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SDCC ’20: The Star Trek Universe Has Gone Virtual

The casts of the current Star Trek TV series came together to discuss live in the future and living up to Gene Roddenberry's vision.

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With the majority of the world caught in a strange sort of limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nerd convention of the year, San Diego Comic-Con was forced to go completely digital. Rather than standing for hours in the humidity, attendees were able to log on through various devices to see their favorite stars of the Star Trek Universe just a bit more up-close and personal than had we been in the hallowed halls of Hall H.

Though things do feel a bit out of sorts, watching Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Sir Patrick Stewart and Johnathan Frakes through a computer screen, oddly feels right. Like watching them give a report on a giant monitor of the Enterprise.

At the beginning of the panel, Executive Producers Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin gave updates and announcements of two new shows in the ever expanding franchise; Strange New Worlds and Prodigy. Regarding Strange New Worlds, Kurtzman revealed that he had wanted to speak about it last year, but was unable to. “The room has started! There are ten stories broken, which is very exciting and they’re just sort of [at] the beginning, but I think it was just one of those shows where everyone came in with so much enthusiasm and so much love.”

As the new generation of Star Trek shows grows, a new format has been added, that of animation. Last year Star Trek: Lower Decks premiered, and Kadin revealed that in 2021 a young prodigy will be joining the family: Star Trek: Prodigy that is. She revealed the name and logo of the show, which is being developed by Emmy® Award winners Kevin and Dan Hageman (Trollhunters and Ninjago). Unlike Lower Deck with it’s more mature themes, Prodigy is a children’s CG-animated show made in collaboration with Nickelodeon. The show focuses on a group of rebellious teens that happen upon an abandoned Starfleet ship, and who, as they go on dangerous adventures, learn what it means to be a crew and to find salvation.

Star Trek: Discovery

Following Kurtzman and Kadin, was a virtual table read of the Discovery season 2 finale “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2”. With images from the storyboards, animated action sequences and scenes from the episode, fans were treated to watching the characters come to life in a whole new way. Joining the main cast was Oyin Oladejo, Alan Van Sprang, Emily Coutts, Patrick Kwok-Choon, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Rebecca Romijn, and Ethan Peck. Some of he characters were read by Executive Producer Olatunde Osunsanmi and co-showrunner Michelle Paradise. Accompanied with the beautiful score, the crew’s life changing path to entering into a new life together, once again came to life filling those watching – well me at least – with emotion and anticipation for what lies ahead.

During the brief Q&A that followed, the cast answered questions that were sent in ahead of time. They spoke about the importance of the franchise’s tradition of showing racial, sexual and gender diversity on screen. Anthony Rapp, who plays Lt. Commander Paul Stamets had this to say “I think it’s every thing. Star Trek of course is…you know fiction…it’s science fiction, it’s always meant to imagine a future world in which people are valued for who they are. The content of their character, not the color of their skin, not their gender expression, not their age. And you know, in this explosive time it’s more resonant now than ever that we help shine a light on all of those issues. It’s not always shining a light like super vividly all of the time, it’s just part of the fabric of it, and that by itself is leading the way I think.”

Wilson Cruz also shared what aspects of the show he’s grateful and what it means to him personally. “I think what I’m grateful for is that fact that Star Trek has always been this aspiration for our society, for our country. That it has always set a goal, and that it’s been our job to help not only imagine that future, but to create it. So I think going into season three we have an opportunity to really have a conversation about the world that we want to create and how each of us has a responsibility to create it together. I’m grateful for the history that Star Trek has created in terms of giving us something to aspire to. So I hope that we continue that with season three ”

On the topic of acceptance and diversity being a tradition of Star Trek, Michelle Yeoh explained how tradition itself is something we as humans are meant to do and working to make things better is something we all have to take part in. “Tradition is just part of our DNA, and we just have to continue to strive together for what we believe in. For what is right. We know what is right and wrong, and we have to do it together.”

Speaking in agreement with what her cast mates, Sonequa Martin-Green reinforced their sentiment of hope, accountability and the need to put in the work. The world can’t improve if we don’t see where we need make changes for the betterment of everyone. “A story like this that can give us an example of what that future might look like…I think it…at least I hope, that it really holds us accountable.” She went on the express her belief that facing personal truths and confronting each other and ourselves are ways the show – and it’s viewers – can can be the legacy of the franchise, and contribution to the movement.

From the very beginning Star Trek has been about diversity and inclusion. It was creator Gene Roddenberry‘s vision that the universe would be an example of what he wanted the world to become. With the inclusion of Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura, Roddenberry showed Hollywood and the world that Black people, and other People of Color belonged on screen. Recently the hashtag #StarTrekUnited has been used on various social media platforms, to show support for causes such as Black Lives Matter. As described by Kurtzman, “Star Trek United is an effort to bring awareness to many of the organizations that are critical right now. Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, a lot of our cast speaking to that, Star Trek speaking to it. The goal is not really to promote Star Trek, but to promote these organizations, and to use our platform to be able to bring greater awareness to these very, very important messages and places.”

