People who’ve never seen Star Trek often tell me the same thing: “I’d love to get into it, but I don’t know where to start.” It’s a fair point. With seven TV series that span over 200 years of galactic “history,” getting into the franchise can seem like an incredibly daunting task.
Well, not anymore. The latest incarnation, Star Trek: Discovery, is the perfect place to start. This brand new story is easy to watch without any knowledge of the series. It also ties into existing canon, so you can use the old-school references made in Star Trek: Discovery as opportunities to dive into episodes of past Star Trek series — all of which are available on CBS All Access. Here are some good places to start.
Set 10 years before Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Discovery follows Starfleet officer Michael Burnham, the adoptive human daughter of Sarek — the Vulcan ambassador and Spock’s biological father. Naturally, there’s family drama, exacerbated by Vulcans’ rejection of emotion in favor of cold logic. Sarek and Michael’s rocky relationship in Star Trek: Discovery is reminiscent of Sarek and Spock’s, which you can begin to understand by watching the Original Series episode “Journey to Babel.”
In that episode, Sarek hadn’t spoken to his half-human son for 18 years because Spock joined Starfleet instead of pursuing studies on Vulcan. Spock’s relationship with Sarek remained strained for many years. Amanda, Spock’s human mother, explained to Captain Kirk, “It hasn’t been easy on Spock: neither human nor Vulcan, at home nowhere except Starfleet.”
Spock finally learned of Sarek’s unspoken love for him in the Next Generation episode “Unification II” (but sadly, after Sarek had died). Spock is in this season of Star Trek: Discovery, and I’m hoping that means we’ll see a missing chapter in Spock’s relationship with his dad, and learn how Michael fits into this uneasy family dynamic.
Star Trek: Discovery’s first season shows the benevolent United Federation of Planets engulfed in a terrible war with the Klingons, but it’s not the first time the two sides have faced off. To learn why they have such a contentious relationship, check out “Broken Bow,” the debut episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Set a century before the events of Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Enterprise centers on the first starship named Enterprise. Led by Captain Jonathan Archer, the crew’s first mission is to smooth over hostilities after a farmer on Earth shoots a Klingon who crash-landed on his property. Relations between humans and Klingons remained dicey for decades, finally erupting in the all-out war seen in Star Trek: Discovery.
The two sides reached a détente at the end of the last season of Star Trek: Discovery. However, since Star Trek: Discovery happens before The Original Series, in which Humans and Klingons are at each others’ throats, there’s clearly plenty more backstory to cover, which we’ll continue to get in Star Trek: Discovery season two.
Tribbles are cuddly, cooing balls of fur. In the Star Trek universe, they’re pets, with one major drawback: They multiply at alarming rates. Thanks to this combo of cuteness and chaos, Star Trek fans love tribbles. While the creatures aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of Star Trek canon, they’ve become one the most enduring symbols of the franchise. They’re also essential to understanding why Star Trek is a pop culture phenomenon, so it was a welcome surprise to see one show up — on Captain Lorca’s desk no less — last season on Star Trek: Discovery.
For the tribbles’ origin story, watch the 1967 Original Series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It’s one of the most enjoyable and accessible Star Trek episodes ever made. Then follow it up with the 1996 Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.” It’s a fan favorite where the crew travels back in time to the events of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” with the DS9 actors digitally inserted into scenes from the original 1967 episode.
When the Discovery’s experimental engine malfunctioned last season in “Despite Yourself,” the crew was forced to spend the next three episodes in the Mirror Universe, an alternate reality where the tyrannical Terran Empire has replaced the Federation. Cue the excited squeals of just about every Trekkie. Why? The Mirror Universe story arc is one of the most beloved in the franchise.
In The Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror,” a transporter mishap dropped Captain Kirk and his landing party into the Mirror Universe, putting them face-to-face with evil versions of his Enterprise crew, including a goateed Mr. Spock. Kirk tried to persuade “mirror Spock” to resist the Empire with a stirring line: “What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom?” It’s an excellent summation of Star Trek’s core message, and alone makes the episode worth watching.
Once you get caught up on the Mirror Universe, you’ll fully appreciate all the nods to it in Star Trek: Discovery, especially since the mirror version of Captain Georgiou introduced last season is joining the crew once again in season two.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, err, asteroid. There’s a lot more of the Star Trek universe to explore, and Star Trek: Discovery provides an easy entry point. Have any more suggestions on how to get into Trek? Let me know in the comments. And be sure to stream the new season of Star Trek: Discovery starting January 17th on CBS All Access.
Chris Vespoli is an Associate Creative Director for Studio@Gizmodo and a freelance writer/producer. This is his website.