29 Years Later, Star Trek Just Solved A Massive Starship Mystery
Here's how Terry Matalas brought back [SPOILERS] for Picard Season 3.
Of all the versions of the Starship Enterprise, the one that has appeared the most times in Star Trek canon, is, by far, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. After 178 episodes of The Next Generation, half of the ship got blown up in the 1994 film Generations.
The other half crashed into the planet Veridian III, but what happened to it after that? In Star Trek: Picard Season 3, we finally have a (very shocking) answer. And within that answer is perhaps the biggest nostalgia play for any science fiction franchise in recent memory.
Here’s how Picard Season 3 pulled off this massive starship comeback, complete with specific details from showrunner Terry Matalas.
The Enterprise-D, reborn
In Episode 6 of Picard Season 3, Alandra La Forge (Mica Burton) hinted that her father Geordi (LeVar Burton) was hiding something in docking bay 12 of the Fleet Museum. In Episode 9, Geordi reveals that it’s a fully restored version of the Enterprise-D!
Picard asks, pointedly, “But how?” And Geordi reveals that Starfleet removed the crashed saucer section of the Enterprise-D from the surface of Verdian III in accordance with the Prime Directive (that famous Star Trek rule that says Starfleet can’t unduly influence cultures who haven’t yet developed interstellar travel on their own).
So, basically, even though Verdian III was uninhabited, the crashed ship was removed so as to “not influence the system.” In Generations, Data said the neighboring planet, Verdian IV, had a “pre-industrial society.” Meaning that just the presence of advanced technology from Starfleet in a burgeoning star system was enough to yank the ship, which actually makes a lot of sense. (It’s sort of like if an advanced alien race crashed a ship on the Moon during the Stone Age and then decided to yank it to prevent humans from finding it in the future.)
Since the saucer was only half of the Enterprise-D, Geordi tells the crew he’s been restoring the ship bit-by-bit for the past twenty years. This means that roughly since the end of Nemesis in 2379, Geordi has been, secretly, putting the pieces of the Enterprise-D back together. He reveals that this includes getting the “engines and nacelles from the USS Syracuse. This detail means the entire drive section (or engineering section) of this restored Enterprise-D actually came from a different Galaxy-class ship from which Geordi salvaged for parts.
But it’s not just the outside of the Enterprise-D that looks so familiar. The command bridge of this famous Star Trek ship also looks nearly identical to how the same set looked back in the heyday of The Next Generation from 1987 to 1994.
TNG Bridge For Picard is a real set
While some fans might assume aspects of the Enterprise-D bridge in Picard were created by CGI or AR wall technology, the truth is, everything you see here exists in the real world. “Nothing is CGI,” Terry Matalas tells Inverse. “It’s all real.” While both Discovery and Strange New Worlds utilize an AR wall for aspects of filming, the production of Picard does not.
Matalas points out that because nothing was left of the Enterprise-D set from the ‘90s, what you see in Picard Season 3 “was totally rebuilt from scratch.”
This means that Picard production designer Dave Blass, along with Michael Okuda had to utterly remake the entirety of a set that hasn’t existed since 1994. On top of that, even though the lighting of the bridge will remind fans of the brightness of the ‘90s show, Matalas points out that newer camera technology had to be taken into account to recreate the mood we all remember.
“It's a kind of hybrid actually,” Matalas explains. “It's a bit of our Titan lighting mixed with TNG old school. It had to feel authentically the old show but look right with these new cameras.”
Picard’s roundabout connection to Battlestar
The return to the restored Enterprise-D isn’t just a nostalgia play though. In the context of Episode 9 and the finale, the crew needs a ship that isn’t connected to the new network of Starfleet ships. As Geordi says in the episode they need “...something older, analog, offline from the others...” This specific detail — that the Enterprise-D can survive the new Borg threat because it’s not hooked up to a larger network — might remind sci-fi fans of the basic premise of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica way back in 2003. Spearheaded by TNG and DS9 veteran Ron Moore, the very beginning of Battlestar makes a point that the titular ship, Galactica, is not networked with other ships in the fleet because it’s much older, which, allows it to be free from the Cylon attack. Because of the writing connections between BSG and Star Trek, and Terry Matalas’ admiration for Ron Moore, was this a specific homage?
“It’s less of a nod, but impossible not to acknowledge Ron's influence on me as a writer and storyteller. No doubt those aspects of BSG are certainly burned into my brain and would be subconsciously part of the recipe,” Matalas explains. And then he goes deep into his history with the Trek franchise. Roughly twenty years ago, Matalas was a production assistant on Star Trek: Voyager, and then Star Trek: Enterprise, and around that time, something interesting happened.
“Funny story: when I was working as an assistant to Bryan Fuller, we went to lunch with Ron as BSG was just in its early stages,” Matalas recalls. “Ron enthusiastically pitched us his take for the [BSG] miniseries — all the way to Adama's final bluff about Earth. I remember getting goosebumps and just hoping that show got made because if it did, it was like he was writing it just for me. That show would go on to inspire how I approached serialized science fiction in 12 Monkeys and then again here in this final season of Picard. So that's a long way of saying, yes, probably!”
Picard Season 3 was always headed here
Because the Enterprise-D only appears in the final two episodes of Picard creating this set — in secret — was certainly one of the more costly aspects of Season 3. So, was there ever a backup plan in the writers’ room? Could the crew have ended up on a different retro starship? Was the nostalgia-filled season always going to end up this way?
In various sci-fi shows, it’s common for there to be alternate ways to tell a specific story. But, just like the inclusion of Ro Laren in Episode 5, Matalas insists this specific reveal; that the Enterprise-D would be back for the final two episodes was one of the first ideas for this season.
“This always felt like the right way to end,” he says. “From the very beginning.”