Star Trek has been a cultural institution for over 50 years. When my parents were dating, one of the hallmarks of their courtship was that my mother would come over to my father’s apartment to watch The Original Series. I myself grew up watching TNG from the time I was three years old. Now, thanks to streaming services, we have shows like Discovery and Picard to carry on the tradition and reach a whole new generation of fans. The Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel at Comic-Con @ Home, which premiered on Thursday, July 23rd, was a celebration of that legacy: what Star Trek has become and where it’s going. It’s also a perfect illustration of why #StoriesMatter.
Like all of the Comic-Con panels this year, this one was pre-recorded, edited in advance, and released at the designated panel start time. While not the same as a genuine live panel, it allowed them to pack a lot more into the time frame than they normally would have been able to.
As such, the panel was divided into four parts. First, moderator Dominic Patten had a brief conversation with Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin, the executive producers behind Secret Hideout which is the production company behind Discovery, Picard, and the rest of the current crop of Star Trek content. Among other things, they talked about a new animated Trek series being developed for children on Nickelodeon and made the official announcement that it will be called Star Trek: Prodigy. Kadin said it was “for kids to have a way into the Star Trek brand.” As I mentioned, I grew up watching Star Trek from the time I was three, so I’m not sure how necessary that is. Still, I’m excited to see it.
Then, we switched over to the cast of Star Trek: Discovery who did a table read (via group video chat, of course) of the season 2 finale, “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2.” Moderated by the episode’s director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, the reading also included Sonequa Martin-Green (Commander Michael Burnham), Doug Jones (Commander Saru), Michelle Yeoh (Phillipa Georgiou), Anthony Rapp (Lt. Commander Paul Stamets), Mary Wiseman (Ensign Sylvia Tilly), and many others. For the panel, they only broadcast the first act of the script, but the full table read of the episode is on YouTube.
The reading would have been engaging and worthwhile even if it had just consisted of the grid of videos of each of the actors, reading their lines; however, they took things a step further, adding storyboards and effects renderings of the action at key points, and even a soundtrack. It was amazing to watch and a reminder that great entertainment is still possible, even when we can’t be in the same room together.
A Q&A with the cast afterwards discussed the legacy of Star Trek over the last 50+ years and how Discovery fits into that legacy—and will continue to do so going forward.
After that, we were treated to a look at upcoming animated Star Trek show, The Lower Decks. I have to admit that when I first heard about this show, I was skeptical. A show about the low-level Starfleet officers that we don’t normally focus on could be fun. But a Star Trek animated comedy? It could work, or it could be a recipe for disaster.
Well, they screened a scene from the show, and it looks fantastic. It’s funny and a bit sarcastic, while still remaining true to the spirit of Star Trek—and also exploring aspects of the Trek universe that we’ve never really seen before. For instance, important ships like the Enterprise handle First Contact missions with alien races. But who’s in charge of second contact and all of the bureaucracy that follows that first momentous event? The cast includes Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Eugene Cordero, and Noel Wells, who are all very funny and talented. The show premieres August 6th, and I must admit that I’m seriously considering restarting my CBS All Access subscription so I can see it.
Finally, we got to see a chat with the cast of Star Trek: Picard. It was an interesting juxtaposition, seeing how the casts of the three different shows all interacted with each other. Both Discovery and Lower Decks had some friendly banter, but mostly, the air was one of respect for the Star Trek legacy and their part in it. The Picard panel featured Patrick Stewart, Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner who have known and worked with each other for over 30 years. It was more like seeing a conversation between old friends. They teased each other relentlessly, joked with each other, and generally looked like they were having a great time.
That same vibe carried over to the new cast members, as well. Alison Pill gave Sir Patrick Stewart the nickname “SPS,” which the rest of the cast continued to use throughout the remainder of the panel—until the man himself said that he prefers, “P-Stew.” Marina Sirtis urged them not to compliment him so much, as he’d end up getting a big head.
That background that the cast brings with them, and how both the old and new characters fit into it, was a significant discussion point. They talked about how Picard and Raffi (Michelle Hurd) have a long history together—but one that we, the audience, have never seen. Isa Briones (Dahj, Soji, and Sutra) talked about the challenge of creating three different characters on the show, and how their stories fit in with one another, and with the show as a whole. And Brent Spiner talked about getting to play a new, non-Data character, and how that was a major factor in his decision to return (while joking that everyone from the show creators to Patrick Stewart, openly wept, begging him to come back).
All three panels talked a bit about what Star Trek means to our current society. We live in dark times, but Star Trek shows us that we can be better. Its world of equality for all races, genders, and orientations is something to aspire to. And more than just depicting it onscreen, the Star Trek team is working to, if you’ll pardon the expression, make it so. At the beginning and end of the panel, they urged support for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which fights for racial justice and human rights in the U.S. CBS All Access has already made a donation on behalf of the Star Trek family, and they urge you to do so, as well.
More than anything else, Star Trek is about the future—not just some fictional sci-fi future, but OUR future, and what it could be. That’s why these #StoriesMatter. That’s why the old shows still resonate after all these years, and that’s why the new shows are able to connect with us just as much. They show us a vision of the future and make it seem like getting there is within our grasp. I think Gene Roddenberry would be pleased to know that, over 50 years later, a whole new generation of shows, and of fans, is committed to those same ideals.
If you enjoyed this coverage of Comic-Con @ Home and would like to see the panel for yourself, you can check it out at this link!
And if you’d like to donate to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, you can do so at https://www.naacpldf.org/startrekunited.