Ever since it was announced that CBS All Access and executive producer Alex Kurtzman’s Star Trek team would be taking on a Picard streaming series, fans have been eager to absorb every possible piece of information about the next phase of the legendary captain-turned-admiral’s life. At the Enter the Star Trek Universe panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday, we finally learned more key details about the Next Generation sequel, including the return of some fan-favorite characters from Picard's first series.
Even before the panel proper kicked off, news about Picard, which will feature the return of Patrick Stewart in the title role, was swirling. Entertainment Weekly confirmed that Picard’s canine friend, who first appeared on the teaser poster for the series, is indeed named “Number One,” and as the panel began, Kurtzman revealed that the final installment of the next round of Short Treks short films will function as a teaser for Picard, filling us in on what Jean-Luc’s been up to for the last 15 years.
Then it was time for the Picard spotlight portion of the Trek panel, moderated by Dominic Patten and featuring Kurtzman; Stewart; showrunner Michael Chabon; executive producers Akiva Goldsman, Kirsten Beyer, and Heather Kadin; and cast members Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Harry Treadaway, Alison Pill, Evan Evagora, and Isa Briones.
Right away, talk turned to why, after all these years, Stewart made the decision to reprise the role of Jean-Luc Picard. According to him, the more the new series was discussed, the more he realized he actually had an opportunity to do something new and different with an iconic character. When asked why Picard is different, Kurtzman gave the credit to Stewart.
"It's entirely different. It all started with Patrick. We had several conversations with him, and he challenged us beautifully," Kurtzman said. "It forced us to think outside the box about what is it about Jean-Luc Picard and why people love him so much. ... Picard is questioning many of the choices he made, but he's also certain about many of the choices he made."
Speaking about how he transitioned into showrunning duties after years spent primarily as a writer of prose fiction, Chabon again gave credit to Stewart for his guidance and wisdom.
"Having to write so much so frequently, in a way that's so collaborative with other writers and our cast and Patrick, I've learned to trust Patrick's judgment of the character on a daily basis, sometimes on a line-by-line basis," Chabon said.
Then it was finally time to talk about the show's new characters and what they bring to Picard's story, though even those reveals are not without secrecy. When asked about her character, Pill could only say she's "a researcher" and that "she is deeply confused about her place in the world and waiting for something to happen." She then noted: "The interesting thing about this cast is everybody is pretty broken and different in interesting ways to what we've seen before."
Echoing Pill's "broken" comment, Hurd said that her character is also struggling with demons, and that she has a connection to Picard's past that has yet to be revealed. Briones is also struggling as a character named Dodge, who seeks out Picard after a tragedy strikes in her life.
In terms of the tone of the new series, Goldsman noted the challenge of making Picard its own distinct show while still carrying on the legacy of The Next Generation, even as the show never set out to be a sequel.
"We pointedly did not want to make a sequel to TNG," he said. "It's a hybrid: slower, gentler, more lyrical. But it takes on what the other series took on, hope for a future that is a little better than what it is today. We think it's a new kind of Star Trek show made by a lot of people who love the old Star Trek shows."
Building on Goldsman's comments about hope, Kurtzman addressed the specific interest in a character like Jean-Luc Picard now, at a time when the future often feels uncertain.
"Picard is the kind of leader we really need right now," he said. "Picard is the one who's still standing up for what matters and the ideals we believe in. Age has not changed him, but it's just changed the circumstances of his life."
Then it was trailer time, and as the footage rolled we finally got a better sense of what Picard's life is like now, plus the reveal of some old friends. Data has returned to the Star Trek universe, as has Seven of Nine, both played by their original actors, Brent Spiner and Jeri Ryan. Check it out:
Following the trailer, Spiner himself took the Hall H stage, followed by Ryan and another surprise guest: Jonathan Del Arco, who played Hugh the Borg on The Next Generation. It seems Picard's past encounters with the deadly alien hive mind still haunt him. In discussing his reunion with Stewart, who he's also become famous for impersonating, Spiner led off with a joke.
"When I first heard of Star Trek: Picard, I called the producers and asked if they had anyone for the role of Picard yet," he said. "They hung up on me."
"But then I spoke with Patrick and he asked if I would possibly come on the show," Spiner added, then joked again. "I said I didn't think I could do that, and he started crying. ... The possibility of standing next to Patrick on a set again was too much to say no to. And I thought of the fans too ... I had to be there."
After Spiner's jokes, Stewart affirmed that the famous TNG chemistry and goofy behind-the-scenes humor is back in full force.
"You've got to get your laughing gear in place, because we have more fun than really should be allowed in a very expensive series," he said.
Then, as if Spiner and Ryan weren't enough, Chabon confirmed that Jonathan Frakes (who will also be directing the series) will be returning as William Riker, and Marina Sirtis will reprise the role of Deanna Troi. It's a full-blown Next Generation reunion, with plenty of new faces as well.
"We also have a new crew, a new cast, and I am astonished at the speed at which this has become a team, a cohesive unit working together ... we are already cemented together, and that makes me happy and proud," Stewart said. As the panel began to wind down, he also reflected on the generational appeal of Star Trek, which he's now passed on to his grandchildren.
"When the murmur of The Next Generation first came up in 1986, I had to ask my children, 'What the hell is this?' They were the ones who first introduced me to Star Trek, and I'm so deliriously happy that now I have four grandchildren who have the same attitude about what we're doing," Stewart said.
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