It’s morally justifiable to pirate all of Star Trek.

I like Star Trek. I’ve been a Trekkie since I first watched The Next Generation in the early 1990s, and watching that series kicked off a lifelong love of the franchise that continues to this day. Over a span of three decades I’ve watched every single film and episode – practically all of them several times over – and in addition I’ve spent a lot of money on plenty of merchandise, ranging from action figures and coffee table books to artwork and stationery. My house is decorated with Star Trek posters and action figures in display cases, and if you ever stop by for a coffee you’ll almost certainly drink it out of a Star Trek mug. But Star Trek, it seems, doesn’t reciprocate.

At the very least, the suits in charge of the franchise at ViacomCBS do not care one iota about any Star Trek fan outside of North America – as evidenced by the fact that, for the second year in a row, a brand-new Star Trek series is not going to be made available to fans across the world.

Logo for ViacomCBS – the corporation that owns Star Trek.

Star Trek: Prodigy premieres in a couple of days’ time, and just as happened with Lower Decks in August 2020, the series is going to be kept away from fans outside of North America. This decision re-emphasises ViacomCBS’ disgusting attitude to the franchise’s non-American fans, but in one significant way it’s an even worse and more egregious insult than the Lower Decks debacle was.

Why do I say that? Because Prodigy is a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon – both of which are ViacomCBS subsidiaries. Nickelodeon, as I’m sure you know, is a children’s television channel that is broadcast across the world – in more than 70 countries from New Zealand to Ukraine and South Africa to Pakistan. In order to make Prodigy available to a worldwide audience, all ViacomCBS would have needed to do was put the series on Nickelodeon – something incredibly easy to do as Nickelodeon is a channel it already owns and operates. It wouldn’t have even cost the corporation any money, as there would have been no expensive rights agreements or broadcast licenses to negotiate.

ViacomCBS literally owns Nickelodeon and all of its international channels.

The decision not to broadcast the show on Nickelodeon can only be taken one way: it’s an insult. ViacomCBS is once again throwing up a middle finger to Star Trek’s international fanbase – a sizeable fanbase that must at the very least equal the number of Trekkies in the United States.

At first I thought I was okay with it. Prodigy is a show for kids, after all, and most kids won’t care. But the more I thought about it the more I kept returning to the argument I made in the run-up to Lower Decks’ premiere last year: that this is not an acceptable way for ViacomCBS to behave.

Star Trek became a global brand at the behest of ViacomCBS and its predecessors. The corporation adores globalism because it wants to make more and more profit – like a greedy Ferengi – from people who don’t live in the United States. But creating a global brand comes with a responsibility that doesn’t stop at international borders, and for seemingly no reason at all ViacomCBS is abdicating its responsibility to Trekkies.

Photo from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

I get it – ViacomCBS wants people to sign up for its mediocre second-tier streaming platform: Paramount+. The future is digital, and the corporation wants Paramount+ to be a success as more people around the world stop tuning in to broadcast television. But if that’s the case, ViacomCBS needs to make Paramount+ available internationally – the platform’s international rollout has been painfully slow and incredibly patchy, with films and shows the corporation owns not being available on the platform even after Paramount+ arrives in some regions.

ViacomCBS is trying to tie Star Trek to Paramount+, using the franchise to hook Trekkies in and convince us to subscribe. There’s a profit motive here – but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility they have to fans of their programmes and franchises. Star Trek only exists and was only able to be revived in 2017 because of its international fanbase – a deal with Netflix reportedly paid for almost the entire cost of Discovery’s first season. Yet time and again, ViacomCBS is content to ignore its international fans and leave us in the cold.

Prodigy will only be available to American audiences via Paramount+.

This isn’t just about one series – or two series now, counting Lower Decks last year. The Star Trek franchise is constantly prioritising fans in North America over us out here in the rest of the world. Trailers and clips for upcoming shows or even marketing material will be quite literally gated off on social media, with fans outside North America being told that “this content is not available in your location.” Star Trek’s official shop offers a paltry range of products internationally when compared to its North American offerings, and ViacomCBS is quite happy to ignore any and all questions on the subject of international availability.

Look at any recent social media post promoting Prodigy and you’ll see a slew of messages and comments from fans overseas. Most are polite, simply enquiring about if and when the series will be made available in their neck of the woods. And Star Trek’s social media team ignores every last one of them – just as they did last year when fans were clamouring for information about Lower Decks.

A handful of comments from social media directed at the official Star Trek pages and channels – all of which were ignored. Names redacted.

There has been no official word from ViacomCBS or the Star Trek social media teams about Prodigy’s international debut – and there won’t be. They simply do not care enough to even give a non-answer like “coming soon.” Instead, fans are left to shout into the void, bang our heads against a wall of silence, and whatever other metaphor you can think of for trying to get information from an uncaring corporation.

Last year there was an excuse – a piss-poor one, but an excuse nevertheless: the pandemic. Disruption to production and broadcast schedules – especially post-production work on Discovery Season 3 – meant that last-minute changes were necessary. Lower Decks was bumped up to be broadcast ahead of Discovery, and there wasn’t time to sort out the international rights. That excuse is bullshit, of course, because as I said last year it’s still up to ViacomCBS to broadcast or delay the series, meaning they could have waited to ensure fans everywhere could watch it together. But this year even that paltry excuse no longer applies.

There are two reasons why: Prodigy’s production hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic to anywhere near the same extent, and as already discussed, ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon and has the option to broadcast the series on a channel that they own in 70+ countries around the world.

Prodigy is a Nickelodeon and CBS Studios co-production.

I want ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed and continue to be produced. But if the corporation is so callous and uncaring when it comes to fans like me, what am I supposed to do? It’s a toxic relationship right now; a one-way relationship with no reciprocity. Prodigy is supposed to be a series that will bring in new fans to Star Trek – but it’s also supposed to be a show with a lot to offer to Star Trek’s existing fans. For “business reasons,” though, only certain fans that ViacomCBS deems important enough or worthy will be permitted the privilege of watching the series.

In 2021, with the global interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS pushed to create, segregating a series or film geographically is indefensible. A delay of a day or two between regional broadcasts might be acceptable – though there’s no technical reason why, given the technologies involved. But to broadcast a new show in one location and not even give lip service to when it might be available anywhere else? It’s wrong – and more than that, it’s stupid and self-defeating from a business perspective.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

ViacomCBS wants as many people as possible to tune in to Star Trek. They want as many kids as possible to watch Prodigy, and I would assume they’re planning to sell merchandise based on the show as well – though the lack of any obvious Prodigy merchandise so far is yet another indication of the moronic and amateurish way the corporation is handling its biggest brand. But if the goal is to get fans excited and talking about the show, hyping it up in the run-up to its premiere and generating the kind of online buzz that makes television shows a success, cutting off at least half the fanbase is the dumbest and most idiotic thing the corporation could possibly do.

From Game of Thrones to Squid Game, online chatter is what drives people to check out a new television series. People who love something and who are passionate about it tell their friends and their social media followers, and that engagement drives people to the show – and the platform that hosts it. By deliberately and intentionally preventing many Trekkies from accessing Prodigy, ViacomCBS has killed a lot of the hype and excitement that the show could have generated.

Who knows how much bigger Prodigy could have been if the corporation in charge had handled its broadcast better?

The corporation has evidently learned nothing from the muted and lacklustre response to Lower Decks last year – a response that, sadly, has seen the show fail to hit the heights it could have in terms of viewership. Even when Lower Decks did arrive internationally and even when its second season did get the simultaneous broadcast it needed, a lot of damage had already been done, and the opportunity to make the series bigger than it ultimately became was missed.

Lower Decks and Prodigy are the two most unique and different offerings that the Star Trek franchise has arguably ever produced. Out of everything the franchise has on the horizon, it’s these two shows more than any others that had the potential to bring in hordes of new fans and to take the Star Trek franchise as a whole to the next level in terms of audience numbers and the scale of the fanbase. These opportunities have been pissed away by a corporation that clearly has no idea how to run an international franchise.

Fans outside North America might as well stare out of the window – because Prodigy won’t be hitting our screens any time soon.

When a corporation deliberately and wilfully treats a large section of its fanbase with such blatant disrespect, what can we do?

Since ViacomCBS clearly doesn’t care about anyone outside of North America, it seems to me that there’s no point in continuing to engage with the corporation or support it. They don’t care about us, so why should we care about them? And why should any non-American Trekkie consider spending a single penny on any ViacomCBS product in future? It seems like it’s only a matter of time until the next Star Trek show or film isn’t made available to us either.

If ViacomCBS chooses not to make Star Trek available to fans, we might as well pirate it. They clearly place no value on the money we could pay them or the passion we could have when talking about upcoming shows and films, so why bother? We might as well pirate all of Star Trek – and everything else ViacomCBS does, too. If they’ve chosen not to make Prodigy available internationally, and won’t even have the basic decency to answer repeated questions from fans, piracy is the default option – quite literally the only way to watch the series. It didn’t have to be, but this is a choice ViacomCBS willingly made.

