Review: ‘Star Trek: Short Treks’ Gives Saru An Appetizing Backstory In “The Brightest Star”

“The Brightest Star”

Star Trek: Short Treks Episode 3 – Debuted Thursday, December 6th
Written by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski


The third installment of Short Treks explores a Star Trek: Discovery character, this time giving us insight into Saru. In an all-too-brief outing, we finally learn more about why he is the first and only Kelpien in Starfleet. Given the stage to himself, actor Doug Jones carries the mini with the intense quiet dignity that has become his trademark on Trek and beyond. With a story that finally took place off the ship, “The Brightest Star” is the most visually interesting of the Short Treks so far. The fan-friendly writing team of Bo Yeon Kim and Erkia Lippoldt try to cram as much lore into the format that it can take, answering some questions while raising many others.

Doug Jones as Saru in “The Brightest Star”




In a welcome change of scenery, “The Brightest Star” opens on an alien planet, specifically Kaminar, home of Saru and the Kelpien species. We arrive in the episode in a lovely tropical environment with happy aliens doing a bit of coastal horticulture, collecting kelp, which may be a bit too on the nose.  But we quickly get the sense that the Kelpiens are not a high-tech society, giving us our first hint as to why Saru was the first one known in Star Trek.

Another new thing for this episode is a voiceover by Saru himself, telling his story. While narrated logs are common in Star Trek, this voiceover seems to indicate that Saru is telling some unknown listener a personal story of his past.

They are kelp farmers…kelp…Kelpiens…get it?

In the pilot of Star Trek: Discovery, Saru was introduced as someone motivated by fear, telling Michael Burnham how on his homeworld you were “either predator or prey.” Through scenes early on and via Saru’s narration, this new mini-episode shows us how his people willingly sacrifice themselves to the (sadly unseen) predators, to preserve what is called the “Great Balance” of the planet. In what seems on the surface like an idyllic ceremony full of light and religious tradition, we see Kelpiens “called” to this “harvest,” and whisked away to unknown – but almost certainly unsavory – fates.

Saru sums things up, lamenting “this is the life of a Kelpien.” Bottom line: life sucks for the Kelpiens, but it seems Saru is the only one who isn’t cool with it. In just a couple of minutes, we have learned a lot about Saru’s species, and while voiceovers are a bit of a shortcut to convey exposition in the limited time allotted, Jones does an excellent job of making his story compelling and drawing in the audience to understand how he was no ordinary Kelpien.

This is one harvest festival you don’t want to go to


We soon learn more about Saru’s family, meeting his sister Siranna and his father. As the priest of the village, Saru’s dad has bought into mythology built around these harvests in a big way. He teaches others to accept and even welcome the sacrifices to the predators, known as the Ba’ul. The horrific regular culling of this sentient race is hidden under layers of mythology.

Like any good adolescent, Saru is questioning everything, including their place in the universal pecking order. We can already see the hints of how Saru is a born explorer, foreshadowing his destiny in Starfleet. Of course, priest dad is having none of this, assuring that if the Great Balance had meant for Kelpiens to fly, they would have been given wings.

The Kelpiens are wrapped up in this notion of “balance” and apparently the only way to maintain it is to assure that the Ba’ul are “sustained.” Saru’s father has no issues with what appears to be the systematic slaughter of his people and even seems to relish it, telling his son he should be “honored” if chosen for sacrifice. One could almost imagine him meeting these overlords and offering up his own braised threat ganglia as a delicious appetizer, reminiscent of the sentient “Dish of the Day” the Ameglian Major Cow from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe— and his father’s acceptance of the idea that his son could be next to go seems to be what ultimately pushes Saru to consider other options.

You will get eaten by the Ba’ul and you will like it!

But these Ba’ul are not gods, or at least not perfect, as a piece of tech fell off their ship, which seems to be a regular thing. Ignoring Papa Buzzkill’s rules to destroy the forbidden tech, Saru – apparently without any actual training – uses Kaminar’s equivalent of stone knives and bearskins to get the device working and even sends out a message.

