Title: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022)
Creator: Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Stars: Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, Ethan Peck, Jess Bush, Christina Chong, Celia Rose Gooding, Melissa Navia, Bruce Horak, Babs Olusanmokun, Gia Sand
Spoiler Warning: This review, which is based on the first five episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, may contain spoilers from the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.
“I love this job.” Despite his many years in the captain’s chair, Captain Pike’s enthusiasm and wonder are palpable as the bridge viewscreen lights up with another cosmic mystery. There is always something new to discover, always a new planet to explore. And as another review episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds lights up my projector screen, I can’t help but agree with the captain of the Enterprise: I love this job!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (I’ll call it Strange New Worlds from now on) is a spin-off and a sequel to the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, making it a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series. Got that? Great!
In season two of Discovery, command of the experimental, spore-powered starship was taken over by Captain Christopher Pike (played to perfection by Anson Mount), as he used the ship’s unique qualities to investigate a cosmic phenomenon and save the galaxy. When the ship and its original crew traveled into the future (and towards seasons three and four of Star Trek: Discovery), Pike and science officer Spock returned to their ship, the Enterprise. Here, Strange New Worlds picks up the story – a story that is, in my opinion, some of the absolute best of Star Trek, be it modern or classic.
Nostalgia is a big part of what drives Strange New Worlds. But nostalgia is hard to do well. Unlike Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, Strange New Worlds goes back to the episodic “planet of the week” (or “theme of the week,” as Anson Mount likes to call it) storytelling style from the olden days of linear television broadcasting. And going into this, as a fan of Star Trek: Discovery (especially the first two seasons) and its season-long story arcs, I didn’t think I would enjoy Strange New Worlds as much. I knew the casting would be great, but give me season-spanning story arcs. No, make them series-spanning! How wrong I was.
Strange New Worlds is nostalgia done right. It is a modern love letter to the past and a homage to the Star Trek of the 60s.
Did I mention that I love this job?
The story of Strange New Worlds begins on Earth, specifically on Pike’s ranch, where he spends his time with his wife (also a Starfleet Officer) while trying to avoid the call back into service. You see, Pike is haunted by what he saw in a time crystal under the Klingon monastery on the planet Boreth (Star Trek: Discovery season two). Here he witnessed his fate, and by just staying put, Pike hopes he can avoid it. But when his second in command, Una Chin-Riley, aka Number One (played by Rebecca Romijn), goes missing on a first contact mission, Pike is called back to command the Enterprise on a rescue mission.
Meanwhile, science officer Spock (played with grace and deadpan humor by Ethan Peck) is on the planet Vulcan, kindling his romantic relationship with his bride-to-be, T’Pring (played by Gia Sandhu), as only a Vulcan can do. As the call comes for Spock to return to the Enterprise, their… “romance” must wait. It is off with Pike on another adventure.
Back on the Enterprise, we are introduced to the rest of the very diverse crew. The gung-ho helmsman Erica Ortegas (played by Melissa Navia) flies the ship, while the traumatized tactical officer with a complicated family history, La’an Noonien-Singh (played by Christina Chong), heads the security department. In other parts of the ship, Dr. M’Benga (played by Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Christine Chapel (played by Jess Bush) head the medical department, while down in engineering, we find the blind and telepathic Aenar (that’s a species of alien) Hemmer (and that’s his name… he is played by Bruce Horak). And cadet Nyota Uhura (played by Celia Rose Gooding) isn’t entirely sure where she wants to be yet, or if service on board the Enterprise is even the right path for her.
If you’re now counting on your fingers and find that the women outnumber the men, you don’t need to do a recount. As far as I know, Strange New Worlds is the first Star Trek film or series to turn the expected gender ratio on its head.
And even though it might sound like a reviewing cliche, the ship, too, is a character on its own. The Enterprise will easily give the Millennium Falcon a run for its money when it comes to which starship is the more iconic.
Strange New Worlds is very much a modern Star Trek series. Still, the Enterprise features several nods to the original set from the 60s, with more prime colors and retro-looking buttons and instruments than what we’ve seen on modern ships like the Discovery or La Sirena. It never gets overdone, however, and like the rest of the series, it feels like the homage it should be rather than nostalgia just for the sake of it.
Fandom Fact: In the Star Trek universe, the Enterprise is a Constitution-class multi-purpose starship with registration number NCC-1701. Behind the scenes, it was first designed as a three-foot model to show to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in 1964. For filming the Star Trek episodes, an 11-foot model was used.
As I mentioned earlier, Strange New Worlds takes the episodic approach to serial storytelling more common in linear television broadcasting. However, more emphasis is put on character development. Unlike the older series, the crew of the Enterprise seems to remember better, and are affected by, what happens in each episode. That said, the stories in the five episodes I had access to for this review are varied, and each should be a delight for the fans of the franchise. They stand on their own, and although there are homages to certain episodes and storytelling from Star Trek: The Original Series, each feels fresh and original.
There is the episode about the first contact mission and the traditional debate around the Prime Directive. There is one about the hubris of genetic modification and the ghosts of the past. Another explores death and remembrance, while yet another deals with the hilarious complications that ensue while the crew is on shore leave. Like the more traditional Star Trek, the episodes explore different themes and puts the spotlight on the various members of the crew.
More so than Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, the crew of the enterprise feels like a complete ensemble cast.
Fandom Fact: General Order 1, or the Prime Directive, is a guiding principle for Starfleet. It prohibits Starfleet personnel and spacecraft from interfering with the normal development of any society and even mandates that any Starfleet vessel or crew member is expendable to prevent violation of this rule.
But as with any franchise with a fandom, fans will always be divided on what is good and what is not. Star Trek has always been an allegory highlighting contemporary political and social issues. Strange New Worlds is no different, diving headlong into debates on climate change and political violence in the first episode – even going as far as alluding to the US far-right and Trumpism as part of what caused the downfall of society. This won’t sit well with many, but Star Trek has always leaned heavily into these themes anyway, so it shouldn’t surprise.
Strange New Worlds might be the best of modern Star Trek. As far as I’m concerned, it might be the best of all Star Trek. Much of this has to do with the excellent cast, of course, but Strange New Worlds is also a balancing act between paying homage to what came before and staying fresh and original. It is a tight rope to walk, and it is easy to fall into the trap of nostalgia just for nostalgia’s sake. But Strange New Worlds walks it with ease, humor, excitement, adventure, and wonder.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiers on Paramount+ on May 5th.