When a corporation chooses to place no value on its biggest and most passionate fans, and takes increasingly stupid business decisions that almost seem intended to harm their franchise, they’ve made their decision. The lack of a response to these basic questions from fans about Prodigy’s availability or about the Paramount+ rollout is in itself an answer. And that answer is: “go fuck yourself, we don’t give a shit about you.”

In most jurisdictions around the world, piracy – defined above as the sharing of copyrighted material over the internet – is not legal. This essay was an examination of the moral and ethical implications of piracy only, and was categorically not an endorsement or encouragement to download any individual film or television series, nor should anything written above be interpreted in that manner. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Death Predictions…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.

A bit of a morbid one this time… but it is nearly Halloween!

In the last decade or so, a number of television shows have pioneered what I call the “disposable cast” – where even main characters and fan-favourites can’t be assured of safety or survival as a series continues. Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made this a big part of their identities, and the idea that any major character could be in danger can – when done right – add to the tension and drama. Not knowing if your favourite character will make it to the end of the episode or escape a dangerous situation can really increase the weight of a story.

Discovery has technically seen more main cast members depart than any previous Star Trek series! Captains Lorca and Pike, Spock, Georgiou, Tyler, and Nhan were all main cast members at one point before departing the series. But with the exception of Lorca, none of these characters were killed off, and in a television landscape that increasingly favours big, dramatic character deaths, the Star Trek franchise as a whole still hasn’t really caught up.

Sonequa Martin-Green starred in The Walking Dead for a time.

In Season 3 we saw the recurring character of Ryn killed off. He’d been a friend and ally to Booker and Burnham and his death was both a shock – due to the way it was carried out – and a tragedy for the crew. As with Airiam in Season 2, though, Ryn wasn’t a character we’d got to know particularly well before his death, and when Season 3 could have stepped up and actually killed off a main character or a character who’d been present on the show since the beginning, the writers and producers chose not to do so.

Star Trek has always had an optimistic tone, embodied in some ways by Captain Kirk’s assertion that he “doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.” The desire to save everyone every time is drilled into every Starfleet officer – particularly captains. In that sense I can certainly entertain the argument that a character death feels like a loss or a defeat in a way that is somehow “un-Star Trek.”

Admiral Kirk in The Wrath of Khan. He famously refused to accept the concept of a no-win scenario.

At the same time, I fundamentally disagree with Captain Kirk. Life is full of no-win scenarios, and one of the skills any captain or commander needs to have is knowing how to make a difficult choice; how to choose the least-bad option when no good outcomes are possible. Sometimes that means sacrificing a life to save others, and this is something that the Star Trek franchise has touched on in the past.

Though I don’t want to see any specific character killed off in Discovery’s imminent fourth season, a well-timed character death could go a long way to raising the stakes and making the story much more impactful. The gravitational anomaly would seem all the more deadly if it claimed the life of a familiar face, or the climax of the story could see Captain Burnham having to make an impossible choice.

I don’t necessarily want to see anyone killed off – but it would certainly make for an impactful and dramatic story beat.

So this time we’re going to take a look at Discovery’s main and recurring characters – and try to assess who may or may not survive the season!

The usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information” and I’m not claiming to know what will happen. All of this is guesswork and speculation from a fan of Star Trek, nothing more. It’s also entirely subjective, so if you disagree or hate my ideas that’s okay!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get started. I’m going to put the characters into a list, then give my assessment of how likely they are to be killed off during Season 4.

Character #1: Captain Michael Burnham
Status: Almost Certainly Safe 💖

Captain Burnham in a promo image for Season 4.

Discovery has been the Michael Burnham show since its premiere episode, and that is unlikely to change! The first three seasons saw Burnham’s rise to the captaincy of the USS Discovery, and having only just got there it would be a really unexpected and subversive twist to kill her off. As the show’s main protagonist she feels safer than most – and even series that pioneered the “disposable cast” like those mentioned above have tended to save their most significant characters from harm.

The only possible argument we could consider to counter that is the uniqueness of the USS Discovery’s captain’s chair. Three seasons of the show have each been led by a different captain – Lorca, Pike, and Saru. One of Discovery’s most interesting features has been these individual season-long captaincies and the very different styles each captain had. It’s possible – though I wouldn’t call it “likely” by any stretch – that the show might choose to bring in another new captain for Season 5, continuing this trend. If that’s the case, perhaps Captain Burnham isn’t quite as safe as it seems! However, I consider that a very unlikely scenario.

Character #2: Saru
Status: In Danger ☠️

Saru in the second Season 4 trailer.

What role does ex-Captain Saru have aboard a ship that has moved on without him? That’s a fundamental question that the series will have to address, because it’s quite odd for a Starfleet vessel to be racing across the galaxy with two captains on board. The situation could, perhaps, even lead to some awkwardness for Captain Burnham!

Some fans felt that Saru might’ve left Discovery after the Season 3 epilogue told us that he was returning to Kaminar to spend time helping Su’Kal. Fortunately that didn’t happen – not least because the short epilogue would have been a very disrespectful way for Saru to be shuffled off the show altogether! But the fact that Discovery has found a new captain means Saru doesn’t really have a role any more, at least not as things currently stand. Characters who feel surplus to requirements are often the most in danger – and Saru doesn’t really have a clear role right now.

Character #3: Paul Stamets
Status: In Danger ☠️

Stamets in the first Season 4 trailer.

Until recently, Stamets felt safer than almost any other character on Discovery! His unique ability to navigate the mycelial network meant that without him, one of Discovery’s unique selling points – the Spore Drive – wouldn’t work. For story reasons that could be a problem and certainly a limitation, so Stamets felt safe. But the revelation at the end of Season 3 that Booker – and any other empathic character, in theory – can interact with the Spore Drive in the same way as Stamets means his unique usefulness is at an end.

So the question is this: was Stamets’ unique ability stripped away from him for a reason? Could Season 3 have been setting up a situation in the near future where the crew will have to survive without him? Or was it just a natural progression in the story of the Emerald Chain’s takeover of Discovery? Actually I guess that was three questions! But the point stands: Stamets is not the only one who can use the Spore Drive any more, and thus no longer feels anywhere near as safe as he did last season.

Character #4: Dr Hugh Culber
Status: Safe 💖

Dr Culber in Season 3.

Dr Culber has already been killed off once – and he didn’t stay dead! There was also a minor backlash in some quarters to the killing off of one of Star Trek’s first major gay characters. Sometimes LGBT+ characters can feel more “expendable” in films and on television than their non-LGBT+ counterparts; a trope that we could definitely do without!

LGBT+ issues aside, I feel that Dr Culber’s “back from the dead” storyline in Season 2 means he’s a safe bet to survive Season 4. It would be a stupidly complicated storyline to kill him off for the second time, and I think for production-side reasons the writers and producers are less willing to kill off Dr Culber than almost anyone else.

Character #5: Sylvia Tilly
Status: Probably Safe 💖

Tilly in the second Season 4 trailer.

I’m calling Tilly safe because it just doesn’t seem as though the writers and producers want to get rid of her yet. Tilly has been the one character other than Michael Burnham to have seen significant growth across all three seasons of the show, overcoming her anxieties to step up and even take command of the ship. The way she led a team of officers in the final couple of episodes of Season 3 came to embody that transformation – and her arc, while imperfectly executed, was nevertheless powerful to see.

As Tilly is still young and only a junior officer, there’s plenty of room to continue that growth. I don’t think she’s going to be Captain Burnham’s first officer in Season 4, but it could well be that her arc across Season 4 and perhaps into Season 5 is readying her to take on that role again. Regardless, I don’t expect to see her killed off in Season 4.

Character #6: Cleveland Booker
Status: Safe 💖

Book in the second Season 4 trailer.

Unless Discovery plans to introduce a new main character, Book is the show’s main guide to the 32nd Century. Not only does he serve in that role for Captain Burnham and the crew of the ship, but he’s also a great character to show us as the audience the perspective of a 32nd Century native. He has a major role in that regard, and unless he can be replaced with a like-for-like character I can’t see the show dispensing with him.

Booker also has a relationship with Captain Burnham to consider, and while we can expect some bumps in the road with that perhaps, I think killing him off at this stage would be too much for Burnham after everything else she’s been through. I’d like to see Book help to anchor Burnham and keep her grounded as she handles the burden of command – serving as a confidante and her closest ally. Book’s story is also incomplete, and we’ve been promised a closer look at his background in the future. For all of those reasons and more, I think he’s pretty safe!

Character #7: Admiral Charles Vance
Status: In Danger ☠️

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

I felt Vance was in danger toward the end of Season 3 as well, and that he could’ve fallen victim to the Emerald Chain when they attacked Federation HQ. That didn’t happen – fortunately – but Admiral Vance definitely feels in danger as we approach Season 4. As one of the most significant secondary characters in Season 3, Vance’s death would carry more weight than a lot of other secondary characters’ would, which is one reason I felt he might’ve been in danger last time around.