Saru has a future in Ba’ul tech support

Saru begins his wait for a reply to his plea to the skies, with the tension of his situation punctuated by an evocatively alien score by Jeff Russo, who continues to impress by giving each of these Short Treks its own appropriate theme. We see now Saru’s pivot, as he fights all of these instincts and tradition. Showing how he sees himself as apart, he asks “How could this life be enough for them, to simply wait to be taken?”

“All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon.”


As this is Short Treks, we don’t have to wait too long for Saru to get a “hello” reply to his hail and he plans his removal from the menu. While leaving his father behind seems to be no big deal, we feel the heartbreak as Saru says goodbye to his sister, who seems unaware that there is far more to his late-night hike than stargazing. Once again Doug Jones shows how he is unmatched in conveying emotion even under layers of prosthetic makeup. His final words to her are “stay safe,” which seems to be the Kelpien equivalent to “Aloha.”

Sure, leave me behind Saru, no problem

Seemingly far enough away from the village for privacy, Saru awaits a Starfleet shuttle from the USS Shenzhou. After getting his threat ganglia under control, Saru greets his future captain — Michelle Yeoh in a welcome cameo as a younger Lieutenant Phillipa Georgiou. She has convinced Starfleet to bend the rules of the prime directive and first contact due to what she says are the extraordinary circumstances Saru has introduced by reaching out with his stolen tech.

But Starfleet’s General Order One can only be bent so far, and so Saru is faced with a terrible choice. Go with this woman from the skies to get answers to all those burning questions and avoid the fate of the harvest, but with the price of never returning to help the rest of his people. Breaking through the last of his instincts to flee, Saru says goodbye to Kaminar noting “my place is no longer here,” and steps into his future, accompanied by the appropriate Star Trek musical sting.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!


Let the Kaminar games begin

Saru has been a standout character on Star Trek: Discovery, carrying on the tradition of “the other” as embodied by past Trek characters such as Mr. Spock, Data and Odo. Explorations of these characters and their histories are always welcome, making it a bit surprising the first visit to Kaminar was done in Short Treks. Due to the shorter format, it would be unfair to hold this episode to other character backstory-revealing episodes such as TOS “Amok Time” or TNG “Datalore.” However, “The Brightest Star” was still able to deliver quite a bit in terms of laying out the lore of the Kelpiens.

We already knew that they were prey to a predator species. We have seen Saru’s flight instinct and ability to sense the coming of death exhibited during the first season of Discovery. Saru had talked about how the Kelpiens were hunted and one could have imagined something that evoked the alien hunters featured in The Predator franchise, or their Star Trek: Voyager knock-offs, the Hirogen. However, the writing team of Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lipplodt instead leaned in to how in the pilot, Saru also talks about how Kelpiens were bred and farmed and like the “livestock of old.” The relationship with the Ba’ul seem to be less gazelle and lion and more cattle and human.

Of course, this raises new questions, with perhaps the biggest: are the Ba’ul native to Kaminar? Is this relationship something that evolved over time, or are the Ba’ul alien interlopers who took advantage of the Kelpiens? For now, it is unclear why the Ba’ul would want a domesticated herd to have flight instincts, threat ganglia, and defense mechanisms such as the “donkey kick” Saru demonstrated in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” but maybe there is a story behind that as well.

By presenting Kaminar in this way we can avoid hunter/prey cliches and dive into a more interesting story about oppression, with the Kelpiens under the most brutal of occupations. We also got a nice Star Trek allegory about how the power of myth and propaganda can be used for the most sinister of purposes.

The biggest issue here is the limited time on hand. Unlike the previous two Short Treks outings, this episode is more tied into to Star Trek: Discovery and leaves you hanging. The good news is that we will be visiting Kaminar and learning the fate of Saru’s sister in Discovery’s second season, and so in a way, this mini-episode is a prequel to that forthcoming full episode.

Kaminar hotel had a nice beach, great view, but evil harvesting obelisk ruined the stay. One star.

The Prime Suggestion

Another major issue “The Brightest Star” explores is Star Trek’s famed prime directive. While never cited by name, it hangs over every aspect of this episode. Dealing with pre-warp and primitive species is a recurring theme in Star Trek, and something dealt with in every iteration of Trek, so it is welcome to see it in a Discovery context.

