Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
Well, this is an interesting development! The long-rumoured Starfleet Academy series has just been officially announced by Paramount, with production due to begin next year. As I said the last time we talked about the series, I think it’s an idea that has a lot of potential.
In typical Paramount style, this announcement was low on detail and badly-timed, arriving a couple of weeks after news broke that Discovery has been cancelled. Rolling these two announcements into one would have made a lot of sense, shoring up Star Trek and reaffirming Paramount’s commitment to it instead of seeming to blow hot and cold on the franchise’s future and prospects. The announcement of Starfleet Academy seemed to suggest that it may be set in Discovery’s 32nd Century – perhaps existing as a spin-off from that series. While I don’t think that would be my personal preference in terms of setting, it’s definitely another good reason for combining these two announcements.
I’m not 100% sure if this new series is live-action or animated, as the official announcement didn’t actually state that outright, being surprisingly threadbare. I guess Paramount would have explicitly said if it was an animated production, though, and I’ve seen a few other outlets make the assumption that this will be a live-action series. If so, that’s good! With Picard and Discovery both ending within the next twelve months, Starfleet Academy can join Strange New Worlds and keep the flag flying in live-action.
The line in the official announcement about the Academy re-opening “for the first time in over a century” is where the 32nd Century setting seems to be referenced, as it was noted in Discovery’s third and fourth seasons that the Academy had been shut down sometime after the Burn. And I’m in two minds about this, if I’m being honest.
On the one hand, Discovery’s 32nd Century has been an interesting experiment, and an opportunity to do what Star Trek has always done: move the timeline forward. But on the other, it’s disconnected from the rest of the franchise by a span of centuries – making it much harder for characters, factions, or even themes to cross over from one part of the Star Trek franchise to another. With other projects set in the more familiar 23rd and 24th Centuries still ongoing, it’s also a decision that keeps Star Trek as a complicated, convoluted franchise that can be difficult to get started with for newcomers or for folks who haven’t watched for a long time.
A reorganisation of Star Trek is sorely needed – and the announcement of Starfleet Academy was an opportunity to do so. Bringing all of the current and upcoming shows into a single time period makes so much sense, and I fear we may look back on this decision as a missed opportunity. As much as I enjoy what Discovery has done with its far-future setting, and as much potential as that setting has, it would not have been my first choice for a new series at this juncture.
If Starfleet Academy is to be set in the 32nd Century, it’s odd that Paramount isn’t explicitly touting the series as a Discovery spin-off. The fourth season episode All Is Possible felt like a backdoor pilot for Starfleet Academy – and I wasn’t alone in saying so at the time of its broadcast. This announcement didn’t mention All Is Possible, nor did it mention Lieutenant Tilly or any of the cadets from that episode. I wonder if the reception to All Is Possible shook up pre-production on Starfleet Academy – and with Tilly seemingly involved in some capacity in Discovery’s fifth and final season, perhaps she won’t be included in this spin-off series.
If that’s the case, it would throw the setting of the series into question even more – and I come back to what I said a moment ago about the 32nd Century not being the best choice. But I suppose we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Paramount’s lack of clarity on some of these points is leading to unhelpful guesswork!
One of the big advantages to Starfleet Academy should be the show’s youthful focus – and with that, an ability to reach out to a new generation of viewers. Kids who’ve cut their teeth on the likes of Prodigy could view Starfleet Academy as the next step in their burgeoning fandom, and the series could also appeal to teen viewers who are looking for something a bit different. The announcement made it sound as if youthful cadets will be a big part of the show’s focus – and that can and should lead to the series appealing to precisely the kinds of viewers that Paramount needs more of.
If the series stands somewhat apart, without being tied too closely to past iterations of Star Trek, it could be a soft landing for new viewers – and the 32nd Century might actually prove advantageous here. There’d be scope to perhaps harken back to the events of classic episodes and films through the lectures and classes that the cadets attend – and that could allow Starfleet Academy to drop exposition and re-tell classic stories in a way that feels natural.
