What You Need To Know To Watch Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is the 12th TV series in the franchise's history (when one includes "Short Treks") and, thanks to the labyrinthine nature of Trek chronology, is the fourth series set prior to the events of the original "Star Trek" from 1966.

While one needn't be intimately familiar with said chronology to understand and appreciate "Strange New Worlds," it certainly — to borrow a commonly used colloquialism often used to describe an IP-saturated media landscape — rewards the fans. "Strange New Worlds" includes a cast largely made up of recognizable legacy characters borrowed from throughout "Star Trek," not least of which was Spock (Ethan Peck) a character who has appeared in the second most number of Trek projects (Spock is second to Worf, played by Michael Dorn). Indeed, almost every character on "Strange New Worlds" previously appeared on "Star Trek," or had a relative who previously appeared on "Star Trek." 

To catch up with the legacy characters, /Film has compiled a list of where each of the characters came from, some of the more significant events in their backstories, and equip you with all the knowledge you need to be a well-informed Trekkie. You don't need to know all of this to enjoy "Strange New Worlds," but it'll fill in some key details, especially during the pilot.

The Cage and The Menagerie

The original "Star Trek" pilot, entitled "The Cage," didn't air on TV in its completed form until 1986. But by then, the events of the episode had already been accepted as "Trek" canon. In the pilot, Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) commanded the Enterprise with his first officer Number One (Majel Barrett) and his science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to the planet of Talos IV, where Pike is kidnapped by a race of ultra-intelligent psychics who imprison him and feed him illusions for purposes of study. Pike also falls in love with a young woman who is also imprisoned on the same planet, although Pike is suspicious as to her role; does she too work for the psychics? 

In "The Cage," one gets the impression that "Star Trek" is less an optimistic space adventure program and more a horror program, with monsters, illusions, scary psychic aliens, and an eerie tone. Early "Star Trek" overall shares its tone more with "The Twilight Zone" than with what it would eventually become. "The Cage" was re-worked into a new show with mostly new characters (Spock was the only holdover), with Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) eventually taking command. Bones, Uhura, Sulu, and Scotty would all enter the show in the second pilot, called "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Chekhov would become a regular character in the show's second season.

"The Cage" would later be incorporated into Kirk-era "Star Trek" canon in a two-part episode called "The Menagerie." In that episode Capt. Pike was back, only now played by Sean Kenney, and with the character using a wheelchair, having lost his voice, the use of his body, and a portion of his face in a horrible accident. Spock takes over the Enterprise so that he may return Pike to Talos IV for mysterious reasons. Rather than explain his motivations, Spock merely shows Kirk "The Cage" in the ship's screening room. Yes, the bulk of the two-part episode is a rehash of old footage. 

Keep Pike's accident and his injuries in mind, as Pike also plays a significant role in "Star Trek: Discovery."

Star Trek: Discovery season 2

"Star Trek: Discovery" debuted on CBS All Access (now Paramount+) in 2017, and it was an ambitious project, a series set about a decade prior to the events of the '60s "Star Trek." If one pays close attention to the chronology, it takes place after "The Cage," but about eight years prior to "The Menagerie." At the close of the show's first season, the U.S.S. Enterprise appears to the show's title ship asking for help. At the outset of season 2, audiences were treated to the dashing, handsome Anson Mount in the role of Christopher Pike, as well as Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and a rogue Spock (Ethan Peck), who is on the lam for mysterious reasons. While the Enterprise undergoes a retrofit, Pike took command of the Discovery and led it on a season-long adventure that culminates in familial reconnections and time travel. 

A major part of Pike's story on "Discovery" was his re-visitation to Talos IV, wherein he meets the same large-headed psychics, as well as the young woman he previously bonded with (now played by Melissa George). Pike also visits a cave containing Klingon time crystals (don't ask), which show him his future. Pike knows that he is fated to suffer a horrible accident and have his limbs, voice, and face effectively removed. 

Knowing his fate will hang over Pike throughout the rest of his appearance on "Discovery" and continues into "Strange New Worlds." 

Other characters as well

In addition to Pike, Spock, and Number One (named Una on the show), several other legacy characters appear in "Strange New Worlds." 

Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) was originally seen in two 1966 episodes: "A Private Little War" and "That Which Survives." He was originally played by actor Booker Bradshaw. It was implied that the Enterprise had two main doctors, although after the two mentioned episodes, it was largely just Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley). 

Nurse Christine Chapel, originally played by Majel Barrett, was featured throughout the original "Star Trek," and would be seen frequently flirting with Spock. In "Strange New Worlds," she is nurse to Dr. M'Benga, is still living through a wilder youth, and is played by Jess Bush. 

La'an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) is the descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, the character played by Ricardo Montalbán in both the original series episode "Space Seed" and the feature film "Star Trek II: the Erath of Khan." Who her parents or her grandmother are haven't been explicitly stated. Khan was a genetically engineered superbeing who was banished from Earth following the Eugenics wars, and would eventually be found in cryogenic stasis in a few years time. La'an, then, bears the same genetic manipulation, setting her apart from her peers. 

Lt. Uhura, originally played by Nichelle Nichols, appears as a young cadet on "Strange New Worlds," and is by Celia Rose Gooding. Uhura was the communications officer on the Enterprise, and is depicted as an eager linguist and language expert on the new show. Uhura's status as a language expert is a detail piggybacked over from the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot film. 

So, for your checklist: Watch "The Cage," "The Menagerie," "A Private Little War," "That Which Survives," "Space Seed," "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," and the second season of "Discovery," and you'll be as well-educated a Trekkie as the die-hards. Or you can watch it after reading this article. It's a good show, and it really does stand alone.

"Strange New Worlds" debuts on Paramout+ on May 5, 2022.