Oh, joy! A “Star Trek” origin story that captures the humanism, humor and impulse to connect of the original while smoothly “assimilating” into the larger “Star Trek” universe.
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” finds a perfect balance of breadcrumbs for diehard fans who cannot be fooled, and a cohesive narrative and diverse cast to attract new viewers. The ten-episode prequel unites the terrific team behind “Star Trek: Picard” and “Star Trek: Discovery” – Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet – co-creating the story with Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsmith (“A Beautiful Mind”), who wrote and directed Episode 1.
Rooted in the series’ original pre-Captain Kirk pilot, it stars the charismatic Anson Mount as Christopher Pike, Kirk’s immediate and less libidinous predecessor from both the original series pilot, “The Cage,” and Hugo Award winning two-part episode, “The Menagerie,” steering the U.S.S. Enterprise. “Strange New Worlds” opens with Pike back home in Montana, struggling after an unsettling space mission in which he viewed his own death, and uncertain about taking to the sky again. As he nuzzles his horse, there’s no mistaking that this space hero has Western roots. And, yes, he’ll be pulled back onto the flight deck and set a course for the stars, damaged goods but “boldly going where no man has gone before.”
Pike’s the quarterback, a born leader who works by consensus – and a pillar of nontoxic masculinity. His Number One is Una Chin-Riley, also from “The Cage” and “The Menagerie,” and a pocketful of secrets and contradictions played by Rebecca Romijn, best known as the blue-plated Mystique in the “X-Men” iterations. And what about Mr. Spock, the pointy-eared half-Vulcan originally played by Leonard Nimoy? Ethan Peck returns to his “Star Trek: Discovery” character. His Spock nails the Vulcan-by-way-of-Brooklyn speech patterns, the maddening logic, while being sexy and unflappable in his own unique, boyish way. There’s a little more human irony to his character, while his Vulcan inability to conform to social boundaries also means that he is a marvelous narrative tool in forcing other characters to yield their secrets.
One engaging individual origin story within the larger roots tale is that of Cadet Nyota Uhura. Grammy-winner Celia Rose Gooding radiates intelligence and inexperience embodying the neophyte Uhura, a role originated by the great Nichelle Nichols. The future Communications Officer arrives at Starfleet for her first mission as a talented linguist with lingering doubts about her vocation.
And, while Spock schools Uhura that it’s a privilege and an honor to have made it this far, he also says in no uncertain terms that if she has doubts there are many capable candidates who would sacrifice everything to be in her position. On her first away mission, she faces an alien linguistic challenge that only she can answer, and confronts her own mortality for the first time. Can this young woman commit to a larger and more dangerous mission than self-determination? You can bet your red mini-skirt she can.
The Uhura episode reflects how the series dives into the many characters previously created – and perhaps not explored to their fullest since. While Uhura is a central character throughout the saga alongside Spock, and Captain Pike ultimately yielded to Kirk, this series also fleshes out supporting characters from the early TV episodes. (Spoiler alerts!) There’s a nearly endless source of stories in ensemble players like Nurse Christine Chapel (Tess Bush and originated by Majel Barrett, who married original creator Gene Roddenberry and went on to perform as the voice of the computer in succeeding series). She appeared in all three seasons of the original series working underneath Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), holding a torch for Spock – which flickers here – and dispensing injections.
Early on, we’re also given the wonderfully awkward scene where Spock and T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) became engaged and escalated the thorny relationship that resulted in near fatal consequences for our heroes in a notable episode in the original series. There’s also a new character, a grim, young security chief with a famous name that links to both the original series and succeeding movies, La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong).
From its inception, Roddenberry’s brainchild has always been diverse and inclusive. It’s in its DNA. The stories recognize the conflicts that arise from miscommunication between species, genders and those of different skin color be it brown or fluorescent green. Issues of prejudice and acceptance have been central from the start. True to its roots, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is the story of a complex universe bound by the hope that mensches can make a positive impact or die trying, and that humanity’s most shining moments come at times of crisis.
The stunning ensemble space-drama remains true to the original while reaching for the stars.
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” debuts on Paramount+ on May 5th.