When the USS Enterprise first brought audiences aboard in 1966, few imagined that Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) would spawn a media empire half a century later — including both live-action and animated Star Trek series, as well as more than a dozen Star Trek movies.
As the Star Trek universe expands, so does its fictional timeline, and for fans who want to know exactly what happened and when, it’s getting a little difficult to navigate. That’s why we put together a guide to enjoying all of Star Trek’s canonical films and series in chronological order.
If you’re new to Star Trek, be warned: We’ll do our best to avoid spoilers, but for the sake of clarity, here and there, a tribble-sized reveal will have to make its way through the cracks.
While Star Trek: Enterprise proved to be the last of the Trek revival series (it ended in 2015 after four seasons) until Star Trek: Discovery‘s premiere 12 years later, ironically, it’s your first stop on any franchise-wide binge. Beginning in 2151 — a little over a century before the events of TOS — Enterprise has no United Federation of Planets, no Prime Directive, and no shields.
Considering how often time travel comes up in Star Trek, it shouldn’t be a surprise that while most of the events of Enterprise take place long before any other shows or films, there are a few exceptions. Some leftover Borg from 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact show up in season 2, a season 3 two-parter connects with TOS‘ The Tholian Web episode, and the series finale surprisingly crosses over with the Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) season 7 episode The Pegasus.
Star Trek: Discovery‘s premiere takes place a little over a century after the Enterprise finale and roughly a decade before TOS. The United Federation of Planets has been formed, and Discovery opens with its first destructive war with the Klingon Empire.
If you’re doing a franchise-wide binge, make sure to schedule TOS‘s pilot episode The Cage before season 2 of Discovery. It’s Captain Christopher Pike in the Enterprise’s captain’s chair in the pilot, played by the late Jeffrey Hunter. Anson Mount plays Pike in season 2 of Discovery, and the events of The Cage are critical to the plot.
At the end of season 2, Discovery jumps ahead over 900 years into the future, so you should probably wait a bit before getting back to it.
Finally, the series that started it all with its iconic trio: The always pensive and logical Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the always complaining Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and between them, the adventurous James T. Kirk (William Shatner).
It can be a little jarring to watch The Original Series after Discovery. Not only is it weird to see a spaceship run on dials, buttons, and paper printouts after witnessing a ship like Discovery — where every panel looks like it was designed personally by Tony Stark — but particularly in season 1, it’s clear TOS hadn’t yet worked out everything about the Federation and Starfleet. For example, in one early episode, McCoy makes a joke implying that rather than being Earth’s allies, the Vulcans were conquered by humans.
While the original crew’s live-action adventures went on hold after TOS‘ final season, in 1973, almost the entire regular cast — save for Walter Koenig, who played Pavel Chekov in TOS — returned to voice their characters in Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS). They were joined by a couple of new alien crew members who would’ve been nearly impossible to make work in a live-action series of the time.
Even though it originally aired as a Saturday morning cartoon, TAS is impressively faithful to the canon. We see the return of recurring characters like Harry Mudd and Spock’s father, Sarek, and even minor details from TOS — such as a brief mention of Spock’s childhood pet — are faithfully reproduced in TAS.
If you get this deep into the Trek-wide binge and are getting tired of TV episodes, this will be a nice break. Kirk, now an Admiral, muscles his way back into the Captain’s chair in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the timeline continues through Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and ending with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
TNG‘s first five seasons enjoy the single longest chronology of all the franchise’s shows to go uninterrupted by other series or films. While there were plenty of naysayers who never thought the series would last or live up to the original, TNG outlives TOS by four seasons, and its success would help make even more spin-offs viable.
For its final two seasons, TNG shares time with the first two seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). Still traumatized by the death of his wife at the hands of the Borg, Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) takes command of a space station overlooking the newly liberated Bajor.
Make sure to not start DS9 until at least after watching TNG‘s Rascals episode — chronologically, it’s Chief Miles O’Brien’s (Colm Meaney) final episode of TNG as a member of the ship’s crew, after which he jumps ship to become the Chief of Operations on DS9.
Deep Space 9 enjoys precious little time at the end of its second season and the beginning of its third as the only Star Trek game in town. Early in its third season, it’s joined by the beginning of Star Trek: Voyager, and in fact, part of Voyager‘s premiere episode takes place on the DS9 space station guarding the Bajoran wormhole.
Originally tasked with capturing the rebellious Maquis, Voyager‘s Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) soon finds herself and her crew thrown across the galaxy, and both Starfleet and Maquis have to work together to begin the long journey home.
About midway through DS9‘s third season comes the first film to feature the TNG crew — 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, which features the first and only meeting between Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and TOS‘s Captain Kirk.
Season 4 of DS9 opens with the fan-favorite episode The Way of the Warrior, with Michael Dorn joining the show’s regular cast as Worf — but don’t worry, they keep sneaking him onto the Enterprise for the movies anyway. Seasons 4 and 5 of DS9 run fairly concurrently with seasons 2 and 3 of Voyager. Early in season 5 of DS9, the Starfleet uniforms change to gray, and that change is reflected on the Enterprise in TNG‘s first motion picture, 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact, pitting the TNG crew against fan-favorite villains the Borg, set toward the end of DS9‘s fifth season and Voyager‘s third.
