Star Trek: Picard was one of the most-anticipated properties at San Diego Comic Con this year, with Sir Patrick Stewart himself taking the stage at Hall H to rapturous applause. For many Star Trek fans in attendance and at home, the question of where Picard will stand in relation to Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series that created the iconic character of Jean-Luc Picard, was at the forefront. Luckily, the panel thoroughly addressed that question…
“We pointedly did not want to make a sequel to TNG,” said executive producer Akiva Goldsman. “I think, tonally, it’s a little bit of a hybrid: slower, more gentle, more lyrical. It is more character-based. It also takes on the same thing that The Original Series took on, that Next Gen took on, that Discovery takes on, which is hope for a future that is, in many ways, better than the one we live in today.”
Star Trek: The Next Generation is very much a product of its time, as all stories are, and it doesn’t seem a particularly productive thought experiment to imagine what the show would look like were it made today. The world is different, and so is its popular media. This was reflected in Goldman’s further comments, comparing Picard to DS9 and—more recent, “modern” series—in its serialized elements…
“We think it’s important that Star Trek remains aspirational and, what we get to do, that DS9 got to do a little bit and Discovery gets to do, is tell serialized stories,” said Goldman. “And, in serialized storytelling, the characters can evolve in a way that makes it unique. We think it’s a new kind of Star Trek show made by a lot of people who love the old Star Trek shows.”
The show seems to be putting a lot of pressure on the character of Picard to act as a beacon of good moral judgment in a complex time. Speaking about how Jean-Luc will be situated in the context of the story, executive producer Alex Kurtzman said: “Every line that Picard says has to represent a philosophy and an ideal and an idealism.” (From these comments, I do worry about Picard being too individualistic, i.e. reinforcing the “Chosen One” trope, which has never been Star Trek’s underlying narrative structure, though I trust showrunner Michael Chabon not to fall into this trap.)
“TNG reflected I guess a more innocent time,” continued Kurtzman. “It was always telling great stories, complicated stories, modern parables—but we live in a much, much more complicated and darker time than that and Trek at its best has always been a mirror that’s reflected the world that we live in. So Picard, in the best way, is the one who is still standing up for what matters. He’s the one who’s still standing up for the ideals that we believe in. Age has not changed his resolve; it’s just changed the circumstances of his life.”
As you might imagine, Star Trek: Picard is being made my people who are, in fact, TNG fans.
“This is being made, you have to understand, by people who love TNG,” said Kurtzman. “We’re not seeking to reinvent it. We’re not seeking to say, ‘Ours is better.’ Or, ‘We’re doing the dark version of TNG.’ None of that is true. We’re not doing any of that. But Picard has to soul search and, to soul search, you need a dark night of the soul in order to come out the other side, lighter and brighter, and, in order to make the world brighter, he has to face that part of himself.”
One of Kurtzman’s more interesting comments—dude said a lot—was in relationship to Picard’s changed circumstances when it comes to his “resources,” i.e. Picard had more poweer as a Starfleet Captain than he does as a retired winery man.
“He’s still fighting for all of the things he would have fought for in TNG,” continued Kurtzman, “but, because the circumstances of his life have changed, he doesn’t have the same resources and so he has to dig even deeper into himself in order to get there and I think that’s why he remains such an aspirational and amazing captain because we all want to believe that in the darkest of times, the best part of ourselves would emerge, and that is Jean-Luc Picard and Patrick.”
It’s all a comfortingly fresh if broad description of narrative intent, and one that was seemingly backed up by the trailer screened not once, but twice for Hall H—a trailer that Stewart was obviously very excited about, asking the audience to hold their applause the second time around so we wouldn’t miss a thing, and one that hints at a bold new direction for the character and world, while also giving us some concrete links to Trek past.
While there were many announcements concerning the return of beloved Next Generation characters, including Data (Brent Spiner), Troi (Marina Sirtis), Riker (Jonathan Frakes), and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco), as well as Voyager‘s Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), there was also a focus on the new characters: a mysterious woman named Dahj (Isa Briones) who asks Picard for his help, a researcher named Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill), Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), Romulan Narek (Harry Treadaway), pilot/thief Cristobal “Chris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), and young Romulan Elnor (Evan Evagora).
From the looks of the trailer, it seems like Star Trek: Picard will see the Romulans experimenting on the Borg in order to further develop their own technology. Picard seems to be pulled into a new mission that will take place outside of Starfleet jurisdiction, though will include more than a little help from some of his former Starfleet colleagues.
Tonally, it’s difficult to compare Star Trek: Picard to The Next Generation. At times, The Next Generation could get thematically dark, but that was not visually represented in the way TV is able to do now. When asked why Picard is different, Kurtzman gave the credit to Stewart.
“It’s entirely different. It all started with Patrick,” said Kurtzman. “We had several conversations with him, and he challenged us beautifully. It forced us to think outside the box about what is it about Jean-Luc Picard and why people love him so much. … Picard is questioning many of the choices he made, but he’s also certain about many of the choices he made.”
Understandably, Stewart does not want to do something he has already done before or a project that wouldn’t challenge him. As the creative team and vision behind Star Trek: Picard came together, however, Stewart said he realized that was not this show would be.
“As the subject matter of this new series became clearer and clearer to me and I began to meet our incredibly distinguished writing team and to attend the sessions with them, I knew that something unusual was going to happen and I wanted to be part of it,” said Stewart. “To imagine something like this might go ahead and I wouldn’t be there would have been too defeatist, and I am very, very happy to be here.”
In a pretty non-traditional set-up for a TV series, Stewart was directly involved in shaping this story.
“Patrick has been a collaborator with the writers from the beginning,” said showrunner Chabon, “but it didn’t just stop in the early days when we were just trying to figure the show out, and it didn’t stop with subsequent later moments in the writer room when Patrick came and helped us critique and review and shape the story, it is an ongoing collaboration. I have learned to trust Patrick’s judgment of the character of Jean-Luc Picard on a daily basis, on a line-by-line basis sometimes, implicitly.”
The project is obviously one close to Stewart’s heart, and one he is taking incredibly seriously. Stewart told those gathered in Hall H: “As soon as we began talking in the writers’ room, that powerful emotion came surging back, and it’s still right here on this platform and it’s not going away.”
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