Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Prodigy, and potentially minor spoilers for Star Trek: Section 31.
Second time lucky?
Paramount will certainly be hoping so, because this is the second time they’ve tried to get Star Trek: Section 31 off the ground! Originally envisioned as a television series, this latest announcement is something new for the Star Trek franchise: Section 31 will come directly to Paramount+ as a kind of “TV movie.” Reading between the lines, I think we can expect a lower budget than a full theatrical film, but perhaps a higher budget than would be afforded to a miniseries or a couple of episodes of a regular show.
If Section 31 proves to be a success with this format, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other Star Trek projects created in the same mould. As I said last year when discussing Short Treks, there’s a lot of potential in one-off stories – and with the sets having already been built for the likes of Picard and Strange New Worlds, there could also be a relatively low cost of entry, too.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!
Off the back of Michelle Yeoh’s success at the Oscars and Golden Globes, her star has risen significantly. It’s a coup for Paramount to have won her back, there’s no two ways about it. Yeoh could have chosen to pursue other projects – she will have had no shortage of offers after Everything Everywhere All At Once took the world by storm – so it’s significant for both Paramount and the Star Trek franchise that she’s been convinced to come back.
With Michelle Yeoh at the helm, there’s potential for Section 31 to pick up a lot more interest and attention than it otherwise might’ve done – and that can only be a positive thing! We’ve talked before about how Star Trek needs to win over new viewers, and how the franchise needs to get new fans through the door. A project like Section 31 could be a gateway into Star Trek for legions of new viewers – at least some of whom will stick around. The potential for the franchise and the fandom to grow is significant – and growth is the only way to ensure that Star Trek will continue to be produced.
Over the past couple of years I’ve talked about Section 31 a handful of times here on the website, and my overriding thought has been this: Paramount screwed this up. By announcing the project far too early, and at a time when fans were just about to get excited for the return of Captain Pike, Section 31 was dead on arrival. And it was such a shame, because by the time the groundwork had been properly laid for the project in Discovery’s third season, it was something I’d come around to.
This revival is, let’s be honest here, driven almost entirely by Michelle Yeoh’s success and Paramount’s wish to capitalise on it. I don’t think there’s much of a creative or artistic side to it – this is a commercial decision. As was the decision to dump the original Section 31 concept into development hell. In that case, Paramount saw the appetite for a Pike spin-off and prioritised that idea ahead of Section 31. This time, the board has seen the success Michelle Yeoh has had and has pulled out all the stops to bring her back to Star Trek.
But by the time Georgiou departed Discovery in the two-part episode Terra Firma, she’d undergone a significant shift in her characterisation – and was finally ready to take the lead in Section 31. If only Paramount had announced the project at that stage instead of two years earlier!
A TV movie feels like a good compromise for a franchise that’s in danger of burning out. With Starfleet Academy having just been announced as a new series, and growing calls for a Picard spin-off, I’m not sure that another series would’ve been the right call, especially with the Star Trek franchise continuing to have different eras and timelines on the go simultaneously. A TV movie could certainly lead to something more – either in the form of a sequel or a series – if it proves to be a huge hit. But for now at least, this feels like a surprisingly good call from a corporation that has made very few of those over the last few years.
The story that Section 31 will tell is going to be kept under wraps for a long time – and we might not see it until 2025 or even 2026. It’s my hope that Section 31 won’t feel like a re-hash of some of Star Trek’s recent “the whole galaxy is in danger!!!” stories that have been prevalent in Discovery, Picard, and even Prodigy in recent years. The writers need to find a way to take advantage of the secretive organisation to tell a different kind of story – a kind of black ops/spy thriller that might best be summed up as “Star Trek does James Bond.”
Besides Michelle Yeoh, there are other Discovery alumni who could potentially join the cast – though no announcements have been made at this stage. Shazad Latif, who played Ash Tyler in Discovery’s first and second seasons, is perhaps the most likely candidate, and I’d be interested to see what might’ve become of Tyler after his run-ins with Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery!
There’s also the potential for Section 31 to cross over in some way with Strange New Worlds, with the TV movie potentially debuting the same year as that show’s third season. The end of Discovery’s second season certainly implied that Captain Pike was aware of Georgiou’s true identity, and bringing him into the story could make for the kind of team-up event that Star Trek really ought to consider doing more of. If Section 31 were to aim for a 2026 release, coinciding with the Star Trek franchise’s 60th anniversary, it could even be billed as an anniversary event.
There’s been far more of a positive reception to the announcement of Section 31 in 2023 than there was to its premature announcement more than four years ago, and that’s good news. The project feels much more solid this time around, and is almost certain to get off the ground and escape the gravitational pull of development hell. Partly that’s thanks to Michelle Yeoh’s newfound stature as an award winner – but it’s also, at least in part, thanks to the development of her character across Season 2 and especially Season 3 of Discovery. The more grounded, nuanced, and dare I say more human presentation of Georgiou toward the end of her tenure on Discovery is what has made her into the kind of antihero that fans can root for.
So I can now say I’m genuinely looking forward to Section 31… even though I have no idea when it will be set, who it might include, or what kind of story it will aim to tell! As a standalone Star Trek project it represents a genuinely different format that the franchise hasn’t really attempted before – albeit one that could, perhaps, lead to a more traditional series if it proves a runaway success.
There’s a lot more potential in Section 31 today than there was when its original announcement in early 2019 flopped and failed to get off the ground, and I think you can see that in the positive reaction both within the Star Trek fan community and outside of it. Michelle Yeoh brings a star power to Star Trek that’s unprecedented, at least in the franchise’s modern incarnation, and the effect of that should be to bring more eyes to Star Trek – and to Paramount Plus – than it’s seen in a long time. It may not be an exaggeration in the years ahead to say that Section 31 shored up Star Trek and set the stage for its future success.
Until then, I hope you’ll stay tuned here on Trekking with Dennis! As and when we get more news about Section 31, details about the cast, teasers and trailers, and the like, I’ll do my best to discuss and analyse it all. And when Section 31 is ready, you can expect a full review, too!
Star Trek: Section 31 will premiere on Paramount Plus in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available at an unknown future date. Further international distribution has not been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Section 31, Discovery, 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.