- Star Trek has weathered social changes by reinventing itself, updating stories, and reflecting modern sensibilities while retaining its core.
- The franchise addresses contemporary issues like racism and social justice and must continue to do so to stay true to Roddenberry’s vision.
- Future series need to reflect diversity, retcon where necessary, step away from Starfleet, match plots with the format, reflect generational experiences, find the right cast, blend the past with the future, choose a quiet spot on the timeline, and incorporate Shakespearean influences.
Star Trek has been around for over 50 years, and shows no signs of slowing down soon. In the process, it’s weathered all manner of huge social changes, which have been reflected in its various TV series and movies. The secret to its success lies partially in its ability to reinvent itself and updating its stories and character to reflect modern sensibilities while still retaining the core of what Star Trek is.
The history of the franchise can be roughly divided into three parts: the premiere of Star Trek: The Original Series, the “renaissance” of the 1980s and 1990s starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the streaming era beginning in 2017 with Star Trek: Discovery. Each period — and indeed each individual series — involves recreating what Star Trek is from the ground up, without losing the things that separate it from other sci-fi epics. Any future shows will need to grapple with the same challenge of reinvention and retention.
10 Address Contemporary Social Issues
Science fiction can address hot-button topics such as racism and social justice in ways that traditional drama can’t. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wanted to make an object example of that, and prove that the genre could be more than spaceships and ray guns. That trend has continued, with new series tackling contemporary political issues. For instance, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 4, Episode 5, “Rejoined” famously depicted a lesbian relationship, while Star Trek: Strange New Worlds used footage from the 1/6 insurrection attempt in its story.
Future Star Trek projects must retain the franchise’s social conscience, and use it to address the world outside viewers’ doors. It invariably invites controversy, but it also speaks directly to Roddenberry’s vision. Star Trek is no stranger to contentious topics, and ultimately benefits when it doesn’t shy away. Future series must be prepared to do the same with whatever their issues of the day happen to be.
9 Reflect The Diversity of Society
“Infinite diversity in infinite combinations” is one of the franchise’s most important themes. The Original Series cast the Enterprise as a “United Nations in space,” which led to the prominent appearance of George Takei and Nichelle Nichols as key characters. Subsequent series continued to push for representation by incorporating characters from different races and cultures, as well as those with disabilities.
Discovery made a Black woman its main character for the first time in the franchise, as well as depicting an LGBT family led by Paul Stamets and Dr. Culber. No one can predict what society will look like in 10 to 20 years, but any new Star Trek series needs to reflect the diversity in its make-up and provide strong surrogate representatives among its cast. That not only builds the franchise, but allows it to keep up with changing times, as well as continuing the theme of IDIC.
8 Be Ready to Retcon
The Original Series paid comparatively little attention to continuity beyond the basic premise and the events onscreen. As the franchise has grown, the timeline has grown with it. While care has been taken to keep it all straight, continuity errors are a constant challenge. Star Trek writers learn to roll with those punches, and inventive retcons have saved the franchise from significant headaches over the years.
Any new series needs to tell its own stories, but being a part of a larger timeline means it will bump up against continuity issues on a fairly regular basis. Leaning into the question — and coming up with a strong way to explain any incongruities — tends to play out extremely well. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has proven particularly adept at retcons by eliminating a few significant franchise plot holes in the bargain.
7 Step Away from Starfleet
Starfleet is a staple of the franchise, and every series has (as of this writing) centered around a specific ship and crew. But it’s also only part of the larger Star Trek universe. While it will always play a role, sooner or later, the focus needs to shift. That may already be afoot with the upcoming Section 31 project starring Michelle Yeoh, and the trend needs to continue in order to ensure Star Trek’s continued viability.
The good news is that the franchise can readily support multiple projects at once, meaning that it doesn’t need to abandon Starfleet just to tell different stories. The universe is ripe with potential series ideas, from alien cultures like the Klingons and Ferengi to life on a colony deep on the frontier. Stepping away from Starfleet may take some effort, but the more it succeeds, the easier it will get.
6 Match the Plots with the Format
The Original Series was a network show, created to fill an hour of prime time every week, and have enough episodes to work in syndication. Accordingly, most of its episodes are stand-alone, with the plot threads resolved by the time the final credits roll. The Next Generation was made specifically for syndication, allowing it to break from the formula and develop long-term arcs as the characters grew over time. Discovery arrived in the streaming era, with each of its seasons dedicated to a single over-arching plot arc and significantly fewer episodes than its predecessors.
In every case, the franchise changed its approach to match the specific format that audiences were using at the time. As new platforms develop, a new series will need to adjust its narrative structure and specific way of storytelling to match that format. That can include anything from adjusting individual episode length to incorporating specific narrative devices to tie different episodes together.
5 Reflect Generational Experiences
The connection between parents and children is another key part of Star Trek, going back to Mr. Spock’s troubled relationship his father in The Original Series. It also extends to mentors and students, such as The Doctor and Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, or Stamets and Adira working together on Star Trek: Discovery.
Such stories are often a reflection of the viewers themselves, who are often introduced to the franchise at different stages of its development and associate most strongly with a specific cast or series. Any future series needs to include similar pairings as a part of their narrative, to give both new viewers and veteran fans an identifiable dynamic.
4 Find The Right Cast
Casting is important in every project, but Star Trek lives and dies on the strength of its company. Every series centers on a found family, and focuses on their various interactions under pressure. That ultimately defines the series in question and sets it apart from other entries in the franchise.
It starts with the writing as much as the casting, but needs to extend to the specific actors and their chemistry with each other. Finding that balance should never be taken lightly. The franchise has yet to stumble in that department, and maintaining the streak can ensure its future success.
3 Blend the Past with the Future
Reinventing Star Trek for a new generation doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While some tropes age more poorly than others, they all are still a part of the same shared universe. Future series need to bring something entirely new to the equation — something more than nostalgia for previous series — while still drawing firm lines to the franchise’s rich history.
Strange New Worlds sets a strong example. With the events of The Original Series in its timeline future, it takes steps to acknowledge what’s coming and incorporate pertinent characters into what they will become. Yet, at the same time, it refuses to be bound by the past and tells its own stories despite its status as a prequel. Such a balancing act will become increasingly necessary as Star Trek moves forward.
2 Choose a Quiet Spot on the Timeline
Star Trek’s timeline stretches from pre-history all the way to the 32nd century. The bulk of its stories take place in the 23rd and 24th centuries, which have accordingly become very full with other characters’ heroics. As of this writing, that era comes to an end in the early 25th century with the series finale to Star Trek: Picard.
Any new series would be well-advised to steer clear of such trouble spots. Instead, it should choose a period with no competing storylines: allowing it to shape the franchise to its needs without constantly looking over its shoulder. Season 3 of Discovery re-established its crew in the 32nd century, leaving 700 years of history just waiting for a future project to define.
1 Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare
It sounds trite, but The Bard has always played a key role both in front of and behind the camera for Star Trek. Presumably, the works of Shakespeare will endure into the 24th century and beyond, providing common cultural context to connect modern viewers with the Federation’s future. The franchise has responded with numerous storylines lifted from or incorporating Shakespearean plays, and characters often discuss them in-universe.
Accordingly, many of the franchise’s cast members come from strong Shakespearean backgrounds. Patrick Stewart is the most obvious example, but others include William Shatner, Avery Brooks, Armin Shimerman, and Sonequa Martin-Green. (Soliloquies make strong grounding for Star Trek captains’ speeches.) Future Star Trek series will need to find their own ways to integrate his work into their storylines.
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