Star Wars: The Force Awakens Was A Lesson For The Showrunner Of Star Trek: Picard

Fandom is a dangerous thing. 99 times out of a hundred, when a fan is asked what new, exciting thing they want to see out of their chosen franchise of affection, they will likely propose something very similar — if not the exact same thing — that has been tried in the past. This sort of devotion to a media franchise can be rewarding — those moments when everyone cheers at the appearance of multiple Spiders-Man — as well as frustrating — as when a new idea, wrinkle, character moment, or unexpected death is introduced into a story. 

But it's tricky. After all, a showrunner can only stray so far from a long-running TV show's premise before it ceases to be that show in anything other than name. It must be an enormous headache to balance between introducing new, striking ideas into an extant series and keeping similar moods and iconography intact. 

Terry Matalas, an executive producer on and the showrunner for the third season of "Star Trek: Picard," recently talked to TrekMovie about that balance. The third and final season of "Picard," which will debut on Paramount+ on February 16, 2023, will feature an enormous reunion between Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the central characters from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, and Michael Dorn are all set to return. This grand reunion was more than a "last hurrah" for the cast and the fans, however. It was a direct response to the way so-called "legacy" characters were handled in J.J. Abrams' 2015 film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

The Tiny Toons of Star Wars

One might notice a structural similarity between "The Force Awakens" and the 1990 animated series "Tiny Toon Adventures." Both were about a new generation of "junior" characters that very much resembled their old-world adult counterparts, and in both instances, those junior characters could interact with their elders who had taken on "teacher" roles. Just as Bugs Bunny was bifurcated into Buster and Babs Bunny, Luke was bifurcated into Rey and Finn. Just as Yosemite Sam became Montana Max, so Darth Vader became Kylo Ren. Just as the Roadrunner became Little Beeper, so R2-D2 became BB-8. And so on. 

While the "Tiny Toons" approach allowed the screenwriters to openly and affably rehash a similar, "hipper" version of the original "Star Wars" story, it did rob certain fans of their desire to see Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) on screen together again. Matalas was one of those fans, and he talks about how sharply aware he was of "The Force Awakens" distinct lack of reunions. When he came to "Picard," Matalas saw it an opportunity to rectify that, and describes the upcoming season as a homecoming — of sorts. He said: 

"It is the story of a family coming together. This is a tough thing to do. in the respect that I remember watching The Force Awakens and I found it really jarring that they weren't all hanging out still... I was like, 'Wait, Luke Skywalker is on an island and Han and Leia had a divorce and their son is a Sith and even R2-D2 is miserable and depressed and sleeping.' And it took a bit to get my mind around at all."

While this author loves the idea of a depressive R2-D2, clearly Matalas disagrees.

This ain't Thanksgiving

Matalas wanted to assure readers, however, that the reunion in "Picard" wasn't going to lean terribly hard into sentimentality. While it's nice to think that the entire cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" all live together in a shared commune, having meals together on the regular, it's most assuredly not dramatically interesting. Indeed, only a few of the characters have stayed in touch, as has already been seen in the previous two seasons of "Picard"; Riker, Troi, and Data have already appeared. Otherwise, Jean-Luc has been busy, kept occupied by android plots and Q shenanigans. 

Matalas wanted to assure that, unlike "The Force Awakens," the characters do all eventually meet. He is, however, coy about the circumstances. He said: 

"I think the hard part for some fans will be "Hey, the thing that I thought my head was that the NextGen cast gets together for Thanksgiving every year.' That doesn't happen and hasn't happened — and why and how and is that a good story? So your preconceptions over the last 20 years of novels and re-watching the series might send you in an expectation that's not quite where we go here. That's not to say you won't get those feelings again. Certainly by the end, but there's going to be some surprises as to what they've been up to." 

Audiences still need to catch up with Worf, last seen as a Klingon ambassador at the end of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." Geordi and Dr. Crusher are also a question mark. If Matalas is to be trusted, Trekkies can rest assured that Geordi, Crusher, and Worf won't be hiding out on Ahch-To, eating porgs and drinking green elephant seal milk.