Picard Is Using an Old Trick From the Star Trek Movies — And Almost Nobody Has Noticed

Here's why Picard Season 3 is even more like The Wrath of Khan than you realized.

Originally Published: 
Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard and Jonathan Frakes as Riker in 'Picard' Season 3.

If you think the story of Star Trek: Picard Season 3 feels a lot like the mega-famous 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you would be right. Both stories feature starships playing cat-and-mouse in a nebula, stolen experimental Starfleet tech, an Enterprise captain reconciling with a grown son, and heroic Starfleet characters wondering, earnestly, if they are indeed getting too old for this sh*t.

And yet, the connections between Picard Season 3 and Wrath of Khan extend beyond just the story. There’s a behind-the-scenes element here that is also very similar. Much like Wrath of Khan, the visual language of Picard Season 3 relies almost exclusively on starship interiors. And, exactly like Wrath of Khan, those interiors are making the most of available resources. In other words, the production design of Picard Season 3 is very, very scrappy.

Here’s one example: the bridge of the USS Titan-A is a wonderful set, but of course, it’s essentially a redress of the bridge of the USS Stargazer from Picard Season 2. Meanwhile, the bridge of the Shrike in Season 3 is a clever redress of a standing set that’s been in play since Season 1.

Amanda Plummer as Vadic in Star Trek: Picard Season 3.


“The big difference between cinema and TV is that in TV, you have to roll one set into another set into another set,” Picard product designer Dave Blass explained on a recent behind-the-scenes Paramount+ featurette. “So, when it came down to the Shrike and the bridge, we said, okay, what do we have available? Well, we have the downstairs of La Sirena.”

That’s right, in real life, the menacing enemy starship’s interior in Picard Season 3 is the downstairs of a different ship, made to look like a new ship. This is a classic Star Trek tradition. While filming Wrath of Khan — which was initially funded by the Paramount Pictures television division — producer Robert Sallin had to use pre-existing sets and models from The Motion Picture and make those sets seem fresh and new. Both Khan’s bridge of the Reliant in that film and the Enterprise bridge are the same exact set. This fact doesn’t bother anybody watching the movie for the first time. It’s a minimalist feeling that doesn’t detract from the realism of the film, but instead, adds to it.

Ditto Picard Season 3, which, much like The Wrath of Khan, doesn’t have any true exterior on-location shots, at least not in its first three episodes. Instead, the epic scope of the story comes from sets that are cleverly lit, well-designed, and brilliantly shot. The lighting design from Crescenzo Notarile should be noted here, who has created what he calls “fingers of light” for sets like the Shrike. These environments may be inside, and so far, but you’d hardly notice because the pace is so quick and the lighting conveys, what Dave Blass calls a “big mood.”

Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) bathed in moody red-alert lighting for The Wrath of Khan.


Again, this is a lot like the big mood of The Wrath of Khan. The iconic red lighting on the bridge of the Enterprise created a feeling in 1982, unlike anything we’d ever seen in Star Trek before. It’s a nearly perfectly-lit movie that’s mostly inside, and that’s because it was shot inside, too. In The Wrath, there is one and only one exterior location shot: the moment when Spock’s casket lands on the Genesis Planet.

While the shadowy underworld of “District Six,” of M’Talas Prime, has a kind of perpetual inside-out-side feeling, this too, is taken from a set previously used on Picard Season 2. As Dave Blass has revealed, this was yet another piece taken from the Picard “garage” and made brand new. In Season 2, while the crew of La Sirena was briefly stranded in an alternate universe, Raffi and Elnor found themselves in an Okinawa marketplace, a set that was used only once for one scene. But now, that set has been transformed into District Six, and barely looks like a place we’ve ever been before.

Raffi on the La Sirena, a set that doubles for Vadic’s Shrike in Picard Season 3.


Unlike Strange New Worlds or Discovery, the sets of Star Trek: Picard do not use an AR wall. This means the specific sets themselves have to be convincing and modular enough to contain the entire story. In a sense, this makes Picard Season 3 like the Andor of new Trek shows.

But, spiritually in a Trekkie tradition, this makes Picard Season 3 even more connected to Wrath of Khan than some fans might have known. Amanda Plummer, who plays Vadic, jokingly describes the set for her ship as small and “homey,” but she might be onto something. What makes Picard Season 3 feel like a kind of homecoming comes through in the sets, too. The spaces feel familiar, and even if those spaces are confined, the Trek spirit paradoxically makes the scope feel huge.

Picard Season 3 airs new episodes on Paramount+ on Thursdays. Episode 1, “The Next Generation,” is currently streaming for free on YouTube.

This article was originally published on

Related Tags