Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Kelvin timeline films: Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
One of the worst things to happen to the Star Trek franchise last year was the disastrous announcement and rapid un-announcement of a sequel to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond. The film quickly fell apart as it became clear that Paramount had done nothing to secure the main cast, director, or even schedule filming dates and plan location shoots.
But it wasn’t bad for the Star Trek franchise because I desperately wanted to see a new Kelvin timeline film. In fact, I don’t know of any Trekkies in my immediate circle who would say that they’re desperate to get back to the Kelvin timeline! The reason why it was such a disaster is how damaging a mess like this is for Star Trek as a brand.
From the point of view of fans and the franchise’s broader audience, this kind of situation might not seem like a big deal, and I get that. But for folks who work in the entertainment industry, seeing how poorly Paramount handled this is going to have longer-term implications.
A sequel to Star Trek Beyond has failed to get off the ground for basically seven years at this point. More than one script that would have brought back the Kelvin crew has been considered, and pre-production has begun at least twice, yet the film hasn’t materialised. The chaos last year, with the film being pulled from schedules just a few weeks after its announcement, is just the latest in a long line of blunders from Paramount – and anyone working in Hollywood, whether they’re a lowly production assistant or a talented, well-known director, is now going to be thinking twice about attaching themselves to a disorganised corporation that’s repeatedly failed to make this film.
Matt Shakman, who had previously worked on WandaVision for Marvel and has also directed episodes of Game of Thrones, had been tapped by Paramount to sit in the director’s chair, but he exited the project when things fell apart last year. Recent comments that Shakman made have seemed to suggest that a Star Trek Beyond sequel may still be in the works, and several outlets have seized upon this news to begin speculating about what may or may not be happening behind the scenes.
But as you might’ve guessed from the title of this article, I’m not convinced that there’s a place for the Kelvin timeline any more. Maybe it’s time to leave it behind, and put the considerable money that would’ve been thrown its way into other projects.
More Star Trek is always a good thing, and that’s the caveat I will always give whenever we have discussions like this! If there is to be a new Kelvin film, I’ll definitely tune in when it comes to streaming or Blu-ray (my health prevents me from taking trips to the cinema any more, regrettably). It’s also worth noting that when Star Trek goes to the cinema it tends to pick up a much bigger audience than it does on television or streaming – and reaching out beyond the existing fandom and viewer base has to be considered a priority for Paramount in the months and years ahead.
With those points in mind, though, if I were in charge of the franchise for Paramount, a fourth Kelvin timeline film is categorically not the project I would choose to give the green light to.
Since Beyond premiered in 2016, we’ve had 144 episodes of Star Trek across six different productions – if you count Short Treks, that is. The Star Trek universe has massively expanded to include a huge variety of new shows set in different eras, appealing to diverse audiences, and with varying styles. I’m just not sure where the Kelvin timeline fits in with everything else Star Trek is currently doing – and in addition, adding an alternate timeline into the mix when the franchise is already playing in so many different time periods risks making Star Trek look even more complicated and convoluted than it already does.
Strange New Worlds has picked up several characters who are also present in the Kelvin timeline, and there’s a real risk that these two projects would trip over one another – or at least tread on each other’s toes. If I had to choose only one set of these recast or reimagined characters to stick with, I’d definitely choose the Strange New Worlds versions; Season 1 was absolutely outstanding, and seeing where Captain Pike and the crew will go next is one of my most-anticipated entertainment experiences of the year.
The Kelvin timeline served a purpose in 2009 when its first instalment premiered. It rebooted things, reimagined Star Trek for a new century, and stripped away some of the more niche and convoluted aspects of a more than forty-year-old franchise to ensure it would appeal to the widest possible audience. And it succeeded in that regard, with all three films turning a healthy profit and proving definitively that there was still life in a franchise that many had written off.
Without the Kelvin timeline, it’s hard to see how we’d have gotten Discovery, Picard, and the modern Star Trek productions that we’re continuing to enjoy, so we absolutely owe it a debt of gratitude for what it accomplished. But its original purpose has long since evaporated, with the idea of seeing “young” Kirk and Spock in their Academy days having been replaced by taking a look at their five-year mission. With Strange New Worlds also including Spock, Uhura, and even Kirk himself in some capacity, I just don’t see where their Kelvin counterparts fit any more.
As we can infer from Paramount’s failure to negotiate contracts with the Kelvin stars, several of them are probably beyond the reach of the corporation’s current budget. Zoë Saldaña has found fame in Avatar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Pine has been in Wonder Woman for DC, among other roles, and Karl Urban has received praise for his role in The Boys on Amazon Prime Video. While these people weren’t “unknowns” in 2009 by any means, their star power has risen, and with it, the money they’d expect to receive for a film like this has also increased.
A new Kelvin timeline film would be an expensive undertaking – far more expensive even than Into Darkness, which holds the franchise record with an approximate $190 million budget.
As a comparison, Season 3 of Picard is estimated to have cost Paramount somewhere in the region of $9 million per episode, and Discovery is also somewhere in the $8-9 million per episode range. Some quick maths tells us that, even if the new Kelvin timeline film were to cost the same as Into Darkness and not a penny more, it would still be more expensive than producing two ten-episode seasons of modern Star Trek shows.
Paramount does not have unlimited funds! And even when compared to the likes of Disney, Amazon, and Netflix, Paramount has to be a lot more careful with where it spends its money. I’d very much rather have two seasons of modern Star Trek than one new Kelvin timeline film – especially if those seasons are going to be anywhere near as good as Strange New Worlds Season 1 was!
It feels like the abandoned film helmed by Matt Shakman was the Kelvin timeline’s last realistic chance at a revival. Its collapse has caused all sorts of problems for the Star Trek franchise, especially with ambitions to return to the cinema still being held by Paramount, and those issues shouldn’t be overlooked. But it may be for the best in the long run.
It’s true that Beyond teased a sequel in its final moments, with Kirk and his crew looking out as the Enterprise-A was being constructed. There will be some fans who truly wanted to see where those versions of the characters might go next. But with Star Trek seemingly finding its feet again on the small screen, and having firmly returned to the prime timeline, I just don’t think there’s a place for it any more.
When the Beyond sequel was announced last year, it didn’t exactly light up the board, even within the Star Trek fan community. There was chatter and interest, of course, but there wasn’t the kind of hype bubble that there was in 2007-08, for example, when the first film was in production. Partly that’s because Star Trek as a whole is right on the cusp of oversaturation and franchise fatigue, with 51 episodes being broadcast in 2022 alone. But partly, it must be said, it’s because there was just never a whole lot of excitement for the Kelvin timeline to begin with.
I’d watch a new Kelvin timeline film… but I wouldn’t be wildly excited about in the way I am for Strange New Worlds Season 2, for example. And even if the film managed to pull in a decent audience at the box office, these versions of the characters are tried and tested by now. The chances of Star Trek 4 bringing in scores of new viewers to the franchise for the first time is slim.
The Kelvin timeline served a purpose in the 2000s and 2010s. The trilogy did a lot of good, and paved the way for the success Star Trek is currently enjoying. But it’s also difficult to see how to integrate it into the franchise as it currently exists – it’s off to one side in its own little narrative box. And because several of its characters are now part of Strange New Worlds, there’s even a danger that it could feel repetitive to bring back the likes of Spock and Uhura.
So to answer the question I posed at the beginning: no. I don’t think we still need the Kelvin timeline. And if I were in the room, I’d argue that there are better ways for Paramount to spend money on Star Trek than greenlighting a new film starring this cast – whether that means new seasons of television or alternative pitches for feature films.
The damage done to Star Trek as a whole by the film’s collapse last year can’t be overstated, and may take time to fully appear. Paramount needs to get a grip, because mistakes like that can’t afford to happen again. But maybe it will be for the best. The money that could have been spent on a sequel to Beyond can be reallocated… and with no new live-action Star Trek projects currently announced, that could mean that the likes of Discovery and Strange New Worlds will be able to continue for an extra season apiece.
There are reportedly other feature film pitches that Paramount is working on, and the Beyond sequel was one of two that were supposedly announced over the last couple of years. Whether the other film, written by Discovery and Short Treks writer and producer Kalinda Vazquez, is still going ahead… who can say? Paramount’s disorganisation and chaos is boundless, it seems!
Regardless, if there’s news about a Beyond sequel or any other Star Trek feature films in the months ahead, I’ll be sure to take a look at it here on the website. So I hope you’ll stay tuned!
The Star Trek films should be available to stream on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available, and are also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds. There are also spoilers for upcoming and unreleased Star Trek projects.
By almost every conceivable measure, 2022 has been a fantastic year for the Star Trek franchise. We’ve seen new projects become successful, ongoing series really hitting their stride, and more seasons and individual episodes of Star Trek than at any time in the past. Barely a week has gone by without a brand-new episode to get stuck into – and with different shows targeting wildly different audiences, it really feels like Star Trek in 2022 has had something to offer to practically everyone.