Two things struck me from the Season 4 trailers: the almost total absence of Vance and the arrival of Federation President Rillak. Rillak, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to occupy a similar role to Vance’s in Season 3, serving as a “big boss” for Captain Burnham and the crew to ultimately be answerable to. That was the job Vance had as head of Starfleet in Season 3, but if Burnham is now reporting directly to President Rillak… what is there for Vance to do? Combine that with his absence from the two trailers and I wonder what might’ve become of the head of Starfleet.

Character #8: President Rillak
Status: In Danger ☠️

President Rillak in the second Season 4 trailer.

President Rillak’s status is difficult to gauge because she’s brand-new! We’ve only seen her in action very briefly in the trailers for Season 4, so what role she might ultimately play is unclear at best. However, there are a few reasons to think that she could be in danger.

Firstly, any new character should automatically be assumed to be in danger! It’s easier to kill off a brand-new character than an established fan-favourite, and doing so could be a relatively easy way to communicate the stakes in any story. Secondly is Rillak’s role: President of the Federation. The death of someone in such a powerful position is always going to have a significant effect, even if we as the audience didn’t know her particularly well. Thirdly, the main scene we’ve seen so far featuring President Rillak showed her facing off against Captain Burnham in at least a semi-antagonistic way. Killing off a character who’s either a villain or a hurdle to our heroes is a trope as old as time!

Characters #9 and #10: Adira Tal and Gray Tal
Status: Safe 💖

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

One storyline in Season 4 is going to focus on Gray’s quest to be “seen” – to become corporeal again somehow. Discovery certainly won’t kill off Adira and Gray without bringing this story to its conclusion, as it’s an incredibly powerful analogy for the status of trans and non-binary people – as well as being an exciting and interesting story in its own right.

Gray is tied to Adira, and thus it isn’t possible to kill them off without also killing off Gray. I think that makes both of them safe, though there is a lingering question as to what exactly Gray is. Star Trek doesn’t do ghosts, so Gray has to be explained scientifically somehow! Regardless, both characters feel assuredly safe.

Character #11: Dr Tracy Pollard
Status: In Danger ☠️

Dr Pollard at the beginning of Season 3.

After three seasons we don’t really know Dr Pollard very well. She’s often been seen in sickbay, and has patched up many of our heroes when they were injured, but aside from being a competent doctor we don’t really know very much about her. She appeared a few times in Season 3, but was never front-and-centre even in sequences in sickbay.

Dr Pollard is one of those secondary characters who has been in the background for the show’s entire run. Killing her off would be an easy option for Discovery in many ways; an attempt to get the impact of the death of a familar face without having to kill off anyone major. Be on the lookout for an Airiam-style spotlight on Dr Pollard – if she suddenly becomes the focus of a major storyline, she could be on her way to the chopping block!

Character #12: Kovich
Status: Safe… for now! 💖

Kovich in Season 3.

Until we know who Kovich is and what his role is in the hierarchy of the Federation, I can’t imagine Discovery would kill him off. There’s too much mystery surrounding this character, and to leave that unresolved would be fundamentally frustrating at a narrative level. My personal theory is that Kovich is the head of Section 31, or perhaps Starfleet Intelligence, but none of that has been confirmed on screen yet.

Famed director David Cronenberg plays the character, and I think for both Star Trek and Cronenberg it’s been a great partnership. Kovich thus feels safer than most, but it’s still possible that after we learn more about him and what his role has been that he could be killed off in future; he may not be permanently safe!

Character #13: Jett Reno
Status: In Danger ☠️

Reno in the second Season 4 trailer.

Tig Notaro, who plays Jett Reno, has said that the character won’t appear as frequently in Season 4 as originally intended. This is due to the impact of the pandemic on the show’s production. That doesn’t mean that Reno is necessarily in any danger, but it is worth noting.

Reno is famously sarcastic and deadpan, so her line in the second Season 4 trailer that she’s “lived a good life” could simply be her usual wit. However, it could also be some dark foreshadowing – and perhaps Season 4 could see Reno meet her end.

Character #14: Dr Gabrielle Burnham
Status: In Danger ☠️

Dr Burnham in Season 3.

It seems as though Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat will have a significant role to play in Season 4 – at least based on what we saw in the second trailer. One thing came to mind when I saw other members of the Qowat Milat fighting and training, though: could they be seeking revenge for the death of one of their own? If so, perhaps Dr Burnham is the one who’s died.

This could be connected to the gravitational anomaly or it could be its own independent storyline. Regardless, Dr Burnham’s death would have a huge impact on Michael Burnham, and could be a major source of emotion and drama for her as the season rolls on. Coping with bereavement and learning to move forward while grieving are themes Star Trek has touched on in the past.

Character #15: T’Rina
Status: Probably Safe 💖

T’Rina in the second Season 4 trailer.

The President of Ni’Var, who we met in Season 3, would be an odd choice to kill off. It’s arguable that, if she does indeed lead Ni’Var back to Federation membership as the trailers have hinted, her story is complete and thus she may not have much more to do. But when considering character deaths, one factor is how their loss will impact others in the story.

Saru is the only main character with whom T’Rina has any significant relationship, and thus her death wouldn’t be as impactful for Captain Burnham and the rest of the crew even when compared to the new character of President Rillak. T’Rina being killed would still have the effect of communicating the stakes involved and the dangers of the anomaly, but it would matter far less from an emotional point of view. Thus I think there are probably better candidates when it comes to characters being killed off.

Character #16: Lieutenant Willa
Status: In Danger ☠️

Lieutenant Willa in Season 3.

Lieutenant Willa was Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp in Season 3, and also briefly spent time aboard Discovery. She helped the crew acclimatise to the 32nd Century, and brought them up to speed on some of the new technologies that had been installed on the ship after arriving at Federation HQ. Though a good deal of Willa’s story and interactions with the crew happened off-screen, it’s fair to say she’s well-known to most of them and on friendly terms.

Willa’s death would thus have a significant impact on practically everyone aboard Discovery – especially if she had transferred aboard the ship or spent more time with Captain Burnham and the crew earlier in Season 4. Her death would also affect Admiral Vance – or she could even be a secondary casualty if Vance himself were killed. As a familiar face and someone known to the crew, Willa could be killed off to communicate the stakes involved in the story.

Character #17: Grudge
Status: She better be safe! Or else… 🐱

Grudge in the second Season 4 trailer.

Discovery can kill off a lot of characters… but the show better leave Grudge alone! Jokes aside, one of the best moments in the Season 3 finale was the way Book stood up to the villainous Zareh when he threatened to hurt Grudge. As a cat owner I love Grudge and I’m very protective of her… so if Discovery tried to get away with killing her off I might actually cry.

On a serious note, I think Grudge is probably safe. She gives Book’s character an extra dimension; a dependent for him to care for and look after. Plus she serves as a kind of mascot for the series. I can’t see Grudge being killed off in Season 4 – no matter how bad things get for Captain Burnham and Book!

Characters #18-23: The Secondary Bridge Crew
Status: In Danger ☠️

Tilly with several secondary characters in Season 3.

I’m lumping six characters together for this final entry because I found myself saying basically the same thing about all of them! Included in this group are the following: Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, Bryce, Nilsson, and Linus. Most of them had an outing with Tilly at the end of Season 3 in which they were all in serious danger – most notably Owosekun. They all survived that encounter, but I’m not convinced they’ll all make it to the end of Season 4.

Detmer and Owosekun are the two characters we know best thanks to their development in Season 2 and particularly in Season 3. But any of these six could get the Airiam treatment and have a moment in the spotlight followed by a quick death. If Discovery wanted to show us the stakes and communicate the dangers involved without killing off a major character, any of these secondary characters could find themselves on the chopping block.

So that’s it. Those are my pre-season feelings about the safety of each of Discovery’s main characters!

Captain Burnham at the end of Season 3.

Season 4 is only three weeks away now, so we won’t have to wait too long to find out which of our favourite characters will survive the gravitational anomaly – and all of the other dangers out there in the 32nd Century! As I said at the beginning, I’m not advocating for any specific character to be killed off. I like everyone, even the secondary characters, and I wouldn’t necessarily want any of them to die.

At the same time, Season 3 felt like it had a little too perfect of an outcome for some characters, especially in the finale. Sometimes, when facing an impossibly dangerous situation, loss of life is inevitable. Making it so that characters continually survive the impossible quickly gets boring, and there was definitely a sense in the Season 3 finale that “plot armour” was protecting more than one character.

Owosekun is one of several characters who seemed to have plot armour in the Season 3 finale.

A well-timed and well-executed character death can be shocking, impactful, and emotional. When establishing the danger involved in a situation, seeing a character we know meet their end can raise the stakes dramatically for the remainder of the story, and the sense that anyone – even important named characters – could be in danger is part of what has made television storytelling since 2010 so entertaining and dramatic. Discovery doesn’t need to go down this road – but doing so could lead to some outstanding storylines and deeply emotional moments.

