The legacy continues: CBS presents the long-awaited 'Star Trek: Discovery' debut

« Back to News

Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
Jason Isaacs stars in "Star Trek: Discovery"

Jason Isaacs stars in "Star Trek: Discovery"

As the daughter of longtime Trekkies, I've been indoctrinated in the world of Star Trek for pretty much my entire life. My parents' basement is peppered with posters and action figures from the shows, they know every episode of "The Original Series" practically by heart, and they even carted me along to a Star Trek convention with them when I was around 7 or 8 years old. It was a big deal in my house long before it really became a big deal in general, which it undoubtedly has.

Between television series and movies, Star Trek has seen 19 different installments on the screen, and that number's about to become a nice round 20. The long-awaited "Star Trek: Discovery" premieres Sunday, Sept. 24, on CBS, after which the remainder of the series will stream weekly on CBS All Access.

The franchise first made itself known to the world with creator Gene Roddenberry's original series in 1966, with William Shatner in the lead role as Capt. James T. Kirk. Admittedly, the original had its share of cheesiness, and the sets and special effects didn't hold a candle to what its later scions would have, but it was light years (no pun intended) ahead of its time even then.

"Discovery" marks Star Trek's return to the small screen -- it's been more than 15 years since the 2001 premiere of "Star Trek: Enterprise," which wrapped in 2005. Chronologically, that series was the earliest, created as a prequel to "The Original Series," and so it remains. "Discovery" is set between the two -- roughly a decade before Kirk and Co. set out on their five-year mission.

Harry Potter baddie Jason Isaacs heads up the USS Discovery as Capt. Gabriel Lorca, with Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," 2000) playing Philippa Georgiou, captain of the USS Shenzhou, another Starfleet ship. As for which of these is the lead in "Discovery," the answer, surprisingly, is neither.

While Star Trek always makes use of a strong supporting cast, the captain has always been the main protagonist. Not so in "Discovery." Sonequa Martin-Green ("The Walking Dead") takes the lead in the new series, but, in a marked departure from the franchise norm, she's not the captain -- she's the first officer.

Raised by the Vulcan Sarek (James Frain, "Gotham"), Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Martin-Green) is the first human to attend the Vulcan Learning Center and Vulcan Science Academy. We're seeing a younger Sarek in "Discovery," but we've met him before; he's Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) father, first introduced in "The Original Series." If you're wondering why the heck Spock never mentioned an adoptive sister before, be patient -- executive producer Alex Kurtzman has affirmed that all will be explained, and it will fit into the canon of the show.

Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green in a scene from "Star Trek: Discovery"

Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green in a scene from "Star Trek: Discovery"

Canon is important with a franchise like Star Trek, with its massive and fervent following. Unsurprisingly, "Discovery" is one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year, and showrunners are acutely aware of the long legacy they have to live up to. There's a fierce fan base to impress, while also drawing in viewers with no prior Star Trek immersion.

"We're very, very attentive to the divergence between audience bases. I think we know that there are folks like us who know way too much, and folks who know very little or not at all," executive producer Akiva Goldsman told TrekMovie in a San Diego Comic-Con interview. "We're trying to be welcoming to people who have never seen an episode of Trek, but also really delightful to those of us who can't stop seeing them."

Burnham's personal story has an important connection to the meat of this first season, which centers on a cold war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets. If you're looking for the Klingons of yore, however, you'll need to adjust your expectations. They've gotten a full overhaul in "Discovery," and, as one of Star Trek's most iconic alien species, the change has tongues wagging.

Relax, though. You may recall that the Klingons look wildly less Klingon-y in "The Original Series" than they did in every other Star Trek incarnation down the line, and we all got right on board with those telltale forehead ridges and pointy teeth. The new Klingons are ridgier than ever, and hairless (RIP, Worf's ponytail). They come in a range of distinctly non-human hues (gray, mauve-ish, jet black, etc.) and look decidedly more alien all around.

Another element that sets "Discovery" apart from its forebears is its long-form storytelling. It's much more serialized, with stories, conflicts and character arcs developing from one week to the next, rather than wrapping up in neat, self-contained episodes. The freshman season is split into two chapters, with the first ending in November and the second beginning in January.

With almost two years gone since CBS first announced that a new Star Trek series was coming our way, "Star Trek: Discovery" has been a long time coming, and, judging by the trailers, it won't disappoint. Catch the premiere when it airs Sunday, Sept. 24 on CBS, after which the remainder of the series will stream weekly on CBS All Access.