Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Review
After several attempts to reinvent Star Trek for a new generation of viewers, the Paramount team finally decided to accept people loved the original Star Trek for a reason, and that reason does not require reinvention. Enter Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Star Trek’s equation always included crew relationships, hope, respect, inclusion and exploration. Look at Discovery on the surface, and the formula fits, but it frays around the edges. The cynical Klingon war and the dark, secretive, and masochistic relationships inherited from the Mirror Universe didn’t feel like Star Trek.
Sure, those elements created tension and made the show edgy, but they also made it a different show, a show that is Star Trek on the surface only. Picard followed a similar path of dystopian disconnection that made the show less appealing to Star Trek adherents, despite the return of the beloved Captain Picard.
Strange New Worlds, on the other hand, gets Star Trek. It is not without its flaws, most notably the legacy of Captain Pike’s encounter with Klingon time crystals that shows reveals the in-canon future and his horrific injuries from the blowing of a baffle plate.
The ten season one episodes all harken back to Star Trek TOS. Chapel flirts with Spock, an exploration of Spock’s relationship with T’Pring, and a peak at Young Captain Kirk making a name for himself. New ideas fit well with Star Trek’s sensibilities, including a demonstration of Enterprise bingo, a fantasy episode that sees a father give up his ailing daughter to a cosmic entity, and more than a few moments of Captain Pike’s amorous shenanigans.
And to be expected, there were multiple moments of bending the Prime Directive (in fact, bending General Order 1 so much that it became the Prime Directive).
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds looks like Star Trek TOS would have looked had the technology and budget been available to Gene Roddenberry. Technicolor, but modern. Buttons get replaced by panels, but the classic phasers, tricorders and communicators remain. Effects allow for the Enterprise to be seen executing evasive maneuvers. For many, the real star of Star Trek was always the Enterprise. Strange New Worlds cut no corners, making a very realistic version of the iconic ship.
Spock’s unwieldy sideburns proved one of the minor tonal failures of Strange New Worlds. I talked to Ethan Peck about them at Comic-Con International 2022. He said the make-up team addressed his painted-on sideburns in season 2.
Unlike the fate of Spock’s sideburns, Captain Pike’s fate remains a decade ahead of season 2. His existential speculation will likely remain a part of the show, though I hope mitigated by his encounter with his future self—or not. Exploring the galaxy with the Enterprise always seemed like a big and worthy endeavor without overloading the show with big story arcs and universe-ending villains. The introduction of the big arcs may make the showrunners feel like they are modernizing Trek, but they are inserting alien DNA.
And speaking of inserting, one of the things I would love to see Paramount reintroduce is the ability for fans and professional Science Fiction writers to send in story ideas that actually get made. My granddaughter’s love of Tribbles would not exist had it not been for a young David Gerrold, intriguing Gene L. Coon with his story treatment.
The Trek framework becomes a canvas for the art of others. There was power in that approach, and I think the franchise’s success would do well to reintroduce diverse voices.
As I always say, new Star Trek with issues is better than no new Star Trek. Strange New Worlds sets a new bar to reach. Good new Trek. Very good. It is joined by Lower Decks, which also displays the confidence and comfort the team at Paramount has amassed after letting their biggest franchise simmer too long. And Prodigy is proving itself very Trek despite the absurd premise upon which it is founded.
But so far, Strange New Worlds offers the best Trek available. Its spirit, its look, and its stories return us not to a simpler time—because the Cold War and the era of the Civil Rights movement did not exist in a simpler time—but to a show that offers hope in humanity and in our relationship to technology. Perhaps the intervening years drained that hope as promises were missed and technology engulfed us, but I don’t think so. The optimism of Strange New Worlds can help rekindle our buried hope and redefine our relationship with technology. It is time to take ownership of a vision of the future that is neither dystopian nor apocalyptic—one in which humanity thrives, and our ideals help, first, to save our planet and our species.
When William Shatner visited space aboard the Blue Origen ship, he said all he saw was death. That life was on the Earth, and it would only ever be on the Earth. I’m not sure Mr. Shatner can see into the 23rd-Century. Space, as a final frontier, required us to clean up our home before we ventured beyond the Earth and the Moon. It may take longer than Gene Roddenberry imagined, but just because we have so much work to do on Earth doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t find inspiration in a future that reflects our collective accomplishments.
A key message in Star Trek has always been that humanity made it through its struggles and came out the other end better, more thoughtful, perhaps a bit full of ourselves with our success, but hey, in Star Trek they claim to have found a way for billions of people to co-exist on our little Blue Marble and beyond, and that’s a pretty big accomplishment given the humanity’s track record so far.
With the rise of autocracy and demagoguery, the world needs Star Trek now more than ever. It needs a show like Strange New Worlds to suggest that we can survive our worst inclinations—that we can retain our curiosity and kindness—and our courage to explore and to help others, regardless of how much they may differ from one another—and that by doing so we can each align with our own better angels.
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