I’m looking forward to Season 4 now! Hopefully the show can build on the successes of Season 3 and continue the process of establishing the 32nd Century as a setting in its own right – while also telling a new and different story about the gravitational anomaly. It will also be great to see Captain Burnham in command of the ship in her own right for the first time. Let’s fly!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Crowdfunding and pre-ordering are completely different

One method of raising money that some game developers started using in the late 2000s and early 2010s is crowdfunding. Check out popular crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo and you can find plenty of video game projects on offer, all of which are asking for your money.

In exchange for supporting a project or helping it get started, many crowdfunded games offer players their own copy – which can be a digital download or a physical boxed version depending on the title and the amount of money invested – to be delivered when the game is finally ready. This transactional approach to crowdfunding, combined with prices that are often comparable to the “standard” price of a brand-new game, has led many players to consider crowdfunding as an extended form of pre-ordering.

Logos for Kickstarter and Indiegogo – two of the web’s biggest crowdfunding platforms.

Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth, and this fundamental misunderstanding has caused an awful lot of disappointment in recent years. It isn’t the fault of individual players, many of whom simply saw an exciting-sounding game and wanted to place their order as early as possible. Instead the fault really lies with the way these crowdfunding platforms and individual developers market their products.

When placing a pre-order for a video game, players are almost always committing their money to a project that is already fully-funded. Perhaps an indie developer has taken out a loan, or maybe we’re talking about a game produced by a larger publisher with the financial resources of their corporation. Regardless, by the time pre-orders go live for practically every title, the game’s development costs are covered and a release is assured. Some games receive delays even after accepting pre-orders, but even then a delay is usually a matter of weeks, months, or a year at the most – and the title is still being worked on.

A visualisation of buying things online…

Pre-orders are purchases – they’re a transaction between the player and the platform, shop, or publisher. As such they’re subject to a range of consumer protection laws, the most significant of which is the right to be refunded. If a pre-ordered game is cancelled, or even if a player changes their mind before release, they can simply contact the retailer or publisher and request a refund without too much hassle.

Crowdfunding, as many players have found to their cost, doesn’t work this way at all. At a fundamental level, crowdfunding is akin to a donation or an investment. As anyone who’s ever played the stock market or cryptocurrency can tell you, the value of investments can change over time, and as the developer or company you’ve donated to takes your money to use in the process of developing their game, there are no guarantees. Caveat emptor indeed.

Buyer beware!

Creating anything is an incredibly difficult and complicated process, and all manner of different unforeseeable situations can adversely impact a project. The current pandemic is an example – many films, television shows, and video games saw their production disrupted by events completely beyond their control. In short, a project may not always go as intended, and even if production goes as smoothly as possible, the end result may be radically different from its creator’s original vision.

For players who’ve donated to a crowdfunding project, this can be incredibly hard to take. They feel they were promised a particular kind of game within a given timeframe, but for any one of a thousand different reasons the game they got doesn’t align with those initial expectations or developer promises. Unfortunately there really isn’t much that can be done about this.

Many people end up angry or upset when a crowdfunded game fails to deliver.

Two examples come to mind of crowdfunding projects that didn’t go to plan. On a personal note I’ve got 2019’s Shenmue III. This title, which dedicated fans of a long-dead pair of games managed to raise an astonishing $7 million to help create, had one job as far as I was concerned: finish the story. Shenmue II had ended on a cliffhanger, and fans wanted to see protagonist Ryo Hazuki bring his quest for revenge to a conclusion. But for reasons I find utterly inexplicable, that didn’t happen. Shenmue III didn’t finish Ryo’s story.

The second example is one of the most egregious crowdfunding disasters of all time: Star Citizen. In development now for over eleven years, the game is nowhere near ready for release. While a small part of the game is available in an early alpha state, developers Cloud Imperium Games have mismanaged the project in truly epic style. With well over $300 million raised – almost all of which has been spent – Star Citizen is a complete disaster, with many of its original backers and fans now calling it a “scam” for the way it took their money.

Logo for the unreleased game Star Citizen.

Shenmue III had specific problems with its story as a result of its creator being unwilling to make cuts to the game’s bloated narrative. Star Citizen is an example of a developer getting completely out of their depth. With the amount of money Cloud Imperium Games raised growing, they felt the need to promise more features for the game. But more features meant more development time, which meant more money was needed to keep the lights on, and in order to raise more money they promised more features… leading to a catastrophic spiral from which the game will never escape. It’s a case of feature creep on an unprecedented scale.

There are plenty of other examples of disappointing crowdfunded games, including titles that ended up baring little resemblance to what had been originally promised and, of course, many games that simply never made it that far, being cancelled or simply vanishing without ever releasing so much as a teaser trailer.

Shenmue III is one of the biggest crowdfunding disappointments to me personally.

These things will always happen. In the games industry there are many examples of titles that entered development but never made it to release, including some whose details have subsequently leaked out – like Star Wars 1313, Rockstar’s Agent, and Prey 2. The key difference with those titles is that they were never being “sold” – players didn’t have to part with their money, meaning the only negative consequence of these cancellations is disappointment. On the rare occasion where a game has been cancelled after pre-orders were available that money is able to be refunded.

Because of the way crowdfunding works, players can be left out of pocket – some to the tune of thousands of pounds or dollars – if a project doesn’t go to plan. And because of the way many crowdfunded titles are marketed, players who believe that they essentially pre-ordered a game or engaged in a transaction are understandably upset. This is why we all need to educate ourselves and understand the fundamental difference between pre-ordering a game and participating in a crowdfunding campaign.

Some people invest vast sums of money in crowdfunding campaigns.

The best way I can explain it is like this:

Pre-ordering means you’re buying a game and engaging in a transaction with a company. They have already committed the financial resources to making the game, and while it can still turn out to be disappointing for all manner of reasons, your money is safe and in almost every case you’ll be able to get a refund.

Pre-ordering is a purchase; the proceeds go to the developer, publisher, and/or shop as proceeds for work already completed.

Crowdfunding is donating to a project. You aren’t purchasing anything – not even if a copy of the game is listed as a “reward” for investing your money. Your money is going to be taken by the developer to be used as part of the game’s creation, not to make a profit on a game they have already committed to making. Because a lot can go wrong or simply change during the creation of a video game, there’s a higher chance that when the game eventually releases it won’t be exactly what you expected – if it even releases at all. In any case your money is almost certainly gone, and unless you can afford to lawyer up or prove that a project was a deliberate scam or con, perpetrated by someone with no intention of creating a video game, you won’t be able to get it back.

Crowdfunding is a donation; the money is a gift which goes directly to the developer so they can fund the game’s creation.

Most projects are not scams – but that doesn’t mean things won’t go awry.

Speaking for myself, I’ve never donated to a crowdfunding campaign. Even when it came to titles like the aforementioned Shenmue III I simply concluded that I don’t have the money to lose. As someone on a low income my budget for video games – and any other entertainment product – is already low, so the idea of investing in the creation of something, no matter how “cool” it might sound, is something I’m unwilling to commit to.

Sadly, some of these failures and disappointments will lead to fewer players being willing to donate their money to crowdfunding campaigns in future. That will have an effect on some smaller independent developers for whom crowdfunding may be the only viable method of fundraising to bring their dream to life. In some cases we can lay the blame at the feet of large companies or wealthy individuals who essentially “abused” the crowdfunding model to create projects they could almost certainly have afforded to fund out of their own pockets. But some of the blame also lies at the feet of developers like Cloud Imperium Games, who have failed to deliver what they promised after more than a decade – while trying to convince players to buy in-game items that can cost upwards of $1,000. The whole thing gives crowdfunding a bad name.

Cloud Imperium Games is the company behind Star Citizen.

Your money is your own, and how you choose to spend it, donate it, or invest it is up to you. I would never tell anyone not to participate in a crowdfunding campaign, because at the end of the day it’s a personal decision. The gambler’s advice is always worth bearing in mind, though: “never invest more than you can afford to lose.” That’s true of poker games and it’s true of crowdfunding too.

I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while; it was one of the articles I had in mind when I first created this website almost two years ago. Having spoken with several acquaintances who felt “scammed” by a crowdfunding project gone wrong, and seeing many comments and criticisms online of titles like Star Citizen from irate backers who feel – wrongly, I’m afraid – that they had something akin to a purchase guarantee or pre-order, I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation.

It’s my firm view that crowdfunding and pre-ordering are very different things, no matter how a project may be marketed. Some companies and individuals definitely cross a line, or come close to it, with how they talk about their projects and try to convince people to part with their money. But at the end of the day it’s up to us as individuals to make sure we understand what we’re getting into before we make any kind of financial commitment.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer, studio, publisher, etc. Some stock images courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Red Dead Redemption II – First Impressions

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the opening act of Red Dead Redemption II.