One thing in the announcement has caused a little concern, though, and I fear that Paramount hasn’t learned the right lessons from some of Star Trek’s recent successes and failures. The announcement promised “a new enemy that threatens both the Academy and the Federation itself” – and doesn’t that sound just like the setup for another fully-serialised story?
Since returning to the small screen in 2017, serialised storytelling has been – at best – a double-edged sword for Star Trek. On the one hand, the franchise has tried to move in a more modern direction, adopting a model used by successful titles like Lost and Game of Thrones. But on the other… well, it isn’t exactly controversial to say that not all of Star Trek’s serialised stories have been successful. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve all had their moments, but taken as a whole, Star Trek and serialised storytelling hasn’t always been a good combination.
In 2022, there’s no debate that the best-received and most successful Star Trek series was Strange New Worlds. The franchise took a step back toward episodic storytelling while retaining many of the trappings of more modern shows. Strange New Worlds was the perfect blend of “monsters-of-the-week” with season-long character arcs – and it was beautiful, riveting television that quickly became the high-water mark of modern Star Trek.
In contrast, Discovery’s fourth season and Picard’s second didn’t do so well. Discovery Season 4 pulled out a creditable ending – but I’m not alone in feeling that it spent a lot of time treading water before it reached that point. And well… the less said about Picard Season 2 the better, quite frankly. It was awful.
When Discovery’s cancellation was announced, I said that it might prove to be a net positive for the franchise – if Paramount could use it as an opportunity to refine and refocus Star Trek. Look at what’s worked and what hasn’t since Discovery’s premiere, and pick the best and most successful elements from five different productions. There’s a place for serialised storytelling in Star Trek, sure… and there has been going way back to Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc. But just because other made-for-streaming shows are going down the serialised road… that doesn’t mean that every Star Trek show has to as well.
A kid-friendly series – as Starfleet Academy should aim to be – is particularly well-suited to a more episodic kind of storytelling. There can be ongoing character arcs and storylines within that framework, as Strange New Worlds has demonstrated. But if the main thrust of the series is episodic it would feel accessible to a more youthful, casual audience – and it could open up a much wider range of potential storylines.
If there’s time between now and Starfleet Academy entering production next year to make this case, I hope someone at Paramount will listen! Look at what Strange New Worlds achieved in its first season and try to emulate that model instead of making another fully-serialised show in the mould of Picard or Discovery. That would be my single biggest wish – and my single biggest piece of advice to Paramount and the producers of Starfleet Academy.
The announcement of any new Star Trek show should be a time of great excitement – and I do feel excited! After Discovery’s cancellation, the catastrophic failure of a proposed new Kelvin timeline film last year, and poor financial news from Paramount, there was no guarantee that Starfleet Academy – or any other new project, for that matter – would get off the ground at all. So I’m relieved that Paramount remains committed to making new Star Trek shows. With Picard and Discovery both coming to an end, there will certainly be room in the lineup!
There are concerns, though. Does the announcement of Starfleet Academy mean that a Picard spin-off is now off the table for the foreseeable future? What of the Section 31 series, which has been languishing in development hell for more than four years? Is the 32nd Century the right time period for a brand-new series? Is another serialised show in the Discovery mould really the right move in light of how well Strange New Worlds worked? Is this Alex Kurtzman’s last hurrah? I have a thousand questions like this right now!
A series that could appeal to a younger audience has a ton of potential, and I will watch Starfleet Academy’s progress with enthusiasm and as much hope as I can muster! When the show is ready I’ll do my best to review each and every episode – and between now and then, I’ll cover any big developments such as casting announcements, teaser trailers, and more. So I hope you’ll stay tuned here on Trekking with Dennis!
This was a surprising announcement in some ways, but one that has been a long time coming in others. I’m glad that Star Trek has a future beyond Discovery and Picard’s final seasons, and I’m genuinely excited to see what Starfleet Academy has to offer.
Live long and prosper!
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy has just been announced and won’t enter production until at least 2024. The series will premiere on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available sometime in 2025, 2026, or beyond. Further international distribution has not been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Starfleet Academy and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of CBS Studios and Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.