Mark your calendars for stardate 11020.23 (we think) — that is, January 23, 2020 — when the highly anticipated Star Trek: Picard finally launches, the cast and creators announced at New York Comic-Con on Saturday.
The CBS All Access spin-off stars Patrick Stewart as the legendary Jean-Luc Picard and will include numerous familiar faces from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which first introduced the titular character. Data (Brent Spiner), William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) all make their return in the new series.
Revisiting Picard 20 years later felt like less of a job and more of a gift, executive producer Akiva Goldsman said at the top of the October 5 Star Trek Universe panel at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater.
“I think we’ve done pretty well,” Goldsman said of living up to The Next Generation’s formidable standard. “You’re surrounded by a lot of people who love Star Trek and a lot of people who love Captain Picard — and who actually love Patrick Stewart — so it very quickly went from ‘job’ to ‘opportunity.’ We’re pretty blessed, and I don’t throw that word around.”
To learn all the details from the event, including what’s in store for some of the franchise’s new faces, read on for everything we know about Star Trek: Picard.
The new journey with Picard and co. takes place after the events of the feature film Nemesis in 2002 (the death of Data, for one) and the eventual defeat of the Romulans (as established in the Picard-less 2009 feature). Picard has disassociated himself from Star Fleet and is spending his old age in retirement and isolation at Château Picard, where he’s joined by a trusted pitbull companion, Number One (a knowing nod to his longtime second-in-command Riker, of course).
“We wanted it to be a real-time follow-up to where last we saw Picard,” Goldsman explained of the jump in time. “We wanted to let the ensuing years that have passed for us also [to] have passed for Jean-Luc, so we all spent a lot of time collaboratively filling in those 20 years.”
And while there is development in the Picard scripts and its narrative architecture of what has happened to the former captain in the ensuing years, the story here picks up with the unexpected arrival of Dahj (Isa Briones), a young woman who turns to Picard for help following an enormous trauma, in turn reigniting Picard’s desire to return to the Starfleet.
While Picard is one of Stewart’s best-known and most-beloved roles over the course of his expansive career, it’s also one that the 79-year-old thespian had vowed to never return to again. So how did executive producer Alex Kurtzman and his team of Star Trek diehards persuade him? Through an admiring patience and persistence.
“He was sure about saying no. He was positively negative about the whole thing,” Kurtzman teased of the first pitch meeting between himself, Stewart, Goldsman, and supervising producer Kirsten Beyer. “We pitched and he said, ‘It’s lovely — and no thank you.’ He said, ‘I couldn’t possibly, but I really appreciate it.’”
The idea initially came together as Kurtzman was mapping out his new string of his short film series, Short Treks, and posited the idea of a Picard-focused outing.
“Akiva and Kirsten and I were sort of thinking about what that would be, and then we went, ‘A Short Trek would be great, but what if we could bring him back?’ ” Kurtzman recalled. “So I called his agent and I said, ‘I know he’s probably never coming back, but would you do us the favor of trying to set up a meeting?’”
And while Stewart’s initial response was a decisive no, he soon reconsidered, asking for a four-page mock-up of the plan for the 10-episode order. What writer, executive producer, and Star Trek superfan Michael Chabon ended up turning in, as Stewart remembers it, was a bit longer.
“I seem to remember 35 [pages],” Stewart said, laughing about the attempt by the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist (for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) to woo him.
“It was an incredible document,” Kurtzman agreed. “And I can tell you that one of the greatest moments that we had was coming to see you [Stewart] after you had read the document not knowing what the response was going to be, and you walked into the room and you were smiling. That was the moment.”
While the response in the room to seeing the likes of Data and Riker pop up in the NYCC trailer for Picard was rapturous, to say the least, the creators on stage did emphasize that they didn’t want it to be just a shallow reunion show. When asked about how they negotiated bringing back fan-favorite franchise vets and serving the heart of the story, executive producer Heather Kadin explained that no one was brought back thoughtlessly or without the bigger picture in mind.
“A big concern was we did not want it to be — and especially Patrick did not want it to be — a TNG reunion show,” she said. “And I think what you can even tell from the trailer and what you’ll definitely tell when you watch the series is we only brought people back if their story really mattered to the story we were telling. We didn’t want it to be, ‘And then over here is Riker!’ You know? I don’t think the fans would’ve appreciated that, either, and it was really important to Patrick, who obviously has longstanding, deep relationships with these people, that if we’re going to go to them and say, ‘Join a show that’s called Picard,’ that we give them something significant to do. You’ll see that each one of them has a pivotal, emotional story to tell in our 10 episodes.”