Red Dead Redemption II has been out for three years now – two years for the PC version – so it’s a bit late to just be getting started with the game! However, if you’re like me and missed it when it was new, maybe you’ll find my first impressions of the game helpful or interesting.

As I said when I included Red Dead Redemption II on my list of some great games I haven’t played, there was nothing about the game that put me off. In fact, Red Dead Redemption II was incredibly appealing to me – I find American history fascinating, particularly in the 19th Century, as it was a field of study while I was at university. Rockstar is also a developer whose titles are usually well-made and fun to play; they basically perfected their open world style with Grand Theft Auto III in 2001 and haven’t looked back. So there was a lot going for Red Dead Redemption II in 2018, but as someone with limited funds for gaming I couldn’t afford it at the time. The game ended up in what I call “the pile” – a long (and growing) list of games that sound great that I just haven’t got around to playing for one reason or another!

I finally got around to playing this game – it’s widely hailed as a masterpiece.

However, Red Dead Redemption II was on sale on Steam at some point in the last few months (I forget exactly when) and I was able to pick it up at a reasonable discount. The game’s massive 119GB file size took an eternity to download on my painfully slow internet connection, but I was able to eventually get the game installed and start playing.

Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge something important that too many fans and players have overlooked: Rockstar’s treatment of some of its employees. Though not at the same level as companies like Activision Blizzard or Ubisoft, both of which have wrangled with major scandals in the past couple of years, Rockstar pushed its staff hard in the run-up to Red Dead Redemption II’s launch. “Crunch” has been a part of game development for years, and when I worked in the video games industry I experienced it firsthand. In Rockstar’s case, “crunch” wasn’t always voluntary and some members of staff and ex-members of staff have gone on record sharing the physical and mental toll it took on them and their colleagues. In short, producing Red Dead Redemption II was difficult and even harmful for some people, and it’s important we acknowledge that and call out Rockstar’s poor working environment.

Is there a visual metaphor here? Surely not…

Setting that aside, let’s talk about Red Dead Redemption II itself. If I were to pick one word to summarise the game from the perspective of a complete newbie it would be “dense.” The game has a huge amount going on, and drops you into a story that’s already ongoing from the very first moment you boot it up. Red Dead Redemption II is a sequel – technically the third entry in its series – so on the surface that seems to make sense. But the game is actually set before the previous entry in the series, despite the confusing numbering!

The opening chapter of the game serves partly as a tutorial and partly as an introduction to the story and characters. As mentioned, though, it really did feel like protagonist Arthur Morgan’s story was already in progress. He and the gang are in the process of escaping a city after a job gone wrong, and maybe players of the first two games in the series know a bit more about what happened and why, but I certainly didn’t! I still don’t, in fact!

The game’s opening chapter sets up parts of the story and some of the characters, as well as introducing players to some in-game systems.

The opening sequence also gets you acquainted with some of the game’s systems – but by no means all. The signature “dead-eye” mechanic – which works similarly to the VATS system in the newer Fallout games, allowing Arthur to slow time and lock on to specific enemies prior to shooting – was one important gameplay element that the opening act of the game didn’t go into much detail on at all.

There’s hunting wild animals, combat with guns, unarmed combat, horse riding, horse care, picking plants, doing chores around the camp… and so much more going on in Red Dead Redemption II that it’s difficult to know where to start. The game’s opening act is mostly linear, taking place in a smaller area and with only a handful of missions that Arthur has to undertake in a certain order. But after departing the opening location in the high mountains and making camp, the open world is at Arthur’s feet – and it’s a big one!

Red Dead Redemption II’s game map.

Rockstar has always excelled at world design, but I confess I wasn’t sure how well the open worlds of the Grand Theft Auto series would translate to the 19th Century. The open worlds of games like Grand Theft Auto V were based around large modern cities with roads laid out for traversal by car. The world of the 19th Century was, in many ways, bigger because of how slow travel on foot or by horse and cart was. Red Dead Redemption II’s world captures that feel perfectly, and any doubts I might’ve had about an open world game using this kind of setting melted away faster than the snow in the mountains!

The game’s open world feels authentic. If you’ve ever seen old photographs of America in the late 19th Century, or even modern depictions of the era in television shows like Deadwood, you’ll instantly recognise the look and feel of everything from small farmsteads and frontier towns to the bustling big city with its industrial revolution influence. The visuals and graphics used to bring this world to life are stunning – the game is one of the most realistic-looking I’ve ever played, with moments of genuine beauty as I traversed its open world. I feel Red Dead Redemption II sucking me in because of how impressive its world design is; I want to spend more time in this incredibly real-feeling depiction of a time and place that has long fascinated me.

Arthur on horseback in the town of Valentine.

If you’ll forgive a history nerd geeking out about small things for a moment, things like the mud on the main street of the town of Valentine – the first major town Arthur is able to visit – and the wooden boards put down to the side to walk on do so much to capture what it must’ve felt like to actually walk through a town like that. These places were dirty and muddy, just like the game depicts, and even though it might seem like such a small thing it’s actually a huge part of the immersion for me.

The colour palette is likewise exceptionally important when it comes to capturing the look and feel of the time and place that Red Dead Redemption II is set. Most things in this era were made of wood or metal, so seeing Arthur walk over dirty wooden boards or eating stew from a beaten up old metal bowl are again minor details but they add to the immersion. Brighter colours were the preserve of the wealthy, so most townsfolk Arthur encounters are wearing drab colours: browns, tans, creams, and so on.

The game makes excellent use of colour.

Many buildings have a hitching post outside for patrons’ horses – because traveling by horse was the main way folks got around in the 19th Century. Life in those days was very different – and so much worse for practically everyone than it is today! But Red Dead Redemption II gives us a taste of what it might’ve been like thanks to all of these smaller details, and because I’ve had such an interest in the history of America in this era I find it absolutely fascinating.

Countless smaller details come together to present a game world that feels real and lived-in. And that’s before we get into all of the myriad realistic elements that Red Dead Redemption II includes through its gameplay systems. Obviously a lot of games have a day-night cycle, and as far back as Shenmue in 2000 I can remember seeing things like shops closing after dark and NPCs having their own daytime and nighttime routines. But Red Dead Redemption II goes all-in on the realism. Arthur has to eat and sleep. If he gets dirty he has to change his clothes or take a bath. In cold weather he needs appropriate clothing – likewise for hot weather. His horse needs to be cleaned, fed, and taken care of too. So do individual weapons – without proper care they stop working reliably.

Gang leader Dutch van der Linde.

Around the camp Arthur has chores to do. Some of these are basic things like chopping wood – which took me back to my youth as I was often assigned that chore at home in the late summer and autumn months! But it also seems to be largely the responsibility of Arthur to keep the camp supplied and to bring in money – without regular donations of food and other supplies, the camp quickly runs out.

At points I felt like I was playing Barbie Horse Adventures and not an authentic 19th Century outlaw simulator because of how much time I was spending playing with and caring for Arthur’s horse! Brushing the horse, feeding it, giving it pats, calming it if it got scared… horses need a lot of attention in Red Dead Redemption II! Luckily as an animal-lover – both real and virtual – I had a blast doing all of these chores, and even found time for Arthur to befriend several dogs as well!

Arthur with his horse. Horse care is a big part of the game.

On the flip side, Red Dead Redemption II offers a whole lot of animals to hunt. I confess to being squeamish about hunting in person; bird shooting, rabbiting, and even fox hunting all took place in the rural area where I grew up, but even as a kid I was uncomfortable with the idea of killing animals like that. That squeamishness has extended to the virtual world too – I can’t imagine playing a hunting simulator, for example. But Red Dead Redemption II makes hunting feel like a necessary part of Arthur’s life – and there are many in-game reasons to hunt as well, from making money to crafting upgrades.

There’s an in-depth tracking system that the game uses, allowing Arthur to investigate an area using a similar “slow time” animation to the aforementioned “dead-eye” system. After detecting an animal’s track, Arthur can follow it stealthily and then use an appropriate weapon to take the animal down. Some of the animations involved in hunting are very gruesome and gory, particularly when it comes to skinning an animal for its meat and hide. But as we were talking about, these details add realism to the game. Whether you think that’s a good thing in every instance… well, that’s up to you!

An example of the game’s “dead-eye” system.

Gunplay in Red Dead Redemption II is helped immensely by the dead-eye mechanic. However, even without this the game does offer a degree of lock-on targeting – something I find incredibly helpful. The game doesn’t have difficulty options per se, but there are a few ways to make things slightly easier, such as by making the lock-on targeting easier. Proper difficulty options would definitely be an improvement, though. I haven’t been involved in that many big shootouts yet, but so far I’m impressed with the third-person shooting aspect of the game. It stands up well when compared to many other action-adventure titles.

I find the game’s characters to be compelling. The excellent voice acting and beautiful, realistic animation brings them to life in a way many games simply can’t manage. Though Arthur is the main protagonist, the bond he has with the members of the gang makes each of them feel important to the story and worth helping or protecting.

