Last week, Star Trek fans were stunned and exhilarated when, during the Star Trek: Las Vegas convention, Patrick Stewart appeared on stage to confirm that he’s returning to the franchise thanks to a new Jean-Luc Picard series produced by CBS All Access. We don’t have many details at this time: We know it takes place 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis and that it will tell “the story of the next chapter in Picard’s life.”
While the return of Patrick Stewart to the role of Jean-Luc Picard had been rumored, many fans (myself included) figured it was a pretty long shot. (In fact, he said at the panel that he’d initially declined the offer to return.) Stewart has often spoken fondly of his role on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the cast remains very close to this day. But it seemed too good, too pure to actually be a thing that could happen.
Except it is happening. And this is quite possibly the single best move that CBS All Access could make at this point.
Despite what some are saying, this wouldn’t have worked as the first Star Trek show on CBS All Access. It’s hard to dispute that it would have been a success financially. But it would likely have been a creative misstep.
While Star Trek: Discovery has been an enjoyable addition to the Star Trek universe, one thing it hasn’t been is more of the same. Fandom was often divided on whether they liked the changes or not. Personally, I was really glad to see a fresh and new take on the franchise that added new dimensions to what we already know and love. Discovery hasn’t been afraid to push the boundaries of canon and rewrite what we thought we knew about the Star Trek universe.
In my eyes, that’s a good thing. It ensures that Star Trek will continue to be this dynamic, ever-changing entity that isn’t afraid to grow beyond its original parameters. I want this franchise to continue long, long, long into the future. That can’t happen if the storytelling feels stale and rehashed.
That’s why it was necessary to have a show like Discovery on before revisiting Jean-Luc Picard in a new series. Star Trek is an incredibly valuable franchise, and a lot of pressure was resting on Discovery’s shoulders. But by reinventing, rather than relying on a sure bet, CBS made clear that expectations were out the window. They made diversity central to the narrative, a value Star Trek has always paid lip service to but not always implemented in practice. They showed us what was important to this new wide world of Star Trek.
Not everyone is going to love every part of a franchise, so Discovery wasn’t for everyone. I love it. Others didn’t. That’s OK; it’s part of loving something as big and strange as Star Trek. But now that they’ve forged new ground, CBS is signaling that the past (our historical past, not the past in the franchise) is important too. And they’re ready to give the fans something we’ve been clamoring for.
One frustration some had with Discovery is that it was diving back into the franchise’s past. The most recent series Enterprise and the Kelvin-verse movies are also set in the past. Many began to wonder if we were ever going to move forward and find out what happened after the Dominion War and the events of Star Trek: Voyager. While Discovery has been innovative, it’s still constrained by the established events in Star Trek history, after all. Now, we’ll finally see the franchise move forward with this new Picard series.
We still don’t know anything about the plot. It’s likely Captain Picard will have been promoted to admiral; some have suggested that this may be combined with the Starfleet Academy show that was being explored. (I will absolutely watch Admiral Picard be the Mr. Belding of a series.) Or it may feature a retired archeologist Picard being called back into the fold for one reason or another. “He may not be a Captain anymore. He may be someone who has been changed by his experiences,” Stewart said at the convention.
I hope that he has changed because that’s only realistic after two decades have passed. But I want his inner light, his hope, optimism, and belief in the uniform he wears and the goodness of people, to still be intact. If he’s had a hard few years and needs time to find those values again, I’ll stick with him.
But I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the bulk of a generation learned about morals and values from Captain Picard. We learned right from wrong, we learned how to believe in ourselves and each other, and we learned how to treat one another from this show. It’s hard to overstate the influence Star Trek: The Next Generation had on so many of us. And in this world, in these difficult times, we need Captain Picard once again to show us the way.