Star Trek in 2023: The year in review
Those who have been in the Star Trek fandom for a while know it’s not a given that we fans gorge ourselves on new content. Who among us hasn’t adopted a 1000-yard stare as we remember the *shudders* dark days of 2005–2009, the time between Star Trek: Enterprise ending with the excellent “Terra Prime” (oh, that wasn’t the true finale? I must have blocked it out), and Star Trek (2009) jumpstarting the franchise again. In those four years, there was nothing new for Star Trek on TV or in theaters, and the franchise seemed all but dead. Times sure have changed, haven’t they?
2023 was a killer year for the franchise, so it’s worth grabbing a Romulan ale and toasting the powers-that-be for giving us three new excellent seasons of television, two great and differing video games, and a host of books and comics. Let’s strap on our neural stimulators, take a cue from “Shades of Gray,” and start this clip show looking back at 2023.
A Generation’s Final Voyage
The pinnacle of 2023 came near the beginning, as fans were blessed with the long-awaited finale for the TNG cast. Many fans, myself included, have dreamed of our friends from the Enterprise-D reunited to save the day one last time. The third season of Star Trek: Picard hit all the right notes, which was incredibly refreshing after so many franchises recently tried and failed to honor their legacy characters satisfyingly (I’m staring hard at you, Jurassic World: Dominion.).
Having our heroes come back into the fold piecemeal, in ways that sensibly reflected their ages and experiences since The Next Generation, was an intelligent choice from showrunner Terry Matalas and his crew. And having cameos from Ro Laren, Lore, the hard-to-kill Q, and even mother****ing Moriarty were thrilling and sensible within the context of the show. While the season did at times drink generously from the nostalgia well – such as Geordi happening to have on hand a functioning replica of the good ole’ D just in time to save the galaxy – one thing is for sure: Star Trek: Picard gave that legendary cast the send-off they didn’t get in Nemesis. We likely won’t see an event in Star Trek fandom – hell, even sci-fi entertainment in general – that rivals Picard season three for quite some time.
The Art of Innovation
The high from Picard’s ending couldn’t last forever, but the return of Strange New Worlds reminded us there’s a wealth of great content yet to come to the franchise. While nothing could crank that dopamine up better than, say, seeing the Enterprise-D weaving through a Borg Cube above the mighty clouds of Jupiter, SNW holds so much potential; nowhere was that seen more prominently than in the second season of this show. I think of SNW’s sophomore outing as its Season of Experimentation, which is not, as you might think, a marketing tagline for a long and aggressively lusty vacation to Risa, but rather an accurate description of what SNW’s writers endeavored to do in 2023.
Many episodes in season two seemed to play in a new sandbox. Despite not getting off on the best foot in the season premiere, or ending on the best foot in the season finale, episodes like the courtroom drama “Ad Astra per Aspera,” the human condition-focused “Among the Lotus Eaters,” the species-swapping “Charades,” the instant-classic “Those Old Scientists,” or the musical “Subspace Rhapsody” ventured into new or uncommon territory with exceptionally powerful sci-fi stories set within an untraditional structure.
After 57 years, Star Trek needed this kind of shake-up. You might notice the episodes we at TrekNews were harshest on were the more traditionally dramatic episodes, like the aforementioned season premiere and its bookend counterpart. That’s because SNW is great at jumping outside the box and creating memorable, unorthodox stories; this flexibility is a strong contrast against its other Star Trek live-action counterparts.
While the cliffhanger in “Hegemony” points to a more traditional premiere for season three, let’s hope the powers-that-be remember how flexible the SNW cast is, and the writers’ skill in crafting non-traditional stories. In any event, Strange New Worlds offered fans a bountiful feast as 2023 rolled on, and this is a show I am certainly optimistic about when I consider its place in the increasingly crowded Star Trek pantheon.
Below Decks, Beyond Laughter
If I had to pick one Star Trek show from the current era to take on a desert island, I’d go with Lower Decks – which shouldn’t be too surprising considering how often I sing the praises of the half-hour animated comedy. Season four kept the hits coming, starting with a fantastic Voyager tribute in “Twovix.” The rest of the season continued a welcome theme: maturing our animated heroes as they face increased responsibilities and moral dilemmas.
Take Beckett Mariner, for example. Her character growth over the last four years is seriously impressive, as we have uncovered more and more of her inner battle against promotion and responsibility. In this most recent season, she finally discovered the root of her inner angst – and at the same time, fans were delivered an out-of-left-field cameo from a memorable two-time TNG character.
