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.

“Old” versus “New” Star Trek

Spoiler Warning: While this essay doesn’t go into many plot details, there may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including for Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery.

I’ve seen a number articles and videos over the last couple of years, really since Star Trek: Discovery premiered, looking at how the Star Trek fanbase has become divided into fans of “old” Star Trek and “new” Star Trek. However one may feel about the various films and series, it’s undeniable that there are many Trekkies who have jumped ship over the years and do not consider themselves fans of the franchise’s newer iterations – as well as plenty of casual viewers who have seen one series but not others. Given that the franchise is well past its fiftieth anniversary, perhaps that’s fair enough. But I did want to take a look at the phenomenon for myself and give my thoughts on how the franchise is split, some of the possible causes, and what that split could mean for the franchise going forward into the 2020s and beyond.

True hipster Star Trek fans only watched Star Trek when Jeffrey Hunter was in it. William Shatner? Pfft. Newbie.

Firstly, the question often asked in these articles is “how can everyone come back together?” Writers will often set up that question, pretending that they’re going to answer it fairly, only to basically end up saying “everyone will come back together if Star Trek does everything my way and gives me everything I want.” That just isn’t realistic, I’m afraid. And as with many cases of division, the reality is that there may not be a way to bridge the gulf and reunite everyone around one new Star Trek series or film. That may sound depressing, and it is in a way. But we have to be realistic – there are some people now who are literally making money from running anti-Star Trek groups online, and if anyone expects someone in that position to suddenly turn around and say “hey guys, I just saw the latest episode and it was amazing!” well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. The truth is that some people aren’t interested in fair criticism. They have decided they want to hate, and just like fans of a football team could never support a rival club, no matter what, their hatred for the current and upcoming lineup of Star Trek shows and films will continue. It’s part of the tribal mindset that we as human beings all end up subscribing to in one way or another: “I support X, which is opposed to Y. Therefore, I can never ever like Y, because it would go against how I define myself as a person”. That’s true in sport, it’s true in politics, and it’s true in entertainment as well.

But before we can look at divisions in the fanbase, we need to examine the basic concept: what is “old” Star Trek, and what is “new” Star Trek? It’s a far more complicated question than it seems, and the answer will vary depending on how old a person is, and when they first encountered the franchise.

The bridge of the original USS Enterprise in the episode The Corbomite Maneuver. For many fans, The Original Series and its crew were irreplaceable.

There are several “turning points” in the history of Star Trek where fans jumped ship, and the easiest way to look at them is in chronological order. The first one was in 1987, when The Next Generation premiered. Until this point, Star Trek had been The Original Series with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the 1960s crew, and while there was excitement for Star Trek’s return to television – just as there was in 2017 – that was countered by a vocal number of fans who believed ardently that the original characters were the beating heart of Star Trek – and were irreplaceable. These people may have watched The Original Series and the first four Star Trek films (The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered County were released after The Next Generation premiered) but simply had no interest in a new crew, a new ship, and a new century. Indeed, Sir Patrick Stewart himself has said many times that he believed The Next Generation would not be a success – and would run for perhaps two seasons at most.

The NX-01 Enterprise leaves its dock in Broken Bow – the series premiere of Enterprise.

The second turning point is the one I’m most familiar with – because it’s the point I came very close to jumping ship myself: 2000-2001, when Enterprise was announced and entered production. In the aftermath of the disaster that was Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999, a prequel was just something that many fans, myself included, had little interest in. Star Trek – as I have often written here on the blog – had always been about pushing forward into the future, and yet here was a show that wanted to look back at its own past. This kind of navel-gazing just didn’t feel like a good idea, and the aesthetic of the show, with its boiler-suit uniforms, clunky starship design, modern (for the time) computer screens, and overreliance on not-quite-good-enough early-2000s CGI was not inspiring. There had been some real stinkers in the Star Trek canon when it came to individual episodes and stories – Spock’s Brain, Angel One, Shades of Grey, Threshold, and Move Along Home to name but a few – but this was the first time that the premise of a series itself seemed unexciting, at least for me. The introduction of Scott Bakula as the captain did go some way toward lifting the show for some fans who had been on the fence, but I confess that during Enterprise’s original run here in the UK I only tuned in sporadically, and it was only when I got the series on DVD a few years after it went off the air that I watched it in its entirety. Nowadays I often cite Enterprise as an example whenever I hear the argument: “nobody asked for this”. Nobody in 2000 was asking for Enterprise, yet it actually told some interesting stories and had a great cast of characters. I’m glad to have seen it, I’m glad it existed, and ultimately I feel its strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. Giving it a second chance was a good decision – even if the only reason I bought the DVDs was to complete my Star Trek collection!

