This article contains Star Trek: Lower Decks spoilers.
Because it happens in 2380, Star Trek: Lower Decks is, in theory, a direct sequel to ‘90s era of the franchise. But, spiritually, it sometimes feels like more of a sequel to the first animated Trek series, the 1973 show Star Trek: The Animated Series. So far, Lower Decks has brought back one very obscure shape-shifting alien from that show (the Vendosian in Episode 2) and made references to at least one other, specifically the plant-based aliens the Phylosians in Episode 5.
But the throwback alien reference in Star Trek: Lower Decks episode 7 — “Much Ado About Boimler” — takes the cellular peptide cake. Feel like you’ve seen that orange three-armed alien before? You’re right! He’s the same species Arex, the navigator of the USS Enterprise in The Animated Series.
But what species is that? Well, that’s a good question…
When Boimler is shipped off to Division 14 in Episode 7 of Lower Decks, he’s confronted by a large three-armed, three-legged alien who appears somewhat ominous and menacing. But, in TAS, the last time we saw an alien who like this, it was Arex, and he was super-friendly. In fact, in the episode “Mudd’s Passion,” we even saw Arex play a lute.
In TAS, Arex was voiced by James Doohan, who you better know as the guy who played Scotty. Doohan (and Nichelle Nichols) did a lot of additional voices for TAS, so much so, that in some episodes they are voicing two characters who are talking to each other. In terms of the bridge hierarchy, Arex “replaced” Chekov, who was never seen in TAS at all. Although Walter Koenig wrote one episode of the show, his overall involvement in the series was limited.
The basic canonicity of Arex was somewhat murky for a long time, mostly because everything about TAS was considered pseudo-canon for years. Although lately, the Trek franchise fully acknowledges TAS as canon, with Discovery helping to lead the charge on that front by having two text-on-screen mentions of Robert April has been the Captain of the Enterprise NCC-1701 before Pike. (This fact was established in the TAS episode “The Counter-Clock Incident.”)
And, somewhat notably, the seventh episode of Star Trek: Picard found Riker mentioning the Kzinti, a cat-like species from an Animated Series episode called “The Slaver Weapon,” but who also originated in Larry Niven’s “Known Space” books and short stories.
But, what kind of alien is Arex, and this new, very imposing medical officer? Well, the truth is, there are kind of two answers, and perhaps, three. In the Alan Dean Foster Star Trek Logs books (which were novelizations of TAS episodes) Arex is called an Edoan. Later, in the New Frontier universe (created by Peter David) a distinction was made between a species called Edosians and Triexians. The idea is that these species were closely related, but not exactly the same. Which, is kind of like the difference between Vulcans and Romulans.
For the most part, sources like Memory Alpha identify Arex as an Edosian, which is corroborated by the mobile roleplaying game Star Trek Timelines. Gene Roddenberry’s own company, Lincoln Entreprises released publicity material in 1974 that said Arex was an Edosian. And in the Enterprise episode “These Are the Voyages…” Endosian suckerfish are mentioned, which, as of now, is the only on-screen mention of this species.
That said, this episode of Lower Decks stops short of naming the species of the “Division 14 Medical Specialist.” And considering his size and attitude, it’s still possible that a Triexian/Edosian schism could still be made canon. Or, maybe not. The real question though is somewhat bigger. If we can get one of these three-armed guys on Lower Decks, could we get a live-action Arex in Strange New Worlds? Start your letter-writing campaign now!
Lower Decks Season 1 has three more new episodes, which air on Thursdays on CBS All Access.