Star Trek’s new series reminds me why I’m a fan of the franchise

Picard adapts to changing times while staying true to the franchise's legacy

Amelia used to watch Star Trek with her grandparents.

The day that the new Star Trek series premiered, my grandma called to remind me that it was on at 8 p.m. She didn’t want me to forget and miss it—especially given the franchise’s significance to my family.

Picard is the latest installment set in the expansive Star Trek universe. Set at the end of the 24th century, the show follows Captain Jean-Luc Picard (reprised by Sir Patrick Stewart), a retired captain of the USS Enterprise who is setting off on his newest adventure.

The series is set 18 years after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation which first aired in 1987. This was the second series of the franchise, and was widely considered the best. Most importantly to me, it was my grandparents’ favourite.

Growing up, they watched me after school while my mom was away studying at the University of Toronto. She raised me with their help.

On weekdays starting from when I was 10, my grandfather took over the television at exactly 5 p.m., turning off my cartoons so we could watch Star Trek. I was immediately hooked. I loved the premise: the human race had finally settled into world peace, and now spent all their resources learning about the universe.

The Star Trek franchise has been a constant on big and small screens for over fifty years, with Picard as the latest iteration airing only a year after another new series, Star Trek: Discovery. 

Captain Picard graced television screens for seven seasons and four films back in the 1980s and 1990s. These TV shows and films presented a future where poverty and inequality had been abolished. They intertwined themes of diversity and allegories of social justice into philosophical debates about science, morality, consciousness, and war.

At times, Star Trek was also a silly show where people ran around shooting low-budget aliens with lasers in front of papier-mâché sets.

Though production value has improved over the years, Picard is still tinged with nostalgia—and even loss—thanks to the ongoing plotlines that connect all of the franchise’s iterations together. In the last film, Picard’s dear friend, an android named Commander Data, died. In the new series, Data’s death continues to haunt the captain decades later.

Star Trek also reflects feelings of nostalgia and loss in my personal life. My grandpa died suddenly within months of Leonard Nimoy, who was best known for playing the beloved character of Spock in the original Star Trek. While I didn’t know Nimoy personally, his loss was compounded by that of my grandfather. When the world mourned his loss, I imagined some of their mourning was also for my grandfather, who loved Star Trek so much.

While the new series has rightfully honoured Star Trek’s past, it’s also transformed and reinvented itself to adapt to the changing times.

Picard brings us into a gritty, complicated world well-suited for 2020. The utopia of Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek would probably not sit as well with current audiences as the divisive world that Picard presents us with.

With mounting distrust in real-life institutions and governments, it can be hard for modern viewers to imagine a utopic future for humanity.

Star Trek posits that eventually, humanity will band together with like-minded aliens and form a peaceful governmental body called the United Federation of Planets. The military branch, called Starfleet, is charged with scientific exploration, diplomacy and defence.

Picard tells us that the government of the future can also be corrupt.

In Picard, Earth has banned human-like robots with artificial intelligences—known as synthetics—because of a terrorist attack on a colony on Mars perpetrated by a rogue group of them.

This is an allegory for a government banning a marginalized race because of the actions of a few extremists, which is a familiar approach that Star Trek takes in addressing topical world issues of the present.

Instead of problems existing on far-away planets as is customary for Star Trek, Picard brings the problems closer to home—namely, our own solar system—with the first episode taking place primarily on earth.

Picard meets Dahj (Isa Briones), a woman who learns that she is an android despite having grown up believing she was human. They discover that her father may be none other than the late Data, who was one of Picard’s closest friends and colleagues, who was an android himself.

With a sweeping ban on synthetic life, androids like Dahj and her sister Soji (also Isa Briones) are in life-threatening danger. Instead of being the captain of Starfleet’s flagship, the Enterprise, the retired Captain Picard is forced to embark on his mission in secret.

While, for me, it’s startling to see cracks form in the utopia that I grew up knowing in the show, growing disillusionment with an organization like Starfleet seems like a natural progression.

In my eyes, this plot sets the show up for success. Despite taking a new turn, Picard is able to begin anew while also maintaining a strong tether to its source material by referencing key events from the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation and recent blockbuster films.

Bringing Captain Picard back is a bold move. He’s one of the most beloved characters of the entire Star Trek franchise, with an immense legacy to live up to. 

Over Reading Week, I sat on the same couch I used to sit on after school and watched Star Trek with my grandmother. My grandfather probably would have refused to watch the new series, preferring to watch the old one instead. I like to think that we would have convinced him to see it eventually. 

I’m excited to see exactly where Picard will boldly go next. With stunning reprisals of iconic roles alongside compelling new characters, combined with a strong plot, this show has a bright future.

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