The latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has fans buzzing over how the time-travel adventure addressed some of the established lore of the franchise. Now the co-showrunner is weighing in, explaining how they didn’t really change things as much as set them right.
Star Trek history vs real history
This week’s episode of Strange New Worlds featured Lt. La’an Noonien-Singh going back in time, accompanied by an alternate version of Captain James T. Kirk. La’an’s past is inextricably associated with her infamous ancestor Khan Noonien Singh, often considered Star Trek’s most iconic villain. The 1967 TOS episode “Space Seed” established that Khan and a number of his fellow genetically augmented followers were exiled into space following the “Eugenics Wars,” which Spock noted began in 1992. The 1990s might have seemed like the far future back in the 1960s, but to us, they are already real history, with no sign of a group of genetic supermen trying to take over the world.
This conflict between Trek history and reality was addressed head-on in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” when La’an literally came face-to-face with her infamous ancestor as a child—not in the late 20th century, but in the mid-21st century… and in Canada. Sera, a time-traveling Romulan agent who was trying to eliminate Earth as a potential future rival to the Empire, planned to have La’an assist in killing young Khan, thus preventing the Eugenics Wars from happening (again, in the 21st century) and therefore cutting off the chain of events (including World War III) which would then lead to first contact with the Vulcans and the beginning of an age of enlightenment that resulted in the establishment of The (Romulan-hated) United Federation of Planets.
During her villain monologuing, Sera explained the timeline discrepancies.
But, yeah, so many people have tried to influence these events, you know, to delay them or stop them. I mean, whole temporal wars have been fought over them. And it’s almost as if time itself is pushing back, and events reinsert themselves. And all this was supposed to happen back in 1992, and I’ve been trapped here for 30 years trying to get my shot at him.
So while officially resetting the Eugenics Wars into the 21st century, Sera offers an in-canon explanation for why they didn’t happen in the 1990s, referencing the Temporal Cold War from Star Trek: Enterprise and asserting that the timeline has changed, but pivotal events like the Eugenics Wars will still “reinsert themselves.”
Making the “correction”
While some may believe the show is trying to change Star Trek history or even establish a whole new alternate timeline (à la the Kelvin movies), it appears the motivation was much simpler. Speaking to Cinemablend, co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman offered some context for this timeline change:
This is a correction. Because otherwise, it’s silly, or Star Trek ceases to be in our universe…By the way, this happened in Season 1, so this is not a Season 2 [issue]. It’s a pilot issue. We want Star Trek to be an aspirational future. We want to be able to dream our way into the Federation as a Starfleet. I think that is the fun of it, in part. And so, in order to keep Star Trek in our timeline, we continue to push dates forward. At a certain point, we won’t be able to. But obviously, if you start saying that the Eugenics Wars were in the 90s, you’re kind of fucked for aspirational in terms of the real world.
As noted by Goldsman, the show had already moved the Eugenics Wars into the 21st century. In the pilot episode (written by Goldsman), as Pike showed off footage of Earth’s troubled history, he said:
This is Earth in our 21st century. Before everything went wrong… Our conflict also started with a fight for freedoms. We called it the Second Civil war, then the Eugenics War, and finally just World War III. This was our last day. The day the Earth we knew ceased to exist.
Pike’s speech to the Kiley in that episode clearly tied the Eugenics Wars to World War III, which had already been well-established within Star Trek canon as happening in the 21st century, eventually leading to that visit from the Vulcans as depicted in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact. The latest episode of Strange New Worlds only illustrated the natural conclusion that if the Eugenics Wars took place in the 21st century, then Khan Noonien Singh had to be from the 21st century as well.
Young Khan growing up at the “Noonien-Singh Institute for Cultural Advancement” indicated there likely was an older Noonien Singh running the program of genetically modifying children. Perhaps this person was also named Khan and his original 1990s history included the Eugenic Wars before that past was changed by some other temporal agent. This kind of speculation is what headcanon is for.
Star Trek reruns to the ’90s
Strange New Worlds is not the first new Star Trek show to dabble in resetting Khan’s history. In season 2 of Star Trek: Picard, Jean-Luc Picard and his crew traveled back to the early 21st century (specifically 2024). Their mission was to fix the timeline, which included stopping an alternate future Borg Queen from changing history with the assistance of 21st-century geneticist Adam Soong. In the season finale, after that plan failed and all of Soong’s digitally stored research was erased, he pulled out a file folder and paper report called “Project Khan,” dated June 7, 1996. It wasn’t made clear if the project was active at the time or if Soong was considering reactivating it, but the implication was that he would turn his attention to it next and this would lead to the rise of Khan Noonien Singh and the Eugenics Wars in the 21st century.
And it’s not just the new shows. In 1996 Star Trek: Voyager traveled back to contemporary Los Angeles for the two-part episode “Future’s End,” with no mention or evidence of any Eugenics Wars (or aftermath) to be seen.
Correcting for Roddenberry’s vision of the future
As Goldsman explains the show’s “correction” is due to them trying to “keep Star Trek in our timeline.” Keeping the Eugenics Wars (and subsequent age of enlightenment) in our future certainly helps keep the show relevant and consistent with real world history, especially for new viewers. But there is more to it. The motivation for this goes back to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who envisioned the show (and the franchise) as depicting a hopeful view of humanity’s future. This approach has continued throughout the franchise, with the producers of Strange New Worlds doing what they can to carry on this vision. Roddenberry saw tying Star Trek’s future to our present as an important distinction when compared to other science fiction. In a 20th anniversary interview in 1986, Roddenberry explained:
Perhaps one of the primary features of Star Trek that made it different from other shows was, it believed that humans are improving—they will vastly improve in the 23rd century.
Roddenberry was dedicated to a hopeful vision of the future as depicted in Star Trek. In her book Inside Star Trek, Roddenberry’s longtime assistant Susan Sackett quotes him telling her in 1990:
Almost all of this comes out of my feeling that the human future is bright. We’re just beginning. We have wonders ahead of us. I don’t see how it can be any other way, with the way the future is going. We now have got a telescope up there. We’re photographing the universe. We’re inventing the next life form, which is the computer. We’re in the midst of it. And it will happen.
During the 1970s, Roddenberry often spoke publicly about the show and the philosophy behind it. He was explicit about this link to the future and how humanity will eventually put aside division and embrace diversity. Here is Roddenberry talking again about what differentiates Star Trek from other attempts at sci-fi, as recorded in the 1976 album Inside Star Trek:
So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient, that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in Star Trek, it is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television too. The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. We tried to say that the worst possible thing that can happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mold where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that’s almost certainly out there.
Hear Roddenberry’s own words below…
For more about this, check out the latest episode of TrekMovie’s All Access Star Trek podcast discussing “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.”
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