A Beginner’s Guide
to Star Trek: Discovery
By Mikhail Lecaros
This week, Netflix is bringing Star Trek: Discovery to non-US territories around the world, the first Star Trek television series since 2005 (and the sixth overall). Set ten years before the heyday of Kirk and Spock, Discovery has a lot riding on it; not only does it have to pull in new viewers while appealing to longtime fans, the show is also being used to launch the CBS TV network’s streaming service in the US.
Sounds confusing? It is. But here’s everything you need to know before jumping into this latest edition of sci-fi’s most beloved shared universe:
It is Part of a Continuing Tradition
Conceived at the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movements of the 60s, Star Trek has always stood out from the majority of mainstream science fiction in that creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future wasn’t cynical – it was built on hope and optimism. Roddenberry’s masterstroke was dressing his ideas up in the trappings of genre, ensuring that he would be able to tell “controversial” stories without studio interference. How else do you think he was able to get an Asian, a Russian, and an African American woman on a mainstream TV show in the 60s?
And it worked.
Over the next fifty years, five television shows, ten films, and three reboot movies, Star Trek has endured, and Discovery is the latest expression of Roddenberry’s vision.
Discovery is a Prequel to the Original Series (Sorta)
Despite having a shared aesthetic, Discovery isn’t a prequel to J.J Abrams’ super shiny reboot movies – it’s a prequel to the original Star Trek series from the 1960’s. Where the producers of previous prequel Enterprise (2001-2005) took pains to show how their futuristic designs would evolve into the now-retro stylings of the Original Series (1966-1969), Discovery’s showrunners have publicly declared their desire not to be chained by what’s that’s come before. While this does promise an intriguing new take on a classic universe, it would have been fun (over time) to see them try and justify how the new show’s Mass Effect-like trappings would transition into the William Shatner (Boston Legal, Miss Congeniality) era of velour and papier-mâché.
The Pilot of this Prequel is a Prequel
Remember how we said Discovery is a prequel? Well, think of the first couple of episodes as the prequel to our main character. Before we get to the promoted show about First Officer Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green) learning the ropes aboard the USS Discovery, the first two episodes are about her early years serving under Michelle Yeoh’s (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Police Story 3: Supercop) immensely likable (and capable) Captain Phillipa Georgiou.
Everything Old is New Again
As far as alien species go, Klingons are the cream of the crop when it comes to Star Trek – it just wouldn’t be the same without them. Redesigned here to resemble the unfortunate result of a tryst between a samurai and a rhino, Discovery’s take on the Klingons plays up their ancient heritage and penchant for battle, to ominous effect. There may be one too many subtitle-heavy scenes for the casual viewer, but we’re definitely interested in seeing what directions Discovery will take this fan-favorite race.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
When you take away the sci-fi trappings, Star Trek is about a group of people who’ve managed to set aside their differences and working together towards a common goal.
Discovery goes all in on that diversity, with Martin-Green headlining a cast that includes the Malaysian Yeoh, an alien with the ability to sense oncoming death (Guillermo Del Toro regular Doug Jones), an openly gay crewman (played by Anthony Rapp, best known for his role in Rent’s original Broadway run), and a tough Southern captain commanding the titular USS Discovery (Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs).
The Lead isn’t a Captain
Discovery eschews Star Trek ‘s established tropes by featuring a lead character that isn’t a captain. This allows Martin-Green to play Burnham as unsure and untested, providing a nice change of pace from the seasoned space explorers previous shows have relied on. Surprisingly, her being named Michael isn’t as distracting as one might think, but her character’s heritage may have longtime fans pulling their hair out.
It Looks Amazing
Big budget shows and films may have spoiled us in recent years in terms of what to expect from a TV show’s visuals, but from the time Discovery’s first trailers hit, viewers were assured this show would be going all out when it came to their production. Simply put, the visuals here are jaw-dropping, perfectly complementing the already impressive production design. Forget the cardboard sets and endless footage recycling of yore – Continuity be damned, Discovery takes its visual cues from the opening moments of Abrams’ 2009 reboot (that famously featured a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), themselves designed as a technologically gritty precursor to the pristine Apple-Store aesthetic of that film’s Enterprise. Packed with detail and a sense of grandeur, space has rarely looked so simultaneously beautiful and dangerous. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what big budget TV is all about.
Star Trek Comes Home
Where the current Star Trek reboot films have settled firmly into the summer blockbuster mold, the franchise has done its strongest work on the small screen, with stories ranging from sci-fi parables to morality plays and, yes, social commentary.
With real life currently far, far, weirder than any fiction anyone could have imagined, Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an enlightened humanity has rarely seemed quite so distant, or, for that matter, more relevant.
With the two-part premiere out of the way, here’s hoping that Discovery is able to do its heritage proud.
What do you think of the pilot episode? Tell us your thoughts below!