Here's how Lower Decks connects to the wider Star Trek franchise
Star Trek: Lower Decks spoilers follow, but they're pretty minor.
Star Treklikes to claim that it boldly goes where no-one has gone before, but in truth, this franchise rarely deviates from its tried-and-tested formula. Aside from a fondly remembered cartoon released in the '70s, Star Trek isn't quite so bold as it makes out, often rehashing the same basic structure across a range of shows.
However, that's all started to change just recently. Earlier this year, Picard became the first Star Trek show to revisit a lead character for the second time, and Star Trek: Prodigy will also mix things up with a CG-animated story aimed at younger audiences.
In the meantime, another animated Star Trek venture has now attempted something even bolder, pushing humour to the forefront in a 2D animation. Created by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan, Star Trek:Lower Decks breaks from series tradition by sidelining the main crew, focusing instead on the lowly support staff who usually die before they even get the chance to be named.
Set in the year 2380, the first season of Lower Decks takes place just one year after after Star Trek: Nemesis and roughly five years before the earliest flashback in Picard. It's no wonder then that the influence of The Next Generation in particular is felt so strongly here.
From the font used in the credits to Chris Westlake's score, Lower Decks gives off some major Next Generation vibes. But does that mean fan-favourite characters from the popular series will return in animated form?
Before the show aired, McMahan teased that fans will potentially hear some familiar voices, pointing out that "there are a lot of recognisable characters in the galaxy at that point" (via Entertainment Weekly).
"Next Gen is my favourite era," McMahan continued. "And as a huge Trek fan, I would definitely want to try to use some of them so that I could not only build out the world, but also work with some of my heroes."
So did McMahan end up including any of these "recognisable" and widely loved characters? Based on the first four episodes we've seen, the answer is yes and no.
Lower Decks is crammed full of references to wider Star Trek lore, including obscure characters and even more obscure alien races. Andorians, Ferengi and the Borg all share screen time with stranger creations such as giant spider cows and even a trans-dimensional koala bear.
But what about actual characters from the likes of Voyager and Next Generation? That's more of a mixed bag. The first episode of Lower Decks ends with a huge number of name-drops, including Spock, Worf, Hikaru Sulu, James T Kirk and Deanna Troi. It's almost like the premiere had a quota to fill before the credits rolled.
Thankfully, later episodes weave references in more naturally, including shout-outs for Captain Janeway and Q, the energy being who often toyed with Jean-Luc Picard on Next Generation. Without spoiling too much, there's also an amusing nod to Miles O'Brien from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine in a later episode, but Miles himself doesn't appear in that instance.
And that's pretty much the case for most of these references. Based on what we've seen so far, major connections to the wider franchise mostly consist of random name-drops which don't amount to much, or background Easter Eggs only diehard fans will spot.
That might be a tad disappointing for Trekkies who expect Lower Decks to bring back all their favourite characters, but it makes sense that the writers would want to establish a new cast without relying on the draw of these legacy figures. That's actually quite admirable, and bodes well for the direction of the series as a whole.
However, this doesn't mean that classic Star Trek characters won't appear at all. Speaking to Inverse, McMahan discussed how the stars of Lower Decks could cross over with the live-action shows, and vice versa:
"We do have legacy actors who show up in the first season of Lower Decks and we have gotten to have a little bit of where are they now sort of vibe through a Lower Decks lens. But I gotta say, if anyone wants Mariner to show up on their live-action Star Treks, you've got to have Tawny [Newsome]."
Who these "legacy actors" are and when they'll show up remains to be seen, but by the end of season one, practically anyone from the likes of Deep Space Nine and Next Generation could theoretically appear, barring of course the actors' own schedules.
The petition for a Whoopi Goldberg cameo starts here.
Whether these upcoming cameos turn out to be as satisfying as we hope, it's still reassuring to know that Lower Decks is wholly integrated into the franchise as a whole. While the story itself is inspired by a classic episode of The Next Generation which bears the same name, Lower Decks isn't beholden to that tie, instead pushing the saga forward to comedic places no Star Trek show has gone before.
Star Trek: Lower Decks airs weekly on CBS All Access in the US. There is currently no UK release date, but hopefully one will materialise soon.
Star Trek: Discovery airs on CBS All Access in the US and Netflix internationally, including the UK. Star Trek: Picard airs on CBS All Access in the US and Amazon Prime Video internationally, including the UK.
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