By Rick Lundeen
There is a lot of Star Trek to choose from! And if you’re a newbie who’s about to take the leap, you might be wondering where to start. The good news is, there are lots of entry points to the franchise…
Which Star Trek should you start with?
I think the most natural choice would be to watch the series and films in order of transmission. So you could start with Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69) for a couple reasons. For a start, TOS was a pretty solid series throughout its three seasons. Its first season was the strongest, with classics such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever,’ which features time travel and heartbreak, whereas ‘Balance of Terror’ is a tension-filled, tactical game of cat and mouse with the Romulans (a species based loosely on the Roman Empire.)
And whilst the second season has its gems – such as the premiere ‘Amok Time’ which features a crisis for Spock that takes the Enterprise to Vulcan – the third season is primarily (and perhaps unfairly) known for ‘Spock’s Brain,’ which is a very strange tale. So, TOS definitely starts off with its strongest stuff.
TOS also introduces us to the Star Trek universe, whereas other spin-offs mostly build on what TOS established. You could even follow up TOS with The Animated Series (1973) which ran only for one season but helped continue and fill out more of the Enterprise’s original five year mission.
Next would be the TOS films: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country (1978-91.) Everyone returned for the big screen versions, and they mostly performed well at the box office. The best of these were arguably Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, the former dealing with the return of an old enemy – Khan Noonian Singh from the TOS episode ‘Space Seed.’ The latter, meanwhile, is an epic tale of humans vs. Klingons, and includes the possible end of the Klingon empire, in the twilight of the Enterprise crew’s careers.
Those last two movies overlap with Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94) although the first two seasons are iffy at best. TNG expands the Trek universe and is set 100 years after the events of TOS, featuring the characters of Picard, Data and Worf, amongst others. TNG is followed by four movies: Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis (1994-2002.)
Then we’ve got arguably the finest Trek series ever produced: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992-99.) This is Trek writing, acting and producing at its biggest and best, with Sisko, Kira, Garak, Odo, Quark, Bashir, O’Brien, and many other memorable characters. It focuses on a rundown, former Cardassian space station that has been taken over by Starfleet after the Cardassians ended their occupation of war-torn Bajor. It’s an outpost at the end of nowhere, but it suddenly becomes the hotspot of the Alpha Quadrant. It’s a series that starts off slow, but it gathers pace over time with its rich characterisations and intense storylines.
Then, you’ve got Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) and Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-4.) Voyager focuses on the crew of a ship that has been accidentally flung some 75,000 light years from home, and they must find a way back. Enterprise, on the other hand, is set some 100 years before Kirk’s time, and takes a look at the very early days of Starfleet before the founding of the United Federation of Planets.
More recently, we have the so-called Kelvin Timeline of the JJ Abrams movies: Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek: Beyond (2009-16). In these movies, we have a renegade who’s witnessed the destruction of his own planet. He blames Starfleet, and travels back in time. Here, he kills James Kirk’s father – commander of the starship Kelvin – and then destroys the planet Vulcan, thus creating a brand new, offshoot timeline known as the Kelvin Timeline.
Finally, there’s Star Trek: Discovery (which began in 2017, and takes place some ten years before Kirk) and Star Trek: Picard (which began in 2020, and catches up with the titular character in his later years.)
That’s a lot of Trek! This is the rough order that the shows were made in, but if you fancy watching them in chronological order (as in, according to Star Trek chronology) the order would look like this…
- Enterprise: 2151 – 2160
- Discovery: 2256
- The Original Series / The Animated Series / Original Series films: 2265 – 2293
- The Next Generation (series and films): 2364 – 2379
- Deep Space Nine: 2369 – 2375
- Voyager: 2371 – 2378
- Picard: 2399
I think the three must-see series are TOS, TNG and DS9. TOS is where everything starts, and it’s top notch. TNG, meanwhile, is a good add-on that expands the universe, with some fantastic characters. And finally, DS9 is simply the finest Trek there is, with arguably the best cast. After watching these three series (with their corresponding films) you can branch out into the satellite shows and then maybe explore the Kelvin timeline / J.J. Abrams stuff.
Honestly, aside from the lens flares, Abrams only demonstrates how much a Star Wars fan knows about making a Star Trek movie. I can’t really recommend them. It’s mostly about execution, and Abrams’ clear lack of knowledge about the source material is apparent.
As an example, in the first film cadet James T. Kirk manages to make himself Captain of the Enterprise within the span of a few weeks or so. The naval military ranking system (which it was based on) doesn’t work that way, and neither does Starfleet. But it feels like Abrams isn’t too concerned about how things work.
And while we’re at it, although the second film Star Trek: Into Darkness has a great first half, the characterisation and relationship of Kirk and Spock (who haven’t even been together that long) is a meandering mess. Abrams confuses these two newbies with a Kirk and Spock who served closely together in the real timeline for over 15 years when these events took place.
In short, if you’ve never seen Star Trek before (and know little of how it works, or the characters) then you may enjoy these films.
So, when are you planning your first Star Trek binging marathon? And which path will you take? Or, if you’ve already seen these series, which one would you recommend to a newcomer? Let us know in the comments below.
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