Star Trek Timeline Confusion Came Long Before Discovery

Recent Star Trek series have faced challenges keeping the timeline straight. However, this is a problem that dates back to the original film.

Continuity can be a monster for a franchise like Star Trek, which stretches back 55 years and features contributions from countless creative voices. It’s improved by leaps and bounds on that front, but its very nature involves challenges when it comes to timelines. Star Trek: Discovery danced with the devil of continuity – its first two seasons ran dangerously close to the events of the original series – and managed a miracle avoiding serious problems before moving on to the 32nd century, where it found no events from the previous timeline to tangle it.

Star Trek: The Movie, however, was not so lucky. Conceived at a time when no one knew how elaborate the franchise would become, the 1979 film played quickly and freely with the timeline in an effort to make its cast look younger than they were. Results stretch credulity even for hardcore star trek fans, and demonstrated that the franchise’s continuity challenges are far from new.


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Discovery pulled off a high-tension act on that front in its first two seasons, particularly in its use of Mr. Spock and Captain Christopher Pike’s Enterprise crew. These personalities had deep roots in the franchise and employed them in Discovery it was taking the risk of contradicting certain previously established details. Its initial setting, some 10 years before James Kirk’s command of the Enterprise, created a threatening wall of continuity issues, and while Discovery acquitted himself admirably, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the series ran into a serious continuity error. He cut the Gordian knot by sending the crew to the 32nd century – far beyond any previously established event in the timeline – while using the threat of Control in season 2 to explain why Spock never spoke about his adoptive sister, Michael Burnham, or the crew of Discovery. in other series.


It was a nifty solution, but the original series was no stranger to such a problem either. star trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not believe in continuity, and in the pop culture ecosystem of the late 1960s there was little reason for such considerations. Movies and television have been built around one-shot dramas, with syndication allowing individual episodes to be swapped around the television program at random. Even ongoing franchises like James Bond have only paid lip service to continuity. Indeed, according to Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, the notion of a stardate was created in part to avoid giving specific dates for his drama. The opening title card for Star Trek: Wrath of Khan – by simply reading “In the 23rd century…” – was the first concrete on-screen confirmation of all dates in modern chronology.


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Star Trek: The Movie

It was hard for Star Trek: The Movie, thanks to standard Hollywood conceit that complicated later needs to determine when the events of the franchise took place. The film was released 10 years after the last episode of The original series, and yet it was a more or less immediate sequel. The telling line of dialogue comes from Captain Decker, whom Admiral Kirk replaces as commanding officer of the Enterprise. He notes that Kirk hasn’t “logged a single star hour in two and a half years”. In The Star Trek Encyclopedia, Franchise veteran Michael Okuda clarifies that the gap represents the time between the end of the original series’ five-year mission and the events of the film. When this happens is still an unresolved question – with some sources citing 2271 as the year The film is defined, and others placing it as 2273 – but regardless, the dialogue makes it clear that not much time elapsed between the final 1969 episode of TOS“Turnabout Intruder” and the events of the first 1979 film.


Okuda’s efforts were aimed at setting specific dates after the fact. At the time the film was made, it was more important for their aging stars to look younger than they did. William Shatner was 48 when the film premiered, and yet the dialogue suggests he should be much younger than he looks. The movie struggled mightily to hide the fact with make-up and lighting tricks, but it could only go so far; subsequent high-definition restorations of The film made these efforts embarrassing.

Khan’s Wrath provided an opportunity for a major course correction, as it tackled the realities of Kirk’s advanced age head-on and allowed the timeline to catch up. Ironically, the movie came out two and a half years after the first, and yet the official timeline jumped 12 years, to 2285. The reversal says a lot, not just about the challenges star trek face making the leap to the big screen, but how common continuity issues could be even at this relatively early stage in the franchise’s development. They are an integral part of any creative endeavor of this size. The film suffered a number of growing pains in order to help the franchise do better. Its head-scratching placement in the timeline was the price to pay.


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