Star Trek Guide

Star Trek Finally Remembered That Phasers Aren't Just For Killing

The phaser is the most common and effective weapon in Star Trek but Star Trek: Lower Decks finally remembered that the handheld phaser is also a versatile tool and not just an implement of killing. CBS All-Access' animated comedy series has lovingly referenced and parodied the entire Star Trek franchise of both TV shows and films while the scrappy underdogs who make up the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos have simultaneously defined Star Trek: Lower Decks' own unique identity. The writers led by series creator Mike McMahan clearly love and understand Star Trek and, in the case of the phaser, they also have reminded fans that the ingenious tech is more than just a weapon.

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Star Trek's 23rd and 24th-century phaser technology evolved from the phase-pistol and phase-cannons of the 22nd century, which is what the crew of Captain Jonathan Archer's (Scott Bakula) NX-01 Enterprise were armed with. Along with photon torpedoes, phaser banks are starships' primary weapons while handheld phasers are sidearms used by Starfleet Officers on Away missions. The pistol-shaped phasers of Star Trek: The Original Series' 23rd-century era gave way to the three most common types of phasers used inStar Trek: The Next Generation's 24th-century time period: the Type-1 or hand phaser, the Type-2 phaser, which was larger and has a pistol grip, and the Type-3 phaser or phaser rifle used during heavy-duty combat. Star Trek has showcased innumerable phaser battles throughout the franchise, and Trekkers are familiar with "setting phasers to stun" an enemy and also, "setting phasers to kill", which often involves the total disintegration of a target.

But inStar Trek: Lower Decks, the crew of the Cerritos use phasers for all manner of jobs as well. This is because the phaser is actually a handy multi-tool. Using the phaser's different settings, the device can also emit a heat beam that has several useful applications; for instance, when stranded on an Away mission, the phaser can be used to heat food and drinks or heat rocks for warmth. Phasers can also cut through metal and rocks to create doorways. In Star Trek: Lower Decks, Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and her crewmates are seen performing carbon filter maintenance and using the phaser to remove sludge. Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) even uses his phaser to remove graffiti from the Cerritos' walls. With this in mind, it makes sense that the crew of the Cerritos is commonly seen hefting phasers in their daily duties even when the ship isn't on red alert and there's no enemy to fight.

Star Trek has often underlined just how dangerous phasers can be. In TOS' classic "The City on the Edge of Forever", when Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) time-traveled to 1930s New York City, a homeless man got ahold of his hand phaser and accidentally disintegrated himself. In the TOS' episode "The Conscience of the King", a phaser was set to self-destruct, which was not only meant to assassinate Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) but the explosion would have severely damaged the Starship Enterprise. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall) reminded the crew that no one may fire an unauthorized phaser aboard a starship because it signals a red alert. In addition, firing a phaser set to stun at close range has proven to kill a target.

When the TNG and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films focused more on being action movies, the phaser was boiled down to its primary use as a weapon for shootouts with the Borg, the Romulans, and the Klingons. The TV series that followed, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, also largely followed suit when they staged their spectacular action sequences. However, Star Trek: Lower Decks hews closer to the classic TNG style where theCerritos engages in all kinds of missions in the final frontier while also highlighting the day-to-day drudgery of the Lower Deckers (which they mostly enjoy), and one of the benefits for longtime Trekkers is enjoying how Star Trek: Lower Decks showcases the phaser's multiple uses.

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