The crowd of Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater was thrilled to be present for the two back-to-back Star Trek panels on Saturday afternoon of New York Comic Con. Rightfully so, I might add, as moderator and CBS This Morning’s Vladimir Duthiers was ready to bring out the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery, including executive producers Michelle Paradise, Heather Kadin, and Alex Kurtzman, as well as Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz, and David Ajala.
Duthiers was quick to immediately jump into things, first passionately letting the panelists — as well as the audience — know that it was not lost on him that the premise for season three of CBS All Access‘ Star Trek: Discovery was something that had not been done before with Star Trek; thus truly going where no man had gone before by taking the series 930 years into the future. Kurtzman was quick to respond by explaining the importance of the Star Trek canon in the decisions made for Star Trek: Discovery.
“If we don’t deliver something crazy after the end of last season, we’ve let you down,” Kurtzman said. “But canon is always respected and treated with the utmost importance. We’re not rewriting canon. The events of canon are what inform what we’re able to do right now and that’s something we want to honor.”
Before Duthiers could continue and ask the cast and crew another question, Martin-Green happily interrupted to ask the audience if they wanted to see something. Of course, the entire room erupted in applause and cheers, and the teaser trailer for season three of Star Trek: Discovery was revealed.
When the trailer concluded, Duthiers asked Martin-Green what it’s like to see her character (Commander Burnham) evolve from what we’ve seen in previous Star Trek commanders. Martin-Green seemed completely in awe of the idea that someone had noticed the emotional journey that her character had taken, and stuttered her way through her reply.
“I feel everything is handled with courage and respect and gentleness,” said Martin-Green. “I love the idea that I’m able to change within my character. There’s been such a swing in the pendulum through the seasons, and ultimately it’s all about discovery. We’re on a journey to discover who we’re going to be and you all get to be on that journey with us.”
Duthiers then took a moment to turn the audience’s attention to the producers and showrunners, posing the question of how you can be so innovative while still staying rooted in Star Trek lore. The question was hardly a hurdle for Kadin and Paradise, who both jumped in to say that while they are, in fact, married to the canon, they’re looking to push beyond to see what the future holds. More importantly, with a shift of almost 1,000 years in the timeline between season two and season three, the expectations are rightfully high and they’re excited to meet them by adding all-new lore. Even better, it’s not a must to have a higher knowledge of Star Trek lore to experience and enjoy the show.
“No matter the canon, Star Trek has always been a mirror of what the world is,” added Haden. “We see a lot of disillusionment and we long for hope and understanding. Trek is ultimate beacon of hope. Trek is the anchor in what’s possible and who we are at our best. We remind people of what hope is.”
Wilson and Rapp also had their time to shine, as Duthiers made a point of spotlighting the incredible and heart-wrenching love story that occurred between their characters in season two. Both actors confirmed that while it took ages for the change to happen and for Culver to come around, their love story was one that they were excited to show and was one that brought love into this version of Star Trek’s reality.
Moving forward, Duthiers also spoke to Wiseman, who had a lot to day about who Ensign Tilly is and how she’s still evolving through the series despite being the lower-caste rank of Ensign.
“She definitely does do a lot of work for an ensign. This moment in our show we’re starting to drive without a road map,” added Wiseman. “We ended up in a place we couldn’t imagine. We have to take control over our circumstances. You’ll see Tilly stepping even more into her power. It’s not a time to wilt or step back. It’s a time to step forward. Beyond being an empath, theres an aptitude and strength there that’s just going to keep growing.”
Before wrapping up the first half of the panel, Duthiers turned to ask master prosthetics actor Doug Jones about what his changes in season two meant for him and what we can expect moving forward into season three. Jones was thrilled for the chance to talk about Saru, explaining that seasons one and two were good examples of the character’s adolescence and that he was unaware of the biological changes he was going through.
“I think it was very reflective for me personally, about fear and living in it constantly,” remarked Jones. “When the threat ganglia fall out, you realize that you don’t know what you were afraid of. I think that’s a lesson for people living with fear and anxiety. The evolution continues in season three as well. Jumping 930 years in the future changes everything and we help each other through those changes.”
Before the panel could come to its final conclusion, Martin-Green asked if there’s something she could speak on; she commented that part of Star Trek is the acknowledgment that duty is a binding force.
