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Strange New Worlds 101: The Prime Directive

Go inside the episode with a look at the history of the Prime Directive

Star Trek Universe

Spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode one to follow!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is here, so to celebrate, we’ve created a weekly Strange New Worlds 101 series to explore and explain some of the key concepts and Easter Eggs that appear within the show. If you’re a newcomer eager to learn more about Trek or a diehard fan who just wants a quick refresher, this is the series for you. This week, we’re tackling General Order 1, which fans know by a different name.

In the series premiere aptly titled “Strange New Worlds,” Pike knows he shouldn’t interfere with a pre-warp culture. He’s aware of the fact it directly violates General Order 1, and basically every rule of Starfleet. But when he learns that Starfleet’s battle with Control in season two of Star Trek: Discovery led the society to the brink of disaster, he has to take a stand. He steps up to do the right thing and fix his mistake, because, as he says, any blood that’s spilled will be on Starfleet’s hands.

It turns out that his move was correct:  the society turns away from civil unrest and internal conflict to look to the stars and begin to heal. Their scientists work on building starships, not weapons, and students learn about the visitors from another world who came in peace. Admiral Robert April manages to get Pike and his command crew out of trouble with Starfleet command, and suggests that General Order 1 will soon be going by a new name:  the Prime Directive.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds -

Pike jokes that the name will never stick, but he’s wrong about that. The Prime Directive has been a part of Star Trek since The Original Series, where it first is referenced in the episode “The Return of the Archons.” The Prime Directive is simple:  Starfleet is not to interfere with the development of a culture that is living and growing. In the season two TOS episode “Bread and Circuses,” the Directive is explained as meaning, "No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space, or the fact that there are other worlds, or more advanced civilizations."

In the episode “The Omega Glory,” Kirk declares that a captain would rather sacrifice life, crew, and ship rather than violate the Prime Directive. However, across the series, most captains, including Kirk himself, show a rather laissez-faire approach to it. Kirk certainly has his issues following orders, and Picard bends the rules on more than one occasion, as do Sisko and Janeway.

Captain Archer of Star Trek: Enterprise can’t be faulted for not following the Prime Directive, as it didn’t exist when he was leading a starship. He even declared that the day they did draft a directive he would follow it, though this was part of a speech about how until that day he’d continue to do what he felt was right. However, there are references made throughout Enterprise to a Vulcan policy of non-interference, which is likely what Starfleet modeled the Prime Directive on. Enterprise also explores the beginnings of the Temporal Prime Directive, which forbids anyone from altering history while traveling through time, via a time traveling agent from the 31st century sent to stop a Temporal Cold War.

In Star Trek: Discovery, General Order 1 is also referenced several times, with the series opening with Michael Burnham and Captain Georgiou trying to help save a dying culture without revealing themselves or their ship. This is, essentially, the Prime Directive before it earned the familiar name, which means that Georgiou is perhaps the captain who actually followed that rule the most as compared to the other captains we see. So far in Star Trek: Lower Decks we haven’t seen the crew of the Cerritos face a situation that calls for a choice between the Prime Directive and doing the right thing, but we’re sure that Captain Freeman and her merry band of command crew and ensigns would have a hilarious and heartfelt approach to navigating the Directive’s rules while still saving the day.

This Season on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds | Season 1 Sneak Peek

Star Trek: Prodigy tackled the Prime Directive in the episode “First Con-tact,” when Hologram Janeway introduces the concept to her young crew. While Dal and his friends ultimately don’t pull off a successful First Contact and do ignore the Prime Directive, it serves as a strong entry point in the franchise to introduce the littlest ensigns in your crew to the concept.

Captain Pike is right about many things, but the Prime Directive? That’s here to stay. Relive your favorite moments from the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiere with our official recap. In the meantime, let us know your favorite time a captain might’ve bent the rules around the Prime Directive on social!