But that isn’t the whole story, and unfortunately it feels as though 2022 has also been a pretty dark year for Star Trek – one in which major mistakes have been made that could very easily lead to serious consequences in the medium-to-long term, and perhaps even premature cancellations for some or all of the shows currently in production.
On this occasion, I want to look back at 2022 from the perspective of a Star Trek fan, and draw attention to both the highs and lows of a rollercoaster year for the franchise. And there’s quite a lot to say, so make sure you’re sitting comfortably!
My usual caveat applies: everything we’re going to talk about today is the subjective opinion of one person. There are a lot of reasons to think positively and optimistically about Star Trek, and the fact that I have some negative or uncomfortable points to raise shouldn’t be interpreted as me being some kind of “hater” of new Star Trek. I love the franchise, I want to see it succeed, and I raise these issues not out of spite but out of genuine concern. If you don’t agree with me, that’s okay. There’s room within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussions and civil disagreements!
Now that that’s out of the way, we can begin.
It seems only fair to allow the Star Trek franchise to put its best foot forward, so we’ll start with what went well in 2022. And there are several incredible highlights, any one of which alone would ordinarily mean we’d consider 2022 to have been a huge success for Star Trek.
Some of the best entertainment experiences that I had all year came from the Star Trek franchise, and those incredible episodes and stories weren’t limited to a single season or a single show. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that all five of 2022’s Star Trek productions had some fantastic high points; episodes or at least moments within episodes that had me on the edge of my seat, jumping for joy, or in tears.
Strange New Worlds Season 1 was fantastic:
The first season of Strange New Worlds was, without a doubt, the best that modern Star Trek has had to offer – and one of the finest seasons in the entire fifty-six-year history of the franchise. A triumphant return to an older, more episodic style of storytelling that still retained many modern serialised elements represents a model that I genuinely believe every other current and upcoming project in the franchise needs to seriously consider adopting. The diversity of stories on display in Strange New Worlds Season 1 was unprecedented in the franchise’s modern era.
Strange New Worlds’ premiere was also the culmination of a fan campaign to get Anson Mount and Ethan Peck to reprise their popular and incredibly successful roles from Discovery’s second season. The show’s very existence is testament to Paramount’s willingness to take on board feedback from Star Trek fans and a wider audience, and the fact that the corporation backed up this relative gamble by awarding the series a decently high budget should be acknowledged. Paramount didn’t have to make Strange New Worlds – plans were afoot for other Star Trek shows and spin-offs, but the corporation reacted positively to feedback from fans and viewers, and the result was an absolutely outstanding season of television that has hopefully laid the groundwork for one of the best Star Trek series of the current era – if not of all-time.
It really is hard to overstate just how incredible Strange New Worlds’ first season really was. In my spoiler-free review I talked about how the show enthusiastically tried out different genres, managing to thread the needle of staying close to Star Trek’s roots while still feeling like a thoroughly modern production. There were ten fantastic episodes – and while I had a few story nitpicks, overall the season has to be considered the best since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017.
So Strange New Worlds is definitely one of the highlights of 2022 – not just for the Star Trek franchise, but in the entertainment space in general. It’s a show that should be accessible to new and old fans alike, with the potential to expand the Star Trek fandom beyond its current niche.
The Strange New Worlds-Lower Decks crossover announcement:
This is something that I genuinely was not expecting – but it’s a fantastic idea! Star Trek did a fair few crossover episodes in its heyday, and while I guess we can consider parts of Discovery and Strange New Worlds to have crossed over with The Original Series, it isn’t the same as bringing together two shows that are currently in production. With five shows occupying five different time periods and regions of the galaxy, a proper crossover felt like a remote possibility – until this announcement came along at Comic-Con in July.
I mentioned the diversity of genres that Strange New Worlds dabbled in in its first season – well, one of those was comedy! We had two episodes that had overtly comedic premises, and many other moments of humour throughout much of the season. A crossover with Lower Decks – an animated comedy series – is thus not as far-fetched as we might think!
As always in Star Trek, technobabble can account for most things! The crew of the Cerritos could find themselves in the 23rd Century thanks to all manner of phenomena, so there’s no real barrier to bringing the two shows together. With some creative scriptwriting, a solid foundation should be able to bring Boimler, Mariner, and perhaps other members of the Cerritos’ crew aboard Captain Pike’s ship.
This announcement has got a lot of Trekkies very excited, and that’s a great thing. Paramount needs to make moves like these to keep the fan community engaged, and while a crossover may feel very much like fan-service, there’s also a huge potential benefit to bringing together two different parts of the Star Trek franchise. Fans of Lower Decks may check out Strange New Worlds for the first time – and vice-versa. Crossover stories have the potential to benefit both shows and increase viewership, potentially turning casual viewers into fans of the franchise as a whole. If Star Trek is to survive long-term, we need to see more moves like this.
Visual effects and CGI:
Although Discovery’s first season felt like it brought to the table some excellent visual effects, there were some definite disappointments thereafter. The Romulan and Federation fleets seen in the finale of Picard Season 1, for example, were pretty lacklustre; copy-and-paste starships that all looked the same and, in the case of the Starfleet vessels, didn’t even have names and NCC numbers. There were also some pretty sloppy CGI moments in Discovery’s third season – one example that comes to mind is a digital sword that supposedly stabbed a character, but just looked awful.
But in 2022, all that changed. We had a big, beautiful Starfleet armada in Picard’s season premiere and season finale. We had other CGI moments in the Confederation timeline that looked spectacular. Strange New Worlds did some incredible things with practical puppets in conjunction with CGI and visual effects to create some wonderful moments. And Discovery brought to screen one of the most “alien-looking” alien races ever seen in the franchise: Species 10-C.
Both Discovery and Strange New Worlds made excellent use of Paramount’s fancy new AR wall, too. When the AR wall first debuted, I felt there were definitely a few moments where its use was noticeable. But by the time we got to 2022’s Star Trek productions, the creative team and effects artists had clearly grown in both confidence and ability, taking advantage of the AR wall to craft some wonderful environments.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the digital de-ageing of John de Lancie in his initial appearance as Q. That moment, which came at the end of the Picard Season 2 premiere, was absolutely fantastic!
Some of these technologies are very expensive, and Paramount doesn’t have the same resources as the likes of Disney or Netflix, so I can understand why they’re used sparingly in some cases. But overall, I’d give Star Trek’s visual effects and CGI work an A grade for 2022.
Discovery Season 4 ended on a spectacular high:
Although Discovery’s fourth season seemed to drag in places, there’s no denying that the way the season ended was pitch-perfect and went at least some way to making up for earlier narrative missteps. Coming Home (the season finale) was an incredible episode: deeply emotional, visually stunning, and tied up all of the season’s loose ends.
The way in which Season 4 ended showed off the Federation at its very best, racing in to help a planet that had left the organisation simply because they needed assistance and it was the right thing to do. I still get chills just thinking about it, and the way Admiral Vance led the charge, bringing Federation HQ to Earth in its hour of need… it’s one of the best story beats in the season.
After the drama with Unknown Species 10-C was resolved, an epilogue saw Earth coming back into the fold, rejoining the Federation, and this has set the stage for what promises to be a different kind of story in the show’s upcoming fifth season. I would challenge any Discovery-avoider to watch Coming Home and not feel that the show has grown spectacularly since its premiere almost six years ago.
By expanding its cast with some genuinely interesting secondary characters, Discovery is starting down the Deep Space Nine road, where characters outside of the main headliners could be just as important to stories. Although it’s still “the Burnham show” in some ways, there’s movement away from a laser-focus on one character, with others being given moments in the spotlight. That’s all to the good – and as Season 5 approaches, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
So that’s what Star Trek got right.
There are some really amazing highlights, and were it not for some of the things we’re about to discuss, they’d have meant that the year 2022 would’ve gone down in history as one of Star Trek’s finest; the beginning of a new “golden age” that would rival the franchise’s 1990s heyday. Strange New Worlds truly excelled, Discovery did some bold and interesting things, and Picard put together a Starfleet armada that was big, diverse, and beautiful. And that’s not even mentioning solid seasons from both Lower Decks and Prodigy that continue to branch out in very different directions.
But that isn’t all there is to say, and now I’m afraid we have to consider some of the ways in which Star Trek went wrong in 2022.
Paramount did serious, almost catastrophic harm to Star Trek in 2022, and I genuinely fear for the franchise’s longer-term prospects. I had felt all but certain that we’d make it to the 60th anniversary in 2026 with new seasons and perhaps even new films being created… but that goal feels pretty far away right now, even with the promise of unannounced projects being worked on behind the scenes.
The simple truth is this: I have no confidence in the leadership team at Paramount. It seems as if they don’t know what they’re doing; they leap from disaster to disaster, damaging trust and confidence in the Star Trek brand, harming the Star Trek fan community, and above all, it feels as if 20th Century thinking is trying – and desperately failing – to lead Paramount into the 21st Century. Without a major change in direction at the top and a serious rethink of the corporation’s attitude and approach, Star Trek will not succeed and will not survive.