After almost twelve hours of gameplay (including a short section I had to replay after messing it up) I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of Red Dead Redemption II. I’m only at chapter two of the game’s story, I’ve barely seen any of the open world, and I know for a fact that there are still in-game systems that I haven’t even unlocked. Red Dead Redemption II is a long game and an incredibly detailed one. I’m having a lot of fun with it right now, and it’s one of those rare titles that I find myself thinking about even hours after I stop playing. I honestly can’t wait to jump back in and play some more. It was definitely worth the wait!

Red Dead Redemption II is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Red Dead Redemption II is the copyright of Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of Rockstar Games and/or IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, Enterprise, and Picard.

Discovery’s fourth season is now less than a month away, so it’s time to look ahead. This time, though, I’m not going to be indulging in theory-crafting or even speculation… what we’re going to go through today are some of my wishes for the season. I did something similar last year in the run-up to Season 3, and if you want to see how my wishlist turned out you can find a follow-up piece I wrote after the season had aired by clicking or tapping here.

Season 3 did a reasonably good job at establishing the USS Discovery’s place in the 32nd Century, and though I have criticisms of several aspects of the Burn storyline, it was brought to a fairly conclusive end by the season finale. That should mean that the stage is set for a new story this time around, and on this occasion I’d like to lay out some of my personal preferences for Season 4 and how I’d like to see things unfold.

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

The obvious caveat applies: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will be included in Season 4. This is merely a wishlist from a fan of Star Trek… nothing more. Everything I’m about to say is also entirely subjective! If I don’t include a point you want to see, or something I talk about sounds like something you’d hate, that’s okay. The Star Trek fandom is expansive enough for fans with all kinds of different points of view; we don’t need to fight, especially not about hypotheticals!

With all of that out of the way, let’s get into my Discovery Season 4 wishlist.

Number 1: A proper role for ex-Captain Saru that makes sense.

Saru in the Season 4 trailer.

One of the things I didn’t like about the short Season 3 epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2 was that Saru was unceremoniously shuffled off Discovery. In order to make way for Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, Captain Saru had to leave his position on the ship, and a way was found to make this plausible by giving him a deeply emotional connection to Su’Kal.

As a story point, I actually don’t fault any of that. Saru had been feeling alone and isolated with no other Kelpiens around in the 32nd Century, and his desire to help Su’Kal led to them forming a close bond. I can quite believe that he’d want to take a leave of absence to visit Kaminar and to spend more time with Su’Kal, helping him integrate into society as best he can after so long on his own.

Su’Kal and Saru in Season 3.

But unfortunately the rushed epilogue didn’t do justice to this story point, and quite frankly treated Saru with disrespect. Not since Dr Pulaski was dropped at the beginning of Season 3 of The Next Generation has a main character been handled so poorly, and I would have wanted – and expected – to see much more of a send-off for Saru. Not only had he been Discovery’s captain for all of Season 3, but he was a character we’d spent a lot of time with across Seasons 1 and 2 as well.

Season 4 will bring back Saru; he isn’t leaving the series as some folks had predicted, and I’m glad for that! But his role in Season 4 is unclear at best, and the biggest question I have is this: why does the USS Discovery need two captains on board?

Captain Saru was in command of the ship for a time.

In The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and Spock would serve on the same ship despite both holding the rank of captain, so it isn’t entirely without precedent in Starfleet for this situation to arise. In that case, though, Kirk had been demoted from the rank of Admiral, and in The Undiscovered Country in particular both officers held different positions: Kirk was in command of the Enterprise, Spock was in command of the overall mission to negotiate with the Klingons.

In short, I think the premiere of Season 4 (or whichever episode brings Saru back to the ship) needs to at least pay lip service to this point. Perhaps Saru could be given a title like “captain of the science department” in the same way as Scotty was “captain of engineering.” I wouldn’t want to see him demoted to the rank of commander – like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture! Presumably Captain Burnham has some degree of leeway when it comes to building her crew, so perhaps she’ll ask Saru to serve in a temporary role. Regardless, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore this point.

Number 2: Go into more detail about the ban on time travel.

The Enterprise-E approaching a temporal vortex.

The ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 was evidently intended to be a way for Discovery to avoid questions about how the Burn was able to happen, why Georgiou couldn’t simply return to her own time, and why the time-traveling Federation of the 29th and 30th Centuries that we’ve glimpsed in past Star Trek productions had ceased to exist. But the ban has created some storytelling issues in and of itself, and I would like Season 4 to at least try to address some of these.

Firstly, who enforces the ban? Admiral Vance seemed to imply that everyone in the galaxy – from the Emerald Chain to the Federation – simply goes along with it, but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the Temporal War was certainly a bad thing. But as the war and its effects fade into memory, are we seriously supposed to believe that someone like Osyraa wouldn’t jump at the chance to use time travel to give herself and her faction an advantage? That’s to say nothing of factions like the Borg – are they signed up to the ban on time travel too?

Osyraa, head of the Emerald Chain in Season 3. She seems like someone who would use any weapon or technology at her disposal – regardless of any ban!

Even if the answer is “all pieces of time travel technology were destroyed,” that doesn’t really hold water either. It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology – as I said on several occasions during Season 3’s run! Even if everything were destroyed – something which seems like it would be impossible for every faction to prove – what’s to stop someone recreating it? The Emerald Chain had scientists like Aurellio at their disposal, and once the basic principles were understood it seems like rebuilding the technology would be a task within reach of anyone with the means and inclination.

Time travel was considered something so mundane in the 29th and 30th Centuries that its basic principles were taught in school across the Federation. Even if we discount early depictions of time travel (like the slingshot method seen in The Original Series), the fact that time travel is possible has been known to the Federation since the 22nd or 23rd Centuries at least, and even if we’re generous and say that time travel technology wasn’t “officially” invented until much later, the technology still existed for centuries prior to being banned.

The HMS Bounty was easily able to travel back in time by slingshotting around a star.

In today’s world, nuclear weapons are a comparable technology. If there were a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, would we trust the likes of China or Russia to abide by it? Could we guarantee that every nuclear weapon was destroyed by our own governments, or might some covert hawkish faction seek to keep control of at least some of them as a contingency? In short, a ban on nuclear weapons is a noble ambition – but even in the aftermath of a nuclear war I can’t see it being workable. Even if such a ban were put in place, the weapons programmes of countries like North Korea prove that, with enough determination, anyone can recreate complex technology from scratch.

Perhaps there’s some kind of time travel arbiter that monitors the whole galaxy, and intervenes to prevent time travel from occurring. That would be one explanation. But it’s also possible that whatever this gravitational anomaly is is connected to time travel or the Temporal War – meaning Captain Burnham and the crew could be about to dive headfirst into a time travel story!

Number 3: Standalone episodes and smaller storylines to offset the main season-long arc.

The Season 3 two-parter Terra Firma was largely a standalone story.

Discovery used this formula to great effect in Season 3, which came after Seasons 1 and 2 had both leaned very heavily into serialised storytelling. I very much hope that Season 4 will continue in the same vein, because having smaller stories, character arcs, and fully standalone episodes added so much depth to the series.

We already know of one potential side-story: Adira and Gray, and in particular Gray’s quest to become corporeal again. That story has a lot of potential, and it’s actually one of the things I’m most looking forward to about Season 4. Hopefully there can be more side-stories like this, looking at other characters and taking some of our heroes to different and unexpected places.

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

Strange New Worlds has promised a return to a more episodic style of storytelling. I don’t expect that Discovery will go all-in on episodic television in the same way, not least because we already know that they have the mystery of the gravitational anomaly to solve. But I hope that, along the way, we get some detours and unconnected stories that take Captain Burnham and the ship to different places – literally and thematically.

This would be a great way for the series to show off characters who didn’t get as much to do last season, or who we haven’t spent much time with at all. Season 3 brought us an interesting story involving helm officer Keyla Detmer, and while that story wasn’t perfect it was great to spend time with a secondary character in far more detail than Discovery had ever done before. Which brings us to my next point…

Number 4: Make use of the show’s full cast – including secondary and recurring characters.

Some of the bridge crew at the end of Season 3.

As mentioned, Season 3 began this process. We got to spend more time away from Michael Burnham than Discovery had dared do in Seasons 1 or 2, and some of the episodes which placed Saru, Booker, and even Georgiou at their centre worked exceptionally well. I’d love Discovery to continue down this road, perhaps spending time with characters like Stamets – he didn’t get as much to do in Season 3 as some of the others.

With Georgiou departing for an unknown destination last year, there’s potentially space for another main cast member. We could see someone like Bryce, Rhys, or Nilsson promoted – or a character like Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3, join the crew. In some ways I’d like to see a new character, perhaps a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. Booker provides the crew with the viewpoint of a 32nd Century native, but he also has a different role as an outsider who isn’t a member of Starfleet. Bringing a new officer who’s native to this era aboard the ship could be an excellent move, one which could provide a lot of storytelling potential.

Detmer got her own storyline last season.

