Created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966, Star Trek has become a cultural icon that has spanned over five decades. Noted for its cultural influences and progressive civil rights acts, Trek included one of television’s first multiracial casts and the first onscreen interracial kiss. While the original show only aired for three seasons, Star Trek now spans over six syndicated television shows, 725 episodes, and 13 major motion pictures. Not to mention the hundreds of graphic novels, comics, short stories, books, and video games that have spawned over the decades. With that much content in its coffers, one might feel a bit lost in trying to ‘catch up’ before the release of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access this September. Never fear! This Trekkie is on a mission to get you up to warp-speed on everything essential to the Star Trek universe. You’ll be speaking Klingon in no time.
Star Trek takes place in a fictional future where the major nations of Earth were engaged in a Third World War. From the years 2026-2053, over 600 million lives were lost to the fighting, hunger, and nuclear fallout. In the year 2063, a scientist by the name of Zefram Cochrane piloted the first warp-capable spacecraft from Earth; breaking the warp-1 barrier and garnering the attention of a nearby alien ship. These aliens, known as Vulcans, landed in Montana and brokered a peace accord with Cochrane.
Fast forward 50 years later and poverty, disease, and war are all but a distant memory for humanity. Fast forward another 38 years, in 2151, and you have the founding of ‘Starfleet’ and the launch of Earth’s first warp-5 ship: NX-01 Enterprise. This ship was instrumental in establishing an inter-species space charter, later known as ‘The United Federation of Planets’ or simply ‘The Federation.’
The Federation is a coalition of member planets that have banded together for the safety and betterment of all. Think of the United Nations in space. (But don’t get confused here. Starfleet is Earth’s governing body during this time period. The Federation is a coalition that Starfleet founded with dozens of other governments and worlds.) While this coalition was a formidable force, it wasn’t the only large governing body in the cosmos. Major threats to The Federation included:
- The Klingon Empire
- The Romulan Star Empire
- The Borg
- The Dominion/the Cardassians
Throughout Star Trek’s long history, Starfleet members have navigated the dangers of space against these foes and dozens of others. And while the expanded universe of Trek explores additional events, alternate timelines, and parallel universes, this article is focused on the ‘prime’ storyline depicted on film and television.
So, now that you understand the basic setting of Star Trek, let’s take a moment to meet some of the universe’s key players.
One-hundred years after the signing of the Federation Charter, Captain James T. Kirk takes command of the USS Enterprise, NCC 1701, for a 5-year mission into deep space. Kirk, along with his iconic first officer, Spock, would continue their space-faring adventures for the next 40 years.
Roughly 60 years later, Captain Jean-Luc Picard takes command of the Enterprise, NCC 1701-D. There, Picard faces off against Klingon, Borg and a dozen other high-profile alien threats. Similar to Kirk, Picard also captained two different Enterprise variants.
Then, in the year 2369, Captain Benjamin Sisko took command of the alien space station, Deep Space Nine. From there, Sisko defended The Federation from multiple alien incursions and fought in the dreaded Dominion Wars.
Finally, Captain Kathryn Janeway took command of the USS Voyager, NCC-74656, in the year 2371. This vessel became famous for completing a 7-year journey across the cosmos after being stranded 75,000 light years away from Earth.
Each one of these major characters came complete with their own ensemble crew, all of whom are iconic in their own right. But to list each one here would take another 1500 words. It’s best to experience each of them while watching Trek.
A Tale of Two Kirks
So you might be asking yourself: how does any of this fit into those recent Star Trek movies? You know, the ones with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto?
Well, it’s actually pretty simple. In an effort to revitalize Trek, Paramount Studios filmed what is known as a “soft reboot” of the franchise. In effect, the actions taken by certain characters in the film caused an alternate reality to be splintered off. This reality was affectionately named the “JJ-Verse,” after director J.J. Abrams, but is officially known as the “Kelvin Universe.”
The Kelvin Universe takes the beloved and iconic cast members of the original show and sets them on all new adventures. Much like fanfiction itself, this alternate universe allows Paramount to retain some brand recognition, but not worry about continuity errors. (It should be noted that Star Trek: Discovery will not take place in this alternate timeline. Instead, it will take place in the ‘prime’ timeline where the majority of Trek film and TV episodes are based.
Binge me up, Scotty!
As it stands today it would take you 23 full days, or 546 hours, to watch all of the films and TV episodes of Star Trek. Even as a Trekkie, that seems like a lot. However, if you are determined to get the full effect of Star Trek prior to the release of CBS’ new show then I recommend the following binge-watching orders.
The Release Order (Based off of Release Dates):
- The Original Series – 79 episodes
- The Animated Series – 22 episodes
- The Motion Picture
- Wrath of Khan
- Search for Spock
- The Voyage Home
- The Next Generation – 178 episodes
- The Final Frontier
- The Undiscovered Country
- Deep Space Nine – 176 episodes
- Voyager – 172 episodes
- First Contact
- Enterprise – 98 episodes
- Star Trek (2009)
- Into Darkness
Ketwolski’s Watch Order:
I recommend working chronologically through the list above with a few exceptions. Watch the final two Kirk-era movies (The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country) before you start the Picard-era The Next Generation series. Then, follow up The Next Generation with the Deep Space Nine and Voyager TV series. Next, watch the Generations and First Contact films, but follow those up with the Enterprise TV series before you move onto Nemesis. In terms of the Kelvin Universe, you can safely skip Into Darkness.
Second Star to the Right, And Straight on Until Morning
Having been on the air for over 50 years, Star Trek has had both good and bad years. Some shows and films flourished, while others fell flat. But through it all, one thing remains: the dedicated fanbase known as ‘Trekkies’ …or sometimes ‘Trekkers.’
If you choose now to engage in the franchise you will not be alone. You will join some of the most fierce, die-hard, and lovable people you will ever meet. So, I hope that you decide to take this trek with us, and beam yourself into the amazing universe of Star Trek.
Learn more about Star Trek on Ketwolski’s YouTube channel.