Likewise, this version of Star Trek will alter some very common tropes. For instance, Discovery relies on its bridge crew’s personal dynamics for greater drama, actually ending the Roddenberry Rule that made Federation types borderline infallible – and gave its writing staff endless headaches. The tales also center on Lt. Cmdr. Burnham rather than Captains Georgiou and Lorca. Even though the emotional heft will be carried by an unfamiliar (if talented) bridge crew, the show won’t be short on sentimentality, as iconic characters like Sarek (Burnham’s adoptive father played by James Frain), Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson), and Tribbles (naturally) will drop by – something CBS assumes will pique the curiosity of even the most jaded fan.
Another major departure for Star Trek is a mission-oriented story arc. An interconnected narrative like the Skywalker epic requires an organic, overarching agenda or it dashes the whole serialized feel Lucas was aiming for. Trek, on the other hand, tinkered with story arcs like the enjoyable Dominion War on Deep Space Nine or convoluted Temporal Cold War on Enterprise but rarely relied on a cohesive theme. Much like its far-away galaxy cohort, each episode of Discovery will present a contained storyline and read more like a chapter in a book. The first season goal – which deals with an impending Klingon-Federation conflict – should infuse each hour of television with a deeper sense of purpose.
As evidenced by the explosive San Diego Comic-Con trailer and prior teasers, showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg updated the tone (grittier), aesthetic (slicker and darker), and pacing (rapid transitions and dynamic camera work) for a new generation, much like Abrams did for Force Awakens. The latest outing also inhabits a grayer world than the Starfleet of Kirk and Picard, where Burnham and her crewmates exist along the thin red line between diplomacy and destruction. A more permeable morality is the linchpin to the new adventures, according to showrunner Berg (via TrekMovie), who noted the importance of stepping outside human nature to observe it. What better way to define and re-examine the Federation’s values than a tense, hostile standoff between the Federation and the Klingons?
Discovery takes another cue from TFA and comparable modern movies by giving its female leads something to actually do in the film. Even though Star Trek has always been ahead of the curve, diversity-wise, the franchise only includes one recurring female captain and no black female leads. Much like Rey became the glue that held Episode VII together, Michael Burnham’s adventures and her perspective will inform the action. Imbuing the viewers with a feminine perspective, especially during the most male-dominated era of Trek, remains one of the show’s most subversive acts. The series will also highlight a well-rounded gay Starfleet officer and hopefully won’t shy away from portraying Lt. Stamets as perfectly normal.
The Force Awakens and the latest Star Trek serial are wildly divergent entities in tone, theme, and style. Nonetheless, Discovery and its creatives clearly learned a lot from Abrams’ flawed but well-rendered update. The CBS offering will be a balancing act, merging the dynamic action of TFA with the film’s little big moments (such as Rey stripping Kylo Ren of his pretenses). A multi-episode serial also leaves a great deal more room to delve into the characters and explain the settings without forcing the awkward exposition, as movies often resort to.
At the same time, if the show’s creatives catch too many lens flares to the brain and focus heavily on the CG spectacle or bog things down with procedural elements, Discovery risks missing the point of its serialized nature and Star Trek itself. Thanks to sizable budgets and a staff that already knows the ins-and-outs of the saga, the show should be able to emulate the sweeping cinematic landscapes without shedding the contemplative moments that make Trek work. After all, the interplay between the main players like Captain Georgiou, Lt. Burnham, Captain Lorca, etc., and the alien species they encounter, offers the greatest potential for exploration in the 23rd century.
Sure, Discovery might buck the established canon a bit, but if it returns the Federation to its place in the stars, by way of updating it for the contemporary era, it’s worth giving the streaming series some wiggle room. Most of all, it needs to tell a darn good story, if for no other reason than to make up for toying with Trekkies’ emotions.
Star Trek: Discovery debuts on September 24, 2017.
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