Interview: ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ EP Aaron Waltke On Character Futures, Canon Connections, And More

The latest episode of the TrekMovie’s All Access Star Trek podcast features an extended interview with Star Trek: Prodigy co-executive producer Aaron Waltke, who heads up the writers’ room and is one of the bigger Trek fans working on the show. The discussion ranged from talking about his career and Trek fandom to the logistics of making the show, where Prodigy is headed, and much more. We have some of the highlights below, with a focus on where Prodigy is headed.

Planning far ahead… with room to keep going

The first ten episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy wrapped up earlier this year and Paramount+ has announced the series the second half of the first season will air this later this year. During his podcast discussion, Waltke confirmed they are still on track:

As of now, unless something radical happens that I’m unaware of, you will see all 10 episodes out on Paramount+ before the end of 2022.

Paramount+ has ordered a total of 40 episodes of the series, so there are still at least 30 more to come. In April, it was revealed that writing for had been completed for all of them. Waltke gave a more detailed update on how far ahead they are, production-wise:

Right now we have 25 episodes in various states of production. It’s different plates all spinning at the same time. It’s pretty wild… I think we have some [voice] recording done at least up through the last five episodes… We’re doing a storyboard handout of the finale for season 2. So that’s, that’s how far ahead we are. But also it feels like there’s perpetually never enough time to get it right.

The executive producer also talked about how each half-season block of 10 episodes is set up to tell its own arc, which is part of a longer planned-out story:

Emotionally and structurally, it was designed to tell somewhat of a self-contained arc [in each set of 10 episodes], but with plenty of story threads that you could pull to have it continue on to the next. That’s how I would prefer everybody see these 40 episodes. They are meant to be holistically telling a saga… So yeah, don’t worry, the things that you want answered will be answered. The characters you want to see will be in there. But we spent a lot of time talking about this and figuring out where best to play that so that it feels satisfying and worth the trouble rather than just kind of dropping them in for two episodes and saying, “Haha! Now that’s wrapped up, goodbye.”

The crew comes together in Star Trek: Prodigy, episode 1.

Growing up on Prodigy

He also talked about how the show will evolve over time and will tie into events in Trek canon:

Will the tone change a little bit from season to season? Of course, because they’re growing up and we want our characters to grow up. We don’t want Bart Simpson to be eight years old for 20 years. And we want the real events of Star Trek that happen in canon to have an impact on our characters, too. And there’s some stuff coming up in the 2380s that we’re not just going to ignore.

Even with fully planned arcs over 40 episodes, Waltke made it clear he doesn’t see that as a fixed end of the series, nor does he see the young characters growing up to be a limit to how long the show can go on:

I don’t [see a limit]. If I had my druthers, I would follow them right up to them going through Starfleet Academy and getting assigned to their own ships, and then suddenly getting becoming captain and then fighting in the Water Wars, part II [laughs] Because the story is not about them being children. It’s about children at that crucial threshold of adulthood… Seeing our characters truly, sort of start in a place so far outside of Starfleet, and then literally kind of come up through it, rise through the ranks. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen that show before. And so I think that the possibilities are limitless.

Facing new challenges together in episode 5

Closing in on Starfleet

When the show was launched, producers made it clear that even though the adventure started far off in the Delta Quadrant, more and more elements of Star Trek (and Starfleet) would be introduced as the series went forward. We saw that in the first ten, which ended with the appearance of the real Admiral Janeway on board the USS Dauntless. During his TrekMovie podcast chat, Waltke made it clear that even though there are some parallels and connections with the arc of Star Trek: Voyager, the idea of connecting with Starfleet and even with Earth should not be seen as an end of the series:

We didn’t want our show to be just a repeat of Voyager. Because Voyager’s story was they are trying to get home and when they get home, that’s the end of the story… I don’t think any of us ever visualized the moment they get to Earth is the end of this series and their story. If anything, their exposure to Starfleet and Earth is something that is more just like a catalyst in their story. And you’ll see that reflected in the next 10 as Vice Admiral Janeway enters their lives and they start to see beyond just the theoretical, idealized, utopian version of the Federation, but also the duty-bound version and what it means in practice to be a Starfleet officer making those tough decisions. That element is not so much the punctuation mark at the end of the series, but rather, the secret sauce… the second booster to get us out of the atmosphere.