One of the great things about the Prime Directive is the drama that arises from the moral dilemma it forces on Starfleet officers. How many times have we seen Star Trek characters wrestling with this policy of non-intervention in the face of witnessing hardship and tragedy? And what could be more tragic than the fate of Kelpiens and the Ba’ul harvest?

It is debatable that Georgiou and Starfleet broke their own rules by making contact with Saru. Star Trek: Discovery actually kicked off with a rather dubious interpretation of General Order One. In “The Vulcan Hello” Georgiou and Burham were concerned merely with getting caught interfering with the pre-warp Crepusculan homeworld, and seemed to have no qualms with the interference itself. So, one could try to make the case for a pattern of a loose interpretation of the Prime Directive, although in context Georgiou was actually quite restrained.

While she could have hidden her approach and departure from Kaminar more deftly, it was Saru who made first contact when he reached out. He showed understanding of technology and also seemed to understand that others lived among the stars. We saw Picard take a much stricter view of the Prime Directive in the 24th century, such as in “Pen Pals,” an episode with some parallels to “The Brightest Star,” but things played a bit faster and looser during the cowboy diplomacy days of the 23rd century. In fact, one could easily imagine Kirk kicking the Ba’ul out of their little Kelpien buffet with phaser banks blasting or at least giving the Kelpiens a hand, such as in “A Private Little War.”

Without knowing if the Ba’ul are alien interlopers or native to Kaminar it also makes it hard to fully understand how this all fits into the Prime Directive, but it seems clear that the writers have put a lot of thought into this. And it is a good bet we will see Saru struggle with this perennial dilemma in the upcoming season, again with this episode just being a taste of what is to come.

It’s a cookbook!

A taste of what is to come

“The Brightest Star” was another enjoyable little morsel while we wait for the second season of Star Trek: Discovery. Less experimental than the previous two Short Treks outings, it felt more like a truncated episode from the main series.  The writing team of Kim and Lippoldt, who wrote the tight “Into the Forest I Go” which wrapped up the first chapter of the first season, continue to impress with their character development and respect for Star Trek lore.

It was very welcome to finally get off the ship, coming up with new reasons why the USS Discovery was mostly or entirely empty was running thin. The production design and world-building of Kaminar was top notch, especially for this shorter format series, likely leveraging what was made for the full Kelpien/Saru episode we can expect in 2019.

Even though this short episode was long on character development and exposition, “The Brightest Star” doesn’t entirely feel as complete as the previous, more standalone, Short Treks outings, perhaps due to this being somewhat of a teaser for what we know is coming in season two. While those last two Short Treks were enjoyable, they are probably not essential viewing for those who want to fully prep for season two, so if you are waiting to binge Short Treks you may want to catch this one before that Saru episode rolls around.

I’ll be back

Random thoughts

  • In the US, the release of this episode was delayed almost an hour, with apologies from CBS and hopefully, this was a one-time thing.
  • Kelpiens write from right to left
  • Lt. Georgiou’s shuttle is SHN 03, in Season 1 of Discovery, the mirror universe SHN 03 was used to transport Lorca and Burnham to the ISS Charon.

Way to be subtle, Lt. Georgiou


Star Trek: Discovery is available in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.

Star Trek: Short Treks will be available in the USA on CBS All Access. It will air in Canada on Space and stream on CraveTV.

Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks news at TrekMovie.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

It was so good to see Lieutenant Phillipa Georgiou. I really loved Captain Georgiou’s character. She was one of the few characters in STD that, to me, feel like Trek characters- positive and kind. I think killing her off was a big mistake. I remember reading that Michelle Yeoh thought that playing the Mirror Georgiou was more interesting than playing the prime Universe Georgiou. I was disappointed hearing that. I think it is much more interesting to see how a good, kind, and yet strong character handles challenges and adversity instead of yet another simple “evil” character from yet another dystopia. To me, that’s what Trek is all about- how to face our problems by being our best selves, not our worst selves.
Anyway, I liked this short Trek. It felt like Star Trek to me, and it was interesting and compelling.

