Star Trek encompasses so many movies, TV shows, and novels that keeping track of its various timelines is practically a full-time job. Luckily, the team behind Star Trek: Picard has someone to do just that, executive producer Akiva Goldsman, who previously worked on Star Trek: Discovery, along with various sci-fi and action classics like I Am Legend and Batman Forever.
What timeline does this return to the Jean-Luc Picard story take place? It was a question executive producer Akiva Goldsman was more than prepared to answer at a Television Critics Association press event just a week ahead of the show's highly anticipated premiere.
"If you look at J.J.'s movies, there is one section of the first movie which is actually canon. It's before the universe is split, before the entry into the Kelvin Universe,” Goldsman tells Inverse.
The section he's referring to is the destruction of Romulus which, in J.J. Abrams's 2009 Star Trek reboot, sent Spock back in time and retconned the entire canon. In the process, a brand new timeline was introduced, giving audiences the Kelvin universe where the new versions of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew exist in.
Picard "takes that Romulan supernova and is part of the canon," Goldsman confirms.
Aside from the refugee crisis in Picard that the Romulan supernova creates, we don’t know much else about the long-term effects of that destruction. However, given the addition of a Romulan presence on the show, something tells us Captain Picard isn’t just coming out of retirement to face down his personal demons, but another long-time enemy.
Armed with the knowledge of which Star Trek timeline Picard takes place in, Goldsman gives a brief refresher on what kind of story we can expect.
"Our closest cousins would probably be the back half of season one of Discovery, the mirror universe continuity,” he says, “and then some of Deep Space 9 where it became, you know, fundamentally serialized."
The concept of the Mirror Universe, which presents a parallel, similar-looking, but far less-optimistic Star Trek timeline, was first introduced in Star Trek: The Original Series, in an episode titled, "Mirror Mirror." The inclusion of Jeri Ryan's fan-favorite Borg character Seven of Nine to the mix alludes to a continuation of her character's journey which began in Star Trek: Voyager. These tidbits add some interesting color to the new Star Trek story, but of course, we can’t help but wonder how the show will address Jean-Luc Picard's life, and Next Generation story, since the events of 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis.
"We are in continuity, certainly, with Nemesis," Goldsman says. "Nemesis is the last time we saw many of these folks and so, yes Nemesis is our antecedent. But we took the interstitial two decades, essentially, and imagined them. So there's a lot that came in between that we filled in in order to push forward."
Before any of that could happen, Sir Patrick Stewart’s involvement in the new series was obviously integral to getting it made, but there was always one big rule that came with the actor’s return to the iconic role. Star Trek: Picard needed to traverse new narrative territory, not just retread the subject matter explored in TNG’s groundbreaking seven-season run, and the four movies that followed.
"I discovered I also lived through those 19 years, and I had changed." — Patrick Stewart
This brings us to the two watershed moments that will surely have had a lasting impact on the Captain: The destruction of Romulus and the death of his dear friend Lt. Cmdr Data (Brent Spiner), who perished to save Picard’s life in Nemesis. Promotional clips for the series show Spiner back in the android makeup, further alluding to a concept that Picard’s past may indeed be catching up with him.
"The backstory of those 19 years is very, very important," Sir Patrick Stewart explains, discussing the profound changes in both his on-screen persona and his off-screen one. "But the great thing about it is, and I wasn't prepared for this, I discovered I also lived through those 19 years, and I had changed."
Star Trek: Picard premieres Thursday, January 23 on CBS: All Access.