During the first ten episodes, we did see the cadets find and wear provisional Starfleet uniforms; Waltke talked about how these will come back and are part of the characters’ journey towards understanding Starfleet:

 I think whenever they put on the Starfleet uniform it’s when they’re trying to look presentable for something they feel like is somewhat serious or, for better or worse, they are acting in some quasi-official capacity… But I don’t think we ever wanted them to just be like, “Alright, well, I’m a Starfleet captain now because I put on the uniform and I said so.” And that’s something that I think you will see evolve over time as they kind of get more exposed to Starfleet. Rather than just sort of being the right people in the right place at the right time, they start to understand truly what the uniform means and then eventually start working their way towards earning it.

The Prodigy crew in uniform in episode 9

Backstories… and Tellarite lore

The first ten episodes revealed a lot about history of the USS Protostar and of some characters like Gwyn, but there are still many mysteries left. Walke advised patience:

You are going to get more backstory on all of the main crew. We’re not going to have them literally just read out an autobiography, but I think you will have snapshots that will elucidate enough that you’ll be able to fill in the blanks… I think you’ll get enough that you’ll understand where they came from… you will get a little bit more clarity that, for better or for worse, none of them aside from Gwyn had much of a home before Tars Lamora. They just had a life and you’ll see elements of that life.

One example he gave was about Jankom Pog, who was previously revealed to have arrived in the Delta Quadrant on a sleeper ship. Waltke talked about how the introduction of Admiral Janeway and the USS Dauntless bridge crew will impact Jankom:

And Tellarites, I think, are going to be quite fun, because as you’ve seen, there’s a different Tellarite—Dr. Noum, played by Jason Alexander—that is on Admiral Janeway’s ship. What’s kind of fun too is our show, I think for the first time, where you actually get to see both variations of Tellarites in the same show… I’m very excited that we have a five-finger Tellarite who’s going to come in direct conflict with our three fingered Jankom Pog. And you’re going you’re going to learn a little bit more about those elements.

At Mission Chicago, I think Dan on stage said that Jankom technically is over 200 years old. So he is technically [a] pre-Federation Tellarite that was sent out into the cosmos. So him coming into contact with…  finding out that his people are founding members of the Federation, there’s gonna be some fun stuff there, but then also interacting with another Tellarite…  obviously, they’re not known for their great bedside manner, especially Dr. Noem. So I think there’s going to be some fun conflict there.

Jankom figuring things out in episode 3

More connections and legacy characters coming

Aaron Waltke talked about how the producers of the various Star Trek Universe shows keep in touch to ensure the shows don’t conflict and even how they can connect:

We’ve been talking to other shows, and even like Discovery, we’re like, “Feel free to toss a Vau N’Akat in there.” We’re always talking and finding ways to make that stuff happen as best we can… Finding ways to make sure they’re all informed and part of a great tapestry, which in my opinion, was one of the great triumphs of the Berman era was that you had shows like Deep Space Nine which were like this connective hub that connected all of Star Trek together and you’d see crossovers between them. And I don’t think anybody has any interest in not continuing that tradition.

We have already seen a number of legacy Star Trek characters on Prodigy, and Waltke confirmed  this is all part of a Star Trek tradition that will continue:

Yeah [more legacy characters are coming]… It would feel disingenuous to never sort of reference any of the stuff that came before. Is there an element of small universe syndrome in that? Perhaps. But I also really love the episode “Relics,” where they just happen to  stumble across Scotty on a ship 100 years later… However, I think that the important thing is not to have those legacy cameos come in and take over the story. Because first and foremost, this is the story of our young Prodigy crew. And if we’re going to bring in a new character, it’s going to be for a very specific purpose. They’re going to have some bearing on their journey and growth as characters… They will have substantial roles in the story.

Robert Beltran as Chakotay on Prodigy

You can follow Aaron J. Waltke on Twitter (and Instagram) and also follow the Star Trek: Prodigy writers’ room on Twitter.

Listen to the full podcast interview

There is much more in the full interview, which you can listen to on the All Access Star Trek podcast below or wherever you get your podcasts. (Aaron Waltke interview starts at 21:02)

 

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And there’s some stuff coming up in the 2380s that we’re not just going to ignore.” Wonder if they are talking about the Romulan supernova.

I love the animation style and the characters, but the tone is way to dark. Nothing I (or any other parent I know here in Germany) would watch with his kids. So still waiting for some sort of family series. Enterprise (Archer) was the closest to come near family entertainment. Still best star trek show.