Star Trek: Discovery arrives in late September. Set in the Prime timeline (as opposed to Abrams’ Kelvin film timeline), the series follows the exploits of a brand new Starfleet crew, going boldly about a decade before Kirk’s famous five-year mission. This time around, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her shipmates find themselves on the wrong side of a disruptor as the Federation-Klingon cold war heats up.
The first small screen outing since Star Trek: Enterprise ended its run in 2005, Discovery strives to merge the more cerebral themes of its predecessors while borrowing action-heavy beats from theatrical Trek and other modern cinematic offerings. But Discovery has already courted controversy before even hitting the small screen, due to the show’s moderate re-imagining of the franchise. CBS clearly felt the need to give modern audiences something fresh yet familiar – much like J.J. Abrams did with his 2009 reboot.
Despite its connection to the Kelvin films, especially writer/producer Alex Kurtzman, the direction and tone of the CBS show feels more like a call-back to a different Abrams’ soft reboot: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.
For all the fan-shade thrown at it, The Force Awakens reignited a world’s interest in and love for Star Wars. It’s far from a perfect picture, and fans and critics will debate the merits of Abrams’ super-homage to A New Hope until their faces turn blue. Still, it remains an eminently watchable movie and still holds up fairly well to scrutiny, at least if The Last Jedi and Episode IX answer some of the mysteries TFA left in its wake.
After Enterprise’s failure to connect, CBS was undoubtedly down to avoid repeating their mistakes. Discovery itself was announced a mere month before TFA hit theaters, so the show’s development team probably awaited the film’s release (and critical response) with Spock-like eyebrows raised. When Episode VII became a global phenom, the developers, including Bryan Fuller at the time, likely pored over every pivotal moment and plot hole, searching for the proverbial thermal exhaust ports of the film. Much like the Trek reboot before them, Abrams replicated the magic of the beloved series and established the franchise’s continued commercial viability without ruffling too many feathers.
So, what can the production team learn from Lucasfilm? Even though TFA is set 30 years in the future – the only easily explicable place to pick up the Skywalker saga with the original actors – and the latest Trek is set ten years before Kirk, both the film and the show convey similar themes: mythology causes conflict (First Order’s devotion to the empire and Klingons need to build theirs); generational gaps create friction (Luke/Kylo Ren and Lorca/Michael perhaps); a disconnect from family causes heartache (Rey, Finn, Ren and Michael/Sarek); and naturally redemption is a motivating factor (Luke/Ren and perhaps Michael).
In addition, both Trek and Wars deal with alterations due to in-world and external technological updates. Film, camera techniques, and digital effects have all advanced dramatically, even since George Lucas’ innovative if less-beloved second trilogy. For Episode VII, Abrams did his homework, learning that fans loved the lived-in aesthetic of the original trilogy but also enjoyed the stunningly rendered landscapes and vast scale of the prequels. Smartly, he merged high and low tech for his own soft reboot. As evident from the trailers, featuring gorgeous spacescapes and alien species clearly created by physical craftspersons, Discovery took Lucasfilm’s blend of practical and CG effects to heart.
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