Patrick Stewart. Ah Patrick Stewart. Welcome back to Star Trek.
Star Trek, yeah, you remember that the fifty-year-old franchise that is struggling to stay relevant and keep its recognizable IP visible in an entertainment culture that is all about superheroes and shared universes) has assimilated all the social networks and Twitter feeds this past weekend with a big announcement, one that dropped at the world’s largest Star Trek Convention that was held in Las Vegas. We all know that, under most circumstances, this multi day event probably wouldn’t leave much of a tremor in the entertainment news feeds, but the announcement of Patrick Stewart return to pay Jean -Luc Picard in an upcoming television series was huge, right there on the level of a Hall H announcement at San Diego Comic Con.
It just just illustrates that, despite its highs and lows, Star Trek is still a pop culture phenomenon and it has some of the greatest and most recognizable characters in all of popular culture. As I grew up, seeing the Next Generation grew from a middling follow up to the Original Series to a juggernaut in and of itself that would anchor all the spin-offs that followed, all those Kirk and Picard debates would wash away and Picard would becoming the most iconic Star Trek hero of them all. No time was that more clear than this weekend: when the announcement was made, you could practically hear the cheers through your computer speakers. It wasn’t just the die hard fans of the franchise or even just the more casual fans that watch the occasional episode or movie: it seemed to everyone that has their ear to the ground of pop culture, and includes people that know who Patrick Stewart is, or know that Picard is “the” captain. This announcement created a huge buzz, akin to what happens if WB announces a new actor for Batman.
People love the character of Jean-Luc Picard, and they love how he is portrayed by the renowned Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, and they need not even watch a single episode of The Next Generation to be aware that a great actor was perfectly cast to play a great part. The marriage of actor to role is still something that is known in pop culture over thirty years later. No time was this more apparent than this weekend’s news and the buzz it created.
The details of the new show were kept under wraps. It will air on CBS all Access, like the still-running prequel Star Trek Discovery, and will be spearheaded by Alex Kurtzman. No scripts have been written, but story meetings have already taken place. The new series will be different than the last two series (Discovery and Enterprise) in that it will move forward and take place further in the future than any series has before (aside form the occasional time travel romp) and will be set twenty years after the film Star Trek Nemesis, so that the age of the actor for Captain Picard will more closely match the age of the actor Patrick Stewart. There were some rumors before this announcement that Picard might return to Trek, possibly making cameos as headmaster of the school in a “Starfleet Academy”-based series, but the announcement over the weekend clearly implies that Picard won’t just be appearing in a new show, but will, in fact, be the focus of it. Since it is doubtful that he will round up the old crew and get on board the Enterprise, we might get a very different show.
So my thoughts: Discovery has had a tumultuous first year as it tried to sustain an action-heavy to while being heavily serialized and over-reliant on an ongoing story, and many fans have been put off by the many canon violations that were inevitable because the creators have said that this is show is set in the prime timeline before the original series. That might be a whole discussion unto itself, but clearly the creators of that show have bitten quite a bit more than they can chew. Yet, it is is clear form this Picard announcement than that the fans, and the public at large, are on board with the very notion that this iconic character is returning to the screen, and they just want to see what has become of this man twenty years after we last saw him, as he can reflect on his life. Why not make a show that is free of the kinds of cheap gimmicks that are being used to create neat-looking trailers for Discovery, and rely on the strength of the character and the actor to carry the show. Why not focus on the long-term effects that his missions have had on him, from his torture at the hands of Cardassians in Chain of Command to his nightmarish assimilation by the Borg in the famous two-parter “Best of Both Worlds”? As the character gets older, does he still feel any kind of connection to the world of Kitaan, as he had spent a lifetime there, even only in his mind, and got to experience having true love and a family while simultaneously watching the civilization around him come to grips with the notion that the planet itself is dying. These events would change a man, and this new show could give him a chance to reflect upon those events in a way that the demands of 90s television could not afford. One thing that made Picard such a great character was how having him in the center seat turned Star Trek from a swashbuckling adventure to a drama, and I think that continuing to treat star Trek like a drama can only be beneficial.
But we will see. Stay tuned, we will fill you in as more details emerge,