At the same time, giving more characters moments in the spotlight and their own arcs is something worth doing. We learned more about people like Owosekun, Detmer, and even Tilly in Season 3 than we ever had before, and continuing this trend by ensuring more characters get some degree of exploration is absolutely something I’d want to see.

In a season that will run for 13 episodes there’s obviously a limit; a ceiling on the number of characters and storylines that the series can fit. With that understood it obviously won’t be possible for everyone to get a fully-rounded character arc, their own storyline, and a spotlight episode putting them front-and-centre! But choosing some characters to give that amount of attention to is still important, and even those characters who don’t get a full story or their own episode this time can still have more to do than sit at their station and say “yes ma’am!”

Number 5: Bring back Nhan!

Could Nhan make a comeback?

Saru wasn’t the only character who left the USS Discovery and whose story feels incomplete. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to Discovery’s main cast at the beginning of Season 3 only to be shuffled off the show after only a few episodes. Nhan – the first Barzan main character in Star Trek’s history – was left behind to be the guardian of the USS Tikhov following a disaster that claimed the lives of the ship’s crew.

The Tikhov’s mission was an interesting one – it serves as a seed vault for the Federation, storing samples of plants from across the Federation and beyond. From the point of view of Nhan potentially reuniting with Burnham and the crew, though, the Tikhov was rotated between Federation member worlds, with representatives from each taking responsibility for the ship for a set period of time. Nhan seemed to suggest that she saw her mission as keeping the ship safe until the end of the Barzans’ tenure, after which it’s safe to assume the ship would be delivered to a new commander.

Nham hugs Burnham immediately before remaining behind on the USS Tikhov.

It wasn’t stated on screen how long each planet’s turn to look after the ship lasts, but that’s actually a good thing! It could be that each member world has to care for the ship for a year or two, or that it was almost the end of Barzan II’s tenure as guardians of the Tikhov – either of which could mean Nhan is almost done and could return to duty.

It was a shame that Nhan was dropped, and I don’t know if there were production-side reasons for the decision. It feels rather arbitrary, and while Nhan wouldn’t necessarily have had a huge role to play in the latter part of Season 3 she was a fun character and someone the show could and should bring back. The USS Discovery doesn’t have a permanent security or tactical officer – at least not among the main characters. Nhan could fill that role going forward, and it seems as if the ship could use a dedicated security officer based on all the scrapes that they get into!

Nhan watches the USS Discovery depart.

Nhan was also a character who provided a contrast to Michael Burnham. Where Burnham could go on emotional rollercoaster rides, Nhan was mostly stoic. And where Burnham had a loose interpretation of the rules and regulations, Nhan appeared steadfast in her dedication to Starfleet’s way of doing things.

As a character from an under-explored race, Nhan could do for the Barzans what Saru has done for the Kelpiens – showing us their history and culture in more detail. The Barzans only appeared a couple of times in Star Trek prior to Discovery, but there’s a chance for a connection with The Next Generation or to explain how they came to join the Federation – and perhaps why they chose to remain a Federation member even after the withdrawal of Earth and Ni’Var. Which brings us to the next point…

Number 6: Give us a broader look at the state of the galaxy in the 32nd Century.

A non-canon map of the galaxy.
Image Credit: Star Trek Star Charts (2002) via Memory Beta

Season 3 focused primarily on two factions: the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain. Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian also appeared, though the first two are ex-Federation members. We know that the Burn decimated “the galaxy” and saw many Federation members quit the organisation, but that was 125 years ago – a lot can have happened since.

Though we briefly saw Cardassians, Lurians, and a few other familiar races, we know nothing about many others. What became of the Klingon Empire? The Dominion? The Borg? Was the Burn truly galactic in scope, reaching all four quadrants in equally destructive fashion – or could some parts of the galaxy have escaped some or all of the Burn’s impact?

Are the Borg still around in the 32nd Century?

Admiral Vance told us that 38 member worlds remained in the Federation – with Earth and Ni’Var being two of the most prominent members to leave. But if the Federation had over 350 member worlds at its peak, more than 80% have quit the organisation – or been conquered, destroyed, or had some other fate befall them. Barzan II appears to remain a Federation member, as does Kaminar. It’s possible based on the Season 4 trailer that Ni’Var will rejoin the organisation – but what of the others? Who’s left in the Federation? Who quit? Who joined after the 24th Century that we might recall from past iterations of Star Trek?

Prior to the Burn, did the development of warp or transwarp speeds allow the Federation to travel further and settle other parts of the galaxy, perhaps? Could races like the Ocampa and Talaxians have joined the Federation in the Delta Quadrant, for example?

In short, the 32nd Century is a vast sandbox for the producers and writers to play in! So far we’ve only seen a tiny little corner of that sandbox – so I hope Season 4 can broaden the view and show us a bigger picture of the state of the galaxy and its factions.

Number 7: More Admiral Vance!

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

In Season 3, Admiral Vance embodied the very best of Starfleet’s values. Even though he was dealt a very bad hand in the aftermath of the Burn, he remained loyal not only to the Federation and Starfleet, but to the ideals the organisations have always stood for. Even when negotiating with Osyraa – a powerful adversary – Vance refused to compromise on his convictions.

The arrival of Rillak – a new character who will serve as the Federation’s president – could mean that Admiral Vance is sidelined. If Burnham is reporting directly to the President it seems like she’ll be going over Vance’s head, or at least around him. I guess I’m just concerned that Discovery doesn’t really have space for two “big boss” characters, and that Vance may lose out to Rillak in terms of stories and screen time.

President Rillak could occupy a very similar narrative role to Vance.

It’s possible that Rillak is being set up in a deliberately antagonistic way, and that the decision was taken to keep Vance as a more sympathetic character. I didn’t really like Rillak’s interaction with Captain Burnham in the recent Season 4 trailer, but at the same time what she had to say wasn’t too far removed from what Vance had to say at a couple of points in Season 3. He could take a tougher line with Burnham and Saru when he needed to without coming across as one of Star Trek’s typical “evil admirals!”

Actor Oded Fehr brings Vance to life and gives him a real gravitas, and there’s scope to learn more about who Vance is and what makes him tick. Vance told us he has a wife and child; perhaps we could meet them and see how he is when he’s off-duty in a more casual setting.

When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were plotting their attack on Federation HQ in Season 3 I was genuinely worried for Admiral Vance! The Emerald Chain attack didn’t kill him off – fortunately – so he lives to fight another day! I know we’ll see him in some capacity in Season 4, but I hope he gets more to do than just chair a few meetings.

Number 8: Kill off a main character.

Who could it be?

Speaking of characters who felt at risk, Season 3 only saw the character of Ryn killed off. Ryn was a fun character for sure, and his death was very sad, but at several key moments where Discovery could have been a little bolder at swinging the proverbial axe, main characters appeared to be safe thanks to their plot armour.

The character I felt most embodied this side of Season 3 was Owosekun. In the season finale it seemed as though she was about to make the ultimate sacrifice – setting off a bomb in a low-oxygen environment – but the Sphere Data-powered DOT robots saved her life at the last minute. There were other characters in that group, including Tilly, Detmer, Bryce, and Rhys, who likewise could’ve been killed off in the season finale.

All of these characters survived last season’s finale.

I’m not arguing for any one specific character to be immediately killed off, and as I like all of the main characters for their own unique reasons any death would be a tragedy! But some stories work better or feel more impactful when the heroes lose a friend, and the Season 3 finale would have undeniably had a lot more emotional weight if someone hadn’t made it to the end.

So Season 4, here’s your challenge: kill off a main character! Let’s not repeat what happened to Nhan and Georgiou, being shuffled off the ship to some other destination. And let’s not set up a story where everyone is in danger only to have them all miraculously saved at the end. Instead let’s actually kill off a major character at the right point in the story. Doing so would raise the stakes dramatically and hammer home that whatever threat Captain Burnham and the crew are facing is genuinely deadly.

Number 9: A character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

The Doctor from Voyager.

This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested this idea! But as Lower Decks has shown on several occasions, bringing back a character from Star Trek’s past can be a lot of fun – and emotional for longstanding Trekkies. Last season I suggested Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him from the Season 4 episode Living Witness – as a potential character crossover, as the chances of him being alive in the 32nd Century seemed higher than most!

Given Star Trek’s technobabble, however, an excuse could be found to bring back practically anyone. Characters from Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, or even Picard could all appear in some form – through stasis or cryogenic suspension, in synthetic bodies, as holograms, trapped in transporter beams, frozen solid under the surface of an ice planet… and so on! With a little creativity, Discovery Season 4 could find a way to bring back pretty much anybody, and doing so would be absolutely wonderful.

Scotty appeared in Season 6 of The Next Generation thanks to sci-fi magic!

Aside from Voyager’s Doctor, I could suggest Enterprise’s Temporal Agent Daniels, Picard’s Soji or Deep Space Nine’s Dax symbiont as contenders for characters who could potentially have survived to the 32nd Century through “natural” means. Soji, as a character in a series running alongside Discovery, would be a fascinating choice – but at the same time I could understand if the producers don’t want to go down that route for fear of affecting or restricting future Picard stories.