The international rollout of Paramount+:
If you’ve been a regular reader here on the website, you may remember that I’ve had a lot to say on this subject. The fact that Paramount was unable to speed up the painfully constipated rollout of its streaming platform – and crucially, the corporation’s unwillingness to broadcast Star Trek on other channels or streaming platforms in countries and territories where Paramount+ isn’t available – has been a dead weight around the neck of the Star Trek franchise, pushing Trekkies away… or into the arms of piracy.
Paramount sits atop a global media empire, and owns television channels in dozens of countries around the world. If the rollout of Paramount+ was so slow, the corporation had months or years in which to make other arrangements to broadcast Star Trek. Prodigy, for instance, is produced in part under Paramount’s Nickelodeon brand – and there are Nickelodeon channels available in more than 100 countries around the world. Why was Prodigy not broadcast on any of them until months after its first season had gotten underway? And why was Strange New Worlds not made available here in the UK on one of the dozen or so channels that Paramount already owns?
These decisions hit the Star Trek fan community hard. But more than that, they greatly harmed Strange New Worlds and Prodigy in particular. In a 21st Century media landscape, word-of-mouth on social media makes all the difference – and Paramount has consistently failed to learn that cutting off a huge portion of the potential audience for its shows means that posts get fewer likes, hashtags don’t trend, and the resulting lack of online chatter harms these shows in the United States as well. The blinkered, short-sighted “America First” approach that the corporation has adopted may have worked fine in the 1980s… but it isn’t the ’80s any more. The internet is one single worldwide audience, and by denying a huge portion of that audience access to Paramount+ and the Star Trek franchise, Paramount has done immeasurable harm to Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, Prodigy, and the entire franchise.
At time of writing, Paramount+ doesn’t even have the faintest idea about a launch in countries like Japan or South Korea, and even in western Europe, coverage is spotty. And you can forget about the hugely growing markets in places like China or Africa – Paramount doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. If there were plans afoot to get Star Trek shown on other networks in those regions – whether Paramount-owned or not – at least that would be something. But no such plans have been forthcoming, so the option Trekkies have in much of the world is to either pirate Star Trek or miss out. There’s no prospect of bringing on board new fans as long as this attitude persists.
Why did Discovery Season 4 overlap Picard Season 2 by three weeks in the spring of 2022? And why was the Picard finale shown the same day (the same minute, in fact) as Strange New Worlds’ premiere? Paramount’s scheduling decisions were pathetic in 2022, as there was simply no need for the shows to overlap like this.
Had Picard Season 2 been delayed and not run alongside Discovery, and Strange New Worlds also been delayed a mere four or five weeks so as not to overlap Picard, that would have lined up almost perfectly with Paramount+ launching here in the UK. There would have been the option for Trekkies in the UK to join in with fans in the USA, watching Strange New Worlds together. This bizarre rush saw several weeks with two different shows on at the same time, and while that did also happen during The Next Generation era, in an age of ten-episode seasons and on-demand streaming… it just shouldn’t be happening any more.
You don’t see Disney+ having The Mandalorian and Andor overlapping one another – Disney makes sure that the Star Wars shows have room to breathe. I genuinely don’t understand how a decision was taken to have these shows clash. At the very least it should have been possible to spread out the release of episodes so that they weren’t on the same day, but Paramount even failed to consider that possibility, apparently.
Were it not for the rushed scheduling meaning that Strange New Worlds debuted in the USA weeks before Paramount+ arrived in the UK, I’d still find the whole thing pretty stupid. But when a slightly more spread out schedule could have allowed Paramount+ to land in the UK the same week as Strange New Worlds premiered… I honestly can’t forgive it. Whichever idiot at Paramount (and there’s no shortage of those, clearly) signed off the scheduling decisions for 2022 needs to be fired.
A premature announcement:
One of the most basic, entry-level rules of the entertainment industry is this: you don’t officially announce anything until all of the pieces are in place. Paramount became a laughing stock in 2022 by announcing a sequel to 2016’s Star Trek Beyond… before trying to quietly un-announce it only a few weeks later.
Whatever you may think of the merits of a new Kelvin timeline film, it should be patently obvious that this was not the way to handle it. It seems as if no main cast members had been so much as offered a contract, let alone been in a position to sign one and start work on a film that had a very ambitious release date of July and then December 2023. Paramount’s failure in this regard was spectacular, and practically unheard of for a big corporation in the modern entertainment industry.
Whether a new Star Trek film gets underway in the months ahead or not, this total own-goal from Paramount’s team of corporate morons has already damaged the film – and arguably the wider franchise, too. To make an official announcement, put a film on the schedule with an expected release date, and then have to walk it all back and try to quietly brush it aside is a bad look. It makes Paramount and the Star Trek franchise look disorganised, unprofessional, and chaotic. Who’d want to go to work for a corporation like that the next time they’re hiring?
I can’t even believe we have to say this, but here we go: if you don’t have all the contracts signed, don’t announce your film. If the executives at Paramount don’t understand that, then they need to be removed immediately.
Star Trek Day:
Oh, I feel bad about putting this on the list – but I’m afraid we must. Star Trek Day was hyped up as a celebration of all things Trek… but it was a spectacular let-down. Despite promises of “announcements and reveals throughout,” nothing major was actually announced at Star Trek Day… unless we count a scripted podcast. Which we don’t.
The live broadcast was also pretty amateurish, with hosts who seemed unprepared, guests who couldn’t answer the most basic of questions about their shows, and panels that were either cut too short or that went totally off the rails and fell apart. There were a couple of teaser trailers, but even then, Paramount seems to have been saving the biggest and boldest of those for Comic-Con a couple of months later.
By some accounts, Star Trek Day didn’t bring in much of an audience, which is a shame in a way. But if Paramount isn’t going to make this kind of celebration of the franchise and its fans a big blow-out, perhaps it’s better just to skip it next year – or at least make sure that expectations are properly set in advance.
I hoped for better things from Star Trek Day, and while I don’t want to be too critical of the main figures involved, it was a pretty big disappointment.
Social media failures:
We’ve already touched on this in a couple of places, but Paramount and the Star Trek franchise really need to get a better handle on social media. The way in which they used social media in 2022 was poor, and we need to see Star Trek becoming much more engaging and interactive with fans and viewers. Social media isn’t merely a billboard on which to paste an advertisement or show off a teaser trailer; Paramount needs to start treating social media platforms as spaces to engage with fans.
To just give a couple of examples, Star Trek’s social media pages could showcase fan art, highlighting the real passion that many Trekkies have for the franchise. And they could run competitions, with giveaways of merchandise or Paramount+ subscriptions as rewards. Take a look around at other big corporations and see what they’re doing; social media is a gateway that Paramount could open, giving new, especially younger fans a first look at Star Trek.
At the very least, Paramount and Star Trek need to be more active on social media. They need to respond to genuine questions from fans as much as possible, especially concerning things like release dates and availability. Frankly they also ought to curate their social media posts better, deleting hateful comments about some of the new Star Trek shows and especially about some of the actors. LGBT+ actors and actors from ethnic minority backgrounds are particular targets, and it’s a bad look when a post has comments of that nature.
Look at television shows as diverse as Game of Thrones, Tiger King, and Squid Game. What helped them blow up and break out of their original niches to attract massive audiences? Social media! Well-timed promotions and social media teams that actively leaned into the discussion, the jokes, the memes, and everything else helped those shows – and many more. Star Trek could have that too – if only Paramount could get someone competent to manage its social media operation.
When a director with the undeniable talent of Quentin Tarantino says that he wants to make a film for you, serious consideration of the proposal is warranted. For whatever reason, higher-ups at Paramount decided not to go ahead with a film that had been pitched by the famed director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. No explanation has been given – and I really do fear that this could be a huge missed opportunity.
Here’s the short version: you may not like Tarantino personally or his filmmaking style. That’s okay. Maybe you’d hate his take on Star Trek. That’s okay too. Because what someone like Tarantino has that no one else who’s come anywhere close to Star Trek has is star power and pull. Tarantino’s films are on a different order of magnitude to anything else that Star Trek has ever done, and what that would have meant for the franchise is millions of new viewers turning up for the very first time. At least some of those folks would have stuck around, gone back to watch other Star Trek films and shows, and the fan community would have grown.
The very worst possible outcome for a collaboration with Tarantino would have been a mediocre film that made a decent profit. But beyond that, the potential for legions of viewers taking a first look at Star Trek – or a second look from folks who’ve not seen it in a while – is immense. To squander such an opportunity when it was seemingly presented on a silver platter may turn out to be an unforgivable mistake.