“It was a duty to jump to the future. What ended up happening was it reverberated and bound us together. What these writers do is show that fight for identity. I feel that you’ve seen all theses different revolutions, and they’re ones we haven’t seen because it is a matter of identity,” said Martin-Green. “We’re being led into that experience of each person which gives us more depth. It’s more about… we are willing to explore, and be bold enough to explore ugly truths and fighting for a utopian future and what it means to be a part of it. That’s just what that duty does to you. That’s what’s exciting about season three, is that when met with uncertainty, we see how that affects how we see ourselves and how we’re going to navigate this. But duty calls.”
Wrapping up the first portion of the panel, Duthiers told the audience that the writers had heard loud and clear just how much people loved Captain Pike and Spock’s interactions. Because of that, it was announced that there would be a series of new Short Treks, one of which premiered for the audience.
After a few audience questions that sang the praises of the cast’s and crew’s efforts on the first two seasons, the cast was ushered out. But after a brief, brief break, the second panel was ramped up and ready to go.
Duthiers (moderating once again) first introduced the crew of CBS’s Star Trek: Picard: co-executive producer and director Hanalle Culpepper, supervising producer Kirsten Beyer, and executive producers Heather Kadin, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, and Alex Kurtzman; followed by the cast, Sir Patrick Stewart, Isa Briones, Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Alison Pill, Harry Treadway, and Evan Evagora.
Needless to say, there needed to be a bit of a pause just for the startling standing ovation that Stewart received. But once things settled down, the crew were more than ready to discuss the sense of duty they feel in making the show.
The moment everyone had been waiting for came quickly, however, as Stewart took to the mic to address the crowd of adoring fans.
“You are all so wonderful. It would be enough that you would be so wonderful, but I find myself sitting in this lineup of beautiful, talented, and tremendously likable individuals as well. As you will discover, sometime next year,” said Stewart with a smile. “At SDCC several months ago, we showed some of the work with a trailer. It seemed to do its job successfully. Now we have another one. It is quite unseen except by those of us sitting up here. You are privileged to be the first audience.”
And with that, the second trailer for Picard was shown, officially announcing the premiere for January 23rd, 2020. That wasn’t enough though, because Stewart was happy to also announce that because fans got to see their trailer a second time with the Star Trek cast and crew at SDCC, they would show it again here, too.
After the clip had concluded for the second time, Duthiers asked Stewart what his initial thoughts were when he was pitched to be a part of the show. Stewart became surprisingly bashful, insisting that it would be best if Akiva and Kurtzman explain what had happened, as he felt a bit embarrassed.
“We were working on stuff and [Goldsman] and [Beyer] said ‘A Short Trek would be great…but what if we just bring it all back?’ So I called [Stewart’s] agent and knew he wouldn’t come back, but I asked for them to set up a meeting,” said Kurtzman. “We met and he walked in the room and was very reserved and gracious as always, but very unsure. He said that he couldn’t possibly do the project, but was very grateful. We thought we gave it our best shot. Then we thought we could try and throw ourselves between him and the door. But then we just decided to not let down at all.”
Chabon followed up by remarking that one of the best moments was when they met with Stewart after he had finally read the script, and he was smiling.
“We didn’t want it to be a Next Generation reunion show. We only brought people back if their story really mattered,” Chabon said. “I don’t think the fans would have appreciated that either. If we’re going to go to them ask to be on a show called Picard, then they should have an important something to do.”
Duthiers came back to other cast members, getting a feel for what their characters mean to the series. While each person’s character seems to have a very thought-through past and involvement in the Picard story — including two very different types of Romulan played by Treadway and Evagora, Hurd’s reticent Raffi who is non-plussed to see Picard, and Pill teasing that her goals are the same as Picard’s — Briones was the most heartfelt and vague in her explanation of her character’s involvement in the series.
“It’s complicated to say the least,” laughed Briones. “I mean, my character has to learn to ask for help. She’s been through trauma and her gut feeling is telling her to seek out this man — Picard. I have to go to him for help and that’s not the easiest thing.”
Before wrapping up the panel with the Star Trek cast and crew, Duthiers made sure to ask Culpepper about her feelings surrounding directing a show that has so much reverence tied to it.
“I became a Star Trek fan because of The Next Generation. When I got the job, it was an honor and it was also completely terrifying,” concluded Culpepper.” I know that I can’t let anyone down. I didn’t want to let myself down. I wanted to honor this character that we all love.”
Picard will premier on CBS’s streaming service CBS All Access on January 23, 2020. Discovery also returns for season three next year.