I absolutely love your captions under the photos. Well done.

RETCON 1: Fuller’s Saru said he was hunted, Kurtzman’s Saru volunteers at a techno-abbatoir. This had “oh, was there a Klingon war” all over it.

“My people were hunted, bred, farmed… we are your livestock of old.”
Saru, in “The Vulcan Hello”, written by Bryan Fuller and Akiva Goldsman, story by Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman.

You are the are one retconning the fact that Fuller and Kurtzman worked together while creating Discovery and its main characters.

Nothing could be further from the truth. My statement is very clear in that the earlier Saru incarnation (Fuller’s) stated they were hunted and now Kurtzman’s post Fuller version is emphatically not hunted. As has been discussed elsewhere, it IS possible however, that the Kelpiens were hunted originally and then were settled into an abattoir situation.

You are off the rails making no sense. Saru was talking about the history of his people, not himself. Just as we no longer hunt for food, we domesticate and breed for livestock, so too were his people once hunted, then bred, and now farmed. Pretty simple to put this all together.

Wow, some people…

Bye Felicia.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So, Saru could rejigger something that ‘fell off’ the Bowel Probe (what it is definitely called from now on) and turned it into a subspace transmitter with universal translator? Or did Georgio put it on the probe to be found? I didn’t get a good look, so couldn’t tell whether it was Fed tech or Bowel tech.

I cried at the end, when Saru said that hope was stronger than fear. That’s such a classically Trekkian message!

Indeed. Reminds me of Jack Layton’s final words to Canadians “…Love is better than hate. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic and we’ll change the world.”

Those are good words. I’m sorry I had to look up who Jack Layton was, since it sounds as if he should be better known.

He loved to live off the publics money. He used taxpayers to foot the bill for almost everything he had.

He did not, jeepers. Uh, he had a salary as an elected MP, just like all other elected officials (including conservatives). There were no ethics or spending issues.

Total nonsense talking points from the rabid right. Grow up, learn critical thinking skills.

The ritualized acceptance of being killed and eaten (apparently) by the Kelpiens reminded me of a sequence in Watership Down. There is a warren of rabbits that is regularly trapped and killed, but the residents have built a whole mythology around it to accept it.

LOVED this episode. Classic Trek themes!

It was great. Anthony has pointed out most of the questions I had, and as always, come up with witty captions for the photos. Thanks Anthony, I always look forward to your reviews! Easily my favorite Short Trek so far. Doug Jones is so good and it was fun to see Georgiou. I would have found it more believable had she been at least a Lieutenant Commander, with a little more experience and “pull” on the senior ranks.

Perhaps the predator species, tens of thousands of years ago, physically chased, captured and killed the Kelpiens, over time as they developed technology [with Kelpiens perhaps relegated to “no-go zones”], they found a more “tasteful” way to harvest their prey. This would explain the Kelpien instincts to flee and the threat ganglia.

I am not bothered at all by the idea of two different species on a planet; look at lions and gazelles. Both mammals but each with their own mission in life. Or the differences between technologically advanced humans and humans with no technology. If we were cannibals, I’m sure we could have come up with a similar idea to the societies on Kaminar. This again underlines the theme of “there but for the grace of God goes humankind” … as a technically advanced society with science and our concepts and practices of economy and business, we’ve simply found other ways to “prey” on the disadvantaged and keep them in a lesser “place” in humanity, using belief systems to pacify them.

That the Kelpiens evolved a “religious”/propaganda-fed belief system to cover this new method of being harvested is a great short-form examination of socialization and the explanations we come up with for unjust circumstances.

[I did feel awfully sorry for Sarinna and wish Saru had invited her to escape and reflected more on leaving her behind with the threat of “harvest.” She could have said she believed in what their father said, or something. Time constraints, I guess.]

All in all, a thoughtful and thought-provoking episode. As others have said — classic Trek!

I like the idea that they once were more “hunted” in the traditional sense thousands of years ago, but that it evolved into a ritual culling over time.