The 2009 redesign of the USS Enterprise – and re-casting of the original crew – was too much for some fans.

Next comes our third turning point: when Enterprise went off the air, a spell was broken. Star Trek had, in some form, been in continuous production for almost two decades, beginning with pre-release work on The Next Generation in 1986 running all the way through to 2005 when the final episodes of Enterprise were produced and released. The cancellation of Enterprise was symbolic – the end of an era. And in that moment it seemed as though Star Trek was dead and not coming back. But it didn’t stay that way for very long at all, and within a year or so of Enterprise’s cancellation, word started going around about a new film – one which would be a reboot, recasting iconic characters like Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. For many long-term fans – including some friends of mine – that was a bridge too far, and they were never interested in what would become 2009’s Star Trek and the “JJverse” or Kelvin timeline that it spawned. For others, Star Trek was too much of a departure from the rest of the franchise, with its visual overhaul and action-heavy story, and some fans who did give it a go were underwhelmed and didn’t come back for more.

The USS Discovery, as seen in the first official teaser trailer in 2016.

So we’ve reached the final turning point. 2017, and the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery is the moment that many of these articles and videos use when dividing “old” Star Trek from “new” Star Trek. Discovery had a somewhat troubled production, with Bryan Fuller departing before the show aired, and controversy surrounding CBS All Access as a platform for the show in the United States. There was also the “prequel problem” that plagued Enterprise, and as more details came out about the series, the visual style being more in line with the JJverse than The Original Series also became a bone of contention. As with each of the three previous turning points, a number of fans decided that Discovery just wasn’t for them and simply opted out.

The point of recounting this history of the Star Trek fanbase and the points at which some fans chose not to continue with new iterations is simple – this is not a new phenomenon. It has happened before in Star Trek, and, if we’re lucky enough for the franchise to continue into the future, it will undoubtedly happen again sooner or later. None of these moments destroyed the franchise or ruined the fanbase, nor drove Star Trek’s creators and promoters out of business for the simple reason that the fans who jumped ship were in the minority. A vocal minority, perhaps, but a minority nevertheless. And it’s the same with those who haven’t watched Discovery and Picard – and of course, those who make a big fuss about not supporting “new” Star Trek in online groups and on YouTube channels: they’re a minority.

“Real” Star Trek fans love The Final Frontier.

Trekkies have always been a minority of Star Trek’s audience. It’s a commercial product; a series designed to have appeal beyond a small niche of convention attendees. If it didn’t appeal to casual viewers it would never have survived or been reborn in the first place, at any of the points mentioned above. So to say that because a small number of Trekkies who liked the TNG-era shows don’t like Discovery there’s somehow a massive problem and that Star Trek today is fundamentally broken is nonsense. A minority of a minority, no matter how vocal they may be with their criticism and hate, don’t matter to ViacomCBS’ bottom line in any material way.

But do they have a point?

It’s a tough one for me to answer, and if you’ve been here before you’ll know why: I’m a big fan of “new” Star Trek, just as I’m a fan of “old” Star Trek too. I can see the point of view that says the newer shows and films are bad, but generally I don’t agree, so from my perspective they don’t have a point. Especially to those people who pre-judged Discovery and Picard based on what they read in anti-Star Trek groups online and never even watched the shows in the first place I’d really say they don’t have a leg to stand on in this argument. How can they possibly sit there and say something is bad when they haven’t given it a try for themselves? The biased “reporting” of some anti-Star Trek YouTuber is not the same as experiencing the film or series for themselves, and I’d really encourage everyone who falls into that category to at least stick with Discovery beyond its opening two episodes, which I fully concede were especially weak.

This actually ties into another point – most Star Trek series, with the exceptions of Deep Space Nine and Picard – opened quite underwhelmingly. And it took more than a few episodes for all of the Star Trek shows to really find their feet. The Next Generation’s first season isn’t anywhere near as good as its third, fourth, or fifth, for example, and Voyager similarly took at least a full season to get up and running. Even the beloved Original Series got off to a rocky start – so giving up on Discovery or Picard after one or two episodes isn’t really giving those shows a fair shake.

Lorca and Saru in Star Trek: Discovery.

Part of this is to do with binge-watching culture. For many Star Trek fans – and I include myself in this category to an extent, especially when it comes to Enterprise – they missed out on seeing most or all of “old” Star Trek when it originally aired. They could pick and choose which episodes to watch from DVDs or on streaming platforms, and watch them anytime they wanted to. Star Trek, to many Trekkies, was a complete product. Seven seasons of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, as well as three of The Original Series and four of Enterprise is a lot to wade through, and an individual bad episode is just a blip when you don’t have to wait a week for the next one and can skip ahead to another episode on the disc.

