Six Star Trek “hot takes”

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

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

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

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

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

Seven of Nine in Picard Season 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Seven with Admiral Picard.

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

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

Seven without her trademark Borg implants.

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

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

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

Picard/Kamin in The Inner Light.

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

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

Picard with the Kataan probe.

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

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

Picard/Kamin playing the flute.

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

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

Picard/Kamin overlooking the village of Ressik.

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

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

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

Admiral Vance and Captain Burnham in the 32nd Century.

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

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

Cadet Elnor in the 25th Century.

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Pike in the 23rd Century.

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

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

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

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

Benny Russell in Far Beyond The Stars.

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

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

Julius and Benny.

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

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

The unnamed preacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The original USS Enterprise.

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

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

The USS Discovery at warp.

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

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

A combadge from an alternate timeline.

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

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

Sarek and Michael Burnham in Discovery’s premiere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transwarp beaming.

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

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

The USS Enterprise.

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

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

Two Spocks.

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

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

So that’s it!

Were those takes as hot as a supernova?

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

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

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

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

The pros and cons of a fourth Kelvin timeline film

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 Enterprise-A was seen at the end of Star Trek Beyond.

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?

Look, it’s all of the Kelvin timeline’s hardcore fans.

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.

The Kelvin timeline films appealed to a wider audience than any prior Star Trek production.

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.

Cadet Kirk.

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.

A Pike-Pike story? Heck yes, sign me up!

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.

Spock, Kirk, and McCoy during their five-year mission.

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.

Renowned director Quentin Tarantino has supposedly pitched a Star Trek film.
Photo credit: Georges Biard via Wikimedia Commons

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 in 2015.
Photo credit: GabboT on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons
Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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.

Could we see Kirk face off against the Borg? Maybe… but only in the Kelvin timeline.

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.

The official Star Trek website posted this guide to the franchise’s timeline(s) a few months ago.

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.

Kirk and Spock (with John Harrison in the background) in Star Trek Into Darkness.

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.

The Enterprise goes to warp.

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.

Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 6: everything else

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard.

It’s been a while since I last picked out ten great Star Trek episodes. Having run through all five of the shows prior to the Kelvin timeline and Discovery, I seem to have got sidetracked! It’s been over a month since I last visited this topic, so if you’d like to revisit the episodes I pulled from the other Star Trek shows, you can find them all archived on a single page by clicking or tapping here.

My first five articles looked at one Star Trek show apiece. Those shows each had at least three seasons’ worth of episodes to choose from, so it was relatively easy to pick ten great ones! The shows we’ll be looking at today have fewer episodes, and I felt it was too difficult to pick ten from each one. The Star Trek shows we’ll be looking at are: The Animated Series, the Kelvin-timeline films, Discovery, Short Treks, and Picard.

Here’s a recap on how this format works: this isn’t a “top ten” ranked list. Instead, this is merely ten episodes (okay, nine episodes and one film) that I consider to be well worth your time, and they’re listed in order of release.

Number 1: The Magicks of Megas-Tu (The Animated Series Season 1)

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in a parallel universe.

After Star Trek’s cancellation in 1969, it was rebroadcast and gained many new fans. As early as 1971 or 1972, parent network NBC was considering options for bringing the show back. The re-runs were more popular than the original broadcasts had been, and there was an ongoing letter-writing campaign by fans to bring Star Trek back. Ultimately, in order to keep production costs low, it was decided Star Trek should continue in an animated format. With the exception of Walter Koenig, the entire main cast returned. James Doohan would provide many additional voices for the new show, and its animated format allowed for characters like Arex – the three-legged, three-armed character – and other far more “alien” feeling characters and creatures than The Original Series’ budget and production-side technology allowed for.

The Animated Series was officially removed from the overall Star Trek canon by Gene Roddenberry and new parent company Paramount Pictures in the late 1980s, when The Next Generation was in production. However, when the series was re-released on DVD in the mid-2000s this was rescinded, and the series is – as of 2020 – a full and official part of the Star Trek canon once again.

