When CBS' new Star Trek series beams onto your television screen (or onto your mobile device, considering its home on CBS All Access), it will be the first new small-screen adventure in the fictional universe since Enterprise ended in 2005. How does Star Trek: Discovery connect to other seasons of the sprawling franchise? Obviously, hardcore fans will be intimately familiar with all the ins-and-outs of the franchise, but even casual viewers may not know how many Star Trek TV shows and films there really are. But both Trekkers and the non-initiated alike may be surprised when Discovery premieres on Sept. 24 by the way it ties into the narrative established by the shows that came before.
First of all, a brief refresher for those who perhaps haven't seen every episode of every Trek spinoff. The original Star Trek series (think: Kirk, Spock, etc.) started in 1966 on NBC and ran for only three seasons. That was followed up by Star Trek: The Animated Series, which ran for two seasons starting in 1973 and featured the cast of the original series voicing their characters in cartoon form. The franchise was resurrected in 1987 with Star Trek: The Next Generation (think: Picard, Data, etc.), which ran for seven seasons. Both the original series and TNG also spawned a series of feature films: six featuring the original cast and four featuring the Next Gen cast.
Then there were the three additional spinoffs: Deep Space Nine (which ran for seven seasons, starting in 1993), Voyager (also seven seasons, starting in 1995), and Enterprise (four seasons, starting in 2001). Finally, director J.J. Abrams resurrected the franchise on the big screen in 2009 with a series that's three films in and counting.
The most important thing when explaining Discovery's chronology is first establishing which universe it exists in. With 2009's Star Trek, Abrams split his feature films from the small-screen franchise, creating an entirely new continuity and mythology thanks to a nifty narrative device involving worm holes and time travel. But CBS' new show won't have anything to do with the new movies: creator Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) already confirmed during 2016's San Diego Comic Con that Discovery takes place within what's now being referred to as the "Prime Universe," as reported by io9 — aka the universe created by the original Star Trek in 1966.
So, when during the Prime Universe does Discovery take place? It makes sense to assume that, like six of the seven Trek shows before it, the new series takes place roughly chronologically in the franchise, coming after the events of everything that came before — perhaps after a similar century-long time jump à la the one between the original series and TNG. But that assumption would also be wrong. Instead, Discovery takes after one Trek series in particular: Enterprise. The last series in the small-screen Trek-verse until now, starring Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer, was actually a prequel to the original series; it took place about century before Kirk and Spock took flight and detailed the missions of Earth's first warp-ready spaceship, pre-Federation.
Like Enterprise, the upcoming Discovery is also a prequel — although it leads up more directly to the events of the original series, rather than taking place a century before. According to Fuller, Discovery will "bridge the gap between Enterprise and the original series" and its chronology exists "about 10 years before Kirk," as TVLine reported from the show's Television Critics Association panel in August 2016.
But how exactly will Discovery connect with the events of the original series? "There's an incident, an event in Star Trek history, in the history of Starfleet, that had been talked about but never fully explored," Fuller teased at the same TCA panel. "[We're telling] that story through a character who is on a journey that is going to teach her how to get along with others in the galaxy."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series will also feature versions of supporting characters first encountered in the original Star Trek including Vulcan ambassador Sarek (with James Frain taking over for Mark Lenard) and con artist Harry Mudd (with Rainn Wilson taking over for Roger C. Carmel). And hardcore fans will be able to expect plenty of Easter eggs that more casual watchers may miss, like a bottle of Château Picard wine in an officer's room pointed out by Inverse, a reference to Patrick Stewart's beloved TNG captain Jean-Luc Picard.
These kinds of Easter eggs, recurring characters, and exploration of events referenced in the original series will undoubtedly make Discovery a nostalgia-laden experience for longtime Trekkers. Hopefully the series will be just as rewarding for the uninitiated as well; CBS will have to bring in both old and new fans if they want Discovery's mission to succeed.