For as long as my memory can recall, Star Trek has been a part of my life. As incomplete as early memory can be, there are vivid recollections of time watching Trek with my mom. I was seven years-old when Star Trek: Generations released in theatersin the fall of 1994, and that theater-going experience is the first true memory of a movie theater I have. In all likelihood, there were theater trips that predated Generations, but I remember being there with my parents and grandparents, and at one point in the film’s opening sequence that featured a few returning members of Trek’s original cast, I leaned over to my mom and in a state of childish impatience, and asked when Picard and crew would finally appear.
The Next Generation had ended its run earlier that year, and to the mind of a child, the half-year wait until that crew reappeared on the big screen was an eternity. Growing up the decks of the Enterprise was like home. I knew episodes in and out. From an early age I began learning about character and story because of the time I spent with these characters. Like so many others, these characters were a source of inspiration for me. There was a connection to be had here, something seemingly for everyone. This crew helped me through childhood bullying, kept a vision of hope active that there would one day be a better day.
High school served as a transition of sorts. I was not unique in this shift. High school is a time of identifying new likes and curiosities. Star Trek fell by the wayside for me during this period. It simply wasn’t cool (was it ever?) in these formative years. I returned to Trek during my college years. And like a good set of friends, Picard and crew were there, waiting, ready to welcome me back into a narrative that had never actually eluded me when I left it behind. As an adult, I began to unpack the substance of many of the stories that The Next Generation presented. I dug into the ethics of this fictional future and reckoned with my own personal identity alongside these characters.
Captain Picard was and remains my favorite fictional character, so it was much to my elated surprise when Patrick Stewart announced last summer that “Jean-Luc Picard is back” and will be returning to television in a new set of stories in early 2020. I look forward to new adventures with him, to see how he has grown in the near two decades since we last saw him in a new story. I return to him with an eagerness and zeal because in the last several years, Picard is a character that has helped me understand concepts of leadership and personhood throughout my life.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a series of short reflections on the character of Jean-Luc Picard. Each will be a reflection on an episode or film, but the content will neither be a review or analysis of the plot. Instead, I want to look at the characteristics and challenges Picard faces that make him who is he. That is to say, I want to examine more deeply at what makes this character compelling and standing the test of time (Cue the clip “They say time is the fire in which we burn”). This series will help construct a portrait of why Picard has long been a character that countless individuals have identified and related with through the last three-plus decades.
If there’s a byproduct of this little project, I hope that any Trek fans looking forward to the new Star Trek: Picard series can narrow in on the character of Picard. The writers and producers (not to mention Sir Patrick Stewart himself) have said this is not a sequel or continuation of The Next Generation. It is something different, with the character of Picard as the essence and compass for a new narrative. I welcome this change. Nostalgia makes us feel comfortable, and surely there will be plenty of that to go around. Yet nostalgia cannot be the driving force of a plot. If Picard were a continuation of The Next Generation I would be concerned about its quality and sustainability. My hope for the new series is that it takes the core character of Picard and moves us forward into new worlds seeking new lives and civilizations. You know how the rest goes.
Let’s make it so.