I wanted to choose at least one episode that I feel really epitomises the different direction that The Animated Series took. Not all of these stories worked, but The Magicks of Megas-Tu has a certain charm as a very weird piece of science-fiction that I think makes it worth watching. To summarise its plot in one sentence: the Enterprise crosses over into a parallel universe where magic is real and science is not.

That premise sounds absolutely bonkers, and none of today’s science-fiction shows – including the renewed Star Trek projects – would touch a story like that with a barge pole! But this was The Animated Series trying new things, pushing the boat out, and exploring different aspects of sci-fi and fantasy in a way that The Original Series’ technical limitations would have never allowed for.

Despite its wackiness, I like The Magicks of Megas-Tu, and perhaps it’ll be a candidate for a full write-up one day. At the very least it’s an interesting glimpse at mid-century sci-fi, and an imaginative story.

Number 2: Albatross (The Animated Series Season 2)

Dr McCoy is placed under arrest.

Leaving behind the completely weird, Albatross is a story that we could see told in a Star Trek or sci-fi show in 2020. The Animated Series has this kind of strange dichotomy: some episodes, like The Magicks of Megas-Tu listed above, have totally wacky premises that could only ever work in animation. And others, like Albatross, are – for want of a better word – “normal” sci-fi.

When the Enterprise visits a planet Dr McCoy had been stationed on years previously, he’s arrested and charged with mass murder – they believe he caused a plague which ravaged their society. Star Trek has, on several other occasions, put main crew members in situations like this; accused by an alien society of something we as the audience know they could never have done. As a story, it’s exciting and tense.

McCoy is at the heart of the story, and it ultimately becomes his quest to cure the disease. Things take a turn for the worse when the crew of the Enterprise become infected as well, and McCoy must race to cure the pathogen before it’s too late. Albatross is a fairly straightforward space adventure – at least by the standards of The Animated Series!

Number 3: Star Trek Into Darkness (Kelvin-timeline film)

Kirk speaks to Scotty in Star Trek Into Darkness.

I consider Into Darkness to be the high-water mark of the Kelvin-timeline films. The Kelvin-timeline films have been criticised by some fans for taking a much more action-heavy approach when compared to the often peaceful exploration seen in past iterations of Star Trek. But Into Darkness based itself on The Wrath of Khan, and in that context the crossover into the action genre works much better than it had in 2009’s Star Trek.

Into Darkness stays on the right side of that invisible line which divides respectful homage from blatant rip-off, referencing The Wrath of Khan at a number of points but telling its own story in its own world at the same time. New fans of the franchise didn’t miss anything crucial in the plot for never seen The Wrath of Khan – one of the key tests of being on the right side of that line!

There are some genuinely emotional moments which absolutely work in the film, and while it’s debatable whether Kirk and Spock’s scene in the engine room carries the same emotional weight as the comparable sequence in The Wrath of Khan, it was beautifully staged and the acting performances from Into Darkness’ two leads were pitch-perfect.

It’s sad to think that this would be Leonard Nimoy’s final role. His character of Spock makes a small cameo appearance (a far smaller role than he had in 2009’s Star Trek). It was great to see him back one final time.

Number 4: Context is for Kings (Star Trek: Discovery Season 1)

We finally get to see the USS Discovery in the third episode of Season 1.

If you read my write-up of my recent re-watch of Discovery’s two-part premiere, you’ll know I didn’t like it. I wasn’t impressed with how the show started, either at the time or on a second viewing. Context is for Kings had the difficult task of beginning to salvage the season, and if it had failed we could be talking about Discovery as a whole as being one big catastrophe instead of a series I called the best of the last decade!

Fortunately, Context is for Kings is where Discovery began to turn around. In a serialised show, it can be difficult to pull out individual episodes to recommend – an issue which applies to all of Discovery’s entries on this list. However, Context is for Kings is, in some respects, almost like a second premiere. It introduces the USS Discovery for the first time, as well as most of the regular cast.

I’ve written on a number of occasions that Jason Isaacs’ performance as Captain Lorca was one of the high points of Discovery’s first season, and this fascinating, nuanced character is introduced here – in suitably mysterious fashion.