With Voyager‘s fourth season comes the game-changing addition of Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, while back in the Alpha Quadrant on DS9, open war rages between the Federation and the tyrannical Dominion. The Dominion War lasts until the very end of the series, which unfolds around the same time as the end of Voyager‘s fifth season. In the meantime, the eighth Trek film, 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection, takes place fairly early in DS9‘s final season.
For its final two seasons, Voyager gets to fly all on its own. The lost ship’s journey culminates in the two-part Endgame, with the heroes confronting the Borg while making a desperate attempt to get back home.
And in the final Trek film before J.J. Abrams steps in to create the so-called Kelvin Timeline stories, 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis takes place about a year after the Voyager finale, and the film doesn’t forget about the show. One of Voyager‘s lead characters makes a cameo, and since the show ended, they’ve gotten enough pips on their collar to give Captain Picard orders.
In 2020, Trek fans were introduced to one of the most unique series in the franchise — the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. Partly inspired by the TNG final season episode Lower Decks, focusing on the usually anonymous crew members we see milling in the background aboard Starfleet ships and space stations, the series feels like Star Trek with a couple of dashes of Rick & Morty. In spite of its goofiness, Lower Decks is canonical, and its first season begins in 2380 — one year after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis.
The films of what’s come to be known as the Kelvin Timeline have an interesting, if confusing, place in Trek chronology.
Rather than acting as a prequel, as some thought it would, 2009’s Star Trek introduces a whole new timeline. In the prime timeline’s 24th century, the Romulan sun goes supernova. Romulus is destroyed, and both Spock and the Romulan mining ship Narada are sucked into a black hole and sent backward in time. Coming out the other side in the 23rd century, the Narada — captained by the vengeful Nero (Eric Bana) — destroys the Kelvin, creating a new timeline.
So, in one sense, the three Abrams-era films — Star Trek, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and 2016’s Star Trek Beyond — come between the events of Lower Decks and those of Star Trek: Picard, because that’s when the Romulan sun goes boom. But in another sense, they run partly concurrent to the events of Discovery‘s first two seasons and between those seasons and TOS. We’re putting it here because, all things considered, it’s the less confusing option.
We can only imagine where (and when) the events of subsequent seasons will take Captain Picard and his new friends, but the first seasons of Star Trek: Picard are set at the end of the 24th century, in 2399. Since we last saw him in Star Trek: Nemesis, Picard’s been promoted to admiral, led an ultimately abandoned evacuation of Romulus, and left Starfleet in protest. In spite of the time that’s passed, the series’ opening episode makes it clear Picard is still not over a tragic loss he suffers in the final TNG-era film.
While Discovery begins as a prequel series, in its third season, it becomes something different. At the end of season 2, the heroes jump forward over 900 years into the future, and the galaxy is a changed place.
A little over a century before the events of Discovery season 3, a cataclysmic event known as The Burn destroys almost all the dilithium in the galaxy, killing untold numbers of space-bound people and making warp technology almost useless. As a result, while the Federation still exists, it’s fractured, with its number of member planets shrinking from around 350 to 38.
Among the major historical events to have occurred between the 24th and 32nd centuries, we learn that at one point, Spock’s dream of reuniting the Vulcan and Romulan people has become a reality, with both races giving Vulcan the new name of Ni’Var. There was also a series of conflicts known as the Temporal Wars, whose events led to such destruction that all forms of time travel have been banned within the Federation.
Along with future seasons of Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks on their way — not to mention the possibility of future films — the timeline of Star Trek is always changing. While there’s no firm release date, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is expected to release sometime in 2022. Anson Mount will reprise the role of Christopher Pike from season 2 of Discovery, and along with brand new characters, he will be joined by Ethan Peck as Spock and Rebecca Romijn as Number One. The series promises to take place between the events of Discovery‘s second season and TOS, as well as reportedly giving fans a more episodic format reminiscent of Trek’s earliest series.
Timeline-wise, as far as some of the upcoming Trek series are concerned, there are a couple of unknowns. First, there’s the animated kids’ series, Star Trek: Prodigy, in which a group of alien teens commandeers a derelict Starfleet ship. According to TrekMovie‘s April 2021 report, Prodigy‘s first season begins in 2383, placing it between Lower Decks and Picard, assuming Lower Decks — which begins in 2380 — doesn’t go past 2383. If it does, then eventually, the two timelines will intermingle.
Likewise, there’s Star Trek: Section 31, which is still in development. Michelle Yeoh will reportedly lead the series in her role as the Mirror Universe version of Philippa Georgiou, and Shazad Latif is also believed to be returning as Ash Tyler. Our best guess is that Section 31‘s timeline will intermingle with that of Strange New Worlds, but it’s too early to tell. While she initially joins the Discovery crew in the 32nd century, Georgiou is sent back to an undisclosed point in time in season 3’s episode Terra Firma, Part 2.
We know the Star Trek timeline keeps getting more complex — not only because new properties keep getting added, but because the franchise’s heroes use time travel almost as often as they do phasers. But don’t worry. As Trek keeps trekkin’, we’ll keep updating our timeline guide.
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