Not unlike modern day livestock we use for food, but the livestock in this case are sentient race of people. Is this a moral tale, examining the issues of meat-eating/PETA/vegetarianism?

Possibly, but I think it’s more of a tale about belief systems, and how Saru could not buy what his dad was selling.

Agreed with everything you said Marja. This was truly a well done story and showed Saru in a tragic but uplifting light. This is the kind of stuff that makes Star Trek great. It brought me back to stories you see in TOS, TNG and VOY. I can’t wait to see the ‘sequel’ next season when they go back to the planet and we’ll probably see the Ba’ul as well.

Anyway I really hope they do more stories like this next year!

I feel sorry for his entire species, who have now been deny Saru genius and his abilities with technology. An his new ideas about what his people should be doing. The removal of hims from their culture could have set it back decades at best, centuries at worst.

Took me a few minutes. Anthony even managed a joke in the headline.

Great recap and review… Understanding Saru’s past makes for great anticipation of how he with come to terms with it in seassion two. Will he make a plea for help from Captain Pike and Starfleet? Will he use his high rank to take matters into his own hands and risk a court-martial of own? Will he face off with the Ba’ul? Will the fact that he has served as a first officer in Starfleet show the Ba’ul that the Kelpins are more evolved than they think and can serve a greater purpose than just succulent treat? Will that even matter to Ba’ul? I am intrigue.

It’s crazy but this little 15 minute episode has sparked my interest in Discovery more than the entire season of the Klingon war arc did. Because it presents something new and unique, but very Star Trek at the same time. And its not just more canon filler that I can really care less about.

All those questions are now the same questions I have. I want to know who the Ba’ul are, their relationship with the Federation, if any, and most importantly how all of it affects Saru? This is the kind of development with the new characters I wanted on day one and not just so and so is a secret Romulan or works for Section 31. Now I hope we are finally getting it because this is what classic Star Trek is all about! There may be hope for this show yet.

Andrew and Tiger,
I can’t imagine the Ba’ul would have any but an adversarial relationship with the Federation ….

This episode poses a very intriguing set of questions!

Indeed, and if that relationship is in fact adversarial, it would add to Starfleet being inclined to bend the rules for Saru (having already been exposed to alien technology). But also what a waist of a brilliant mind to only be destined to become a BLT or stew. Indeed the enemy of my enemy is my friend with just a little bit of help from the Federation Council.

This episode was such a huge disappointment after the first two.

I haven’t seen it, but the review does not sound like something I’d enjoy. Especially since (Doug Jones’ performance aside) I can’t stand Saru.

I’ll check it out once season 2 starts. I’m certainly not paying a month of All Access just to see a fifteen-minute short I’m not invested in.

You what? It’s the only one that is half decent.

At the end of the last season they announced that Saru was the first Kelpian to get the medal being given out. That implies that there are others in Starfleet, otherwise it wouldn’t be so remarkable.

No it does’t imply there are others. It’s remarkable because he’s the only Kelpien in Starfleet and just showed exemplary performance in the line of duty. So he’s a credit to his species and to his crew.
What’s more, his species is known to be fearful and prefer safe/comfortable situations, Saru has bucked all those instincts to become a decorated senior officer in a multi-species space exploration agency, again pretty remarkable.

That’s all true. But let me give a real-world example: When Obama won re-election, would it make sense to say that he was “the first African-American elected to a second term”? Maybe if there’d been one (or better, more) black president before him. But being as he *was* the first…Only Starfleet personnel can win the medal, and he’s the only Kelpian in Starfleet (and is known as such). So to say he’s the first to win the medal is redundant, at least.

But what you’ve written *really* makes me want to see him as captain one day.

Wait. Are they actually, literally kelp farmers?

That’s dumb.

Well considering they are not the dominant species, there is some logic to the idea that there name was given to them by the Ba’ul, and if they were a race of kelp farmers, they may have been dubbed “Kelpians” for that reason. Just as the names for some animals are derived from ancient words that describe their appearance or way of life.