Number 5: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum (Star Trek: Discovery Season 1)

Saru in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.

As mentioned, Discovery can be hard to pull individual episodes out of due to its serialised nature. There are ongoing storylines in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum that greatly impact the episode, but the main plot – that of an away mission to the planet Pahvo – does serve as somewhat of a standalone narrative.

This was the first episode where Saru was given a lot to do. Past Star Trek shows had always shared out the storylines between various characters; Discovery was primarily about Burnham and, to a lesser degree, Captain Lorca. However, during the course of the away mission Saru becomes incredibly important to the story.

I loved the visuals of Pahvo – both the planet itself and its non-corporeal inhabitants were beautifully designed and brought to life. Discovery’s visual effects overall have been outstanding, and Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum is another great example.

The storyline also puts Burnham and Ash Tyler together. Their romantic relationship would be a sub-plot going forward across the remainder of Season 1 and much of Season 2.

Number 6: New Eden (Star Trek: Discovery Season 2)

Captain Pike in New Eden.

New Eden gave me a distinct feeling of watching an updated episode of The Original Series, in parts. Perhaps it’s the elements of religion that are incorporated into the storyline, or perhaps it’s because the crew of the USS Discovery – led by Captain Pike – encounter an unknown settlement of humans. Either way, parts of this story feel perfectly “Star Trek-y”, and would certainly be at home elsewhere in the franchise.

Anson Mount was brought in to replace the departing Jason Isaacs, and we should really talk about how much of a masterstroke that ended up being. I was initially concerned about the decision to recast Captain Pike – for the second time, as the character was also in the Kelvin-timeline films – as well as to bring in Spock and Number One. But I shouldn’t have been; Mount’s version of the character was everything fans could have wanted from a Starfleet captain, and spawned a fan campaign to bring back Pike for his own series – something which was finally confirmed to be happening a few weeks ago.

After his introduction at the beginning of the season, when the USS Enterprise malfunctions, New Eden took the new captain and gave him a starring role with plenty to do. We see the USS Discovery use its spore drive, which was great. The spore drive has felt like an underused piece of tech since its introduction; it was treated as little more than a macguffin to allow for transport to and from the Mirror Universe. I would have liked to have seen more creative uses for it, and jumping across the galaxy to New Eden was certainly nice to see.

There are storylines in New Eden which tie into later episodes in the season, but as with Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum above, the main plot of the episode is an away mission, and that side of the story is self-contained.

Number 7: If Memory Serves (Star Trek: Discovery Season 2)

The Talosians are back!

Finding and helping Spock – who had been accused of murder – was a big part of the first half of Discovery’s second season. Section 31 are also intent on tracking him down, but luckily for Spock, Burnham got to him first.

If Memory Serves reintroduces the Talosians – the big-brained telepathic race from The Cage and The Menagerie. The approach to Talos IV, which the Talosians now shield using an illusion of a black hole, was fantastic, and the visual effect of the illusory black hole itself was stunning – and a shock when Burnham and Spock first saw it!

The Talosians help Spock, who had been psychologically damaged by the Red Angel vision, recover his composure and logic. We see Burnham and Spock behave in a way closer to siblings than they do at almost any other point in the season, which I think is nice to see given their background. And there are ongoing storylines involving Stamets and Dr Culber – the latter having recently been rescued from the Mycelial Network – and Ash Tyler. Tyler and Culber have a tense confrontation in Discovery’s mess hall – Tyler had, after all, “killed” Culber during Season 1. I liked the way this scene unfolded, it was gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

I also loved that this episode began with a recap of The Cage. They didn’t need to put that in there, but it was a nostalgic treat to see it.

Number 8: The Trouble With Edward (Short Treks Season 2)

The titular Edward.

It’s still disappointing to me that, for reasons best known to the higher-ups at ViacomCBS, Short Treks hasn’t been made available to international viewers. There is a plan to rectify that with a blu-ray release, but it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned. As I said when I reviewed the Short Treks episode Children of Mars in January, the whole point of this series was to keep Star Trek alive in the minds of viewers in between main seasons of the shows. Especially with Children of Mars, which was supposed to be a prequel or prologue to Star Trek: Picard and thus a key part of its pre-release buildup, it should have been made available internationally. But we’re off-topic.

