"Discovery" arrives at a time when the US is more divided than ever. From the tragic protests last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, to claims by a Google engineer that women aren't suited to work in technology, the nation is wrestling with racism, sexism and questions about its identity.
Enter Star Trek, based on a future universe envisioned by Gene Roddenberry where such issues were resolved long ago. "Discovery" picks up the original show's mantle of diversity and social commentary, which Roddenberry conceived of and aired during the civil rights battles of the 1960s. It focused on different peoples and races (human and alien) working together for the greater good.
The new show boasts a darker, more modern take on Star Trek, complete with complex characters who disagree, change and potentially die throughout an evolving serialized arc. But it preserves Roddenberry's core principle.
To many involved with "Discovery," that's exactly what we need right now.
"I'm excited for what this show represents and for what I truly hope it will do," says Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays First Officer Michael Burnham, the first black woman to headline a Star Trek series. "I just hope that we can incite change."
Legacy of diversity
The casting of Martin-Green as the lead character in "Discovery" sparked a reaction of a different sort after the announcement was made in December.
Critics from across the internet derided "Discovery" as too diverse, even tossing around the concept of "white genocide."
"It surprised me — but it didn't," Martin-Green says in an interview at the Shangri La Hotel in Toronto, Canada, where the show is being filmed at Pinewood Studios. "In those first few encounters, I realized that the hypocrisy is real. You can be a part of something that has been a champion of diversity and still have naysayers."
As she points out, if you're criticizing the show's efforts to present a more diverse future, you've missed one of the central points of Star Trek. The original series, after all, cast a black woman, Nichelle Nichols, as Lt. Nyota Uhura, the Enterprise's communications officer, and a Japanese-American man, George Takei, as Lt. Hikaru Sulu, the ship's helmsman.
We may take such a diverse cast for granted now, but it was a wild concept when the show premiered in 1966.
"To have people of color out in space is quite revolutionary," says Miki Turner, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California. Roddenberry "did it during a time when it was not expected and wasn't accepted in some quarters of the world."
Star Trek also featured its first black commanding officer, Benjamin Sisko, in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" in 1993 and its first female captain, Kathryn Janeway, in "Star Trek: Voyager" in 1995.
"Discovery" goes further. The decision to revolve the series around Martin-Green's character, First Officer Burnham, gives it a different point of view than the typical captain-centric focus.
The show also features a gay couple played by Anthony Rapp (Lt. Paul Stamets) and Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber).
"Star Trek for 50 years has pushed so many boundaries, but this has been one blind spot," Rapp says. "There's a sizable LGBT contingent, and they've been hungry and clamoring for it."
Then there's Captain Lorca, played by British actor Jason Isaacs, best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" film franchise, who says he chose a southern accent because he didn't want to try to follow Patrick Stewart. He worked with a dialogue coach to create an accent that was an amalgamation from different states, working off the assumption that those boundaries would fade in the future.
When he was training for the film "Black Hawk Down," Isaacs noted that the southern accent was common in the military, even among soldiers who were from the north.
"Something about it conveys something military about him," he says.
Capt. Philippa Georgiou, played by action-film legend Michelle Yeoh, is another pivotal figure. Commander of the USS Shenzhou, Georgiou's ready room features shadow puppets called wayang kulit, a nod to Yeoh's Malaysian heritage.
And we haven't even gotten to the aliens yet.
'Star Trek: Discovery' fights for more than Trekkies' hearts - CNET