A standalone Tarantino film need not have impacted any ongoing series or project. It could have been a one-and-done thing occupying its own little piece of the Star Trek universe, inoffensively ignoring everything else in the franchise and doing no harm. Sure, there are potential pitfalls to working with someone like Tarantino… but the gains Star Trek could have made were massive.
Where are the Prodigy toys?
It’s been well over a year since Prodigy premiered, but there are still no toys, no dolls, no dress-up costumes, no replica phasers or combadges, no teddies… nothing. Prodigy must be the only kids’ show in the world to have zero tie-in products even after its entire first season has come and gone.
There’s more to merchandise than just raw sales and profit. The way children engage with a franchise like Star Trek, especially in the moments where they aren’t sitting down to watch the latest episode, is all about play. Seeing exciting toys on shelves will literally get kids to check out the show for the first time, and seeing their friends dressed up for Halloween or playing with Star Trek dolls has the potential to expand the show’s audience.
The Star Trek franchise may be new to making a kids’ show, but Paramount isn’t. Paramount owns Nickelodeon, and has made many other films and TV series for children in the past – and knows how to make toys and merch for them. Moreover, the Star Trek franchise used to be much better at this, even giving Star Wars a run for its money in the ’90s with figures of practically every guest character, costumes for dressing up, prop replicas, and much more.
I waited and waited for Paramount to address this as Prodigy’s first season went on, then took an extended break. I hoped that we’d have gotten something before the first season finale aired… but it didn’t happen.
Most of Picard Season 2:
Now we’re getting into narrative decisions, which I admit is something quite subjective – but I’m certainly not alone in considering most of Picard’s second season to have been a disappointment. After a truly spectacular premiere (that I gushed over in my review, calling it “one of the best episodes of live-action Star Trek that I’ve seen in a long time”) the second season took a nose-dive, spending eight-and-a-half episodes wandering aimlessly in a modern-day setting that didn’t feel inspiring, exciting, or even interesting much of the time.
There were some highlights, and by the time the action returned to the 25th Century in the second half of the finale, things did improve. But by then it was almost too late; the damage was done. This was an experimental season, and it’s to the Star Trek franchise’s credit that the creative team are given leeway to try out different ideas. But this one didn’t work, and considering it was one of only three seasons that Picard is going to get, its failure feels all the more egregious and disappointing.
Picard Season 2 felt muddled, bloated, and unnecessarily long. Yet by the time it ended, there were still huge unanswered questions about key storylines and characters, questions that I feel all but certain the series has no answers to and no plans to even pay lip-service to in Season 3. A meandering, confused batch of episodes gave way to a rushed finale that didn’t have time to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
Some storylines in Season 2 just felt confused, as if there were two writers working against one another. Rios’ story, for example, saw him experience the worst of the 21st Century, being incarcerated and deported. But a couple of episodes later, Rios was raving about how much he loves the 21st Century for the cigars and the food on offer at a fancy party. There were clearly ideas on the table that, had they been executed better, were potentially interesting. But the way the season as a whole came to screen was poor – and it’s a concept that I hope won’t be repeated any time soon.
Prodigy isn’t gaining much traction:
Right now, Prodigy is being watched mostly by existing Trekkies and some of their kids. It doesn’t appear to be finding much of an audience of its own, and there are a few reasons why that may be the case. The situation with toys and merch that we just talked about is definitely harming the show’s prospects, preventing it from reaching out beyond existing Trekkies for the reasons laid out above. But there’s more to say.
Prodigy hasn’t been marketed particularly well, with relatively few ads for the show cropping up online. Kids shows need to advertise where kids are – on apps like TikTok, for instance. Also, the show remained a Paramount+ exclusive until very recently, when a belated broadcast on Nickelodeon was announced. While I understand that Prodigy was made as a Paramount+ show, the platform itself is mostly being marketed at an adult audience.
Unlike something like Disney+, which clearly has a lot of content made for kids, Paramount+ just doesn’t have that reputation yet. As a result, I doubt most kids even know that Prodigy exists a full year and a full season later.
The question is this: who is Prodigy really made for? Is it for Trekkies who want to see more Captain Janeway and Chakotay? Is it for children of Trekkies as a way for their parents to get them into the franchise? Or does it have the ambition to bring in completely new viewers? The answer should be “all of the above,” but the way the show has been handled from its marketing and scheduling to its place in the wider franchise, it feels like a show that won’t succeed at growing Star Trek’s audience much beyond its current fans and viewers.
The Picard cast being unceremoniously dumped:
It was profoundly disappointing to me to learn that all but one of the new characters who had been introduced in Picard would not be returning for the show’s third season. That disappointment was compounded because most of them didn’t even get an ending to their character arcs/stories in Season 2.
There were some really interesting characters in the mix when Picard debuted, and over the course of two full seasons I feel that we didn’t really get to know all of them very well; after twenty episodes we’d barely spent any time with Elnor, for example, and Soji was absent for all of Season 2 bar a tiny cameo in the premiere. There was vast potential in these characters – but it’s potential that the show has now thoroughly wasted.
If the Star Trek franchise is to survive long-term, fans and viewers need to be given the opportunity to fall in love with a new generation of characters, because it’s these people who will drive the franchise forward in the years ahead. As much fun as I hope it will be to go on one last adventure with the crew from The Next Generation, it will be their final mission. That show is now more than thirty-five years in the past, and while there’s definitely still ways to bring back legacy characters, it isn’t exactly indicative of a franchise trying to move forwards.
It was my hope when Picard premiered that a new generation of fans would be just as excited in thirty years’ time to see Elnor or Rios make a return to the Star Trek franchise as we had been to see Picard come back. These new characters could and should have picked up the torch, taking Star Trek into the 2020s and beyond. Although I adore The Next Generation and will be happy to see its main characters make a return, it’s a bittersweet moment because of who had to be booted off the show to make it happen. And it’s a decision to double-down on nostalgia that I fear could have long-term ramifications for the entire franchise.
Paramount+ lost the Star Trek films. Twice:
On two separate occasions in 2022, all or most of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+. Let’s restate that: Paramount lost most of the Star Trek films from its own streaming platform, sending them to Hulu or Peacock or one of those other second-tier streaming services for a number of months. Then, after getting them back, it happened again!
From the point of view of a Trekkie, we’re told that Paramount+ is going to be the place to get all things Star Trek. But that’s demonstrably not true, as some of the best stories in the franchise – and the projects which had the highest production values – have arbitrarily disappeared. If I’d been a paying subscriber to Paramount+ at that time I’d have been livid.
But it’s not just about Star Trek. It’s about Paramount as a whole, and what these mistakes say about the corporation and the platform it hopes to convince folks to sign up for. Losing parts of Paramount’s own back catalogue is something that simply should not be allowed to happen. It makes Paramount+ look inconsistent, cheap, and like a bad deal. The lack of communication about this – the announcement of the recent loss of the Star Trek films was made with just days to spare – also makes Paramount look chaotic, and Paramount+ look like a very poor relation indeed to the likes of Disney+ and Netflix.
Can you imagine logging into Disney+ and seeing a message that Beauty and the Beast, The Aristocats, Snow White, and more would no longer be available? Can you imagine Disney leasing the exclusive rights to those films to any other streaming platform? Of course not, because it undermines the entire concept of owning a streaming platform. Paramount+ is already on very shaky ground as a second-tier streaming platform in a massively competitive market. Mistakes like this cannot be repeated.
Was it simply too much?
2022 was a bumper year for Star Trek. In fact, the franchise barely had so much as a week’s break all year long – and as already noted, some weeks had two episodes at once. There were ten episodes each of Lower Decks, Picard, and Strange New Worlds, six episodes of Discovery, and fifteen episodes of Prodigy taking the total number for 2022 to a whopping fifty-one episodes of Star Trek. Is that too much for one franchise in a single calendar year?
There’s a danger, I fear, of “franchise fatigue” beginning to set in. Even the most ardent Star Trek fan would struggle to keep up with all the different productions, and I think there’s a case to be made that Paramount needs to take a foot off the accelerator and slow things down. The last thing we need is for fans and viewers to get burned out on Star Trek – or for the franchise to begin to look too complicated and too difficult to keep up with.
There is a balance somewhere that Paramount needs to find. After years in the wilderness with no Star Trek at all it may seem odd to be complaining about there being too much, but it feels as though the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. It’s good and healthy for franchises to take breaks and not to be constantly on the air, and for both the creative teams and fans, I don’t think the level of Star Trek we saw in 2022 can be maintained.
And that’s a worry because if burnout sets in, it could prove fatal to the entire franchise. Take a deep breath, slow things down, and try to spread out some of these shows a little more. Taking breaks of a few weeks in between each series would be a good start – and this really ties in with what we said about scheduling. Paramount blitzed through fifty-one episodes of Star Trek in 2022… but there’s now nothing for at least six weeks. Had things been better spread out, we could have had short, consistent breaks in between each show that would have meant the entire franchise would be more balanced.
So that’s what went wrong.
