek – like any franchise – has to adapt to meet audience expectations in the 2020s; many episodes and stories that we look back on fondly would struggle if made today. As Trekkies, we’re a tiny portion of Star Trek’s audience. The franchise has to have broad appeal to a wider audience beyond this niche if it’s going to survive, and someone like Alex Kurtzman was brought on board because the people at ViacomCBS believe he has the creative vision to help the franchise grow. It’s never nice to be told “this wasn’t made for you,” but in a sense it’s true – and always has been. Even The Original Series was produced with a wider audience in mind, and we can trace the franchise’s move away from ethereal sci-fi toward more action-oriented stories to at least 1982’s The Wrath of Khan.

The point is, Star Trek has always been evolving. It’s a franchise that has tried many different things over the years, and the current era is no different. As Alec Peters pointed out, Kurtzman and his team are listening. That’s why we got Strange New Worlds, that’s why some of the storytelling decisions were made in Discovery, and even while Kurtzman and his team focus on bringing Star Trek to new fans and a wider audience, they are trying to balance that with feedback from fans.

It’s not up to Alec Peters or myself to defend Alex Kurtzman and his vision for the franchise, at the end of the day. It’s okay to dislike Discovery, Picard, or any other Star Trek project that you feel didn’t appeal to you or didn’t work very well. But I think we could all agree that the fandom would be a nicer place for everyone if we didn’t try to play gatekeeper and tell genuine Trekkies that they aren’t welcome because they like the “wrong” show or film. It’s a big galaxy, and there’s room for all of us.

You can find Alec Peters’ video embedded below.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Star Trek Axanar, Prelude to Axanar, and the Axanar logos were created by fans. The video above is hosted on YouTube, and merely embedded (linked) here on Crazy Uncle Dennis. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.