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3 Reasons Why "Star Trek: Discovery" Isn't a Prequel, It's a Sequel

Following up on our review, let's talk about the biggest complaint people have about the show.

The first thing to understand about Star Trek: Discovery is that it's a sequel, not a prequel.

That's in direct contrast with the description of the show itself. If you ask CBS, the show is set 10 years before the original series and this is where a lot of the criticism of Discovery has been focused. People have been complaining that the Klingons look and act nothing like the Klingons we saw in the Original Series or even later shows like The Next Generation. Fans also complain the technology is way too advanced with things like an absence of viewscreens in favor of holographic projections. Clearly, these things don't look like they fit with the idea of a show set before the 1960s TV show. Even though it pretends to be a prequel set before the original series, Discovery clearly is not.

However, I understand why CBS is doing things this way. Here's why.

1. Star Trek Prequels Don't Work

Let's look at the recent history of Star Trek prequels to see why, starting with Star Trek: Enterprise.

The biggest problem with Star Trek: Enterprise was that it was trying to pretend it was set at the birth of the Federation, but struggled to find its tone. The Original Series was almost fifty years old and a fifty-year-old TV show simply cannot still be futuristic in the year 2000. The original show was futuristic for the 1960s, but it's absolutely retro today. People walked around with "communicators" that were mind-blowing at the time (a phone you can carry in your hand!) but are less advanced than smartphones that teenagers have in their pockets today. They also dressed in pastels with beehive hairdos that were clearly not what we'd be wearing in the year 2016, much less 2200. That's not the fault of the original show, but you can't go back. That's why Enterprise struggled with having people using technology that's primitive even by today's standards (no tablets) while also using technology more advanced than the Original Series. And people still complained.

The other problem with Enterprise was canon. Fans regularly attacked the show for breaking established canon and history, because most fans know more about Star Trek than the people hired to write it. That's a sad fact, but a truth. It's harder to hire someone who knows everything about Star Trek and then try to turn them into a good writer than it is to hire a good writer and try to teach them everything about Star Trek. The powers that be think it's worth getting someone upset because the warp drive calculations in a given episode were wrong to get a great episode, but fans don't see it that way.

The Star Trek movie in 2009 avoided this by setting up a different timeline that let them have more advanced technology while also stripping away decades of history to start fresh. Hardcore fans complained, but casual audiences loved it without having to learn hours of backstory to explain why Khan hated the Federation.

2. Star Trek Can't Go Forward

A lot of fans were disappointed with the announcement that Star Trek: Discovery was a prequel. Why, they complained, couldn't they just continue the original story? Why couldn't they do jump forward from Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? Why the older timeline?

The problem with Star Trek is that the older timeline doesn't work anymore.

One of the biggest problems with Star Trek: The Next Generation is that it was based on Gene Roddenberry's idea that the human race would evolve socially as well as physically. He believed that as humanity grew, it would leave behind racism, sexism, violence, and prejudice. The future of Star Trek would have no money, no wars, no sickness, and no conflict. Technology is perfect and rarely breaks down. It's a great sentiment, but it makes for lousy storytelling.

The writers have said many times that Roddenberry insisted that none of the Starfleet characters could fight with each other. Humans had everything they needed, so motivation was also a problem. Roddenberry even objected to having an engine room on the Enterprise-D because he insisted the ship would never break down in Next Generation. Of course, that didn't last, but shows what kind of problem-free world he wanted. Only when Roddenberry died did characters in the Star Trek franchise get into deeper conflicts, but the writers still had a hard time with creating tension in the utopian world left behind. And according to Roddenberry's vision, it would only get better.

Is it impossible to write stories in that setting? Of course not. There have been a lot of great stories written in the older shows like Star Trek: Voyager and in the novels which continued the story. Yet if you asked many writers for Star Trek whether they'd want to write stories set in Star Trek: Voyager or the Original Series, you'd hear "the Original Series."

Why? Think about it.

In the Original Series, the characters would argue and fight. They had prejudices and bigotry. There were greedy merchants and corrupt politicians. The Galaxy was rough and wild with open wars between governments like between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Ships could break down and fall apart. It was just way more exciting and easier to make conflicts.

That's why we keep getting prequels. Because it's more fun.

3. Star Trek: Discovery is the Best of Both Worlds

Now let's get back to Star Trek: Discovery.

What CBS basically decided to do is have the best of both worlds. They set the show in the past so they could deal with a universe that's rougher and less utopian. The Klingons are a dangerous threat and the Federation is less refined. People can lie, cheat, and (yes) commit mutiny. They can be cruel and have prejudices. Technology can be flawed and have problems or not even be available. If anyone argued that Star Trek shouldn't be like that, the show could say "It's set in the past."

Yet they decided to learn lessons from Enterprise and were willing to throw continuity aside. They designed the show as if it was set in the future of Star Trek: Voyager with more advanced technology and set design. No beehive hairdos or pastel colors. The show looks and feels more advanced because it is. The Klingons are different because the show's creators wanted to make them more than just humans with bumpy foreheads.

It doesn't make sense, really, but if you just throw away your expectations and take the show as it is, we think you'll enjoy the ride more. Check it out for yourself at CBS All Access.

What did you think of Star Trek: Discovery?

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1 comment:

  1. I've only seen the first episode. I didn't really like it. Like the recent movies it didn't really feel like Star Trek. I like The Orville better even if it is kind of a remake of Next Generation.


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