Star Trek Just Changed a Classic Next Generation Era Team for the Better

Star Trek: Prodigy goes deep into Star Trek lore to redefine one of the most infamous Starfleet groups.

USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Photo: CBS via Getty Images

This Star Trek: Prodigy article contains spoilers.

Starfleet Academy might be a school for the best and the brightest of the Federation, but it is still a school, complete with its cliques and bullies. That’s what the kids of Star Trek: Prodigy learn in the first episode of the animated series’ long-awaited season two premiere.

Now in the Alpha Quadrant after escaping the Delta Quadrant and the evil Diviner, the Prodigy kids are now on Earth and hoping to gain acceptance to Starfleet Academy. That application gets a boost when Admiral Janeway brings them aboard Voyager for a mission to find the lost Chakotay. But as Voyager‘s Doctor (once again voiced by Robert Picardo) escorts the kids to their stations, they run into a trio of haughty pre-cadets, who sport fancy insignias.

These three pre-cadets hope to become members of Nova Squadron, a once-forgotten unit that has gotten a lot of attention lately. Certainly, ’90s Trek fans should be very familiar with the significance of this reference.

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Viewers first met Nova Squadron way back in “The First Duty,” one of the most memorable episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Ronald D. Moore and Naren Shankar and directed by Paul Lynch, the season five episode “The First Duty” finds Picard visiting Starfleet Academy and checking up on Wesley Crusher. He learns that Wesley has joined the elite group of pilots known as Nova Squadron, but has also come under scrutiny after one of their members died under mysterious circumstances.

Wesley knows that the cadet died because the Nova Squadron was practicing the Starburst Maneuver, a dangerous configuration that was banned by Starfleet. The Squadron attempted the maneuver under the influence of Nick Locarno, the son of a powerful Admiral. Wesley initially falls in line with the other members of the squadron, omitting the truth, until Picard delivers one of his best speeches, lecturing the young Crusher about a Starfleet member’s first duty.

After “The First Duty,” Locarno was reimagined as Tom Paris for Voyager, but Nova Squadron fell into obscurity. At least until the Squadron returned in the most recent season of Star Trek: Lower Decks, bringing Locarno back with it.

Throughout the fourth season of Lower Decks, a mysterious ship collects lower deckers of various ships. In the final episodes, Mariner discovers that the ship is piloted by Nick Locarno, who wants to form his own Starfleet of the overlooked people. Although motivated by his own hubris, Locarno claims to want revenge for what happened to Nova Squadron.

Although the show does name-check the Cerritos, Prodigy has different plans for Nova Squadron than either Lower Decks or TNG. Most of this new group stays quiet (which is shocking given that one of them is a Lurian—Morn would never shut up), but Vulcan member Maj’el (Michaela Dietz) does play a major role in this season.

Maj’el goes with the Prodigy kids through time on their search for Chakotay. Not only does her devotion to logic help give order to the kids when they’re in disarray, especially encouraging the sometimes erratic Dal, but she embarks on a romance with the Medusan Zero.

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But Nova Squadron’s best moment comes later in the season, when a massive ship under the command of Asencia and Drednok fires upon Voyager. The young Nova Squadron, with Dal among them, jumps into their fighter ships and gives fans a sequence more common in Trek‘s longtime rival Star Wars.

This version of the Nova Squadron has some commonalities with Locarno’s group, particularly a hot-shot attitude that makes them daring pilots. However, they also show a key quality that Locarno never understood. This Nova Squadron possesses a selflessness that drives them to sacrifice their own safety for the good of others. They understand the first duty of Starfleet Officers, a duty to the truth and to the principle that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

The addition of Nova Squadron to Prodigy continues the show’s look at Starfleet from the outside. As the kids cling to the hope of inclusion that Starfleet and the Federation promise, Nova Squadron presents a warning for the most ambitious among them (read: Dal) that being the best of the best can have its dark side.

Star Trek: Prodigy season two is now streaming on Netflix.