If there is one thing that the enthusiastic fan reaction to last year’s Star Trek Beyond proved, it’s that there’s an appetite for more adventures in the rebooted “Kelvin timeline”. While more movies could satisfy that hunger, many fans are eager to see the rebooted universe explored on TV. In-demand stars like Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana are unlikely to commit to the schedule required for a live-action series. However, there is still a way to bring the popular Kelvin timeline to the small screen.
The blueprint for a new show’s success is laid out by another popular sci-fi franchise’s foray into TV: Star Wars: The Clone Wars. So, let’s look at how The Clone Wars could provide a model for a new animated Star Trek series that satisfies fans new and old alike, and tells stories that feel like classic Trek.
A Focus on Characters
On the surface, the premise of The Clone Wars seems like a waste of time, since the movies already reveal the ending. But that lack of suspense freed the show of any obligation to tell a comprehensive story. Instead, it allowed the show to focus on character-centric vignettes. Episodes and mini-arcs showcased the dozens of heroes and villains in the show’s cast. The show fleshed out characters in the live-action movies that received only a few minutes of screen time, and brand new ones, like Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano or bounty hunter Cad Bane, were introduced to great acclaim.
The same approach would be perfect for a series set in the Kelvin timeline. The show could leave major plot developments to the movies and focus on giving more exposure to characters that might not have gotten their due in a two-hour film. Fans and critics alike praised Star Trek Beyond for being a true ensemble piece, with glorious moments for each character. But this is something that an animated show could deliver every week. Favorites like Sulu or Scotty could take center stage in their own episodes, as could bit-characters like Science Officer 0718 from Star Trek Into Darkness. Perhaps the series could explain why Carol Marcus disappears between Into Darkness and Beyond. And with the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin, this could be the only way to revisit that character at all.
Can an Animated Series Tell Star Trek Stories?
A huge part of Star Trek’s appeal is its ability to impart socially relevant messages and valuable life lessons. Could a kids’ show that takes its cue from Star Wars deliver stories comparable to classic episodes like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” or “The Doomsday Machine”? Well, some entries in The Clone Wars almost feel like they would work better as Star Trek scripts.
A good example is season one’s “Trespass”, in which the Jedi investigate an attack on a clone outpost. They discover that it was carried out by an indigenous alien population that felt threatened by Republic encroachment. Faced with a local governor that wants the creatures exterminated, the Jedi try to negotiate peace. The episode’s message is that the unknown is not always dangerous and that a peaceful resolution is preferable to violence. This idea is central to iconic classic Star Trek episodes like “Arena” and “The Devil in the Dark”, and is one of the philosophical bases of Star Trek’s utopian vision.
The Clone Wars succeeded in telling stories like “Trespass” not in spite of its young audience, but because of them. The best children’s programming features life lessons and messages that resonate with both kids and adults. This is something that has always been a hallmark of good storytelling in Star Trek. Characters like Spock, Data, and Seven of Nine, who each sought to understand humanity in different ways, arguably represent young viewers who seek the same answers. This proves that a show geared towards kids can find an audience while entertaining longtime fans.
Star Trek Has Done This Before
No discussion of an animated Star Trek show would be complete without mentioning the animated series that already exists. Filmation produced 22 episodes of the show from 1973 to 1974 which continued the “five-year mission” of the USS Enterprise. The animation may seem crude by today’s standards, but the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Series. It also offered many important moments, like Spock’s troubled childhood. And ultimately, the moralizing and thoughtful messaging of vintage Trek was preserved. A show that draws from lessons that The Clone Wars offered could be a modern, more successful version of that idea.
Paramount and CBS currently hold the movie and TV rights to Star Trek. This means we may never see a Kelvin-timeline TV series. But if Star Trek wants to explore these characters, history and The Clone Wars prove that an animated series can do the trick.