Star Trek Guide

Star Trek Discovery Season 3: How The Federation Exists Without Starfleet

Star Trek: Discovery season 3 is set in the 32nd century, a future era where a semblance of the United Federation of Planets still seems to exist while Starfleet apparently does not. The 32nd century, or 900 years after the era of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) timeframe, is the farthest in the future Star Trek has ever explored. This means the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery, led by Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), gets to chart a truly unknown era of Star Trek but without the familiar structure and support - Starfleet and the Federation itself - that they know.

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Star Trek has shown glimpses of the far future before but Starfleet still existed. In Star Trek: Enterprise, the prequel series set a hundred years before Kirk's era, Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) visited the 26th century; in that time, the U.S.S. Enterprise-J was in service. Star Trek: Voyager saw visitors from the 29th century come back 500 years to interact with Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), and the U.S.S. Voyager. In the 29th century, the starships Relativity and Aeon were Federation vessels and it's apparent Starfleet still exists over 700 years after it was first founded "to boldly go where no man has gone before".

The trailer for Star Trek: Discovery season 3 offers contextual clues that Starfleet no longer exists in the year 3187. When a new character named Book (David Ajala) meets Michael Burnham and sees her Starfleet insignia, he remarks that she "must believe in ghosts". This indicates that Starfleet has faded into history. However, the Federation flag - albeit an altered version with only six stars - is still displayed in the 32nd century, so the Federation must still exist in some shape or form, but not as the mighty galactic power it was in Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard's (Patrick Stewart) respective centuries. To unlock the mysteries of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, it's helpful to remember the differences between the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet.

Starfleet Is The Federation's Military Branch

Starfleet, founded in the 2130s, predates the United Federation of Planets and is its military armada. Starfleet's main purpose is deep space exploration and peacekeeping, but the multitude of starships and Starfleet Officers also fight interstellar wars to defend the Federation when the need arises. Starfleet is structured like the U.S. Navy in outer space, with Admirals overseeing fleets of starships while Captains command individual ships, supported by a command structure including Commanders, Lieutenants, and Ensigns. In the 22nd century, the U.S.S. Enterprise NX-01 was the first Warp 4-capable starship and its proud lineage led to the Enterprise-D and E becoming the Federation flagship in the 24th century.

However, the United Federation of Planets was founded in 2161, which was overseen by Captain Archer, as seen in the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise. Originally comprised of an alliance between United Earth, Vulcan, the Andorians, and the Tellarites, the Federation eventually became the greatest power in the Alpha Quadrant. At its height, the Federation included hundreds of member worlds like Betazed and Bajor and it enjoyed a friendly alliance with the Klingon Empire starting at the end of the 23rd century. It seems that in Star Trek: Discovery season 3's far future, the Federation outlasts Starfleet.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Features A New Federation

The state of the United Federation of Planets is one of the compelling hooks about Star Trek: Discovery season 3. The six-starred Federation flag seems to indicate that the galactic alliance collapsed, leaving only a handful of member worlds left to carry on. If that's indeed the case, the cause of the Federation's fall (perhaps exacerbated by the absence of Starfleet as its defender) is something every Trekker needs to know. Further, the arrival of Michael Burnham and the U.S.S. Discovery in the 32nd century could be the spark that reignites the flame of the Federation.

Star Trek: Discovery season 3 could be about the founding and rise of a new Federation from the ashes of the old, which could indicate that Burnham and the exiled crew of the Discovery actually help rebuild the Federation in the far future. Star Trek: Discovery was maligned by some Trekkers for not correctly fitting into Star Trek canon but this new mission would mean that the U.S.S. Discovery and Michael Burnham will boldly go where no one has gone before by using Star Trek's 23rd-century utopian values to bring the Federation back to its former glory.