Thursday 27 April 2023

Star Trek: The Last Generation

In 2017, I wrote about how Star Trek: The Next Generation filled an endless void vacated by Doctor Who in 1989.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a seminal series foreshadowing technology many of us use daily. From touchscreens to voice assistants... “Alexa, play Star Trek!”, words my younger self never imagined saying for real as I avidly read Marvel UK’s official magazine.

Soon I had a teenage crush on Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes) who vied for poster space with actresses Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth) and Winona Ryder (Heathers).

For seven seasons (across BBC 2 and Sky 1), I followed the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D as I navigated further education. There are too many favourite episodes to list here, but Q Who?, Yesterday’s Enterprise, Cause & Effect and The Best of Both Worlds Part 1 deserve special mention.

Star Trek would spawn further spin-off series including Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. However, none of them would capture my imagination the way The Next Generation did!

When Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) announced Star Trek: Picard, I was hoping to see the old gang reunited for one last epic adventure worthy of Gene Roddenberry’s beloved allegorical wagon train in space.

Instead, we had two mixed seasons of a sci-fi series that didn’t know what it wanted to be - aside from driving subscriptions to the nascent streaming service in an overcrowded market dominated by Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+ (buoyed by iPhone sales) - featuring a cast of characters mostly unknown to fans (myself included).

This wasn’t Star Trek’s The Mandalorian.

So, when the final season of Star Trek: Picard was announced, I was apathetic! After a promising start, I bailed on season two and was done with most of the Star Trek spin-offs (aside from Strange New Worlds). However, something unexpected happened. I started seeing more and more rave reviews for season three and felt it incumbent on me to at least watch the premiere on Amazon Prime (affiliate link).

“Computer, play Star Trek: Picard!” And my Alexa-enabled Sony BRAVIA XR TV obliged.

I’d grown up on terrestrial television reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek movies on the big screen. Star Trek: Picard opens with a knowing nod to the franchise’s zenith: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…

To boldly go in search of Easter eggs.

All the callbacks. All the feels. I was transported back to a time when the franchise was fun, filled with optimism and hope writ large in widescreen. Hearing the iconic music of Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner (arguably underused until now) and Cliff Eidelman heralding the return of childhood heroes left me misty-eyed as the USS Titan left Spacedock in a spectacular homage to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

In the words of Admiral Kirk: “To absent friends...”

A touching tribute to actress Annie Wersching tipped me over the edge, and I was an ugly mess as the end credits rolled! Wersching had played the Borg Queen in season two and was the best thing about it. She passed away from cancer in January aged 45.

Afterwards, I hopped onto social media to encourage friends to watch the best Star Trek spin-off series in decades.

Trust no one.

Amid the homages to the movie and television franchises, there are echoes of the McCarthy era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Invaders and The X-Files. Oh, there's also a narrative nod to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. And I’m here for it.

The return of Ro Laren was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. Even though it was spoiled by Paramount’s official social media channels. Apologies if you’re only finding out now.

Forbes was excellent as Ensign Ro, who pushed back against Starfleet exceptionalism before defecting to the Maquis, in Star Trek: The Next Generation and later played the nihilistic Admiral Cain in the acclaimed Battlestar Galactica reboot of the early noughties.

Ro is now a Commander, tasked with bringing Admiral Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Captain Riker (Jonathan Frakes) back to Starfleet Command to stand trial for treason in an episode that packs an emotional punch, which I refuse to spoil.

Between the earned fan service and hopes for Star Trek: Legacy from series showrunner Terry Matalas, Star Trek: Picard is a salient reminder of the passage of time and that all things are temporary (alas, as are we). Sir Patrick Stewart and my father are octogenarians, which deeply resonated.

The third time’s the charm for this found family!

Ultimately, Star Trek: Picard sticks the landing with Galaxy-class finesse (carpets included) in a way unimaginable (by this fan) before the third season’s triumphant nostalgia-laden premiere in The Next Generation. Yes, I cried tears of joy (and relief). It was everything.


Have you seen Star Trek: Picard? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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