Pondering Patrick Stewart’s return to the franchise
Twenty years later: Short of timeline shenanigans more convoluted than Stewart’s role in the X-Men movies, the chances of seeing a future Picard that resembles the version in “All Good Things” are probably zero.
This past weekend at Star Trek Las Vegas 2018, Patrick Stewart made a surprise appearance and gradually built to the announcement that he will return to the Star Trek franchise to reprise his role as Jean-Luc Picard for an upcoming series to be produced for CBS All Access.
After telling a story about how he had encountered fans for which Star Trek had greatly affected them, and how that played into his mind about returning, he went on to offer up some details of what is currently known about the new endeavor — which is to say, not much so far.
“We have no scripts as of yet,” Stewart said, adding that the show’s developers have so far just been talking in terms of broad story outlines. “He may not be a captain anymore,” he said of Picard. “It may be a very different individual, someone who has been changed by his experiences. Twenty years will have passed.”
He added, “It will be — I promise you, I guarantee it — something very, very different.” But, he said, the new show will come with the same passion and love of the material as The Next Generation.
So what should we make of this?
On the one hand, it strikes me that Stewart certainly didn’t have to bring Picard out of retirement unless he felt there was a compelling reason. Stewart has consistently acted in the years since he left the franchise, and it’s not like he is or ever was hurting for work. And as he says in this very announcement, returning to Picard was something he never planned to do, never expected to do, and fully intended to decline even this time around. Something changed his mind. What was it? Did he, at 78, want to ensure he caps his career by returning to an iconic role? (I’m pondering parallels in his return for a closing-chapter role in Logan.) Did he feel a need to return to a franchise of optimism in our current world of seemingly unremitting ugliness? Was the idea of the new show just that good?
It’s hard to say. But something convinced him to come back, and with this announcement provides hope for rediscovered, nostalgiac glories for long-time fans who haven’t found it in the most recent franchise efforts — namely Discovery or the J.J. Abrams reboot films.
Or does it?
The new series will be produced by Alex Kurtzman, who is already a key player on Discovery and who worked on the Abrams movies, and is now the guy who basically runs the entire Trek TV franchise. And with the big deal CBS gave him comes the expectation he will go forward and create a whole new slew of Trekkian products to be streamed/televised.
Discovery had a rough — although apparently financially successful — first season. (That’s if we’re to take CBS at its word; there’s no way of truly knowing given the black box that is the performance of streaming services.) One would think the creative energy might be spent in turning the flagship show on the fledgling streaming service into something better and maybe someday eventually great. But Hollywood does not think in such small-scaled terms. I mean, why have one new Star Trek series when you could instead have an entire Star Trek Streaming Televised Universe! (We have, I suppose, the runaway success of the MCU to thank for such infinite ambition.)
I don’t know. As always, I will withhold judgment, being neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the Picard series until there are more details — or perhaps an actual show to watch. But it seems to me that cultivating one thing (Discovery) might be more prudent than overextending into building a new empire of televised products. Even at the height of the Berman years, which arguably was the apex of Trek‘s popularity, Berman never thought it was prudent to do more than two shows at once. If Discovery and Star Trek: Picard are not even all we’re talking about here in terms of the near future for televised Trek (there are apparently more projects being drawn up), there seems to be a substantial risk of watering down the whole enterprise. There’s also potentially the very bad collateral risk of damaging Picard’s character, should smarter ideas not prevail.
Will lessons be learned from the box-office underperformance of Solo? (This is a film I still have not seen and thus can’t comment on from a creative standpoint.) In less than three years, Star Wars went from king of the box-office mountain to a cautionary tale of the risks of over-saturation — something I warned about back when all the stand-alone films were announced.
We’ll see. The plan for CBS to mine Trek so deeply and so quickly seems risky, and I wonder how much actual demand exists. On the other hand, anything with Patrick Stewart in it at least has Patrick Stewart as a principal asset.