This article contains massive Star Trek: Picard spoilers.
One of the most essential pieces of the Star Trek: Picard puzzle actually happens off-screen, and to fully understand it, you have to travel back in time about ten years. In the first episode of Star Trek: Picard — “Remembrance” — a lot of folks are talking about the Romulan Supernova; a galactic cataclysmic event which changed everything. But what the heck was the Romulan Supernova and why is it so important not just to Jean-Luc Picard, but to the entire galaxy? The short answer is: the Romulan Supernova is J.J. Abrams. Here’s the long answer:
Famously — or infamously — the 2009 J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek is a film reboot insofar as it created a parallel universe in which Captain Kirk became blue-eyed Chris Pine, Spock became Zachary Quinto, and the architecture of the 23rd century looked like it had been designed by Steve Jobs. But in a move straight out of Biff’s playbook in Back to the Future Part II, the Abramsverse exists because of time travel meddling. At the start of the film, a Romulan ship called the Narada — captained by a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) — emerges from a time vortex and destroys the USS Kelvin in the year 2233. Later, after waiting around for quite awhile, Nero and the Narada causes a lot of trouble for the reboot crew in the year 2258. But, if you’ve seen the 2009 reboot film, this is old news, right? Well, yes and no. One thing you may have forgotten is exactly where and when Nero and his Romulans came from when they popped out of that time vortex. Because although we connect those Romulans with the reboot film, and therefore the 23rd century, the fact is, from a non-linear, but strictly canonical point of view, Nero comes from Picard’s 24th century specifically, the year 2387.
So when Jean-Luc is getting interviewed in the first episode of Picard on the anniversary of the Romulan Supernova, this is the exact same event from the 2009 reboot. In that movie, we got all the information from Old Spock, who, like Nero and the angry Romulans, also had time traveled from the late 24th century. But now, about 11 years after the reboot movie, we’re essentially rejoining the future that Old Spock left behind when he time traveled into the past. Only now it’s the year 2399, and the Romulan Supernova is history — recent history — but still history.
Prior to the launch of Picard, it was generally assumed that the destruction of the Romulan home planet, Romulus, would be discussed in the series, but the Picard premiere reveals that this event is pivotal to the backstory of the show. Jean-Luc himself had planned to lead a rescue armada to help evacuate the entire Romulan Empire, but because Mars was suddenly attacked by rogue Synths (synthetic lifeforms) in 2385, the plans for the rescue armada for Romulus were called off, and, clearly angry and heartbroken, Picard resigned from Starfleet. So essentially not only did the Romulan Supernova create the backstory to the Kelvin Universe of the reboot films, it’s also the prologue to everything that happens in Picard.
On top of all that, Picard has also neatly fixed a plothole in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek, which has been lingering since 2009. In that film, Spock was acting alone to help the Romulans avoid total destruction, which is why he was trying to inject experimental “red matter” into the supernova. Because J.J. Abrams movies move really fast, upon first viewing in 2009, we didn’t have a lot of time to ask why Old Spock was all on his own, and now we know; the Federation planned to help the Romulans, but then, after getting attacked by rogue Synths, decided to pull the plug on Picard’s plan. Which is why Old Spock was totally alone in his quest to stop the supernova with his tiny spaceship and goofy red matter.
Shockingly or not, the producer of Star Trek: Picard, and one of the show’s co-creators is Alex Kurtzman, the co-writer of both Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). So in terms of connecting the slightly confusing mythologies between the reboot films and the Prime timeline (which is where Picard happens, to be clear) Kurtzman was uniquely suited to juggle this complicated event. In other words, if anyone in the Picard writers’ room asked: “Where was Picard while Spock was getting high on red matter?” Kurtzman would know, because he’s the guy who exploded this whole champagne Romulan supernova in the first place.
In fact, Kurtzman’s involvement could also explain why one bit of left-over Star Trek apocrypha from 2009 has resurfaced in a slightly different way for Picard. Before the 2009 reboot hit theaters, IDW published a four-part comic book miniseries (co-written by Kurtzman) called Star Trek: Countdown, in which it was revealed that the Narada was outfitted with reverse-engineered Borg technology. In the final moments of “Remembrance” it comes clear that the Romulans are in possession of a Borg cube, which suddenly makes this small non-canon detail from the original Countdown comic, true. (The rest of it, including Data as Captain of the future-Enterprise and Picard an ambassador to Vulcan, really doesn’t work, however.)
Right now, IDW has published two issues of a 3-part series called Star Trek: Picard: Countdown, which — you guessed it — outlines exactly what Picard was going to prep for the Romulan rescue before everything went to hell on Mars. The first two issues have already been published, and the final issue is expected out on January 29. So, far, this series has firmly established why Jean-Luc’s Romulan housekeepers in the new series — Laris and Zhaban — got involved with Picard in the first place. And, yes, it essentially because they had nowhere to go after the supernova, but also, because they left the Tal Shair (the Romulan secret service) in disgrace for helping Picard.
Finally, curious as to why there are dual rings in Romulan space? Well, that might be the remains of the Romulan supernova. Nobody says “Hobus Supernova” in Picard, numerous sources (like Star Trek: Online, and the Star Trek maps book Stellar Cartography: The Starfleet Reference Library) call the star that exploded the “Hobus star.” But because we see two ominous rings in Romulan space right at the end of the episode, were there two Hobus stars? Was this binary star system that blew up? One Geoff Mandel illustration from Stellar Cartography (map 10, specifically) seems to depict Hobus as a double star. This hasn’t been confirmed in on-screen dialogue, but those double rings are pretty serious, right?
If the Hobus system was a binary system, that means the Romulan Supernova was a Star Trek explosion so good, they decided to make it a double.
Star Trek: Picard is now streaming on CBS All Access.