Trekkies are a curious bunch. At once utterly loyal and almost certainly guaranteed to give anything slapped with the Star Trek logo a chance, the fandom are equally unafraid to speak out if ever a franchise entry doesn’t live up to expectations. Such is the passion and longevity of the core Star Trek viewership, garnering praise from the hardcore crowd is a mark of success in and of itself and this will certainly be the case with the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery.
Fans will flock to watch the new series in droves, there’s no doubt about that, but even if viewing figures are somewhat lackluster or critic reviews are lukewarm, Discovery could still be considered a success if it can get the life-long Trekkies onboard. After all, the original series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy only ran for three seasons before cancellation but the reverence in which fans hold the show has since elevated it to legendary status.
Although Star Trek: Discovery has a very long way to go before reaching that level, it’s clear that Discovery must keep the Trekkies happy if the project is to succeed. But how can this be achieved, and what exactly are the hardcore crowd looking for in this new show after the last, largely disappointing, television effort, Enterprise.
Respect Original Continuity
Perhaps the biggest sin Star Trek: Discovery could possibly commit would be to start re-writing and retconning the established lore from the franchise’s rich and detailed history. Some may argue that Discovery has already taken a large step down this forbidden path with the reveal that Soniqua Martin-Green’s character is the adopted sister of Spock – something the Vulcan conveniently neglected to mention during the last fifty years (although his half-brother didn’t turn up until Star Trek V).
With this revelation already sparking controversy among the fandom, Discovery would be well advised to avoid the ruffling of further feathers. However, since the new series set only a decade before the original adventures of Kirk and co., that could prove tricky. The events of Discovery directly precede those of the original sixties series and care will need to be taken so as to not tread on any narrative toes.
J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie series managed to completely avoid this issue by creating the Kelvin Timeline – to a mixed reception – but Discovery is firmly set in the Prime Universe and must adhere to the fictional history of Gene Roddenberry’s world that many fans hold dear.
Interestingly, early footage and photographs from Discovery have already revealed some cosmetic changes in terms of the Klingon design and the 23rd Century technology. These alterations have elicited hushed groans but it’s likely that as long as the story and narrative elements remain faithful, a few design deviations or modernizations can be overlooked.
Use Established Characters Properly
It has already been confirmed that established characters such as Sarek and Harry Mudd will be making an appearance in Star Trek: Discovery, as well as species like the Klingons and the Tribbles. Next Generation actor Jonathan Frakes also revealed recently that a location long-time fans will be very familiar with will also be utilized.
Having elements that connect the new series to its predecessors is a wise move and one that generates a lot of excitement in both casual and dedicated Star Trek fans. However, it will quickly become obvious if these familiar faces and places have been included purely for fan service or marketing purposes. Star Trek: Discovery has a golden opportunity to take popular but lesser-featured characters such as Mudd and expand their backstories in a way that is respectful to the original creation while also adding new, fresh details.
By contrast, Discovery would do well to avoid either over-relying on these established characters – thus not allowing the show to become its own entity – or restricting them to shallow, glorified cameos. It’s a fine balance but one that could earn plenty of respect if struck properly.
Keep The Trek Spirit
You’ll often hear Trekkies refer to “the spirit of Star Trek” as if it were an actual ghost that appeared to over-zealous television producers Macbeth-style whenever they threatened to abandon the key principles of the franchise, but alas, the true meaning of this phrase is somewhat more vague. However, the overall thrust of the concept generally comes back time and again to the characters; the figures that viewers spend an hour or so every week getting to know and watching how they deal with extraordinary situations is the lifeblood of Star Trek.
Discovery has already assembled an impressive cast featuring not only the aforementioned Sonequa Martin Green but also Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh and Rainn Wilson and so the series is already halfway to winning this particular battle. But how these characters are presented on screen will be just as vital.
In fairness, Gene Rodenberry’s original character formula has already been meddled with in past franchise entries, at times with significant success. Star Trek‘s creator infamously prohibited any conflict between crew-members (not caused by alien influence, of course) because he posited that in the far future, mankind would’ve overcome such trivial, argumentative behavior. It was not one of his more accurate predictions.
Almost as soon as Roddenberry passed away, Next Generation writers began to incorporate more tension between Picard and the gang and this addition quickly helped evolve the series and keep its stories fresh. Star Trek: Discovery will almost certainly adopt a similar approach. Modern audiences have come to expect inter-personal conflict in their television intake and even the most orthodox Trek fan wouldn’t expect otherwise.
Nevertheless, the franchise’s signature character-driven core must remain intact if Discovery is to feel like a genuine Star Trek adventure.
So high is the esteem in which the older Star Trek material is held, Discovery may be onto a losing battle whatever approach it adopts. However, delivering a respectful addition to the canon that expands upon the established lore and history without encroaching upon it will go a long way to endearing hardcore Star Trek fans to Discovery. Rumblings of discontent may already be building but the real acid test will be the series premiere on CBS. The reaction of long-time fans to that episode will be pivotal in dictating whether Discovery will be a success or a failure.
Star Trek: Discovery premieres September 24th on CBS and subsequent episodes air on CBS All Access.
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