First of all, massive props to the faithful fans who spent the night outside waiting in line to get into Hall H for today’s panel. The grass isn’t exactly soft, and we know that. Which is why we went all out for San Diego Comic Con’s very first Star Trek Universe panel: 90 minutes, four shows, and a whole mess of surprise guests.
With Star Trek: Picard, Lower Decks, Short Treks, and Discovery in the house there was plenty of information and tidbits dropped about the future of those specific shows, but also the franchise as a whole. We'll have the whole panel up, right here on StarTrek.com, soon, but until then, we have the 10 most important things you need to know from today’s ‘Universe’ panel featuring Sir Patrick Stewart, Sonequa Martin-Green, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan, Jerry O'Connell, Alex Kurtzman, Michael Chabon, Mike McMahan, and many other familiar faces.
1. Riker, Data, Troi, and more will join Jean-Luc on Star Trek: Picard!
While Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis couldn’t join us today in Hall H (Frakes, who also directed two episodes of Picard, fell prey to an airline fail), we learned that both Next Generation alumni will be joining Brent Spiner on Picard. They’ll share the screen (perhaps!) with Voyager regular, Jeri Ryan, who will reprise her role as Seven of Nine (aka Annika Hansen), the former member of the Borg collective who returned to Earth with the U.S.S. Voyager.
2. Jeri Ryan and Jonathan Del Arco waited a year to find out if Picard was actually going to happen.
Ryan shared that both she and Next Generation actor Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh the Borg) found out about the possibilities of their returns about a year ago while hanging out together at The Hollywood Bowl. “I thought, 'Okay, that could be fun,' but never thought anything would come of it,” Ryan said.
Del Arco was thrilled to return, but it took some convincing from Ryan to get him there. “We were both like is it going to happen? Cut to the realization that it was going to happen, and I’d have to have a life mask for the Borg makeup. I’m claustrophobic, [but Jeri] said, ‘Honey take a pill and I’ll drive you.’” Ryan sat with Del Arco for the entire makeup process with Emmy nominee James McKinnon, playing the part of a perfect “Borg mama bear.”
3. We're relieved to have it confirmed that the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery survived that time jump.
They survived, but did they all make it through together? And, uh, who is the ship’s captain? Producer Alex Kurtzman dropped this crucial hint during the panel when asked about David Ajala’s new character, Cleveland Booker: “He’ll be a character who isn’t exactly what you’d expect. Right away when they get to the other side of the wormhole, they have big problems. [The crew of Discovery] may not have all landed in the same place.”
As for the captain? "The captain will be… someone you find out about when you watch the show.”
But, of course, no matter what "problems" they face, Discovery’s mission remains unchanged. The producers and writers still want it to feel like Star Trek. “We made a pretty radical jump into the future, almost one thousand years into the future for season three. Further than any Trek series has gone before. Every convo about how we create [the future of] Star Trek is filtered through Roddenberry’s essential theory of optimism because it is the soul for the show. We get to honor canon, and shake it up immensely… We’re preserving [the franchise’s] essential optimism by testing it. [But] it’s still Star Trek and it will always be Star Trek the way Roddenberry wanted it.”
4. Discovery is traveling around this globe to get some essential season three shots with their new characters.
Sonequa Martin-Green and Ajala joined the panel in San Diego having just recently traveled to Iceland to shoot scenes for season three. Martin-Green called the on-location filming an essential “blessing” to further establishing Discovery’s place in the future. “We go to the deepest level of discovery in season three because we have to figure out everything about who we were and who we are now. It’s unfolding in exciting and compelling ways.”
Ajala gave us what little insight he could (loose lips can sink ships, perhaps literally in this case) about his role. “Book is gonna be a character who’s gonna break the rules just a little bit, from the start of the season.”
5. The voice actors behind the upcoming animated, Lower Decks were finally revealed...
“It’s the Downton Abbey of Star Trek.” Jerry O’Connell aptly summed up Lower Decks, as he served as the panel moderator today in Hall H. O’Connell, who will also appear on the show as Commander Ransom (“a California Riker”) was joined on stage by cast members Tawny Newsome (Ensign Mariner) and Jack Quaid (Ensign Boimler), and showrunner Mike McMahan.
