With the recent new of Patrick Steward returning as Jean-Luc Picard in his own Star Trek spinoff after the questionable ST Discovery. With CBS now footing the bill for the second season after Netflix essentially paying for the ride for the first one, Abrams’ Trek movies effectively being dead in the water as main cast members are walking away from it and Les Moonves of CBS still wanting to screw things up to the point crashing the franchise. Midnight’s Edge’s recent video goes over the background events of the Abrams’ Trek movies, what the current license and copyright mess is and dire the situation for the franchise is overall. To put it short; the man currently in charge doesn’t like SF and wants to remove all the history of Star Trek by somehow collapsing timelines in-fiction to justify to do whatever kind of story he wants.
The thing is, he always could.
The worst decision that franchises like this do is writing prequels. By doing that, the staff is essentially tied to defined future of the story. If they break the future, the overall story and canon makes less and less sense with each little breakage. One drop doesn’t break a damn, but enough drops turn into a tidal whale. For long time fans of any franchise, they know how prequels often turn out. Not all that great, sometimes even sullying the story they’re based on.
The better option is to move forwards. If Star Trek Discovery had been another Trek show set in whatever time span after Star Trek: Nemesis, there would have been far less cacophony from the audience. No strings attached, no character references needed, no plot points to follow, everything can be made new and shiny.
But that takes effort and references seem to something Hollywood and TV writers and execs things are needed to bring in the fanbase. They seem to treat their audience as some sort of imbeciles.
References to past parts of a franchise is the easiest way to make sure the fans and general audience in the know understand that the series is part of it. For Star Trek, it’s the recurring species of Klingons and such with the occasional visitor from other shows, like how DeForest Kelley made an appearance in the first episode of The Next Generation as an older Leonard McCoy. While it supposedly gives legitimacy to the series as a sequel, it all really ends up being useless fan pandering. Similarly, Picard appeared in Deep Space 9‘s first episode to give it a sendoff, and that was about just as needless. The story had already tied itself to a past even, the Battle of Wolf 359. It can be argued that this was more a necessary cameo due to Picard’s role as the enemy in that battle, and to showcase the difference between Sisko and Picard. Problem of course was, the show could’ve done this by itself. At worst, a cameo like this makes a show look weak, as if it couldn’t stand on its own two legs. This was one of Discovery‘s worst weakness, as it was directly tied to the Original series through introducing yet another relative to Spock, and using Spock’ father Sarek prominently throughout the first season. The second season will have Spock in some role as well, meaning Discovery further loses its unique status as a show and as a story, making the world so much smaller.
Of course, it is financially more viable to do this. Referencing and using existing characters and actors ensures the fans, or at least part of the fandom, will flock and pay for these characters. This allows modern versions to be made of these characters and these modernisations then can be licensed onward to toy manufacturers and such. It makes money, and is a safe bet to give that aforementioned legitimacy. It’s a no-brainer why CBS told Abrams and Paramount that their Trek wouldn’t be the only game in town in terms of licensing. I don’t believe there ever was brand confusion among core fans, or even with general audiences to any significant extent, as the visuals between Abrams’ Trek and old Star Trek shows were like night and day, or rather, difference between well shot scene and one filled with lensflares. Any audience, fans or not, are willing to pay for products that they have connected with when it comes to franchise merch, and considering how low quality Abram’s Trek is, it’s no wonder why its toys and other merch didn’t sell. On the other hand, the culture at large has direct emotional connection to the classic Star Trek shows, especially in the US, which means its much easier to sell new merch based on those series.
And as I’ve beaten this dead horse, using those characters to which the audience has emotional contact with in other shows is just good financial sense.
In a way, it is always risky to start with new characters as they have no history or properly set path, and it’s a slight gamble whether or not the audience will like them. The audience may no connect with the characters. Neelix from Voyager is a great example how not to do a character in Trek, as he was never improved upon. He stayed a shithead throughout the series. Character like Bashir is a great example how to improve your character throughout the series, as he started as annoying prick, and then evolved into one of the more likeable and stronger characters of the show.
However, despite the risks, starting from a clean table with new characters and new stories without any of the baggage of old yields better rewards than tying things down. All it takes is proper planning and using the heart of the franchise to its fullest extent, and building up a new story with brand new characters. A new Star Trek should just be that, a new Star Trek, advancing what the series can be about and going toward the future, but ever since Enterprise, everything has just stepped backwards and stalling the franchise.