As beloved genre franchises go, the canon of Star Trek is even more sprawling than most, spanning decades worth of mythology and alt-timelines across television, movies, novels, and more. The producers of CBS’s upcoming revival Star Trek: Discovery are very cognizant of that history—and equally of the need to disregard some of it, in order to create a show that appeals as much to new viewers as to devoted Trekkies.
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“We are in a section of canon that has been referred to a lot,” producer Akiva Goldsman told reporters at the TCA Press Tour yesterday. “We are considering the novels not to be canon, but we are aware of them. And we are going to cross paths with components that Trek fans are familiar with, but it is its own standalone story with its own characters and its own unique vision.”
That’s not to say the Discovery team is being deliberately gung ho with the show’s history. “The aim is to not violate things that are very important to a great number of people,” exec producer Aaron Harberts emphasized. “We take that very seriously, but at a certain point, you have to turn off the social media and drill down on what the best moves are for the characters, and what the best philosophy is to drive the story. I think we found a way to balance it, but if we sat there and worried about it and studied every single hour, it’s easy to choke.”
Fellow EP Alex Kurtzman, who worked with JJ Abrams on his 2009 Star Trek reboot and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, added that the writers room is staffed by a mix of fans and newbies, making balance easier to achieve. “We all have very different relationships to social media and to canon, and so it’s a constant debate about where the line is in terms of canon violation. There’s a kind of Supreme Court of opinions that allows us to stay true to canon, but also stretch the boundaries of it.”
So, what specific boundaries are being pushed? One revelation from Comic-Con already making some waves in the fandom is that the main character in Discovery, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael, is the adopted sister of Spock. After the death of her own parents, Michael was raised on Vulcan by Spock’s parents Sarek and Amanda, and per Harberts, “Her relationship with Sarek plays a huge part not only in her backstory, but in where she was raised and what she brings to every ship she serves on. Her time on Vulcan causes her to make several choices in our first episode, choices that will really have aftershocks throughout the entire series.”
Another major shift is the redesigned Klingons, an innovation that came from auteur producer Bryan Fuller (who was on-board as co-showrunner with Kutzman before stepping back to focus his energies on Starz’s American Gods). “One of the things Bryan really, really wanted to do was shake up the design of the Klingons,” Harberts noted. “One of the first things he ever pitched was his aesthetic for the Klingons and how important it was that they be aesthete, that they not be the thugs of the universe, that they be sexy and vital and different from what had come before.”
Front and center of this Sexy Klingon revolution is actress Mary Chieffo, who plays L’Rell. “The show has always been this exploration of the other,” Chieffo mused. “Speaking to the Klingon side of things, I think they’ve done a beautiful job of showing that both sides are human and both sides have humanity. L’Rell’s relationship within the Klingon world is so different from my relationship with the Federation, and how I’m perceived there is so different. What is really augmented in this series is both sides’ capacity to love, and to have compassion and passion for what they believe in. I think it’s a very important message that no one is actually the bad guy.”
Which sure makes it sounds like the traditionally vicious Klingons will be closer to anti-heroes in this iteration. But if you’re a die-hard Trek fan now feeling nervous, look no further for reassurance than this emotional speech Martin-Green made about the experience of making Discovery:
“We are bursting at the seams from the weight of it and the breadth of it. We couldn’t be more thrilled to share this journey with you because we understand its significance, and we know that we are telling a story that we believe in. Everyone is so passionate. The craftsmanship here in our entire company, behind the camera and in front of the camera, is nothing short of stellar, and this is an epically grand yet microscopically tuned, deeply emotional story, and we just we don’t take it for granted. We don’t take it lightly.”
Star Trek: Discovery premieres on September 24, with its pilot episode broadcast on CBS. All episodes thereafter will be available exclusively for streaming on CBS All Access.