In addition to character art reveals, we got to find out a bit about Boimler and Mariner from the actors themselves.
“She’s very good at all things Starfleet,” said Newsome. “She’s been demoted a lot of times and should be further along than she is, but she doesn’t care!”
A complete opposite, Quaid described Boimler as very by the book and ‘pearl-clutch-y’ to the point where he’s found himself gripping imaginary ones in the booth while they record the show: “He really wants to be a captain, and he’s very book-smart, but constantly getting in his own way. He would nail the written portion of a driving test, but once he got in the actual car it would be a total disaster.”
6. Oh, and by the way, Tawny Newsome, will be hosting the official Star Trek podcast, Prime Directive!
As a fan of the franchise, Newsome shared that she was excited and honored for the podcast’s debut. While you can read more about the new Trek offering here, Alex Kurtzman said that while the show will definitely be bringing in some of your favorite Star Trek talent, it will also be fan and real-world focused.
“‘We want to talk to people who’ve been deeply influenced by Star Trek, who aren’t necessarily on the shows,” Kurtzman said before mentioning that the show will feature fan interviews, highlight Trek’s real-life connections with science and more, all in an effort to mirror the real world as Trek always has.
7. The Short Treks have multiplied.
Much like the Tribbles one episode will focus on, the number of Short Treks offered over the coming year have grown exponentially. We’ll be getting six new mini-episodes developing backstories for Picard, giving us more insight on the characters of Spock, Pike, and Number One (who were “critical” to finding Discovery’s sophomore tonal balance, according to the executive producers), two animated shorts, and one about the menace (and nutritional benefits, maybe) of Tribbles.
Kurtzman talked through the Short Treks backstory before giving us some hints of what to expect. “We knew [after season one of Discovery] we wouldn’t drop [season two] right away. We wanted to give ourselves some time so, we built these Short Treks. They were these wonderful little meals, but then the reveal was that some of them connected to the main story of season two,” he said. “Some of the [new] Short Treks will involve Spock, Number One and Pike. Two of them are animated. One of them will be directed by [composer] Michael Giacchino. The last one will be a Picard teaser, and it will give you a sense of some of the background that happened to Jean-Luc 15 years before the series. Everything connects, but they’re very fun standalone stories.”
8. Patrick Stewart is a direct collaborator in the Picard writer’s room
While some writers might not welcome too much of an actor’s input, the writers and producers on Picard have found Patrick Stewart’s advice invaluable. “Patrick has been a collaborator with the writers from the beginning,” said showrunner Michael Chabon. “I’ve learned to trust Patrick’s judgment of the character on a daily, line-by-line basis.”
“It’s impossible to distinguish the character of Picard from Patrick himself,” Kurtzman offered.“Every line Picard says has to represent a philosophy and prism of idealism…. It all started with Patrick. He was reticent for all the right reasons. He really challenged us beautifully, [and] it forced us to think outside the box. We asked lots of questions about what Trek meant, and from that interesting storylines began to emerge. Picard is at a point where he’s questioning a lot of the choices he’s made, but also he’s certain about a lot of the choices that he’s made.”
9. The emotion and bonds from TNG have carried over onto Picard
According to Kurtzman, Picard is “entirely different in tone” from Discovery and Next Generation. But when Stewart choked up on stage, speaking about his final scene with Jonathan Frakes all those years ago, the audience could tell that the heart of Star Trek would absolutely be the same. “Frakes said ‘It’s been an honor, Captain’ and I was supposed to say ‘No, the honor has all been mine.’ But I couldn’t say it. The emotion of saying goodbye after those seven years was too intense. I found that after we started talking in the [Picard] writer’s room, that surge of emotion came back, and it’s still here on this [stage] not going to go away.”
The new cast of Picard has been brought into that circle as well. “I am astonished and grateful for the speed with which this [cast] has become a team… I thought it might take the whole of the first season, and we have about three episodes left, but we’re already cemented together and that makes me happy and proud.”
10. Oh, and Number One's name in real life is De Niro
And according to Patrick Stewart, he is "a wonderful creature." Truly the highest praise any Good Boi could hope for.
Star Trek: Picard will stream exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States, on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space and OTT service Crave. Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space Channel and OTT service Crave.