The Trouble With Edward is really funny. Partly that’s thanks to two great performances from Rosa Salazar and H Jon Benjamin, who have great comedic chemistry together, and partly it’s due to a great premise and funny script.

Nothing in The Trouble With Edward changes or “ruins” canon, which is something it was inexplicably criticised for upon release by some of the anti-Star Trek social media groups. Instead it’s a well-told story that takes one small aspect of the tribbles – the small, furry creatures who are almost synonymous with Star Trek – and expands on it.

It’s a fun ride, and stick around after the credits for what is probably the weirdest sequence released under the Star Trek banner since The Animated Series. I missed that on first viewing, and I’m not saying anything else in case you did too!

Number 9: Ephraim and Dot (Short Treks Season 2)

The adorable animated episode Ephraim and Dot is unlike practically anything else in the franchise.

I’ve already talked about Ephraim and Dot twice! First when I reviewed it along with its sister episode in December, and more recently when I looked at introducing a newbie to Star Trek.

Star Trek’s first animated episodes in 45 years were amazing – and very different to The Animated Series. Ephraim and Dot tells a cute story that would be at home on the Disney Channel – and I mean that as a compliment. Both Ephraim the space-dwelling tardigrade and Dot the robot are adorable, and for an episode largely free of dialogue it does an amazing job raising the emotional stakes.

I’m a sucker for cute animals in fiction, and any time they seem to be hurt or upset it gets to me in a way few other stories really manage to! Ephraim and Dot does this so well, despite its short runtime.

The story also looks at some of The Original Series’ greatest hits in a sequence where Ephraim races to follow the ship. Captain Kirk and other members of the original crew return – in animated form – in this part of the story, which was a nostalgic treat.

Number 10: Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard Season 1)

Jean-Luc Picard may not be exactly the same way we remember him.

Remembrance is a stunning piece of television, and it’s up there with Emissary as one of the best Star Trek premiere episodes. I reviewed this episode when it was first broadcast, and I recommend having a read of that article for a more detailed breakdown. I also think, looking at the series three months after its first-season finale, that it’s probably either the best or second-best episode. It’s definitely the only place I could recommend you start if you want to watch Picard – it’s a wholly serialised show, as is Discovery.

Remembrance picks up Picard’s story twenty years after Star Trek: Nemesis. It connects to the Kelvin-timeline’s destruction of Romulus storyline, as Picard tried – and failed – to help the Romulans evacuate their homeworld. But this isn’t The Next Generation Season 8 – far from it. Picard’s retirement at his family vineyard is disrupted by the arrival of Dahj, the survivor of an attack by mysterious assailants.

For anyone who had qualms or reservations about Discovery, I’d really encourage them to give Picard a chance. There are so many callbacks and nods to past iterations of Star Trek, and while it’s true that the show’s serialised nature is different to The Next Generation’s largely episodic approach to television storytelling, that opens up new possibilities and opportunities – like season-long arcs and detailed character development.

Remembrance has some beautiful sequences featuring Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as a dream version of Data. It has a faithful HD depiction of the Enterprise-D, which is just stunning. And in one sequence where Picard visits his Starfleet archive, there are many props on display from his captaincy. The episode was peppered with these nostalgic elements, but none of them overwhelmed the story.

What I’m really trying to say by putting Remembrance on this list is that you should watch Star Trek: Picard Season 1 in its entirety if you haven’t already. I really think it’s worth giving the show a chance to impress you. If you do, take a look at my reviews and theories as you go along!

So that’s it. Ten great Star Trek episodes from elsewhere in the franchise. I will definitely be revisiting this subject in future, so stay tuned for “ten more great episodes” at some point!

This series of articles – the rest of which you can find by clicking or tapping here – has been a lot of fun to put together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Discovery’s third season will be released imminently, but until then I hope these articles have given you some inspiration for what to watch inside the Star Trek universe!

All episodes and films listed above are available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.