I’m thankful to be of the age that I grew up in the golden age of Star Trek between 1987 and 2005. Sure, I ran around all day long – how else could I have stayed as skinny as a string bean – but by nighttime, the three of us huddled around the warm electric glow of our television, fidgeting with the antenna to get a clear signal. The cult classics of yesteryear were part of syndication, cancelled due to ratings higher than network averages these days. Knight Rider, The A-Team, Airwolf, even The Fall Guy. But on a Saturday evening at 7pm, our local Fox affiliate aired Star Trek: The Next Generation. I knew nothing of the Star Trek franchise at that age but each year, as I grew older, I became more fascinated with Gene Roddenberry’s vision. While my friends were obsessed with G.I. Joe or Transformers, I became instilled with the adult thematics of Stark . I had the Enterprise-D and the unimaginable depths of the great unknown.
Sure, there were spin-offs of The Next Generation. I watched them all, every week of every year, all the way through my conclusion of my sophomore year of college. (From what I remember of those semesters anyway.) By the time the prequel series Enterprise vacated the airwaves in 2005, the franchise was played out. Audiences flocked to different genres, shows with a faster pace and deeper mystery. No one cared for the message anymore, no, people wanted to be entertained instead. Lost was big business on ABC. CSI ruled the CBS airwaves. Cable dramas like Rescue Me and The Shield drew massive ratings. By May 2005, Star Trek was dead.
But the rise of streaming services ignited interested in the franchise again. Sure, the franchise found new life on CBS All Access, all for the price of $6.99 per month with limited commercials. As much as I wished to watch Star Trek: Discovery weekly, I had no interest in paying for another service. Netflix was enough for me, alongside my Xfinity cable package. I figured that, eventually, the franchise would reignite in proper and I would have to play the right hand.
And then, after years of refusing to explore his most iconic character in a sequel series, Patrick Stewart changed his mind after an impassioned pitch by Michael Chabon and Akiva Goldsman. Stewart was wise to maintain his stance – why revisit a character that was divine and didn’t need Stewart returned in a series picking up right where the franchise left off. Elements of the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis, the 2009 semi-reboot Star Trek, and parts of The Next Generation all wrapped up like a Christmas gift left forgotten in an attic for years.
Now here we are, early in 2020, my Netflix subscription a thing of the past. At first I questioned if a three-month investment in CBS All Access was worhtwhile. Five episodes into this new series, I’ve decided making the time for Picard is the best decision I’ve made in the last four months. If there’s one given that we all should learn in this questionable times, perhaps the return of Jean-Luc Picard can bring out our more humane and sensible natures of our psyches.
The world was largely different when The Next Generation ruled the airwaves three decades ago. Authoritarian regimes that ruled the biggest nations around our blue planet began to crumble. Human rights were challenged and questioned with extreme pressure from those who felt strongly in their views. For a time, we felt more connected to those in other parts of the globe than ever before. But nowadays, the world is heading back towards cataclysm. Racism, hatred, fear are rampant throughout our country. Nations no longer have trust for another. Roddenberry’s worries in the mid-1960’s have come back to haunt us.
I sit here writing this almost feeling ashamed of the world we live in. This isn’t what Gene Roddenberry ever envisioned. Nor Rick Berman, who soldiered on the franchise when Roddenberry passed away in 1990. I recall watching Star Trek: Generations in theaters and, to this day, repeatedly on television. The movie is more dogged than any other, aside from 2002’s Nemesis, but the message sometimes is not received. And Picard, as shown in this entry, is as human and emotionally wrought as we are today. Time truly is like a stalker. At every corner, when we least suspect, our lives can change for better or worse. In the 1994 film, Picard lost his entire family to a fire at the family’s French winery. As noble and stoic the captain has always been, he finally meets the one part of life he can’t control – death and how to handle one’s emotions.
So, to meet the character all over again in 2020, Picard has changed. He’s off at the family vineyard bottling wine, retired from Starfleet, in opposition to the bureaucracy and red tape that now embroil what he once was dutiful towards. I suppose, in a way, that’s what’s become of our society today. We’re a shell of the progress we once clung to like a warm blanket. We’re filled with rancor and against our fellow man. But that’s not what Picard would want. Hell, by the end of the first episode, the retired admiral finds a new purpose, a new reason for going on. Anyone can quit and just hide inside of the home, where we can find solace in solitude.
Picard’s ideologies are ones that we should take root in and plant inside ourselves to grow our minds, open them up. Shed our views of intolerance and judging others because we are frightened of whom we don’t know nor understand. Picard always stood toe-to-toe to stand against such cold and unacceptable attitudes. We’re all guilty of judging a book by its cover. Hell, by the time that Star Trek: Picard hits its stride, we’ve come to see a man who has accepted defeat when everyone is against his incorruptibility. To change one person’s view is impossible, let alone a society. But when up against the odds, what do we do when we’re in the thick of it?
We dust ourselves off, look past the hostility and venom entangled with man, and say the hell with their attitudes. I admit, in my 35 years, I have regrets of how easily I’ve given up fighting for what I believe in. The easy out is laying down your convictions and silencing the voice screaming aloud in your head. To sit down, to watch, not to act. We neglect. We yield. But over time, we are compelled to act again. To react and be something more. Perhaps we come to accept that we wish we did more in life. The more I watch Picard, the more I find ways to relate with Jean-Luc even more. Sure, the narrative is absolutely fascinating, finding a way to continue a plot I thought was long abandoned. But to see the twinkle in Stewart’s eyes – well, that gives me hope that maybe we’re not lost yet.
Aspects of the Star Trek franchise haven’t aged well. Some of the stories are silly. At the franchise’s core remains a narrative of peoples trying to overcome tyranny, war, the darker side of mankind, the unkind nature of folks that have lost their way. As a youth, the virtue and nobility of Jean-Luc Picard served as a reminder of the kind of man I should aspire to be. Well over thirty-plus years since his debut, Picard is an individual that we can still learn from today. One of the finest quotes that was ever written for Jean-Luc Picard to utter matters most now as the same day I first heard the words – “What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived.”
Over 25 years later, I would like to think I’ve taken the quote and run as far as I’ve can. Times may change, for better or worse. We wish to do better for ourselves, for the world we live in and those around us. To riff on the quote, time is very much like a stalker. The amazing part of being human is that we have the power to change. If Patrick Stewart can find new life in a character he was done portraying and adding a new layer that echoes the world of 2020, who are we to ignore the importance of such a character? The Picard of today may be afraid of what lies ahead, but the unknown is just that for a reason. The journey isn’t know where you end up but rather braving the unknown to see what’s next.
2020 is far removed from 1990. The optimism that Roddenberry left behind, his vision that we can overcome our fallacies and find a way to unite, we can grasp onto that notion again. The roots are planted firmly with Stewart’s Picard. Go on, binge The Next Generation on Netflix. Give Star Trek: Picard a watch. I’ve come to find that, even after all these years, that I’ve needed Picard even now to remind me to not lose sight of who I should strive to remain not just for me but for all. And in a way, we all should embrace his characteristics too.