The United Federation of Planets insignia will have only six stars in Star Trek: Discovery season 3 - but why? In the dramatic finale to Star Trek: Discovery's second season, Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham and the rest of the Discovery crew travel 900 years into the future in order to prevent the rapidly advancing Section 31 Control A.I. from taking over mankind. Venturing into a completely unknown and untouched part of the Star Trek timeline, season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery will finally have the freedom to tell stories that aren't tightly restricted by established canon.
At the recent 2019 New York Comic Con event, the first trailer for Star Trek: Discovery season 3 was unveiled and, predictably, the future isn't as rosy as Burnham and her friends might've hoped. Before waiting a year for her hair to grow out, Burnham finds her way to a remote office and comes face-to-face with the familiar blue flag of the Federation. However, there's a very noticeable difference between the badge seen in the standard Star Trek timeline and the one used in the 32nd century, namely that the updated version has only six stars compared to the great many seen on the original insignia.
The Federation badge used in the 23rd/24th centuries has a smattering of stars that represent each member of the 150+ strong bloc, much in the same way the flag of the U.S. uses stars to signify its number of states. The three biggest stars (on the Federation flag, not the U.S. one, unfortunately) represent Vulcan, Earth and Andoria, as revealed in Star Trek: Enterprise, with these three planets considered the founders of the Federation. Strangely, there's no star for the Tellarites, who were also present at the signing of the first treaty.
The updated Federation flag has 2 remaining large stars and 4 smaller ones, indicating that the organization has undergone a drastic reduction in power and influence over the past 9 centuries. The Star Trek: Discovery season 3 trailer doesn't make clear whether the missing planets have been destroyed or have simply left the union of the Federation (Frexit, if you will), but the presence of violent Andorians in the trailer suggests that the latter is more likely. This in turn implies that Earth and Vulcan remain a part of the dwindling Federation in the future.
This exodus of Federation membership ties in neatly with comments made by David Ajala's new character, Cleveland Booker, who calls Starfleet a "ghost." As the Federation's military and exploration arm, it's entirely possible that Starfleet has been abandoned entirely in the 32nd century and is no longer in operation due to the drastic reduction in the Federation's resources, allies and territory. As teased in the Star Trek: Discovery season 3 trailer, this is likely the "domino effect" referred to by Burnham, and the Discovery's crew look set to try and undo whatever misfortune has befallen their organization. Taking on such a mission might be a sign that the downfall of the Federation is not a natural part of the timeline, but a consequence of Control and Discovery's meddling with the timeline.
For some Star Trek fans, the internal bickering that has evidently taken place within the Federation is a betrayal of Gene Roddenberry's original vision for the future, where mankind had moved beyond such trivial squabbles and challenges came from without, rather than within. However, the validity of this criticism will depend entirely on the context Star Trek: Discovery places around the Federation's predicament, and it could perhaps also be argued that the modern reality of real-life events demand less idealistic storytelling than the 1960s.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 premieres in 2020 on CBS All Access and Netflix internationally.