I’m not usually one for television and movie reviews, or even video game reviews, really – my attachments and feelings about creative works are so subjective, and it can be hard (and a chore) to write about them effectively and with an objective lens. That being said, as a long time Star Trek fan who just watched the two-part premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, I feel compelled to write about my feelings on it.
So really, rather than write a review, I’ll just gush a bit. Spoiler free.
Star Trek is a series close to many people’s hearts, including mine, and with any new series in the franchise, there is always a transition where you need to buy into the new premise. After all, we all have our favorite captains, our favorite episodes. Most importantly, fans want to know if the series is true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision.
The answer (for me at least) is: absolutely, at least from the first two episodes, and I am so excited to see more!
When I say the premiere pulls no punches, I am not kidding. The show feels like a spiritual sister to the recent J. J. Abrams Star Trek movies, which brought in venerated actors and infused a level of high energy into the franchise, the likes of which we’d never seen before. The first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery not only introduces you to the principal characters and alien races but due to the fantastic script and editing, manage to take you on an emotional journey that in itself felt like it could have been its own film.
Although Bryan Fuller had to leave the show due to conflicts, his influence is felt in the love and polish of these first two episodes. Everything from the design of the ships, the costumes, the respect for the lore (this series takes place 10 years before the original Star Trek), and just the feel of Star Fleet and their mission of their exploration all feel consistent with Star Trek. The fact that he is also a writer on the show is also not lost on me.
One thing I can imagine long-time Star Trek fans might have an issue with is the breakneck pace of the premiere. Star Trek has always traditionally been a slow series, filled with lots of conversations, relationship building, and political nuance. Of course, that’s why we love it! Yet despite the amount of action in these first two episodes (I was actually enthralled in a way I haven’t felt in a long time), they still manage to spend a lot of time focusing on characters and use their interactions in the initial conflict to help build out who they are, rather than having to learn through exposition.
The background of title character first officer Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, is given lots of screen time. She was raised as a child on Vulcan by Sarek (yes, that Sarek), after her parents were killed in a Klingon terrorist attack. Like Spock, she exhibits a blend of emotion and logic, leaning more heavily towards her human side. We also see her character, and the tug between logic and emotion, explored in her interaction with Captain Georgiou, played by Michelle Yeoh, who acts as a mentor to Burnham but also provides her the opportunity to make a mistake that will pave the way for her development for the rest of the series.
The only other recurring character to get any real screen time, other than the Klingons, is science officer Lt. Saru, played by Guillermo Del Toro monster favorite Doug Jones. A member of a new alien race for the Star Trek series, the Kelpiens, Lt. Saru shows off intelligence, but also wariness. While he is confident in his own ability, he is less confident in bold and aggressive plans of action. I’ve always enjoyed Doug Jones’ character acting, and though we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Lt. Saru, I’m excited for the possibilities of the counterbalance he will provide to Burnham.
If you’re wondering why there is only a focus on three characters – a lot of plot happens in these first two episodes, so you better prepare yourself for 1.5 hours of riveting television.
As for the Klingons – well, I had my doubts when they showed off the new look they were giving them in Discovery (even though it is apparently part of the plot). However, in the premiere episodes, they have already shown off the motivations and badassery of these iconic Star Trek villains. To say anymore invites spoilers so I won’t!
Star Trek has generally been a mix of running stories and one-offs that explore sci-fi tropes and a possible future for humanity among the stars. In Discovery, however, we will be exploring a continuing narrative for the whole season. I admit that I kind of wish I could expect more bottle episodes with new stories to explore (kind of like how Rick and Morty can manage to do that with also the undercurrent of a running narrative), but at the same time the setup of the premiere was just so juicy, I can’t help but want to see how it plays out. A serial also offers the opportunity for more aggressive character development, meaning that unlike some of the other Star Trek series, characters’ personalities will be less static. However, it may mean less time is spent focusing on auxiliary members of the crew – though I certainly hope that is not the case.
Gene Roddenberry’s vision was to show a future in which humanity put aside its own struggles and learned more about themselves as species and individually through exploration of the unknown. Although we’ll get fewer episodes focusing on philosophical sci-fi stories, we’re going to go see characters go on journies of a different kind – a journey through a conflict that will test the limits and convictions of everyone going through it and see the worst (and hopefully the best) of them exposed. I can’t wait.
So, it’s a bold new direction for Star Trek – because of course, it must boldly go where no series has gone before! I am sure there will be staples of older Star Trek series I will miss (the holodeck episodes come to mind), but at the same time, as a Star Trek fan watching this premiere, I was beyond excited for the possibilities. I also hope with the new pacing and focus on narrative it will entice a whole new generation of fans to the series! I certainly hope you’ll boldly give it a try as well 🖖