In 2022, Star Trek premiered more episodes than at any other point in its history… but the franchise was massively harmed by decisions on the corporate side that prevented millions of fans from even being able to watch any of it. The glut of episodes was arguably too much, and poor scheduling decisions saw shows overlapping one another, and too many episodes arriving all at once.
Paramount’s failures behind the scenes have seen Strange New Worlds denied to most of the world, massively harming the show’s reputation and killing much of the online chatter. On social media, Star Trek not only ignored fans, but in some cases actively attacked them, using outdated copyright laws to get fan accounts suspended. The lack of toys for Star Trek’s first kids’ show more than a year after its launch and after its entire first season has finished its run is pretty pathetic – and is just another way that Paramount has harmed its prospects.
2022 was, as the title of this piece states, a great and terrible year for Star Trek.
I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed Strange New Worlds, and how that show’s first season has to be one of the strongest debuts in the entire history of the franchise. After three seasons that were of varying quality, Discovery finally seems to be hitting its stride, too. Season 4 wasn’t perfect, but it was the best the show has had to offer so far. Lower Decks continues to do its thing and do it well, though it isn’t really reaching out beyond the existing Star Trek fan community in a big way. Prodigy is also a fun series, continuing to build up its characters. Even in Picard Season 2 there were fun moments; highlights in practically every episode even if the overall story itself wasn’t stellar.
But I can’t shake the feeling that 2022 could be both the zenith and a turning point for modern Star Trek. The sheer number of episodes and the way in which they were scheduled was enough to start the process of burnout, and one of the key lessons for Paramount has to be to better schedule the Star Trek franchise and spread it out more.
Moreover, on the production side of things, Paramount had an absolutely atrocious year. Failing to bring Paramount+ to fans around the world is a weight around the neck of the Star Trek franchise and will continue to be for years to come. The lack of communication with fans, and Paramount’s piss-poor “America First” corporate attitude is also doing considerable harm to the Star Trek fan community and the wider brand.
In a difficult economic climate, it’s hard to see Paramount+ breaking into the top tier of streaming platforms, and on current form I would be surprised if it survives the decade. When Disney+ and Netflix – platforms with many more subscribers backed up by far bigger and more successful corporations – are struggling to turn a profit, one can only imagine how much money Paramount+ is losing and will continue to lose. If Paramount+ fails, will it drag Star Trek down with it?
Pull back the curtain and I’m afraid it was a tough year for Star Trek. I don’t see anything changing in the immediate term, either, as Paramount looks set to keep doing what it’s been doing for the past few years. No major changes seem to be coming on the horizon, and teases of unannounced projects came and went in 2022 with no major announcements for new shows. And of course the Beyond sequel had to be rapidly un-announced as it became clear that Paramount had completely screwed things up.
If you enjoyed having fifty-one Star Trek episodes in a single year, I guess what I’d say is this: don’t get used to it. For all manner of reasons, I doubt we’ll see another year quite like 2022. And maybe that’s for the best.
The Star Trek franchise – including all films and television series discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I’ve written longer articles and columns about several of the subjects discussed above, and you can find links to them here:
Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the Kelvin timeline films, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.
Though the news got lost due to yet more corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS/Paramount dominating the conversation online, one of the more interesting announcements from yesterday’s investor event was the news that Star Trek 2023 is going to involve a return to the Kelvin timeline. Details are still sparse, with some outlets suggesting that “most” of the main cast will return, but it’s definitely an interesting move for the franchise at this time.
The Kelvin films were what Star Trek needed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. After close to two decades of continuous production, the Star Trek franchise had been losing viewers and fans, something that finally came to a head with the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. The Kelvin films came along a few years later, and for all of the criticism some levelled at them, they succeeded at completely rebooting – and in some ways reinventing – Star Trek for a whole new audience. Some of the folks whose first contact with the franchise came at the cinema with one of these films have since gone on to become huge Trekkies, and the films’ influence continues today in some respects.
Without the Kelvin films, it’s unlikely that Star Trek would’ve been revived on the small screen in 2017. I regard their legacy as being a bridge between the faltering years of the early 2000s and the new beginning that Discovery gave the franchise, one which ultimately led to Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, Strange New Worlds, and everything else that we’ve got coming our way over the next few years. Without the Kelvin films carrying a torch for Star Trek and bringing fresh eyes to the franchise for the first time, it seems likely that Star Trek would’ve stayed dead after 2005.
Practically every Star Trek production has built on the successes of the iterations that came before, and Discovery in particular adopted noticeable visual elements from the Kelvin films. Picard Season 1 expanded on one part of the plot from 2009’s Star Trek, too, giving us much more information about what happened to the Romulans. The Kelvin films’ cinematography was streets ahead of anything Star Trek had done before on the big or small screens, and Into Darkness became the franchise’s highest-grossing film by a country mile. In fact, all three Kelvin films were profitable and made decent money for Paramount Pictures, albeit with the caveat that Beyond was somewhat less successful than its predecessor had been.
We’re lucky that, right now, we’re living through a renaissance for Star Trek. There are different shows catering to wildly different audiences, occupying very different genres and telling very different stories. For the first time, it feels like Star Trek has something to offer to almost everyone, whether they want a tense serialised drama or light-hearted animated comedy. There is a place in that diverse array of content for a new Kelvin film, and hopefully it will succeed in the same way as the first three.
If fans discover Star Trek for the first time thanks to this new film – and some surely will – they will find a much richer, deeper, and more interesting franchise today than they would’ve in 2009. With a plethora of new shows being produced, and Star Trek’s future feeling (fairly) secure, at least in the short-term, there will be plenty of new episodes and series for newbies to jump head-first into.
New fans are the lifeblood of any fan community, and we should welcome the opportunities that a new blockbuster film presents to the Star Trek franchise. With Star Trek continuing to be a major pillar of Paramount+ as the “streaming wars” rumble on, the new film could be important, bringing in new viewers in big numbers for the first time in several years. Shoring up the Star Trek franchise and giving it solid ground going forward are all good reasons to support a project like this one.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t things to criticise with the Kelvin timeline films, of course. I know some Trekkies who have ardently refused to watch any of them for more than a decade now, having been so upset at the decision to re-cast the crew of The Original Series. When I started having these conversations in 2008-09, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a big fan of The Original Series, and ask how I would’ve felt if it were The Next Generation that was being re-cast… ultimately I think I’d be fine with it, but I know not everyone feels the same way!
With the two former companies that came together to form ViacomCBS now working together, presumably there’s one big money pot from which films, television shows, and everything else are bankrolled. I know entertainment finance is way more complex than that, but at a basic level that’s how these big entertainment corporations work. With that in mind, my most significant complaint is that the budget of a feature film could have easily been spent instead on a season or two of television – perhaps even a brand-new show or a couple of miniseries.
Star Trek’s home, for me, will always be the small screen. And with the technological leaps that have been made in recent years, television shows can be just as good – better, in some cases – as anything the world of cinema could ever produce. The undoubtedly vast sum of money being spent on Star Trek 2023 could have been put to better use elsewhere in the franchise, and if it were up to me I’d definitely be arguing for a focus on television shows over films.
There are also some issues with the Kelvin timeline itself, and I looked at some of these in my “pros and cons” list a few months ago. For me, I think the biggest drawback – or potential drawback, at least – to making a new Kelvin timeline film is that it overcomplicates an already convoluted franchise that can be difficult for newbies to get to grips with.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone brand-new to Star Trek. Just of the shows currently in production, we have five different time periods on the go. Strange New Worlds is a spin-off to Discovery, but Discovery’s massive time-jump means they no longer share a setting. Picard is a sequel to The Next Generation, which was set almost 100 years after Discovery – or 800 years before where Discovery is now. And Prodigy and Lower Decks are both set in the late 24th Century too… but not at the same time as Picard. Throw an alternate reality into the mix and the timeline situation becomes so convoluted that it’s borderline offputting.
Then there’s the fact that the basic premise underlying the Kelvin films, which was a big part of the original appeal in 2009, no longer exists. A new Kelvin film, arriving fourteen years after the first one, is no longer going to be looking at “young” Kirk and Spock in their early years at Starfleet Academy. With Strange New Worlds following the adventures of the USS Enterprise on its mission of exploration, there’s a risk that a new Kelvin timeline film will seem repetitive or just unnecessary.
Discovery and Strange New Worlds have successfully brought back characters like Spock and Captain Pike, and between now and 2023 we’ll also spend time with the likes of Uhura, too. Different versions of these characters are present in the Kelvin timeline; this adds to both the problem of repetitiveness, with the new film potentially overtreading the same ground in terms of character stories, and also the issue of an unnecessarily complicated franchise. Having to try to explain to a newbie that Kelvin Spock is different from Discovery Spock, who’s also a young version of old Spock who crossed over to the Kelvin timeline… well, let’s just say it isn’t the easiest story to follow!
