*****POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS*****
Yesterday (as of this writing) a flood of rumors emerged regarding the slew of new Star Trek coming out this year; this month’s return of Star Trek: Discovery (Feb. 10th), the season 2 premiere of Star Trek: Picard (March 3rd), more rumors of the long-gestating Star Trek Section 31 series, and yet another round of rumors regarding a possible Starfleet Academy project (a rumor I’ve heard off and on since 1988). But I’m not going to get into any of that right now. For more information on the other upcoming Star Trek projects, I humbly direct you to a trusted source of mine; Trekcore.com. What I want to write about now is this poster.
In the five-plus years of this column, I never thought I’d do a post about a poster, but well, here we are…
The new poster for “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is simply gorgeous. The desert hues of Mojave, California, with a horseback Chris Pike and the starship Enterprise above him, awaiting his return. The greens and warm golds of the Mojave desert sunset transition into an alien sky, dominated by the familiar lines of the USS Enterprise. In the distance, we see hints of tall futuristic buildings in an as-yet unrealized 23rd century Mojave skyline.
Note: It’s possible the horse in the poster is Pike’s beloved “Tango,” whom he saw as an illusion in the TOS Star Trek pilot, “The Cage” (1964). Pike seemed especially fond of the horse, even feeding it imaginary sugar cubes, as he did back in the days before his Starfleet career.
If I had to find a single image to represent the near-56 years of the Star Trek franchise, that poster would be it. The human race, which once domesticated horses for travel across continents, is now poised to take its own mechanical marvel far into the galaxy. Simple, evocative, and powerful. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that in my 55 years of being alive (most of that time spent as a Trekkie), this Strange New Worlds poster may well be my favorite poster for any Star Trek project ever produced. It’s a romantic image, evocative of the space western concept that Star Trek creator/producer Gene Roddenberry first used to pitch the series in 1964 (“zap guns instead of six-shooters, spaceships instead of horses,” he once joked). Elegant and modern, yet 1960s-retro. The poster is the very epitome of Star Trek.
The poster clearly references The Original Series’ original (unsold) pilot “The Cage”, which was later incorporated into TOS’ only 2-part episode, “The Menagerie.” In that pilot, we learned that Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) was born and raised in a now green Mojave desert (very different from the near Vulcan locale of today), loved to take his horses and ride out all day, before the busy life of a starship captain made such simple pleasures difficult to realize. Granted, the view we see of a verdant 23rd century Mojave ‘desert’ was an illusion plucked from Captain Pike’s mind, so it’s possible that the exhausted Pike was remembering Mojave as more lush and idyllic than it was in reality. The new poster hints at the more rugged Mojave of today–perhaps a secluded part of its original desert area preserved by those who sought to keep the native ecosystem thriving. Nevertheless, the view of 23rd century Earth in “The Cage” marked the only time we ever glimpsed the 23rd century version of our home planet in the original three year-run of TOS Star Trek.
Note: The next time Star Trek fans of that era would see 23rd century Earth again would be San Francisco of 2271 in 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”.
The poster also sees Pike wearing a cowboy hat, which is somewhat unsurprising. Before he became so deeply associated with Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry (who was born in El Paso, Texas) wrote many TV western scripts (“Have Gun Will Travel,” “Boots and Saddles”), as the genre was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s. While westerns are somewhat rare today (both in TV and movies), it’s interesting to note that the actor playing Christopher Pike in Strange New Worlds is Anson Mount, who came off of AMC’s railroad western drama “Hell On Wheels” (2011-2016) before being tapped to play Pike in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. The western genre may not be as popular now as it was in the 1960s, but it’s not exactly dead, either.
Note: Gene Roddenberry was, of course, the creator of Star Trek (writing “The Cage” pilot himself), but many other writers would ultimately shape the series into what it became, including writers/script-editors/producers Gene L. Coon, Dorothy Fontana, John Meredyth Lucas, John D.F. Black, and many others. Credit must be given to these extraordinary and talented writer/producers as well.
