Saturday’s Star Trek Universe panel was broken into segments with rotating panelists coming on and off stage, with the exception of executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin, who are overseeing all of Star Trek television for CBS. The panel started with Star Trek: Discovery which recently started production on its third season. We previewed some of what was said along with a handful of new images that were released yesterday. But, there was much more said about what is in store for the Disco.
Huge changes in S3, but staying true to canon and Roddenberry
Alex Kurtzman kicked off the Star Trek Universe panel talking about what is coming ahead for Discovery along with the approach the team is taking with all the Trek shows in development:
We made a pretty radical jump into the future at the end of season two. We are going almost a thousand years into the future in season three, which is crazy. [It’s] further than any Trek series has gone before. People are asking what the world is going to be like in the future and are you going to go dark? I understand all of those questions. The thing I would want to lead with is to say every conversation we have about how to create Star Trek is filtered through [Gene] Roddenberry’s essential vision of optimism which can never really change. It is the spirit and soul of Trek for all of us…It is more important than ever.
Even though the second season of Star Trek: Discovery had the record of the USS Discovery’s mission in the 23rd century erased from Starfleet’s database and the ship jumping far into the future beyond any Trek show before, Kurtzman wanted to assure fans they are not going to ignore all those centuries of canon:
So, there will be lots and lots of huge changes in season three. There will be things you recognize; there will be things you don’t recognize. Part of the fun of it is that we get to honor canon but shake it up hugely. We are not erasing anything, so please don’t worry about that. It is all still what it was. But we do get to shake it up quite a bit. I think the fun of getting to that place of preserving that essential optimism is by testing it. Each of these shows do that in many ways. I just want to assure you all first and foremost that it is Star Trek and it will always be Star Trek, the way Roddenberry wanted it.
Kurtzman also addressed fan concerns about the story of the Discovery crew being erased from history:
While their actions have been erased from the historical record, the spirit of Trek lives on after them. And they are bringing that same thing into the future, a future that needs it very much. We are going to be leaning into that even more in season three. So, we are not erasing what we have done. It’s very important to us generally that all Trek carries a message.
The future isn’t what was expected
The finale of the second season had the crew of the Discovery jumping centuries into the future — to the year 3187, with the target of the planet Terralysium, which is where Burnham’s mother was based in the future. However, star Sonequa Martin-Green revealed that things didn’t exactly go as planned, at least in terms of which planet they landed on:
We are not in Terralysium…We do not land there like we planned. We were able to shoot in Iceland, which was fantastic. It was such a blessing. It was incredible and breathtaking. I feel like this venture into the future is so powerful because we – as a company and also as a crew on Discovery – we became a family at the end of season two. And now we are forging this path that has never been forged before, boldly.
Martin-Green also noted that the new setting for the show has them leaning into the what the series (and ship’s) name has always promised:
We go to the deepest level of discovery in season three because we are in this new place together and we have to figure out where we are who we are now. I really love that from a character perspective, that everyone and everything is unfolding in these really compelling ways.
Alex Kurtzman also discussed how things go for the crew of the USS Discovery at the start of season three:
When they get to the other side of the wormhole they have big problems. In fact, even getting to find each other may be difficult, because they may not have landed in the same place.
Kurtzman also discussed how they have approached developing the look of this far future:
There is going to be whole exploration of what the world looks like a thousand years from now. When you ask about the cinema of it, boy do we have our work cut out for us. The design teams have been busy at work because we are building a future that is complicated. The thing that I think defines Trek is it always pay attention to the small character moments in the middle of the big. It’s always about the little. It’s always about the humans, and the human interaction, and the inter-special interaction. So, that has to be the focus of the show. What we didn’t want is “now there is a lot of eye candy with big floating cities all over the place” and all the clichés you have seen a million times. Yes, you will have a lot of eye candy, but our focus is always on what does it mean and what does it do for the characters.
Burnham explores her burden, but who will command?
The first two seasons of Discovery have been anchored around the arc of the lead character of Michael Burnham. Alex Kurtzman talked briefly about where her arc may be headed into season three:
I think what Burnham carries with her is – which is fascinating – is this tremendous responsibility of taking care of everybody. She felt she need to lead her ship through time to save all sentient life. That is a really big burden to bear. That is a lot, to explore for her character what that means and what point is that too much to carry. She goes through a lot of changes as do all of the characters in many ways.
With Pike left behind, the USS Discovery went into the future without a permanent captain. Even though Commander Saru was acting captain, Kurtzman pointed to how this issue of command is still an open question:
Obviously, we left unresolved at the end of last season who the captain of the Discovery is going to be. And the captain will be [pauses] …somebody you will find out about when you watch season three.
Staying with lighter tone, and more exploring of crew family
One of the big – and generally welcome – changes for Discovery in season two was a lighter tone following some of the darker themes explored with the Klingon war and foray into the Mirror Universe in season one. Executive producer Heather Kadin assured fans they are sticking with the more traditional lighter Star Trek tone:
In the second season more than the first we were able to lean into the tone of what a lot of people expect out of Star Trek and having a lot more fun and adventure with the drama. Obviously [season three] is inherently dramatic because our whole crew left their entire family behind and chose the family they are now with. So, there is inherent drama in that, but there is also going to be fun and humor and you are still going to have the characters you love.
Co-showrunner Michelle Paradise also emphasized that even with all the issues related to the future, the crew remains the focus:
About going to the future and how it might be a little bit tricky. The thing the original Star Trek did so beautifully is focus on the family. I think the family of this crew, of Starfleet and the Federation, this season gives us the opportunity to hone in on that even more.
Kurtzman added that we will see some new character dynamics in season three:
The great thing about the third season of a television show is season one is about these people coming together and figuring out who they were as a family and season two is about really solidifying them. But then they choose each other for eternity and leave their birth families behind. Star Trek has always been a show about that bridge crew family and I love this season we get to start mixing and matching relationships between different characters. People you have met, but actually only got to know peripherally are going to take center stage in a different kind of way. There is going to be a ton of new characters.
One of the surprises for the panel was the introduction of actor David Ajala who will be playing Cleveland “Book” Booker. Ajala graciously introduced himself to the audience of Trek fans:
Greetings guys, lovely to meet you all. It is an absolute pleasure to be part of this wonderful franchise.
The actor also gave a bit of detail on his character:
Book is a character that is going to break the rules a little bit. It’s always fun to break the rules and we do that right from the start of the season.
Kurtzman also added a bit of a cryptic note on this new character:
He will be a character who isn’t exactly what you expect right away.
No word on release date for season 3 or Section 31
With the single Star Trek Universe panel running through all the various projects, time was limited for the Discovery portion. A number of open questions remain, notably when they expect the third season to premiere. There was also no discussion on how the third season will tie into the planned Section 31 series or what this means for the character of Mirror Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) who will be part of season three of Discovery and is the lead in the Section 31 show.
Season 3 photos
In case you missed them yesterday, CBS released a handful of images, likely from the season three opener, which includes location shooting in Iceland and the introduction of the character of Book.
UPDATE: Watch Martin-Green welcome Ajala to Trek
More SDCC 2019
Check out the rest of our San Diego Comic-Con 2019 coverage. And stay tuned to TrekMovie for more from the Star Trek Universe panel and beyond.