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Picard Can Unite Star Trek’s Divided Fandom

Patrick Stewart as Picard with Star Trek Logo

Star Trek: Picard could be just what the Star Trek franchise needs to unite a divided fandom. Over the last few years, the concept of fandom has gone through something of an unfortunate transformation. Fandom was once seen as a participatory culture in which fans celebrated their love of a franchise; now it's become an expression of ownership, with fans determined to shape the franchise they love, and railing against creatives whose decisions they disagree with. Sometimes they have a point, but on other occasions, it just gets downright nasty.

Take the Star Wars franchise, for example. The release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi provoked a vocal backlash among some parts of the fandom, in large part because it didn't line up with the stories and theories fans had built up over the last couple of years. Nearly 50 percent of the backlash was really political trolling, with politically active fans rejecting the concept of diversity, and actress Kelly Marie Tran was hounded off of social media. The upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is generally perceived as something of a course-correction, an attempt to repair a damaged fanbase.

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Related: Star Trek: Picard Is Answering One Of TNG’s Most Frustrating Unanswered Questions

Compared to Star Wars, the Star Trek fandom is fairly pedestrian and well-behaved, which makes sense; the concept of diversity was baked into the franchise by Gene Roddenberry himself, meaning in theory it lacks that political dimension. For all that's the case, though, the Star Trek fandom has its own divisions - and Star Trek: Picard could well be the solution.

Star Trek Fandom Is Increasingly Divided

The problems began with JJ Abrams' reboot of the Star Trek franchise, and in a sense represented competing visions of just what Star Trek really is. Abrams wasn't a natural fan of the franchise, always finding it something of a turn-off when he was a kid. "Growing up, I thought, honestly, I couldn't get into it," he admitted in an interview on The Daily Show. "My friends loved it. I would try, I would watch episodes but it always felt too philosophical to me." As a result, when Abrams was placed in charge of Star Trek, he attempted to reinvent the wheel. His Star Trek reboot was a lot less cerebral, and a lot more action-focused. Some fans weren't keen on the very idea of the Kelvin timeline, while others felt Abrams didn't even understand Roddenberry's vision, and consequently felt he was disrespecting it.

Star Trek: Discovery proved just as divisive as the Abrams reboot. Unlike the Abrams films, it purported to be part of the main timeline, which meant its grim-dark portrayal of the Federation left a lot of fans furious. Worse still, the technology in Star Trek: Discovery season 1 seemed so much more advanced than anything else seen centuries later in the Star Trek timeline. Still, Star Trek: Discovery season 2 was a success, pivoting away from the human-Klingon war, going to great lengths to write its continuity-challenging advanced tech out, and casting Anson Mount as the beloved Captain Pike. The fandom remains divided, but the wounds feel as though they're beginning to heal.

Picard Naturally Appeals To The Nostalgia Factor...

Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek The Next Generation

That brings us neatly to Star Trek: Picard, which feels perfectly positioned to help unite this divided fandom once again. On the one hand, the show is tailor-made to appeal to lovers of Star Trek: The Next Generation and even Star Trek: Voyager, featuring Patrick Stewart as an older Captain Picard, Jeri Ryan returning as Seven of Nine, and a massive number of returning Star Trek characters. Speaking at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, CBS EVP of Original Content Julie McNamara suggested that the show would be very familiar in style to old-school Strek Trek fans as well. "In terms of the characters and the nature of the storytelling, [Picard is] probably more like Next Generation," she observed. "I think, tonally, it's a little bit of a hybrid: slower, more gentle, more lyrical. It is more character-based."

Nostalgia is a force to be reckoned with in modern fandom, and Star Trek: Picard seems perfectly designed to appeal to it. What's more, the show promises to cling to the very core concept of Star Trek itself; the idea of looking to the future with hope. Jean-Luc Picard became a living symbol of that hope, a man who believed in the ideals of the Federation and would always strive for peace. The trailers for Star Trek: Picard have suggested Picard's faith in the Federation has been shaken, but they seem to suggest he's about to start a journey to regain his moral core.

Related: Picard Isn’t The First Star Trek Captain To Say "Engage"

But Picard Can Take Star Trek In A Whole New Direction

Patrick Stewart and the Stargazer in Star Trek Picard

At the same time, Star Trek: Picard promises to appeal to new viewers as well. According to Deadline, CBS Chief Creative Officer David Nevins recently confirmed that they aim to expand Star Trek's legacy brand to reach new, younger viewers. "What we’re trying to do right now with Star Trek is build that brand," he explained. "We want it to get younger and more relevant to people." That presumably means embracing the messages of social relevance that were core to Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek vision.

There's a sense in which Star Trek: Discovery has served as a trial run for adapting the Star Trek franchise for the 21st century. Star Trek: Picard will have the same scale as Discovery, and the same kind of modernized approach to storytelling. Meanwhile, it will also be set further forward in the Star Trek timeline than ever before - bar the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery season 3 - which gives the show a great deal of narrative freedom. It can set up a brand new status quo, one that isn't overly dependent on knowledge of the past, that doesn't rely on decades' worth of continuity. It's the perfect way to appeal to brand new viewers.

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It's easy to see why Patrick Stewart signed up for Star Trek: Picard. The show has the potential to accomplish something quite unique, and unite a divided fanbase. It can appeal to old-school Star Trek fans as well as lovers of the JJ Abrams reboot; it can draw in new viewers while appealing to people who are eager to tune in to see Patrick Stewart's Star Trek return. This could be just what the Star Trek franchise needs.

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