Star Trek: Discovery – A Stirring Return To Trek

Star Trek: Discovery logo (c) 2017 CBS
Star Trek: Discovery logo (c) 2017 CBS

I grew up watching the reruns of Star Trek. I watched them over and over without any sort of remorse or boredom. Every time it came on I would happily sit down and watch until I was chased away from the television.

Movie Poster of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (c) 1979 Paramount Pictures
Movie Poster of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (c) 1979 Paramount Pictures

Then, when I was ten, because of the sudden resurgence in interest in science fiction films (due entirely to the success of Star Wars), the first new Star Trek in a decade appeared with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. From then on, Star Trek was at the forefront of science fiction film and television until the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.

While recently we’ve had three disappointing Star Trek films from J. J. Abrams, it wasn’t until the announcement that CBS was developing a new series in November of 2015 that I truly became excited about Star Trek once more.

Even before the series became filming the production seemed to be plagued with problems and Star Trek fans have not been shy in making their opinions known. Through all the negative press and comments the production has proceeded, even with a 9 month delay from it’s original intended premiere, and debuted last evening.

In this first episode, The Vulcan Hello, we meet Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and her first officer Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). They are on a distant planet doing things that Starfleet does best. Following the Prime Directiveand helping people in need; all at great personal risk. A strong beginning to my mind.

Star Trek: Discovery is set 10 years before the events of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s original five year mission, with its primary focus on Cmdr. Michael Burnham. This is a change from other Treks, but not really a huge change. First Officers in Star Trek have long been a huge part of any story. So while the Captain as the focal point is a change, it’s not a major one. It’s more of a philosophical shift than an idealogical one.

Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yoeh) of the U. S. S. Shenzhou in Star Trek: Discovery (c) 2017 CBS
Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yoeh) of the U. S. S. Shenzhou in Star Trek: Discovery (c) 2017 CBS

Once the Captain and Cmdr. Burnham are back on the U.S.S. Shenzhou, the ship and it’s crew, at the edge of Federation space, are examining an unknown anomoly. Again, very Starfleety. Burnham is put right at the forefront of the action when ship’s sensors don’t work and she must go in an EV suit to examine the object physically. This is exactly the type action we’ve come to expect from a good Starfleet officer.

Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in Star Trek: Discovery (C) 2017 CBS
Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in Star Trek: Discovery (C) 2017 CBS

The story of Star Trek: Discovery is told both in the now, and as flashbacks into Cmdr. Burnham’s past. These flashbacks give you insight into her motivations for her actions in the now. It’s an interesting method of story telling and has long been a staple of the Star Trek style. It works quite well and didn’t take you so far out of the ‘now’ as to be distracting.

As the first episode progresses tensions escalate rapidly between the newly, recontacted insular and nationalistic Klingon Empire and the Shenzhou; and between Cmdr. Burnham, her captain, and her crew. Tensions that lead Cmdr. Burnham to act in a very un-Starfleet-like manner.

The Vulcan Hello ends with an appropriate cliff-hanger for a story that’s going to run its entire 15 episode arc. Fortunately, this once, we only have to wait a few minutes to see the next episode.

The second episode picks up directly where the first ended. In Battle at the Binary Stars things start out bad, only to get worse, and worse yet again. Not your typical Star Trek progression.

During this rapid descent into chaos for the Shenzhou and her crew, Burnham has to come to grips with her previous actions and their consequences. In the end these consequences will alter Burnham’s life and quite possibly the lives of every Federation citizen.

Martin-Green plays Cmdr. Burnham with complete conviction, capturing an excellent balance between the many facets of the Burnham character. But it was Michelle Yeoh that stole the first two episodes for me. Her supreme confidence in the role and her sublime grace was a thing of beauty to witness.

Lt. Saru (Doug Jones) in Star Trek: Discovery (c) 2017 CBS
Lt. Saru (Doug Jones) in Star Trek: Discovery (c) 2017 CBS

The other surprise for me was the role of Lt. Saru, played by Doug Jones. Lt. Saru provides a unique perspective on what it means to be a member of Starfleet and the inclusion of all types of views. Strangely, Lt. Saru could end up providing a truly refreshing view on how a Starfleet ship should act. We’ll have to see.

The production of Star Trek: Discovery is stunning. The look is very cinematic and shows well on large screens. However, the use of lens flare throughout both episodes was distracting and at times obscured the show. You’d have thought CBS would have learned from J. J. Abrams mistakes.

The costume and prop design have more in common with Star Trek: Enterprise than the original series, but still manages to make them unique enough to have their own identity. I’m looking forward to see how they work with items we know, or think we know, all about.

I watched these first two episodes with no little trepidation. I was firmly of the mind that this new series should have gone forward in time, past where Star Trek: Voyagerended. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the cast and crew have done in looking into the mythos of Star Trek’s past. Can going back make us look forward once more? Something to ponder, perhaps.

In the end all this comes down to is will I continue watching? The answer is a resounding yes. CBS has captured some of the old Star Trek magic and I hope it continues to grow.

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