Joining the Picard creatives and Stewart on the NYCC stage were series newcomers Briones, Santiago Cabrera (Cristobal “Chris” Rios), Michelle Hurd (Raffi Musiker), Alison Pill (Dr. Agnes Jurati), Harry Treadaway ( Narek), and Evan Evagora (Elnor). While the actors are contractually obligated to remain tight-lipped, we did learn some necessary backstory for what to expect going into the January premiere.
When Dahj comes in search for Picard’s help, that help quickly becomes a two-way street, Briones said.
“When Dahj and Picard first meet, it’s this really special moment of two lost souls colliding in a way in this crazy circumstance that is born out of tragedy. [It’s] two people helping each other. It starts with me asking for help, but I think we help each other, which is a really, really beautiful moment to have with Sir Patrick Stewart,” Briones said.
Though she couldn’t reveal too much, she said “‘complicated’ is a good word” to describe the predicament Dahj finds herself in.
“I am seeking help from him because of a horrible tragedy that I have just gone through, and my gut is telling me to go to Picard, and that in itself is so complicated, just the feeling of me needing someone and going to this man saying, ‘I need help,’” Briones said.
Kadin added that much like Tilly on Star Trek: Discovery, Dahj will be a point of entry for non-Star Trek fans to jump into the world of Picard.
“In the way Tilly has been a representation of someone new to the world on Discovery, I think you’ll find that Isa’s character gives you that way into this show,” she said. “But I also think that Patrick has so many fans from so many things that I think that he’s going to bring that to this show, and I think people are going to be able to be welcomed into it without a problem.”
As far as the other characters, “complicated” remained the word of the hour, whether it was used to describe the shared history of Raffi and Picard (per Hurd: “We have a past. We’ve worked together, and we had a falling out.”); of Rios’s return to Starfleet after he left “due to some traumatic events in his past in relation to Starfleet,” according to Cabrera; or of the introduction of “odd couple” Romulans Narek and Elnor, who are navigating a world in which they are no longer welcome.
Pill’s Dr. Jurati comes into the mix after being swept up in Picard’s once-in-a-lifetime (and still-unnamed) intergalactic adventure.
“Picard’s mission ends up being exactly what she’s spent her entire life reading about, so they have the same goal in mind, and the possibility of it invites this woman to want to go on an adventure unlike anything she’s ever [been] on,” Pill teased.
Stewart later emphasized that it’s the series’ ongoing ensemble work that remains his top priority while being top of the call sheet.
“I looked on every aspect of The Next Generation as being ensemble-based, and in fact, that has been very much an indicator of where I was in my career — that the ensembles that I’d worked with, whether they were in theater or film or television, have always been to me like another character,” he said. “And so when we first met and talked in those early discussions, it was, my use of that word, the ensemble, the uniting of a group, because here we sit, I can only speak personally, but in love with all of these people on my left, and of course the people on the right. And that’s where the ensemble element comes from, and it’s very important.”
For those who watched the trailer, we’re introduced to Picard’s pet pitbull, named Number One. While the dog has been featured prominently in promotion of the CBS All Access series, little is known thus far of what role, exactly, the pup will be playing. But it wasn’t lost on the NYCC audience that Stewart has a real-world connection to pitbulls, working tirelessly in nonprofit initiatives and fostering and adopting the oft-misunderstood breed himself.
With that in mind, Stewart revealed that when it became clear that Kurtzman was going to include a dog for Picard in this 10-episode journey, he pushed for it to be a pitbull to further destigmatize the breed onscreen.
“Once the dog issue had been agreed upon, I did campaign proliferously for it to be a pitbull,” he said, noting the prominence of the now-famous dog from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “But what I didn’t know at the time was that Brad Pitt had gotten in there ahead of me, and there’s another pitbull now that’s become very famous in the last few weeks.”
The turn of phrase that Kurtzman likes best when discussing his slate of new Star Trek iterations is that he wants it to be reflective of the social and political state of today’s world.
“Star Trek is a mirror that holds itself up to society,” Kurtzman said. And specifically pointing out the ways in which Star Trek: Picard will deal with its treatment of the defeated and refuge-seeking Romulans, he said that the series dives right into the muck of it. “We’re in a massive immigration metaphor right now in the middle of a massive immigration conversation, and we are very proud, I think, to say that we are diving head-first into that and to using Trek as a way of exploring it from all points of view.”
Star Trek: Picard premieres January 23, 2020, on CBS All Access