But there are changes in the way Star Trek has told stories over time, and we do have to acknowledge that. There has been a move away from episodic storytelling (aka the “monster-of-the-week” format) in favour of season-long story arcs and a serialised format. I confess I have a preference, in some cases at least, for episodic television. It’s nice to be able to jump into a random episode of a series without needing to know or remember everything that happened leading up to that point. It makes Discovery and Picard season-long commitments, instead of something fans can jump in and out of. And because, as mentioned, a lot of folks are used to Star Trek shows being complete products and in addition are used to binge-watching, having to wait a week between episodes of a partially-complete story can be annoying I suppose.

There has also been a shift away from the more ethereal, philosophical, and thought-provoking storylines that Star Trek used to do. Ironically, many of those stories and episodes are less popular among fans – The Motion Picture is always considered a poor relation to films like First Contact and The Wrath of Khan, which are both much more in the action-sci fi genre, just to give an example. I discussed this in a little more detail in my 40th anniversary look at The Motion Picture if you’re interested to read more. But there’s no doubt that Discovery and especially the JJverse films have gone in a much more action-centric direction, and for people who wanted to see more of the slower paced, thought-provoking stories, action-sci fi maybe doesn’t “feel like Star Trek” in quite the same way.

Kirk and Scotty in The Motion Picture – a less popular film than its sequel with many Trekkies.

Now we come to what is the single biggest point: nostalgia. People like what they grew up with. Heck, the whole reason Star Trek is being made again now, more than fifty years since it was first created, is because nostalgia is incredibly powerful and there’s money to be made from it. But nostalgia is a double-edged sword. Some people don’t want to see an “updated” version of the franchise they loved from childhood or young adulthood. If they want more of it in the first place, they want to see it exactly the same as before. No changes, no iterations, no modernising – a carbon copy of what came before. And that isn’t realistic.

Television storytelling has moved on since the 1960s and the 1990s – which are the two “golden ages” of Star Trek, depending on which fans you ask. Expecting to see The Next Generation Season 8 in 2020 was an unrealistic expectation. The way stories are told, and what television audiences expect from their shows, are just different nowadays. For fans of episodic television that might seem disappointing, but as with Trekkies in general we’re in a minority there. Shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, and of course Game of Thrones had such a huge impact on television that they fundamentally changed the way audiences approach their favourite franchises – and in order to stay competitive, Star Trek has to recognise that and keep up.

There are undeniably a lot of positive feelings attached to a franchise from childhood. The return of Star Trek (and other franchises too, like Star Wars) was designed to play on those positive feelings to sell a product – that’s basically the point of resurrecting franchises in the first place. For a minority of fans who only liked things when done the old way, that hasn’t worked and the updates and changes mean they don’t get the same feelings that they do when re-watching an old episode or film. But for a lot of people, these shows have been a hit. They hit the mark where it mattered and got many fans clamouring for more. And in a few years or a few decades from now, Discovery-era fans will be just as excited for the return of Burnham and Saru as I have been to see Picard and Seven of Nine.

Seven of Nine returned in Star Trek: Picard.

In fact, one of the things I was genuinely concerned about with Star Trek: Picard is that they were going to fall into the Star Wars trap of overplaying the nostalgia card. I didn’t want The Next Generation Season 8, because that show has ended. It’s over. What Picard represented is something practically no other series or franchise will ever get – a new iteration. Picard is the same man, and he’s the core of the show as he was in The Next Generation. But surrounding him are new characters, and I wanted to make sure that they would have the chance to become fan favourites for the next generation (pun absolutely intended) of Star Trek fans.

My introduction to the franchise was The Next Generation. And it wasn’t until a few years later – probably in the mid-1990s – that I got around to watching any of The Original Series. For some people, Picard and Discovery will be their first port of call as Star Trek fans, just as The Next Generation was for me. Those of us who’ve been around Star Trek for twenty-five years or more still have a place in the fandom, but things are changing. With new shows in production, new fans are coming on board who may not be aware of Picard’s top-secret mission to Celtris III, or that Kirk and his crew once visited a parallel universe where magic is real. If we try to be gatekeepers and say “you aren’t a real Star Trek fan because Discovery isn’t as good as the show that I like” then the fandom isn’t just going to be divided, it’s going to become toxic. Instead of being a “big tent”, recognising that the franchise means different things to different people, some folks seem to want to claim the fandom for themselves and exclude anyone who doesn’t share their belief about what Star Trek means.

And frankly, that’s just sad.