Though the panel’s purpose was to address the show, the topics discussed have very real world applications. Fans of color of Star Trek have always looked to the shows and films for representations of ourselves within the sci-fi genre, and the new series continue to be something we can look forward to for entertainment, and a learning tool for others.

Going forward all of the characters will to face the consequences of their choice to leave the worlds and universe they’ve known their entire lives, and it will be especially challenging for two in particular. Georgiou is less than enthused with where things ended and are heading. When asked about Georgiou’s mindset at the beginning of season 3, Michelle Yeoh had this to say; “I think she’s really pissed off. Its like “Michael Burnham..don’t get in my way.” No I think she…but you know, Emperor Georgiou…Captain Georgiou, she’s one that always finds a way into adapting, because she’s a survivor with many skills and a formidable ally, or enemy. So she goes in there being very pissed off, but then I’m sure very quickly she’ll find a way around. Power is something that’s inherent. That she inherently has.”

Captain Pike (played by Anson Mount), who’s had the unfortunate privilege of seeing his future, struggles with the repercussions of that in the Strange New World he finds himself in. “I think the biggest thing obviously way seeing my future, and when you see how it’s all going to end, and that it’s not so pretty, what do you do with that. I think there’s a reason we can only see our past, because we’re a very neurotic species and we wouldn’t know how to comport ourselves. And so I think ultimately the question comes how do you move forward, and I think he’s probably going to wrestle with how he can best utilize the rest of his life for the good of the world…the universe.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks

For Star Trek: Lower Decks, creator, showrunner and executive producer Mike McMahan introduced the voice cast comprising of Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Tatsciore, and Gillian Vigman. McMahan began the segment by showing a clip of the first episode from season 1, and reassuring fans that Lower Decks while being it’s own thing within the universe, still adheres to certain tenets that allow it to fit in with the other shows of years past and present. “We tried to fit it into canon so it doesn’t break anything, but we tried to do something new with it at the same time. We tried to keep it exciting, and we also tried to keep all of the ethical sci-fi sort of stuff that makes Star Trek, Star Trek, without breaking it and I think we’ve come up with something that I think a lot of people are going to really enjoy.”

Each cast member gave a brief break down of their character’s personality traits. From goofy, well-meaning and overeager to brash, serious and take charge. They spoke about what it’s been like living the dream of being a member of Star Fleet, without giving away spoilers of course. Cordero gave a hilarious recap of his favorite moment from season 1, that had most of it bleeped out because they were spoilers.

Lewis did share that she enjoyed a specific episode where Captain Freeman outsmarted Ensign Mariner (Newsome) by promoting her to a new position, thereby preventing certain shenanigans from occurring.

Star Trek: Picard

It was a joy to watch all of casts of the various shows interact, but I have to say the cast of Picard was very lively, and I may have let out a few “Awws” seeing them tease Sir Patrick Stewart. He’s such a cutie. Between the jokes and laughter they shared what it was to bring these old and new characters to life for fans.

For Isa Briones who plays two characters things were a bit different, compared to the others. “The way that it unraveled was very gradual, so it didn’t feel like a total shock to the system. As I was auditioning, I didn’t realize I was auditioning for multiple characters, and then I eventually found out they were twins, and then one of them is gone pretty quickly, so then I was like alright, this is your usual. Play your one role, but then Sutra came in later, and I think the fact I had so much of the beginning filming process to just lock in Soji, and who she was, was amazing, because Sutra came in later and I already knew who Soji was.

When asked to share what it was like to get back into the role of Picard, and be working with the cast, Sir Patrick – as I shall always be referring to him – heaped praise upon their heads for how much he enjoyed their talent, and camaraderie, and that working with the creative team was the right decision for him. “The daily excitement was working with you guys, and discovering this extraordinary range of talents that had been assembled because there is such diversity in our ensemble, that for probably the first five episodes, I was just awash with the satisfaction…the deep, profound satisfaction of working with you all. But, he was not the same man. He was a disappointed! Sad! Guilty! Angry! Possibly dangerous individual. So that, was what absorbed me. As the season wore on, I began to feel as I had begun to feel with Next Generation, that the character had been inside of me anyway.”

As the panel drew to a close, Michelle Hurd was asked what would be the one thing she wished audiences would take away from the show, and she replied as follows; ” Inclusion. Acceptance. The understanding of how valuable life is. Can we all look out for our brothers and sisters? Can we all just take a moment to understand that our differences are actually our strengths? It’s what makes us a strong species. That we all have these different thoughts, these different looks, these different opinions, these different ways of handling ourselves in the world, of walking down the street. I’m so thankful I’m part of an organization that gets it! We always talk about Star Trek holding a mirror up to society, perhaps society needs to look at us and stat replicating what we’re doing. We’re trying to tell stories to heal.”

For the closing Johnathan Frakes quoted Gene Roddenberry’s wish that in the 23rd century there would be no racism or sexism, and should the world last that long, it is my hope those wishes become reality.

Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks premieres on August 6th, 2020 on CBS All Access.

Miss any of our other SDCC 2020 coverage? Click here for much more!

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