I’m not saying we are turning Picard into a political show, not at all,” Sir Patrick Stewart says during Sunday’s Star Trek: Picard panel at the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour. “We are making entertainment.”
That’s definitely one way of looking at it, but Star Trek has always been more than just entertainment. The franchise has served as a signal that an optimistic future is always within our grasp. And while the series star insists Star Trek: Picard won’t be political, there are elements in the new sequel that make me think otherwise. Long-lasting effects of the catastrophic Romulan supernova — the same event featured in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie — lead to a shared trauma, causing Starfleet to become a shell of its former self while the threat and panic of a refugee crisis grows on earth.
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What happens when a race — or a species, in this case — has their humanity stripped away? How do they fit into society? The concept of what it is to be human is nothing new to Star Trek. Whether it’s Lt. Cmdr Data’s (Brent Spiner) ongoing mission to experience a human life with a full spectrum of emotions, or the traumatizing act of being stripped of your agency and free will only to become an assimilated cog in the bigger Borg collective, these deeply human themes have always been there. So it should be of no surprise that they’re on full display in Star Trek: Picard.
Enter: Patrick Stewart. It has been nearly two decades since the actor played the role of Jean-Luc Picard, and a lot has changed in the real world since then. From what we can tell, Star Trek: Picard has followed suit. Here, it seems the Federation — in nationalistic similarities to America’s relationship the rest of the world, for example — has struck a closed-off position away from the planets it used to call allies.
Speaking with Variety last month, Stewart admitted his return to the role was a response “to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we thought.”
This all sounds like the perfect formula to bring Captain Picard out of retirement, not only for the fictional heroes on-screen but for the millions of fans, the world over. But when asked why he thinks the character’s legacy still holds strong all these years later during a press panel just over a week before the show’s premiere, Patrick Stewart replied with one simple word: “Hope.”
Optimism is an important thread Star Trek needles in every iteration that hits screens, both big and small, and a bit of hope can really go a long way. It’s an accomplishment Stewart holds dear. “I mean, even so far as to say maybe even lives have been saved because of the content of Star Trek,” he tells Inverse and a group of other journalists during a group interview, “and that makes me very proud.”
His co-star Isa Briones, who plays Dahj, a mysterious new character who turns to Jean-Luc for help, was quick to expand on the topic.
“Picard embodies the ideal leader,” she says. “I think in this time, especially right now in our world, we have lost faith in certain leaders or people who are leading our countries and our government, and we are searching for better people to lead us into the future and that is the hope that Picard gives.”
As Michelle Hurd, who plays another new character in Star Trek: Picard sees it, the series is a direct reflection in the news in 2020.
“Our writers are, absolutely like any good artist, influenced by what’s happening in the world,” Hurd says. “And we tackle that. And we don’t do it in a preachy way. I think we do it really effortlessly.
Star Trek: Picard will premiere on January 23 to CBS: All Access.