The lovable Orion Tendi also occupied the well-deserved spotlight, with episodes like “Something Borrowed, Something Green,” and “Old Friends, New Planets” fleshing out her place in the little-known Orion society. This season’s newcomer, T’Lyn, was a fine addition to the cast and occupied a special place in the ranks of the lower deckers. Often, T’Lyn helped characters like Brad Boimler or Tendi learn more about themselves and their place in Starfleet. Considering the amount of attention paid to developing these animated characters, it’s no surprise Lower Decks‘ greatest strength is its charming cast. The show’s incredible knowledge of the franchise that it’s parodying is the thick layer of icing on the cake. Luckily, Lower Decks is set for another season — although we don’t know when it’ll premiere — so we’ll have more of the Cerritos and its crew’s shenanigans to look forward to.
A Resurgence of Star Trek Gaming
This is an aspect of 2023’s Star Trek I was excited about. Besides the long-standing Star Trek Online, Star Trek’s gaming selection has historically been… lackluster. You have to be of a certain age to wistfully remember the gaming glory days of the late 1990s or early 2000s to find a healthy selection of Star Trek video games. This year, fans were treated to two great and, importantly, markedly different games: Star Trek: Resurgence and Star Trek: Infinite.
The former is a story-based adventure game from Dramatic Labs that is driven by your decisions. Its plot hits well-known Star Trek notes, such as long-thought-dead alien races, complex diplomacy between embattled civilizations, space battles, strong characterization, a healthy bit of exploration, a memorable hero ship, and one or two cameos for good measure. Dramatic Labs knew Star Trek is the perfect fit for the decision-centric narrative game genre, so if you haven’t checked Resurgence out, it’s well worth the $40 asking price.
Star Trek: Infinite could hardly be more different than Resurgence. Published by the genre vets at Paradox Interactive, we thought this game was a remarkable gift to strategy game fans. Players leveraged incredibly complex political, economic, and military systems to take over the galaxy as their chosen faction, and if you put in the time to learn this massive game, you’re in for quite the campaign. In the weeks since its release, numerous updates have addressed many bugs and other issues fans ran into at launch, so now is a better time than ever to dive into the multi-layered gameplay systems that form to make Infinite a game of infinite possibilities.
Two games in the same year? Younger gamers may not know how good they have it, but trust me: even two games – neither one with microtransactions, live-service models, broken launches, or any of the other cancerous characteristics seen in so many modern games – is something to celebrate. Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s on the horizon for Star Trek gaming in 2024 and beyond, so the best thing we can do is keep putting time into the two releases we have, and hope gaming publishers notice how Star Trek can be a reputable and flexible gaming opportunity. I think it’s time for a true AAA Star Trek game — something like a Mass Effect-esque RPG experience. A guy can hope, right?
Beyond the Stars
Outside of Star Trek on screens, there was a packed schedule of new Star Trek book releases. We checked out Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country by John Jackon Miller back in February and found SNW’s first tie-in novel an enjoyable adventure that honored its lineage tastefully – including an elaborate callback to a popular Star Trek: Enterprise episode. Likewise, Star Trek: Discovery: Somewhere to Belong was a fine addition to that show’s series of novels, as it faithfully bridges the gap between Discovery’s third and fourth seasons by showing how the Discovery crew adjusts to their jump to the future, while authentically exercising the show’s emotionally intelligent ethos.
Fans who prefer coffee table-style behind-the-scenes reference books, such as August’s Star Trek: The Art of Neville Page – Inside the Mind of the Visionary Designer, or September’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – The Making of the Classic Film, have new favorites to add to their collection. Similarly, The Center Seat – 55 Years of Trek: The Complete, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek was released in April and is a must-read for fans thanks to its enormous historical significance and breadth of material. I’ve been deep in Star Trek fandom for my entire life, and even I learned plenty from these BTS books.
These are just the books TrekNews was able to get to; there are numerous comics – including a prequel to Star Trek: Resurgence and a series that bridges the gap between Star Trek: Picard seasons two and three – that delightfully expand this amazing universe. The world of Star Trek comics is a fruitful one and has been for years, so in 2024 I hope to make more time to check out this intriguing genre.
There’s no lack of Star Trek material to consume, and no time has that been more the case than in 2023. Perhaps best of all, there also isn’t a lack of material for those who might prefer classic Trek or newer Trek. As we look ahead to 2024, what with the fifth and final season of Discovery hitting in April, the fifth season of Lower Decks maybe later in the year, Star Trek: Prodigy’s second season premiering on Netflix at some point, and what’ll likely be another buffet of books and comics, let’s not forget 2023 is ending on an encouraging note; the temporarily delisted first season of Star Trek: Prodigy is back on streaming services (Netflix), which is a terrific outcome for a series that is showing huge promise but was unceremoniously taken off Paramount+, ostensibly the home for all Star Trek.
Here’s hoping 2024 continues the new golden era of this amazing franchise!
Stay tuned to TrekNews.net for all the latest Star Trek merchandise news, plus details on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Picard, and more.