There’s also a hole in the Kelvin timeline’s cast. The tragic death of Anton Yelchin in 2016, and the promise that the character of Chekov won’t be recast, is a sensitive topic, but from a storytelling point of view it’s absolutely fair to point out that Chekov brought a different perspective and a dash of humour to the three films he appeared in. Of course it’s going to be possible to create a new character to fill that role, but it won’t be the same and his absence will be felt.
There are some advantages to a new Kelvin timeline film, though! For me, the biggest one is the creative freedom that the setting provides, and the opportunity to put Captain Kirk and his crew in very different situations. For example, if fans want to see Captain Kirk versus the Borg, the Kelvin timeline is the place to do it! Free from the constraints of fifty years of canon (well, except for Enterprise) the Kelvin timeline is an open-ended setting. The more it diverges from the prime timeline, the greater the opportunities become to tell radically different stories.
That’s by far the biggest and most significant ace in the hole that the Kelvin timeline has. Its unburdened creative freedom allows it to go in very different directions without treading on the toes of any of the ongoing shows and other projects. In that sense, it’s a self-contained setting perfect for telling one-off stories. My “what if” scenario of Captain Kirk versus the Borg is just one of countless examples that fans have concocted over the years!
So that’s where things sit right now. Star Trek 2023 is planning to bring back the Kelvin timeline for a new adventure, a sequel to 2016’s Beyond. And although it wouldn’t have been my first choice if I was in charge of making the investment in the next Star Trek project, it has merit and it has a lot of potential. I’ll certainly be happy to check it out when it releases in December next year… or rather, a couple of months later when it arrives on a streaming platform! My health, sadly, precludes things like trips to the cinema these days.
Star Trek Beyond clearly teased fans with a sequel in 2016, as the film drew to a close in a very open-ended fashion! It felt for a long time as though we would never get that sequel; that Star Trek had moved on to other projects that were taking the franchise in a different direction. The expanded Star Trek franchise in 2022 feels like it has space for a new Kelvin film, though, so I’ll end by saying that I wish it the best of luck!
The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS/Paramount. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.
In the second part of this short series about the Burn we’re going to consider the possible impact of time travel. Last time, in case you missed it, we looked at how transporters and transwarp beaming could – potentially – have provided Starfleet and the Federation with a way to relieve the pressure of dwindling dilithium reserves in the years before the Burn. I also have a column looking at how well the Burn worked as a storyline, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.
As Season 3 began – and for much of its run – I speculated about the possible involvement of time travel either as part of the explanation for the Burn or as a way for Discovery to reset or even undo the catastrophic event at the storyline’s resolution. Here’s the short version of why: the Federation had access to time travel technology for hundreds of years, and by the 29th and 30th Centuries Starfleet routinely explored the timeline and even tried to patrol it and prevent any nefarious interference. Though there was a “temporal prime directive” in effect which prevented travellers from the future from changing the past, the precise way in which this worked is not clear.
Time travel has not been depicted consistently within Star Trek, and we do have to acknowledge that. Stories featuring the cast of The Original Series – including the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – seem to depict time travel as something that basically anyone with a warp-capable starship could accomplish (via the method of slingshotting around a star). However, by the time we get to stories set in the 24th Century, time travel appears to require specialist equipment and devices – which, at various points, the Federation may or may not have been in possession of.
Even if we’re incredibly conservative with how we interpret time travel stories within Star Trek, it still seems highly likely that by the 25th Century or thereabouts, Starfleet had the technology to routinely and safely travel through time – which is more than 600 years before the Burn. Much of what we know about Starfleet’s time travel missions suggests that their primary interests would be in travelling backwards through time to get a first-hand look at historical events, as well as to prevent factions like the Sphere Builders or the Borg from changing the past to suit their own goals and purposes. But there’s nothing to say that Starfleet wasn’t at least peeking ahead at the future timeline.
I’d argue that not doing so would be a major risk and even a dereliction of duty. With Starfleet involved in a Temporal Cold War and/or the Temporal Wars, other factions were almost certainly using time travel technology to jump forwards and backwards through time to try to score an advantage. Heck, Discovery’s second season finale is an example of this: Captain Pike, Saru, Burnham, and the crew decide that sending the USS Discovery forward in time – removing it from the 23rd Century – was the safest way to keep this vital ship and its important data out of the hands of their enemy. If 23rd Century Starfleet was doing that, I see nothing to suggest that 29th and 30th Century Starfleet wasn’t doing that too.
We can’t argue that travelling forwards in time is any more difficult than travelling backwards. Again, Discovery Season 2 is a case in point. The Red Angel project in the mid-23rd Century created two time travel suits that were capable of moving forwards in time, and at various points in Star Trek’s broader canon we’ve seen ships like the USS Defiant and the Enterprise-E manage to successfully return to the 24th Century after jaunts to the past.
Everything we know about time travel in Star Trek tells us that the Federation had the capability to travel forwards in time, and a combination of their role in the temporal conflicts of the 29th and 30th Centuries as well as their previously-established desire to protect and preserve the “true” timeline gives them the motivation – and moral requirement – to do so as well.
So why didn’t anyone warn the Federation about the Burn?
The answer, at least according to Discovery Season 3, is the ban on time travel. But I’m not convinced that this works as a satisfying and believable reason on its own. Even if Starfleet were willing to abide by the ban on time travel and the temporal prime directive, would everyone have felt that way? If a Starfleet timeship encountered the post-Burn galaxy, would they not have felt an obligation to warn their colleagues in their native era?
Even if Starfleet had been willing to sacrifice countless lives and leave the galaxy in a horrible state to uphold certain ideals and principles, the Burn is bigger than just the Federation. Other factions in the Temporal Wars, had they become aware of the Burn, would likely have tried to warn their colleagues of what was to come. Even organisations within the Federation, like Section 31, seem like they’d have been unwilling to abide by a ban on time travel, let alone refuse to share knowledge of an impending disaster.
We don’t know for certain that this didn’t happen. Section 31 may not exist by this time, and if they do still exist they may indeed have tried to warn the Federation about the Burn. Other factions with access to time travel technology may have also warned their past selves too. Heck, this could be a plot point in Season 4; perhaps one faction was better-prepared than everyone else and is now ready to conquer the galaxy.
However, there is a significant counter-point that we need to consider: until Saru, Burnham, and Dr Culber travelled to the Verubin Nebula and met Su’Kal, no one knew what caused the Burn. Even if Starfleet had been warned centuries ahead of time, without the crucial knowledge of what the Burn was, who caused it, and so on, simply knowing that it was going to happen would not have been enough to prevent it. And perhaps that’s the key here. Even if Starfleet had travelled forward in time, in this exact version of the timeline, all they would’ve seen is a galaxy devastated by an event that no one knew anything about.
As I said last time, the way the Burn occurred was a combination of unlikely, unpredictable circumstances centred around a single, relatively obscure starship and one Kelpien child. When looking at a galaxy-wide event that appeared to happen everywhere simultaneously, even the most dedicated timeship crew would’ve struggled to put the pieces together. Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery were able to do so only with the Federation’s help; and it seems highly unlikely that Admiral Vance would’ve agreed to help the crew of a 29th or 30th Century timeship in the way he agreed to help Saru and Burnham. Remember what Vance said when he debriefed Burnham and Saru: their mere presence in the 32nd Century was “by definition, a crime.”
Thus we can argue that Admiral Vance would have been unwilling to help a Federation timeship prevent the Burn, and would not have shared the vital information relating to SB-19 which ultimately allowed Burnham to pinpoint its source.
Likewise, if Section 31, the Emerald Chain, or some other faction operating in the 32nd Century wanted to travel back in time to prevent the Burn, the same issue of not knowing how, why, and where it happened arises. Without this information, realistically it seems impossible for the Burn to have been avoided. Only after Burnham’s investigation, culminating in the discovery of the KSF Khi’eth and Su’Kal, could anyone realistically use time travel to prevent the Burn or warn their counterparts in the past. And from our point of view as the audience, we’ve only just arrived at that chapter of the story!
When the Burn was first teased in the trailers for Discovery’s third season in 2019 and 2020, I wondered what role – if any – time travel might’ve played in the story. There were possible hints at a time travel-related cause for the Burn, perhaps even connected to one of the Red Angel suits from Season 2. There was also the Temporal Cold War from Enterprise. However, as a story point one thing about connecting time travel to the Burn seemed like it would be impossible to resolve as the season rolled on.
In short, if the Burn had been revealed to have been caused by the nefarious actions of a time traveller – or as the result of a time travel/Red Angel suit accident – then logically, from Starfleet’s perspective, the only solution to the Burn would be to undo it; to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. In the first couple of episodes of the season, as we found our feet, perhaps such a storyline could’ve worked. But as we got to know people like Booker, Admiral Vance, the leaders of Earth, Ni’Var, Trill, and many others across the 32nd Century, removing most of them from existence by resetting the timeline would have felt completely wrong.
