Comments and Commerce: A Note
Patrick Stewart's announcement that Jean-Luc Picard is coming back is exciting news in a number of ways. The return of the character of Picard--arguably the essence of the Star Trek vision--is potentially wonderful. But part of why that is so is the return of the person playing him: Patrick Stewart.
At his unheralded convention announcement, Stewart also said that while there are no scripts, they have been talking about story lines for months. This clearly means that he is part of creating those stories. This is important in at least two ways. First, because of who he is, his experience in drama and in Star Trek as well as life. Second, because he is the first living connection from the Roddenberry era who is so intimately involved in these initial character and story concepts as well as actual stories and plots. Sure, there was the occasional TNG star who directed episodes. There was at least some contribution from Rod Roddenberry and Nicholas Meyer, but Gene's son was too young to be involved in his father's Star Trek, and though Meyer wrote and directed several of the best movies, he never really worked with GR.
That connection is important, as experience has shown. Whatever their virtues, the films and TV show created since the cancellation of Enterprise severed the professional connection and emptied Star Trek of everyone who worked with Roddenberry or was mentored by him as a writer or producer. These newer incarnations have not quite connected with Star Trek fans in the same way, because something of the soul of Star Trek was lost.
Stewart announced that the new Picard stories will take place some 20 years after the events of Nemesis. This takes us at least a little farther into the future, which is where Star Trek must boldly go again (as I argued here recently.) It is an opportunity to imagine the future anew. A lot can happen in 20 years.
It is an opportunity to revive Star Trek as a model of that future. The essence of GR's vision was that it's not only technology that changes from today--people change as well. Though writers moan about the lack of "conflict" and the too-perfect crews that GR insisted on, they are missing the point. Modelling the people of the future is the most important aspect of what Star Trek is about.
The worst thing that happened to Star Trek was 9/11. Suddenly stories were all about terrorism and torture, covert groups and and warfare. (This was especially true in the novels, but I think even some cast members will argue that 9/11 threw Enterprise off the track.) It is true that Star Trek deals with aspects of the present in metaphor and allegory. But it is also about the future, as a guide to the present.
The opportunities for this new series are almost infinite. For example, we last saw Picard about to take the Enterprise farther into unexplored space. Suppose instead of continuing to get involved in diplomatic missions, Federation politics and confrontations with the Romulans etc. (leaving that up to Captain Riker perhaps), Picard spent those 20 years exploring, farther and farther. Perhaps he encountered intelligences that are inconceivable, on the kind of scale that Olaf Stapledon wrote about in Star Maker, for example. Perhaps he returns to a changed Federation, with different technologies and problems. Perhaps others find him hard to understand, after what he has seen and experienced, and how it changed and deepened him.
In such an enterprise, Patrick Stewart and the other series creators could do worse than look for inspiration to T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets. These poems reflect on the lessons of age. There are many lines (in addition to the one quoted above) that can inspire useful ideas and perhaps even stories. "In the end is my beginning... As we grow older/The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated... History may be servitude, history may be freedom. See, now they vanish... For us, there is only trying. The rest is not our business..."
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation...
Update: There are rumors that the Picard series won't be set in the Prime universe in continuity with TNG etc. Normally I wouldn't bother with rumors, except that Alex Kurtzman is in charge, and based on his track record with Star Trek, I don't trust him. I can only trust that Patrick Stewart, who spoke at Gene Roddenberry's funeral, will not get involved in a project that breaks from the Star Trek that GR created. These people must know that such a betrayal would doom the series instantly.