This year, Marvel Studios aired the pilot of their new sci-fi series The Inhumans in IMAX theaters. The cheaply made project was ill-suited for this type of venue, but goddamn, do I wish everyone had the chance to experience Star Trek: Discovery on the big screen.
It’s immediate from the opening frames of Discovery that this show is expensive. The set pieces, the makeup and prostheses, the costumes, everything about it is geared toward breathing new life into a series that hasn’t been on the air since Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005. As Star Trek returns, it’s the series that you’ve always known and loved, mixed with the action and adventure of the movies that have drawn in new fans since J.J. Abrams’ reboot in 2009.
Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham, a human who trained with the Vulcans for years before joining Captain Philippa Georgiou’s (Michelle Yeoh) USS Shenzhou. Michael’s confliction of Vulcan logic with her human emotions is a new take on the typical Kirk and Spock relationship of human and Vulcan running a ship together. It’s one of the many ways Discovery pays homage to Star Trek history but propels the series into the next generation (let me pun!).
The series also seems like a response to the great sci-fi series that have come in the wake of Star Trek’s popularity. Series like Battlestar Galactica have Star Trek’s influence in its DNA but managed to provide a different take on humanity in outer space. Star Trek has always been an aspirational series about the best qualities of humanity and how we might have conquered our demons in the future, racism and sexism in particular, whereas sci-fi post-Star Trek often focused on the darker aspects of humanity and used the genre to highlight how we really are as humans, like the aforementioned Battlestar and also series like Fringe, Firefly, and Farscape.
The desire to marry the old with the new crescendoes into a beautiful pilot—that functions more as a mini-series before it ends with a soft reboot and new mission statement—that pits Philippa’s traditional Star Trek optimism with Michael’s logical view of how war and humanity works. It’s even more beautiful watching two women of color, black and Asian, navigate a realm that traditionally hasn’t included them. It honors sci-fi’s history while giving it a bold new future to stake claim in, making Star Trek essential television for the first time in decades.
Speaking to ET Online, Yeoh was of a similar mind: “I think everybody pays homage to the original because they are the original, so the essence and spirit of how we started out… is very much there. It’s about inclusion, raising the diversity, reflecting on what’s happening with us as a human race and going forward with strength and compassion. It is all there. I think this is the real spirit of what it is to be Star Trek.”
The pilot ends on a cliffhanger—but in doing so it thrusts Michael into a Star Trek we’ve never seen before. It’s a Star Trek that takes seriously the business of war and the weight it has on society.
Not to mention how Michael’s need to prove herself—and to constantly have her instincts interrogated—mirrors what it’s like to be a woman and a person of color in America right now. To some, it might seem like Star Trek is abandoning its purported post-racial roots to embrace race and comment on America when all some fans want is a dose of familiar escapist nostalgia. But just like the original series’ hope for our future as humans, Discovery offers a new kind of optimism.
“I think about what it means to see ourselves and I think about our young people watching… I think about the legacy of Star Trek itself and how the universality is the spirit of it and how we are continuing with that,” Martin-Green said, speaking on CBS’ The Talk. “Not even just with me—we also have the first Asian female captain and we also have the first female captain with a female first officer. We have a very positive relationship there. And we have the first openly gay officer, as well.”
Star Trek has always wanted to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” With Discovery, there are still new horizons to explore, and I’m grateful to be along for the ride.