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How does Short Treks' 'Runaway' change Star Trek canon?

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Oct 5, 2018, 1:07 PM EDT (Updated)

As one of four mini-episodes set in the Star Trek: Discovery universe, the very first of the Short Treks, "Runaway," is charming, simple and heartfelt. Spotlighting everyone's favorite up-and-coming Starfleet officer, Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), the story of the mini-episode has enough verve to act as a miniature pilot episode for anyone who might be on the fence about the newest iteration of Star Trek. As Tilly might say: "you guys, this is so f***ing cool!" But, does this mini-episode violate Trek canon? And when does it even take place?

On Thursday, CBS All-Access debuted the 15-minute episode. "Runaway," and, for all you Discovery haters out there, the episode rocks. Partially because it's a feel-good story set in the Star Trek universe, but also because the story reveals that one of Tilly's buddies figured out a tech hack that Spock and Scotty won't crack for another couple decades.

Briefly: the story centers on Tilly encountering an alien stowaway named Po who might just hold the key to totally changing the way Starfleet deals with dilithium crystals. (For those who forgot, dilithium crystals are what makes the faster-than-light warp drive possible.) Basically, Po has figured out how to recrystallize dilithium, which would revolutionize the way Starfleet and a bunch of other people get around.

If you are a Trekkie who was annoyed by the introduction of the Spore Drive into the Trek mythos, this small detail also might drive you nuts. Why? Well, at this point Discovery takes place in 2257, but, Spock and Scotty won't figure out how to recrystallize dilithium until 2286, when they are stranded in Earth's past via time-travel in the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Yeah, Discovery is still a prequel to the vast majority of the rest of Star Trek canon, meaning, little stuff like this seems like a contradiction.

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Spock and Scotty trying to recrystallize dilithium in 'Star Trek IV' (Paramount Pictures)

But is it? Just because Po tells Tilly she has figured out how to recrystallize dilithium, it doesn't follow that it needs to become common knowledge after they part ways. In fact, Discovery has already maneuvered around a few of these canon problems before.

In the first season, the crew entered the Mirror Universe before Captain Kirk did. No problem! Admiral Cornwell and Sarek made that information classified. Ditto for the Spore Drive. Throughout the first season of Discovery, we learned Starfleet had tech that allowed a ship to instantly appear anywhere in the universe (or any universe) at any time. And yet, this tech turned out to be temperamental, and really, only Stamets can operate it, and even then, it nearly kills him. And so, Discovery flirted with violating Trek canon a few times, but, in the end, didn't really.

The same is true of "Runaway," and this business about recrystallizing dilithium. It's pretty easy to figure out in your head how this works: Po doesn't share her breakthrough with the Federation, and Tilly doesn't mention this to anyone out of her respect for Po. Meaning, the only mystery left in the episode is when it takes place relative to the rest of the Star Trek: Discovery. But that's easy to figure out, too.

In the opening scenes of the episode, when Tilly is chatting with her mother over a subspace channel, we clearly see the medal she was given in the first season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, "Will You Take My Hand?" She's also talking about being in the command training program, which happens at the end of that episode. It also looks like she's got her own room now, and because of their respective promotions, she and Michael aren't sharing quarters anymore. But, she does have an adorable picture of the two of them hanging out!

So, in terms of continuity, it looks like Tilly has this entire interaction with Po sometime before the USS Discovery encounters the USS Enterprise in the season finale. This actually works just fine. Mostly because we don't really know how much time passes between the crew being given their medals, and the ship getting underway.

But, if the episode does happen while the ship is en route to the planet Vulcan, that means Tilly had to clean-up all that food in the cafeteria real fast before hightailing it to the bridge just in time to see the Enterprise warp into view. Which, is really ironic. We always thought Scotty — the eventual chief engineer of the Enterprise — was a miracle worker with dilithium crystals, but it looks like two women were ahead of his innovations by about twenty years.

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