Star Trek has had its own share of western-themed stories as well; the TOS episode “Spectre of the Gun” was an illusionary retelling of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, with Kirk and his officers re-cast as the Clanton gang, facing the deadly wrath of Wyatt Earp and his deputies. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “A Fistful of Datas” featured an “Ancient West” holodeck program which Alexander Rozhenko (Brian Bonsall) ran for his Klingon father, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn); the program glitches, of course, with near-deadly repercussions for Worf, his son, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Data (Brent Spiner). There was also Star Trek: Enterprise’s “North Star” which saw a faraway planet of humans, transplanted from Earth’s Old West, still living in a time-locked ecosphere. There was also the more recent Star Trek: Discovery episode “New Eden”, which saw Pike (Mount) and the Discovery crew finding a lost settlement of humans who relocated to a distant planet in the Beta Quadrant, eschewing most modern technology, following the trauma of World War 3 in the mid-21st century–a conflict they assumed had destroyed their native Earth.
Debuting on May 5th of this year, Strange New Worlds promises a return to the more familiar type of standalone storytelling (in addition to seasonal arcs) which made TOS and TNG Star Trek so accessible to new viewers back in their respective heydays. In addition to the reimagined characters of Pike, his first officer “Number One”/Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) and Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck), other reimagined core characters include Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) and Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun of last year’s “Dune: Part One”) as well. From initial images and videos teased last year, the recasting of these familiar roles seems to have been done with a great deal of care.
Note: Strange New Worlds’ pilot is created by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, with many other writers and producers working on the series as well. Kurtzman is currently overseeing much of modern Star Trek (Discovery, Short Treks, Picard), after co-writing and co-producing the “Kelvinverse” Star Trek movies.
While the poster teases a ‘space cowboy’ captain with Christopher Pike–perhaps even more so than the famously equestrian William Shatner‘s Captain Kirk–one can safely assume that the series will not feature Pike riding into dusty alien towns and arresting alien bandits every week. Despite the late Gene Roddenberry’s self-admittedly deceptive pitch of TOS Star Trek as a space western, the series grew into much more than that, of course. It became a metaphor for the human condition on present day Earth. Despite protestations from some fans, “Star Trek” has always been about social issues (racism, drug addiction, violence, sexuality, etc) but by dressing its characters in unusual costumes and alien makeups, the series was able to squeak these then-heavy topics past the prudent network censors of the time.
Today’s TV/streaming entertainment is a lot more frank, lacking the need for coy metaphors, as network censors have all but disappeared (TV rankings in the US are little more than suggestions for viewer discretion). That said, Star Trek still uses thinly-disguised present-day social issues to advance its vision for a more just and better future–hopeful that its gorgeous sets and inspiring eye-candy will help the ‘medicine’ go down. Whatever one’s opinion of present-day Star Trek, this is something the show has done from its very beginning back in 1966.
Beyond Star Trek’s use of metaphor to address current social ills, there is also its powerful sense of adventure–the Space Age-born dream of flying across the universe in a mighty starship for parts unknown. This poster for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds captures, in a single image, that spirit of unapologetic escapism present in all of Star Trek. Whatever the series ultimately holds in store for viewers, that poster casts a greatly aspirational shadow.
Where To Watch/Stay Safe
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” will be available to stream in the US on Paramount+ streaming service, but no firm decision on international release streaming is set; rumors suggest Amazon Prime Video or possibly PlutoTV, which recently made “Star Trek: Discovery” season 4 available to stream to more overseas markets after a dreadful reversal by Netflix. Stay Tuned. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 884,000 (and nearly 5.6 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks and get vaccinated (with booster shots) as soon as possible to prevent infections and protect your loved ones through the holidays. Please continue to wear masks in public venues; the N95/KN95 masks are proven more effective. With a bit of Star Trek optimism and medical science, we can persevere through this pandemic.
Live long and prosper, and best wishes for 2022.