By Andrea Ayres
The CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery has some big shoes to fill. The cast and producers promise the new series will do justice to the legacy of Star Trek and its creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision for a progressive and inclusive future.
Members of the cast and several executive producers answered questions about the upcoming series at Comic Con on July 22. Star Trek: Discovery will premier on Sunday, Sept. 24 on CBS Television Network before moving to the network’s subscription based streaming service, CBS All Access. Discovery takes place 10 years before the original Star Trek series but years after the Star Trek: Enterprise timeline.
To be part of a show with over fifty years of lore behind it is a great responsibility. It’s not hyperbolic to say the expectations of millions of fans rest on the shoulders of this cast and crew. It’s a weight each individual on the panel obviously feels. As fans of the series themselves, the assembled cast and crew long to give the series its due justice.
Sonequa Martin-Green (First Officer Michael Burnham) and Michelle Yeoh (Captain Philippa Georgiou) both occupy positions of power. To have two women of color in command positions is shockingly rare. Being in that position is to take on the hopes of millions of fans who have longed to see themselves represented as lead characters with full agency and authority. None of this is lost on Martin-Green, who paid homage to Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and the boundaries she helped break in the original series.
Responding directly to what it feels like to have this hope placed in her, Martin-Green spoke passionately and emotionally about that hope and the vision of Star Trek. “This is a story of universality and coming together and understanding that we are really one with all life. I don’t know if I can put it into words. I feel like if I try I will cry and it would just get really messy up here. Just the honor… Green’s voice trembled as she fought back tears, “It’s such a privilege to be a part of a story that I truly believe is going bring people together.”
The series producers often referenced the defining characteristics of Roddenberry’s vision of the future. It is one filled with optimism, one where inclusion is so omnipresent it does not warrant discussion. Anthony Rapp (Lt. Paul Stamets) hopes the show will continue to push forward this vision. Rapp announced that not only will his character be the first openly gay character on a Star Trek series but he will also have a love interest, played by Wilson Cruz (Dr. Culber).
Star Trek was never a series to shy away from important political and cultural discussions. Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman says he hopes the show will continue to act as a mirror to help reflect what is currently happening in society. “I think now Star Trek is needed now more than ever as a reminder and as buoy to show us of what we can be, the best of what we can be.”
Kurtzman elaborated on the themes of the show, as it explores the cold war between the Federation and Klingons. “The question of how you preserve and protect what Starfleet is in the wake of and challenge of war, and what must be done in war, is a very interesting and dramatic problem and feels very topical.”
One of pillars of Star Trek, according to Martin-Green is acculturation not assimilation. “We don’t have to let go of who we are to learn about who you are, we can do it at the same time. I think it honors the legacy and carries it to the next level.”
Making Star Trek: Discovery hasn’t been a breeze. Referencing the multiple delays, which have alarmed fans, Kurtzman offered an explanation. “We knew we were going to push the technology to the place that takes time. The show has to look like a movie. It takes a good year to launch a show correctly, when you factor in set builds and visual effects, and if you rush those things you are compromising quality.”
The word “iconic” is bandied about often when talking about Star Trek. Spock, Captain Picard, Worf, these characters are so woven into our cultural tapestry they feel almost elemental. How does this cast feel about the possibility of becoming icons? It’s a question the series actors haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about. For Rapp, actors like Leonard Nimoy (Spock) are not merely idolized for playing a Vulcan on the Enterprise, but rather because of the skill and depth Nimoy brought to that character. It’s that depth, according to Rapp, that enabled Spock’s ascent to icon status. “If we do become icons, I hope it’s because we’re standing on the shoulders of what’s come before us and the incredible depths of what’s come before us.”
The familiarity past series cast and crew have with one another is well documented. Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman discussed how the cast and crew of Discovery have continued that tradition. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of there is no whimsy to anybody’s commitment, there is an awareness and a pride in getting to be the next sort of holder of this baton.”
The actors and producers consistently paid homage and responded to the pressure they feel to get this series right. “What we are committed to is a real fractal version of the Universe. Diversity has become too easy a word, we’re committed to complexity. The show’s mission is to be inclusive, so we’re very purposeful about that,” said Goldsman.
How will the show continue to push forward the boundary breaking narratives Star Trek is known for? Martin-Green says that for her, part of the way Discovery breaks boundaries is through its organic and authentic storytelling. She added, “the celebration of it is that it’s normalcy in this story. In that way the story becomes a form of activism just by being. Of not being afraid of it, and seeing these people deal with each other, and learn from each other and be changed by each other. ”
The cast and crew hopes to break boundaries in other ways as well, from cinematography, to storytelling, to special effects. The actors and producers want the show to be a fully realized Universe, one that will hopefully delight Star Trek fans new and old.
The series debut on CBS Television Network on Sunday Sept. 24 before being released weekly on demand for CBS All Access subscribers. The 15-episode season will be released in two chapters. The first eight episodes will run Sunday, Sept. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 5.