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Star Trek returns to animation for a short that was almost in the Discovery finale

By Ryan Britt
Young Michael Burnham

For the first time since 1976's Star Trek: The Animated Series, the franchise of the final frontier has returned to animated form. Two different Short Treks have boldly gone where Star Trek has never gone before. And while the nostalgia-heavy romp "Ephraim and Dot" spans the classic '60s era of Star Trek, the other, "The Girl Who Made the Stars," focuses on a more subtle aspect of recent Discovery canon, which, in turn, references an ancient African myth from antiquity.

For Brandon Schultz, writer for the Short Treks take on "The Girl Who Made the Stars," the story was a chance to expand on one character we'd only seen briefly in Season 2: Michael Burnham's dad.

"As the father of two little black girls, I was so fascinated by Michael Burnham, this strong black woman protagonist," Schultz tells SYFY WIRE. "But until 'Perpetual Infinity,' we didn't know much about her birth parents. We got a chance to discover the story of Gabrielle Burnham, her mother, but we didn't touch on a ton about her father. As a father of two daughters, I identified with Mike Burnham Sr., Kenric Green's character. So I was pitching from his viewpoint."

In real life, Kernic Green is the husband of Sonequa Martin-Green, and he's back in this Short Treks, playing the voice of Mike Burnham, the father of Michael Burnham. In terms of the Trek timeline, "The Girl Who Made the Stars" is clearly way before the flashbacks in "Perpetual Infinity," mostly because little Michael Burnham is much younger, and also because her dad, Mike, isn't about to fend off a Klingon home invasion, phaser in hand.

For Schultz, writing "The Girl Who Made the Stars" not only allowed him to expand upon the Discovery Season 2 episode "Perpetual Infinity" (which he also co-wrote), but this Short Treks also was the realization of a different pitch, which directly ties into the Season 2 premiere episode, "Brother." As part of that opening narration, Michael Burnham retold the African myth of "The Girl Who Made the Stars" as a kind of thematic framing for the entire second season, and the story of the Red Angel. But who told Michael that story? In this Short Treks, we discover it was her father.

"I was super-interested in where that came from, so it was actually a pitch based on that opening dialogue," Schultz explains. "I specifically pitched Olatunde Osunsanmi — who was the director of the two-part finale — about maybe incorporating something regarding that story as part of the Season 2 finale ["Such Sweet Sorrow"]. But it just turns out they had so much to do in the Season 2 finale that didn't end up making it in."

But, later, because Trek producer Alex Kurtzman liked the idea, the notion of telling the story of Michael's father telling her a story became an animated episode of Short Treks. In some ways, this episode is unlike anything Star Trek has attempted before. It's a story within the Star Trek universe, but it's also a new retelling of an ancient fable. Still, Schultz insists that he was out to make part of the Trek universe, and not try to usurp an existing myth.

Michael Burnham and her dad

"I wanted to build it within the world of Star Trek," he says. "I'm not an anthropologist and I'm not from the original cultures of southern and western Africa. At least not directly. But, what I like to do, and what Alex talks about in the writers' room was creating canon that references Discovery. It was making it true within the world of Star Trek: Discovery, that's why felt important to embellish with alien beings, and also, with Burnham's imagination. So, those were the elements we wanted to play with because as much as you want to do justice to a creation story, that has its origin in the oral tradition, we also wanted it to feel resonate with Star Trek themes."

So, could this be the beginning of more stories featuring young Michael Burnham? Could we explore more of what her parents were like before they got swept up in all that Section 31 cloak-and-dagger stuff? Schultz is involved with writing Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, but can't say for sure if young Burnham will return.

"I loved tiny Burnham!" says Schultz enthusiastically. "And Kyrie Mcalpin did such a great job playing her! So sure, who knows! We'll just have to wait and see."

Short Treks is streaming now on CBS All Access. The final new Short Treks, "Children of Mars," will air on January 9, 2020, just two weeks before the launch of Star Trek: Picard.