One of the reasons that Patrick Stewart’s return to Star Trek was so widely celebrated is that the new show will not be a prequel. Since the end of Star Trek: Voyager in 2001, the franchise has opted to explore its past rather than its future, beginning with Enterprise and continuing with the Kelvin timeline films and Discovery. Fans have voiced their annoyance with the trend. They argue that these entries break canon and are less interesting than new adventures in the 24th century and beyond.
But those fans are wrong. While I am definitely looking forward to the new Picard series, I’m also hoping that Star Trek continues to explore the past as well as the future. Let’s talk about why.
It’s Truer to the Roots of the Franchise
Fans want new stories set after Star Trek Nemesis because they want to know what happened next. What happened to characters like Picard or Worf? What happened to the Romulans, or the Cardassians, after the cataclysms they endured in their last appearances? It’s a testament to the power of the stories that have gone before, that people are so invested in continuity and getting the next chapter. And there is a place for that in Star Trek.
But Star Trek can’t just rely on its old stories to generate new ones — it needs to break new ground. It’s right there in the opening monologue: “to explore strange new worlds …to seek out new life and new civilisations … to boldly go where no one has gone before.” By this metric, Voyager and Enterprise are the true successors to the original series. They embrace the danger and mystery of space, emphasizing exploration over long-form drama. Voyager achieves this by relocating to another section of the galaxy, but Enterprise gets there in a more natural way: it’s a prequel.
It’s the Best Way to Get New Stories
The new Picard show, and any that follow it, have a storytelling problem: how do they stay fresh? It’s the same dilemma faced by both Deep Space Nine and Voyager when those shows premiered after The Next Generation. They solved it in different ways. Deep Space Nine introduced a new threat — the Dominion — and Voyager introduced a new setting: the Delta Quadrant. But to try either trick again is to invite criticism for retreading old stories.
An alternative could be to mine the drama of showcasing a Starfleet or a Federation that is radically different from the one we know. Enterprise did this rather well. It illustrated what the Alpha Quadrant looked like without the Federation, showed the beginning of the Prime Directive, and explored a humanity that was more naive and familiar than the high-minded, utopian idealists of Picard’s era. Both Discovery and the Kelvin films have done something similar, showing a Federation that is weak and vulnerable and a Starfleet with conflicted morals. There is a lot of storytelling potential there.
Non-canon books have explored the rise of the Federation. There was also a whole series of novels dedicated to the “lost era” between the original series and The Next Generation. But those just scratch the surface. What about a show that follows Balthazar Edison fighting in the Romulan War? Or a series set during the time of the USS Kelvin, an era we know almost nothing about? There are decades’ worth of adventures prior to Picard’s time. They could easily tell self-contained stories that enrich the franchise without contradicting canon.
It’s Time to Reconstruct Star Trek’s Utopia
There’s a bigger, metatextual reason to make more prequels: the franchise is ready for them. Star Trek can be divided into two eras in its five decades-long history. The first, running from its debut in 1966 to the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991, saw the franchise being “constructed.” It established the foundations of the utopia that Roddenberry envisioned, which was best exemplified by The Next Generation. The next twenty-five years were a period of “deconstruction.” The utopia became darker and more complicated, as new writers introduced concepts like the Maquis, Section 31, the Dominion War, and the Xindi. This darker, grittier tone has been felt both in the movies and as recently as the first season of Discovery.
After so much deconstruction, there is only one way to go: reconstruction. It’s time to build the utopian vision back up. Enterprise was starting to do this when it was canceled, as its final season depicted the beginnings of the Federation. Star Trek Beyond did it as well, moving away from the moral grayness of its predecessor. And Discovery has begun to do the same, as evidenced by Burnham’s “We are Starfleet” speech in its season finale.
What better way to restore Star Trek’s utopia than to depict its creation? Stories set in the early days of the Federation, or in the wake of major developments like the Khitomer Accords, are a fresh way to explore that optimistic future. The Next Generation represents the peak of that ideal — why not illustrate how it came about?
One way or another, we’re getting more Star Trek on TV. Besides the new Picard show and more Discovery, Alex Kurtzman has a broad mandate to expand the franchise in both live-action and animation. There is room for all eras and interpretations of Star Trek, but hopefully, the powers that be will look to the past as well as the future.
Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery premieres this January. The new Picard series is currently in development.