For anyone interested, here is a nice in-depth article about the short from the two writers and the different inspirations in both real life and Star Trek. They cite TNG’s Pen Pals as the biggest Star Trek influence which does feel like a lot of that story (getting back to classic Trek! Love it!!).

And it even breaks down the timeline of when it took place, about 18 years prior to The Vulcan Hello. Anyway, a lot of interesting points.

Was fixing converting the device supposed to be happening over weeks/months? It didn’t seem filmed/edited that way, although the written notes suggested it.

Because that makes more sense than he just grabbed a knife, cracked it open and magically figured it out.

Also, why didn’t the predators intercept the message?

So the predators are warp capable, would the prime directive really still apply? Would a tech advanced race culling a less advanced race warrant Starfleet intervention?

I find it hard to believe that Georgiou’s captain would sanction such a huge violation of the Prime Directive. *shrug*

It wasn’t just her Captain, she said Starfleet itself sanctioned it.

Which seem even less likely.

Another brilliant article by Anthony Pascale. Entertaining and clever stuff. Love the customary humour too, especially in the captions — a reminder that we shouldn’t take Star Trek *too* seriously ;)

DSC Season 2 might have a twist about the Ba’ul: Maybe they’ll turn out to be Klingons, or they’re not actually doing something nasty to the supposedly sacrificed Kelpians.

How the heck to you find the thing? I have been on every page of the All Access Site this morning and I cannot find it for the life of me!

It’s part of Star Trek: Discovery.

Under Full Episodes, there’s a Short Treks subsection.

I’ve not been hearing good things about this short. Oh well.

I’m not sure how I feel about this one. It seems odd to me that Saru didn’t try and convince anyone else to come with him. Especially the sister that he clearly cared for. Had Georgiou shown up and a bunch of Kelpians shown up, what would she have done.

Also, if the Ba’ul are warp capable and they are using that capability to prey on a pre-war civilization, wouldn’t the Federation then be able to justify stepping in. I’m not 100% on how the Prime Directive or it’s predecessors apply here.

I think last month’s episode was my favorite Short Trek thus far.

Well captain Archer was one of his architects of the prime directive, he decided it was better to let the natural progression of a deadly disease kill off one species on planet, as this allowed another species immune from the disease to take their place. I very much doubt he would condone such action taken here. Who know Saru rebellious streak would have taken him and his people. May be he was destined to be one of his people great leaders who would take them to the stars using Ba’ul technology.

The Federation committed a unspeakable crime removing Saru from his people. They interfered in the possible evolution of there entire culture, denying this culture of not only of a genius able to learn from alien technology, but one with rebellious thoughts, that they should stand up to the people who kidnap them, That they should take and learn from their technology. that they should reach out to the cosmos.

Think how human history would be different if someone took people like Leonardo da Vinci or galileo or Einstein from us.

This is the whole point of the prime directive, to prevent the federation from interfering with the natural progression of a species. His removal from his species have set it back decades, even centuries.

Didn’t this short seem a bit contradictory to what was briefly mentioned about Kelpians in season 1? “My people only know only fear”. “We live to be hunted” “We sense death”

In this episode seems to be an extraordinarily relaxed environment relatively speaking to what I was expecting.

In the scant minutes we saw…. they wade around in the water a bit…. chill out in the tent…. and when it’s time for a group to make a sacrifice, everyone sure seems clinically lackadaisical.

Am I alone here?

Debate seemed limited to … “this is just the way it is. So stop with the questions.”

Then Saru is able to send a message out in the most nonsensical device I’ve seen in Star Trek yet.

A device with 6 rectangular micro LCD screens each containing a single letter… WHICH he can manage to send out in English no less… and that these Ba’ul’s can’t seem to track the transmissions of.

I know they want to show that Saru has a unique special intelligence…. but we’re being asked to make some quantum leaps as seasoned viewers….It’s almost like the episode is written by intern writers with no previous screen credits….. hmmmm….Awesome way to handle Star Trek. I’m not trying to be overly negative despite my sarcasm…. but c’mon. These plotlines are extraordinarily flimsy. Is there no writers room? Just used to a little less requirement to suspend disbelief… even in the context of Star Trek.