Undoing the Burn would’ve completely changed the 31st and 32nd Centuries, with knock-on effects for all of those characters – and countless more. Even if the crew of Discovery were immune to such changes, the consequences for everyone else would be vast. As I mentioned when discussing Admiral Janeway’s decision to take a similar action in the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, wiping untold numbers of people from existence altogether seems like the worst possible use of time travel – a war crime. The Temporal Accords that Admiral Vance mentioned and which the Federation strives to protect seem specifically designed to prevent anyone from doing this kind of thing.
So we get into the weeds of philosophy with this one! The Burn happened, and until we learned exactly how and why toward the end of the season, it was possible that time travel could’ve played a role in it. But even if it had, and the Burn was entirely the fault of the misuse or weaponisation of time travel, more than 120 years had passed since. In those 120 years, billions of people lived out complete lifetimes. They made friends, had relationships, had children, and above all they shaped the galaxy in the 31st and 32nd Centuries. Some nebulous, unprovable concept of how it might’ve been “different” and thus better was already a moot point by the year 3188, because going back in time and changing the past would remove untold billions of people from existence, and utterly change the lives of everyone else.
There’s also no guarantee that preventing the Burn would’ve made the galaxy in 3188 a better place. The Burn destroyed countless starships, but if it hadn’t the galaxy’s dilithium shortage would’ve continued and even accelerated, potentially leaving whole fleets of ships – and possibly planetary power grids – with no fuel at all. Though we get into pure speculation at this point, perhaps the Burn destroyed an invasion fleet that the Borg, the Dominion, or some other villainous group had put together, and if it hadn’t occurred the Federation would’ve been conquered.
This is the fundamental problem with making changes to the timeline and with time travel in general – it isn’t possible to predict every consequence! Star Trek even has a story all about that: the Voyager two-part episode Year of Hell, in which the villainous Annorax is in control of a time travel-based weapon, but after inadvertently removing his wife from existence becomes obsessed with making changes to the timeline left, right, and centre to undo his mistake.
In short, whether the Federation, Section 31, or some other faction were involved, they wouldn’t be able to predict what consequences would befall the galaxy if the Burn never happened. It isn’t possible to take into account every individual and thus every variable – as the story of Su’Kal kind of demonstrates. One Kelpien child on one crashed starship caused all of this damage and devastation. Who’s to say that undoing that event wouldn’t have led to something worse, some other catastrophe caused by a different individual?
As a contemporary analogy, imagine going back in time and preventing the rise of Napoleon and thus the Napoleonic wars. Or going back in time to prevent the eruption of Krakatoa. Those events caused widespread death and misery, and our morality says that we should try to minimise suffering and death wherever we can. But could you reasonably predict the consequences? If Napoleon didn’t rise to power in France, would someone else – someone worse – have done so? If Krakatoa didn’t erupt in 1883, would the pressure building up under the crust be released somewhere else at a different time – perhaps somewhere more highly-populated? These are just two examples, yet each one brings with it huge potential ramifications.
To conclude, time travel seemingly presents a way for the Burn to have been avoided – if we don’t dig too deeply. But scratch the surface and it becomes apparent that there are serious barriers. Starfleet’s steadfast commitment to its principles wouldn’t have allowed Admiral Vance – or anyone else in his role – to share information with time travellers from the past. Even if someone from the past had travelled to the 32nd Century, without the very specific information on the KSF Khi’eth that Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery assembled, warning Starfleet that the Burn was coming would have made little difference. Perhaps some ships could’ve been saved if the Federation were forewarned of the exact timing of the event, but that’s about all. With the destruction of the Red Angel suits, it appears that no time travel technology exists in the 32nd Century, preventing anyone – Section 31, the Emerald Chain, etc. – going back in time to prevent the Burn. Even if someone wanted to, the lack of information would once again be a hurdle even if we ignore the huge moral implications – and the implications for Discovery as a series effectively wiping out an entire season’s worth of story!
I can understand why the writers of Discovery Season 3 brought in all of the stuff about the Temporal Accords and the ban on time travel. I wish it had been elaborated on – and I also wish that Star Trek had been more consistent in its depiction of time travel on the whole, because there are definitely holes we can pick in the concept quite easily. As things sit, it feels like the writers basically said “time travel was banned, so get over it” and then moved on to the rest of the story. If you don’t look too hard, that’s okay. But we’re Trekkies – we like to dive deeply into all things Star Trek!
The ban on time travel is just one part of why Starfleet couldn’t really have used the technology to avoid the Burn, though. And the Burn’s ultimate origin as something accidental connected to a child who wasn’t even born before the KSF Khi’eth entered the Verubin Nebula provides a reasonable explanation. Without knowing the Burn’s origin, all Starfleet could’ve done was shut down as many ships as possible and try to rebuild after the Burn – and that would likely not have been good enough for worlds like Ni’Var. The Federation would still have fractured and the rest of the galaxy would still be in a mess.
As for going back in time and undoing the Burn now that Starfleet knows its origin, that seems off the table. Maybe a faction like Section 31 would contemplate it, but even then I think there are solid reasons to hesitate. The morality of wiping out an entire timeline and most of the people in it is the biggest consideration, but purely on a practical level there’s no guarantee that undoing the Burn wouldn’t lead to something else – something worse. For us as viewers, the Burn is something new. But from the point of view of characters like Admiral Vance and Kovich, this is an historical event more than a century in the past; it occurred before practically everyone alive in the Federation in 3188 was even born. Undoing it would be like one of us wanting to undo something that happened in the 19th Century. Can we think of valid, sympathetic reasons to want to undo certain historical events? Of course. But can we also understand why changing the past can have catastrophic unforeseen consequences? Absolutely. And that, in a nutshell, is why I think the Burn couldn’t and wouldn’t have been avoided via time travel.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the three Kelvin timeline films and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
A couple of weeks ago it was reported that a fourth Kelvin timeline film, which has supposedly been worked on since at least 2019, was “paused”. That’s usually Hollywood-speak for “cancelled” and “never going to happen”, but there are other potential Star Trek film projects in the works, so the Kelvin timeline may yet be granted a reprieve. While rumours can be all over the place when looking at the production side of Star Trek, two things came up often in discussions around the potential film: the return of Chris Hemsworth’s character of George Kirk being a story point, and the salaries of some of the main cast – including Kirk actor Chris Pine – being a stumbling block. I have no idea whether there’s even a grain of truth to any of these rumours, but the potential for a fourth Kelvin timeline film got me thinking.
What would be the pros and cons of a new film in the alternate reality – especially now that we have prime timeline Star Trek back on the small screen? It’s a big question, and I’ve broken it down into a short list of points for and against making a new film in this series. Let’s look at them in turn.
Pro: Star Trek Beyond clearly teased a sequel.
The Kelvin timeline story hasn’t ended. The crew are back together, and despite the loss of the original USS Enterprise, at the end of Beyond we saw the christening of a new Enterprise-A – the clear implication being that Kirk would assume command and bring his crew with him.
Something similar happened in the prime timeline at the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In 1986, when that film premiered, Star Trek: The Next Generation was in early production, and some may have argued that Star Trek was moving on and didn’t need another Kirk-led film. While the next film in the series, The Final Frontier, was hardly a great success, The Undiscovered Country was – and it was a far better send-off for the original crew. If the Star Trek films had ended with The Voyage Home we’d have missed out on a great story and a more fitting end to Kirk and the crew’s adventures.
If the film series were to end now, it would arguably feel incomplete. The tease at the end of Beyond would still be there, taunting fans with a never-realised continuation to the story.
Con: And which fans are those?
Despite their popularity with a wider audience – something which we’ll look at in a moment – I’ve never really found that the Kelvin timeline films had much of a following of their own. They’re summer blockbusters in the vein of something like the Transformers series; popcorn flicks that people will happily watch – and then immediately forget about.
Within the Star Trek fan community, the Kelvin timeline films haven’t picked up a following of their own. I’m not even counting the many Trekkies who didn’t see the films because they didn’t like the premise; the Kelvin timeline just doesn’t have its own fandom. People have other iterations of the franchise that they prefer – the Kelvin timeline films are, at best, someone’s second choice.
There are sub-groups of Trekkies – some may like The Original Series, others favour The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, etc. And the new Star Trek shows since 2017 have fans of their own too. But the Kelvin timeline films don’t seem to have that kind of following; there’s no group of dedicated Trekkies who favour them above everything else in the franchise. People I’ve spoken with are in two camps: they either detest the Kelvin timeline films or they think they’re just okay.
With all that in mind – who would a fourth film even be made for?
Pro: The films brought in huge numbers of non-Trekkies.