Star Trek has always tried to use its science fiction setting to tell stories that reflect contemporary issues. There are countless examples, and this could be an essay in itself, but suffice to say many of those stories resonated with fans in the past. The Original Series challenged the Cold War concepts of superweapons and mutually assured destruction in the episode The Doomsday Machine to great effect, and fans will laud that. But when Discovery uses Ash Tyler’s trauma as an analogy for underreported male sexual abuse, those same folks scream about “too much politics”. As I’ve said before, to anyone who says there’s “too much politics” in modern Star Trek I’d ask one simple question – “have you seen Star Trek before?”

Spock and Kirk at the end of The Doomsday Machine from Season 2 of The Original Series. They talked about nuclear weapons – a massive issue in the 1960s.

The problem here is that, when it comes to The Original Series and the shows of The Next Generation’s era, we’re watching them decades on from their original release. Many of the people complaining about politics in modern Star Trek weren’t even born when The Next Generation and its sister shows were first on the air. And very few people now can remember watching The Original Series when it was new. The political themes in many of those episodes are less prickly and less relevant today, and though they would be instantly recognisable to contemporary audiences, watching them today fifty years later or thirty years later, they’re harder to spot. And if someone is watching an episode for the tenth or twentieth time, an episode they first watched at age five or six, it’s even harder to be objective and pull the themes and messaging out of the drama and presentation. Taking a step back and looking at a favourite show or episode objectively is very difficult. I made an attempt to do so when I re-watched The Measure of a Man from The Next Generation’s second season, but it wasn’t easy.

Star Trek has always been a political show, even if as kids we didn’t realise it. And it has always taken a “progressive” political position on contemporary issues. If an individual can’t stand that, and is only content to watch entertainment that is either wholly politically neutral or agrees entirely with their own political biases, then that’s okay. No one is forcing anyone to watch a television show that they don’t like. And if they don’t like something, it’s easier than ever to change the channel. They can pick a new show on Netflix or Amazon Prime or CBS All Access and watch that instead, or go back to a previous Star Trek series that they do enjoy. Modern Star Trek is not mandatory viewing, and from my own point of view I can tell you I’m pretty brutal when it comes to switching off a show that I find boring or that I’m not enjoying for whatever reason.

In 2020 we live in a world where there is an insane amount of entertainment available to watch – and much of it can be found online for free with a basic knowledge of computing. So I don’t really understand why people would want to spend a lot of time watching a show that they don’t enjoy, then jump online to share their dislike with others – not when there are so many other things to watch. A few people who run websites, groups, or YouTube channels, make money by doing this. And I guess that’s fair enough – if people will pay for it, and you can make money at it, that’s okay. But for everyone else, I don’t really see what they gain from it – aside from the feeling of inclusion being part of a “tribe”, or perhaps a feeling of superiority to think they know better than the show’s creators?

Some people have been unhappy with Star Trek: Picard.

To get back on topic, and draw this essay to a conclusion, there are differences between Star Trek today and Star Trek in the era of The Original Series and The Next Generation. For some fans, the difference is too stark and they don’t want to watch whatever they consider to be “bad”. I’m okay with that – we can all have our own opinions about the franchise. I just don’t like the toxicity and gatekeeping that has plagued some – thankfully small – groups within the fandom.

Speaking for myself, I’ve enjoyed Star Trek’s return to television. Star Trek: Picard has been the better of the two offerings so far, but I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of a Capt. Pike series and at Lower Decks’ different take on the franchise. It’s a great time to be a fan right now, simply because there’s so much Star Trek – and sci fi/fantasy content in general – in production. We won’t always be so lucky to have this, and even though I wasn’t a big Enterprise fan during its original run, I was still sad when it went off the air and there was just a big void of nothing. That isn’t a scenario I’m keen to see repeated, and while I admit there have been hits and misses in modern Star Trek, I’d rather see it continue to be made than simply scrapped. By diversifying the kind of stories it tells – Picard and Discovery are very different in tone, for example, and Lower Decks will be something different again – hopefully Star Trek can build on what has been accomplished already and bring in more people. If some people decide not to stick with it because of the changes, that’s okay. But I firmly believe that the core or the heart of Star Trek is the same as it was in the 1960s – and that it has remained that way for its entire run.

Star Trek is a complicated franchise that means different things to different people. But there is room in the fandom for everyone – at least, everyone who wants to participate. If someone dislikes Picard or Discovery but loves The Next Generation, as fans and as people who know how to behave civilly, we can still have a great conversation about Star Trek without treading on each others’ toes. And it’s my hope that there’s more that unites us as fans of this great franchise than divides us – after all, Discovery and The Next Generation have much more in common than The Next Generation does with, say, the latest iteration of some celebrity reality show. At the end of the day, I’m happy to share a franchise and a fandom with some very passionate people – even if we can’t agree on a lot of things.

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