‘Star Trek: Discovery’ may have new science and technology, but it mines old themes

The recent Star Trek films have proved popular, but it remains to be seen how Star Trek: Discovery — the new CBS All Access show set 10 years before the original series — will fare. With a new extended trailer released during San Diego Comic-Con 2017, fans get a taste for what the chapter will bring.

Sonequa Martin-Green (First Officer Michael Burnham), Jason Isaacs (Captain Gabriel Lorca), Doug Jones (Lieutenant Saru), Mary Weisman (Cadet Sylvia Tilly), James Frain (Ambassador Sarek), Shazad Latif (Lieutenant Ash Tyler), Anthony Rapp (Lieutenant Paul Stamets), Rainn Wilson (Harry Mudd), and executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Gretchen Berg, Aaron Harberts, Heather Kadin, and Akiva Goldsman also shed some light on the project at a press conference during the convention.

Many of the actors professed their love for series from the franchise’s history. Wilson (The Office) watched reruns as a kid and had the layout of the Enterprise memorized. Getting transported, using a phaser, and sitting in the captain’s chair were all thrills for him. “To get to relive those as an adult fan, is just one of the greatest life experiences,” Wilson said. While he’s playing Harry Mudd, a charismatic rogue from the original series, he called his character a reimagining. “He’s a bit more dastardly than the original,” he said.

Also inhabiting a familiar character is Frain (Orphan Black). “It’s an honor. It’s a responsibility. It is a challenge,” he said of his role as Sarek, a Vulcan ambassador and Spock’s father.

Though she plays a completely new character, Martin-Green got a bit emotional when talking about Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura and was one of the first black women cast as a main character on a TV show. “I certainly stand on Nichelle’s shoulders.” she said. “This is a story of universality, and this is a story of coming together and understanding that you really are one with all of life … It’s such a privilege to be a part of a story that I truly believe is going to bring people together.”

The issues of diversity and inclusion were themes throughout the press conference, with many participants pointing out that creator Gene Roddenberry infused it into the franchise’s DNA. “First and foremost, the defining factor of Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future and the idea that he invented a world where all species, all races came together to not only make our world better, but to make every world better,” Kurtzman said. “I think that’s something that can never be lost in Trek.”

Rapp (The Good Fight) said he was looking forward to expanding that vision as “the first and only gay character on Star Trek having a relationship.” Wilson Cruz (13 Reasons Why) will play his partner. “I’m very proud of that and that he’s a scientist,” Rapp said at the Star Trek: Discovery panel.

Kurtzman said that Roddenberry never drew attention to issues of diversity — “it just was.” Martin-Green echoed the sentiment when talking about having women in command, saying, “I think the celebration of it is that it is normalcy in this story. And in that way, the story becomes a form of activism just by being and not being afraid of it.” Kurtzman added the show more than passes the Bechdel test. “I’m not sure they ever talk about guys,” he said. They’ve got bigger issues — like war with the Klingons.

It sounds like we’ll see phasers and the transporter, but just because the show is set before the original series, there might still be surprises when it comes to cool tech. “I can’t spoil why, but I am a scientist with a weird field of study, which is astromicrology and that has some interesting applications in science on Star Trek.” Rapp said. “So, yes, there are some new things to explore because there are space fungus and mushrooms and mycelium.”

There may be fun with fungus, but don’t hold your breath for tribbles. “Let’s remember this particular universe is a very dark time for the Federation and for Starfleet with this war happening,” Wilson said, “so I don’t think it would be appropriate in the universe — and I talked to the writers about this — to have as many kind of jolly, wackadoodle episodes that were often in the original series and The Next Generation.”

That doesn’t mean the cast isn’t having fun behind the scenes, though. Jonathan Frakes, who played William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, is directing some episodes. A prolific director, Frakes has been behind the camera for episodes of other series in the franchise and helmed both Insurrection and First Contact. Isaacs said Frakes likes to sing on set and employ some of his stand-up comedy. “At the end of every take, he goes, ‘Ladies and gentleman, the Star Trek: Discovery players!” he said.

Before he left early to get to a friend’s wedding, Isaacs gave his thoughts on what’s most meaningful about the show, in his opinion. “For me, the gadgets are fun and the sets are great; I’m sure we have all the whiz-bang stuff you wish for. But what counts is what we’re putting out there and what we’re showing the next generation what we could become instead of what we might become.”

Star Trek: Discovery debuts September 24 on CBS All Access. Stay tuned for more San Diego Comic-Con 2017 news.

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