Though they may lack a hardcore following, the Kelvin timeline films succeeded beyond any other Star Trek project at bringing in huge audiences. 2009’s Star Trek was an overwhelming box office success, bringing in more than double the money of any other film in the series – and Into Darkness did even better, becoming the high-water mark of the entire Star Trek film franchise’s financial success. Beyond was considered a “disappointment” – but it still raked in over $340 million on a $180 million budget, making it hugely profitable for Paramount Pictures. 2009’s Star Trek also won an Academy Award – the only Star Trek film to ever achieve that feat.
So there’s clearly an audience for another film set in the Kelvin timeline, and any such project should be a guaranteed money-maker for Paramount and ViacomCBS. Bringing the crew back together and putting a seasoned director in charge – as they did in 2009 – would generate plenty of buzz, and the aforementioned wider audience that saw and enjoyed the first three films will surely show up for the next entry.
Star Trek isn’t made for Trekkies. That may sound odd, but it’s true. Hardcore fans will only ever be a small portion of any franchise’s audience, and I’ve said countless times that the Star Trek franchise needs to reach out far beyond this small pond if it’s to survive long-term. The new animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks has potential to help in that regard, but so does a new Kelvin timeline film.
Con: The unique premise of the films no longer exists.
In 2008-09, during the buildup to the release of Star Trek, one angle that was really interesting was the idea that the films would show “young” Kirk and Spock in their Starfleet Academy years. We’d get to see how all of the characters came to meet one another, and although the films would be recasting the classic characters, we’d see them in their younger days, before Kirk assumed command of the Enterprise and set out on his five-year mission.
That premise no longer exists. The end of Star Trek saw the characters graduate from the Academy, and Beyond explained that Kirk and his crew were engaged in their five-year mission of exploration. That premise is exactly the same as The Original Series, and the unique aspect of the films is gone, replaced by a copy of what came before.
With Strange New Worlds looking to pick up the exploration angle of Star Trek, do we really need a Kelvin timeline film to do the same thing? It’s certainly arguable that we don’t.
Pro: There’s the possibility for crossovers.
I mentioned this as one concept that could be fun to see in Strange New Worlds – but how about a crossover? Pike and Spock from the Kelvin timeline and Pike and Spock from the prime timeline working together to achieve some goal or defeat a nefarious villain could be a fascinating story and a great piece of cinema or television.
This concept doesn’t just have to be limited to Pike and Spock either; we could see crossovers with literally any group of characters. The idea of a ship and crew from one side of the divide between parallel realities having to work with others to make it home again is something that could be really fun to watch.
Con: The Kelvin timeline will be retreading too much ground.
Pike and Spock are the leads in their own upcoming series – Strange New Worlds. Do we really need two “young Spocks” in Star Trek? There’s a risk that the two productions will trip over one another, and that the Kelvin timeline film will do nothing for Spock’s character in particular that hasn’t been done in Discovery or Strange New Worlds.
That’s in addition to the point mentioned above – that we’ll be seeing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew undertaking the same five-year mission that was depicted in The Original Series. Some fans have argued for a return to Star Trek’s spirit of exploration, but with at least one television show focusing on precisely that, where would a Kelvin timeline film fit in?
Fundamentally this comes down to a couple of characters – most notably Spock. Ethan Peck’s version of the character has gone down very well with fans of Discovery, and I’m just not convinced the franchise has room for two identical characters. If I had to choose only one… I’m sorry to Zachary Quinto but I’d rather keep Ethan Peck’s take on the character.
Pro: Quentin Tarantino may be working on a script.
Quentin Tarantino has written and directed some of cinema’s recent classics. Titles like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill duology, Inglorious Basterds, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood are all hailed as phenomenal works of cinema. His violent style can be controversial – and some may argue a bad fit for Star Trek – but he’s an incredibly talented filmmaker, one that any franchise would love to bring on board.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s no guarantee his pitch – if it even exists and is still being considered – would involve the Kelvin timeline crew. But the timing of the rumour coincided with the Kelvin timeline’s production, so it’s at least a possibility.
I know some people dislike Tarantino’s style. But even they would have to admit that he does what he does very well, and any film that has his name attached draws a lot of attention – which translates into big numbers at the box office.
An R-rated Star Trek film just for the sake of it wouldn’t be my first choice. But if the story works well, I’m not opposed to it either. Recent Star Trek projects have not been shy about trying new things, so Tarantino could be a good fit for an expanded franchise.
Con: Anton Yelchin’s tragic death means that a major character will be absent.
Anton Yelchin died tragically in 2016, shortly before the premiere of Star Trek Beyond. This is a sensitive topic, and I thought long and hard about including it here, but I think it’s important because it’s hard to imagine another film without him.
Yelchin had taken over the role of Pavel Chekov in 2009’s Star Trek, and while Chekov is arguably less of a “main” character than Kirk, Spock, or McCoy, he was still a big part of all three of the Kelvin timeline films. In 2016, the producers of Star Trek Beyond stated that the role would not be recast for any future films, and it would be very difficult for a new creative team to go back on that promise without the support of Yelchin’s family, the other cast members, and the wider fan community.
Chekov’s absence would be hugely significant and very noticeable; a hole at the heart of the crew. While it’s possible to work around that, as other films have done under similar circumstances, I’m not sure how well it would succeed. Chekov filled a unique role in the crew as its youngest member, and without his occasionally comedic presence, there will be a key element missing from any future story.
Pro: The alternate reality setting allows for a huge amount of creative license.
Now we come to perhaps the biggest point in favour of the alternate reality: nothing after Enterprise happened. Canon is nonexistent – aside from that established by the first three films – so writers and producers have a blank slate to tell any kind of story they want without worrying about treading on the toes of established canon.
Have you always wanted to know how Kirk would fare against the Borg? The Kelvin timeline could do that, as bringing the Borg into a story doesn’t affect prime canon. How about the Dominion War breaking out more than a century earlier? The Kelvin timeline could do that too. Or what if William Shater finally got his wish to reprise the role of Kirk? He mentioned it as recently as a few weeks ago, and the best way to bring back Shatner’s Kirk – who of course died in the prime timeline – could be in the alternate reality.
When considering 2009’s Star Trek as a reboot, one of the best things it did was use an alternate reality setting, because that has opened up endless possibilities for the film franchise going forward. The examples above are just a few options off the top of my head, but there are so many more, including stories that could never work in the prime timeline.
Con: The Star Trek franchise will be more convoluted than it already is.
It’s only fair to follow the biggest pro with the biggest con, and in my opinion the biggest drawback to continuing the Kelvin timeline films now is that the Star Trek universe is already incredibly complicated. It’s difficult for casual viewers to get the hang of which show is taking place in which time period, but if you throw an alternate reality into the mix as well, the whole thing just becomes convoluted.
Bringing in and retaining new fans is the key challenge for the Star Trek franchise going forward, and one thing that has to be avoided is putting people off. Star Trek has been running for so long and has so many different iterations that it can already feel overwhelming for newcomers; the Kelvin timeline films may draw large crowds, but if those crowds don’t stick around and jump over to other parts of the franchise because it’s too complicated, it’s almost not worth the trouble.
So that’s it.
Some of the pros and cons of making a fourth Kelvin timeline film. As always, the caveat applies that this is just my opinion; I don’t know whether a film will be made or is even under consideration.
If it were left up to me, I think what I’d say is that the Kelvin timeline films have run their course. They achieved what they set out to: rebooting a Star Trek franchise which had become stale after decades in production, and set the stage for a resurgence in the franchise’s wider popularity, which culminated in Discovery, Picard, and Star Trek’s return to the small screen.
While there is certainly scope to use the alternate reality setting to tell more stories, I don’t feel that it’s necessary right now. There are so many other Star Trek projects in various stages of production that the franchise is hardly going to be lacking in content at least through the first half of the 2020s. A Kelvin timeline film would be a complete outlier when compared to the rest of the franchise, simply because of its setting. That’s not to say that there’s no place for a new film and never will be, just that it would be superfluous at the moment.
Hopefully the Star Trek franchise, having found a new home on CBS All Access, will remain in production for a long time to come. Branching out into different genres, and telling stories in a more modern way has certainly helped build a foundation for future success. I’ll always be grateful for what the Kelvin timeline films did. They took Star Trek from a run-down franchise that was losing fans and viewership and turned it around. Not only that, they modernised the franchise and proved that it still had a huge potential audience. Star Trek’s current success is built on the shoulders of what these three films did. But despite that, I don’t think there’s a need to return to the same setting and the same cast to make another film.
One thing we’ve seen Star Trek attempt to do with Short Treks is tell one-off stories. Take a one-off story and make it last two-and-a-half hours and you’ve got a feature film – and there are so many possibilities within the franchise to tell such stories. With CBS All Access being Star Trek’s new home, the franchise could even experiment with direct-to-streaming films (something that may have to happen if this pandemic drags on), and there are countless possibilities for what kind of films could be made and what kind of stories could be told. There’s no reason why a Kelvin timeline film can’t be part of that… but there’s also no compelling reason that I can see why it needs to be either.
The Star Trek film franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS. Photos and stock images courtesy of Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.