If I were to fantasise I might suggest a character like Riker or Chekov. Even if they were only seen as holograms or in a recorded message I think including a “classic” character like that would mean so much to fans. We saw something comparable to this in Season 3’s Unification III, where a hologram of Spock was briefly shown. But to bring back actors like Jonathan Frakes or Walter Koenig to record even just a short message that Captain Burnham could discover would be amazing.

Number 10: Make some kind of reference to anything from Lower Decks!

Lower Decks Season 2 has just finished its run.

Lower Decks has now got two seasons under its belt, and although there were some teething problems at first caused by the lack of an international broadcast during Season 1, the show has definitely hit its stride. It would be absolutely amazing for Discovery Season 4 to so much as name-drop an event, character, or location from Lower Decks, even if it was just a throwaway line that had no bearing on the plot.

This isn’t just about fan service, either. At present, Star Trek’s shows are all split up, occupying different places and completely different time-frames. There will be a connection between Discovery and Strange New Worlds when the latter premieres next year, but there’s no chance for a significant crossover. Name-drops and references are the next best thing, and a way for the Star Trek franchise to remain connected.

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, Mariner, and Boimler.

Having wholly standalone shows doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s certainly true that Lower Decks and Discovery are very different in terms of style, tone, and subject matter – but as two parts of a larger franchise it doesn’t hurt to find ways to connect them. For fans it’s a nice “Easter egg,” but for casual viewers these kinds of connections can be the deciding factor in choosing to check out another show!

As Star Trek fans, we need as many people engaged with as much of Star Trek as possible – it’s the only way the franchise will survive into the future. Having different shows that appeal to different audiences is a great idea in many ways; it casts a broad net and should, in theory, bring in many more viewers and subscribers. But the next step is converting fans of one series to fans of the franchise as a whole – and if there are connections between the shows, even small ones, that’ll encourage at least some viewers to try other Star Trek shows. So if Discovery Season 4 could acknowledge Lower Decks in some way, I think that would be fantastic.

Number 11: Continue the theme of rebuilding – but at a reasonable pace.

Ni’Var seems to have rejoined the Federation.

Season 3 introduced us to the galaxy a century after the Burn. This event devastated the Federation and known space, and clearly saw a major power shift with factions like the Emerald Chain gaining strength. The Burn as a storyline may be resolved, but the galaxy can’t simply be “reset” to how it used to be. An event so devastating will take a long time to recover from. Ni’Var rejoining the Federation is a great first step, but I hope Season 4 doesn’t try to rush these things.

With the gravitational anomaly seeming to be the main focus of Season 4’s story, rebuilding the Federation may take a back seat. However, I’d like to see at least some progress in this area, as it could be one of the major sources of hope and optimism in the story of the post-Burn galaxy. With the dilithium cache from the Verubin Nebula under their control, the Federation is finally in a position to rebuild what has been lost over the past century or more – and from a narrative point of view, bringing wayward planets and races together is a story worth telling.

Independent Earth in Season 3.

At the same time, the story needs to acknowledge the severity of the Burn and strike the right balance when it comes to optimistically putting the pieces back together. Trying to rush this – or worse, trying to pretend that it all happened off-screen – would lead to a truly unsatisfying and unrealistic narrative.

Season 4 can’t simply pretend that the Burn is over and done with and completely move on to new stories. Even though the Burn was clearly intended as the main story of a single season, its massive implications and effects can’t be confined to Season 3 of Discovery. Any other Star Trek stories set in the 32nd Century – and beyond – will need to acknowledge the lingering effects of the Burn, and something as significant as rebuilding the Federation and bringing hope back to worlds that had lost it can’t simply be done off-screen so Captain Burnham and the crew can race away to their next big adventure.

So that’s it. A few of my hopes and wishes for the imminent fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery.

Grudge in the Season 4 trailer!

I don’t think I’d have chosen to go for another “galaxy-ending” apocalyptic threat if I’d been in charge of planning the story of Discovery Season 4. After the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, and the Burn, the collapsed Federation, and the Emerald Chain in Season 3 I would have liked to have seen Captain Burnham and the crew catch a break! Not every season has to be about the imminent destruction of the universe; stories which are smaller in scale can be just as dramatic and just as impactful when done right.

Regardless, this is the direction Discovery seems intent on going, and I’m interested to see what the gravitational anomaly is all about. I’m hopeful that Season 4 can deliver some fun, exciting, dramatic, and interesting Star Trek stories with Captain Burnham in command, and I’m very much looking forward to the new season. Even if none of my wishes are meant to be, Season 4 will undoubtedly still have plenty to offer.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021. An international broadcast will follow on Netflix on the 19th of November 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five horror films to watch this Halloween

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

With Halloween fast approaching, it seems like a good time to once again dabble in the spookier side of cinema! Horror has never been my favourite genre, but at this time of year I’m not averse to the occasional spooky film.

This short list is a follow-up to a similar list I wrote last Halloween, so if you’d like to see five more horror films that I recommend, you can do so by clicking or tapping here.

It’s about to get spooky!

Horror as a genre can be incredibly varied. From jump-scares to the psychological terror of something unseen, and with such diversity of monsters, ghouls, and creepy critters, there are a lot of different titles that put their own spin on the horror concept. Whether you’re looking for serial killers, vampires, zombies, or demons, chances are you can find an excellent horror film that successfully brings them to screen!

I confess that I’m particularly sensitive to jump-scares, and now that I don’t feel the same kind of pressure to join in with horror titles as I did in my younger years (when watching horror films was almost a rite of passage!) I tend to favour films that don’t go for that style. Despite that, I hope you’ll find a varied mix of titles on this list!

Number 1: The Birds (1963)

Those birds are up to something…

Alfred Hitchcock is still considered one of the greatest directors of the horror and thriller genres, and for good reason. His pioneering style put viewers right at the centre of his stories, and every shot and every sequence was meticulously planned and crafted to maximise suspense and fear. The Birds is one of Hitchcock’s later films, coming toward the end of his career and following on from the likes of Vertigo and, of course, Psycho.

As a kid, I can remember being terrified by The Birds. The slow, tense build-up that Hitchcock’s films are known for is on full display in the title, with every scene and sequence gradually ramping up the threat to a terrifying climax. But more than that, the sheer randomness of birds as the “villain” of the piece is genuinely unsettling.

Birds are generally harmless. The worst a bird might do is steal your chips at the beach, but The Birds asks a question no one ever thought to ask before: what if they were working together to a menacing and aggressive end? It’s this premise – taking something harmless that we generally pay little attention to and making it scary – that makes the film succeed.

Number 2: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow.

Johnny Depp stars in this adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story, and the film brings the Headless Horseman to life in genuinely frightening fashion! The story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman is an old one, dating back to the early 1800s, and Washington Irving is considered one of the first great American authors.

Unlike the earlier Disney adaptation, Sleepy Hollow takes a distinctly adult horror tone. Director Tim Burton makes a number of changes to the source material, making the film an unpredictable ride even for those familiar with the original short story. Johnny Depp puts in a wonderful dramatic performance as Ichabod, too.

There’s something inherently frightening about the undead, and the first time the Headless Horseman is seen on screen manages to capture that feeling pitch-perfectly. Johnny Depp manages to perfectly convey Ichabod’s fear as well, ramping up the tension and making Sleepy Hollow a truly scary and spooky watch!

Number 3: The Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn in The Omen.

The Omen is an outstanding example of how to build up fear and tension without resorting to too many jump-scares or a lot of gore! It’s also a deeply disturbing film because of the implications of shadowy cults and conspiracies – and that’s before we even get to the birth of the literal anti-Christ!

When I first watched The Omen I was left unsettled for days afterwards. There’s a specific scene that I won’t spoil for you, but the build-up to a particularly shocking reveal in an Italian graveyard – and the implications it had for the film’s protagonist – left me stunned and disturbed! That particular memory is still vivid for me now, decades later.

As a film about demons, Satan, and the anti-Christ, The Omen was designed to be shocking and unsettling, especially to folks with any kind of religious convictions. And it succeeded beyond its wildest ambitions, becoming an absolute classic of the horror genre and spawning a franchise that still gets periodic updates and instalments today. Oh, and if you’re looking for a Star Trek connection, the film’s lead, Gregory Peck, was the grandfather of Ethan Peck – star of Discovery Season 2 and soon to be appearing in Strange New Worlds!

Number 4: 28 Days Later (2002)

The infected are coming!

With 28 Days Later, director Danny Boyle reinvigorated the zombie genre in a new and truly terrifying way! Prior to the film’s 2002 release, most zombies in cinema followed a pattern first popularised by George A. Romero in Night of the Living Dead – slow, shuffling, mindless creatures that were scary en masse but could be outrun by anyone fit enough. 28 Days Later introduced us to the infected – humans who were still alive but infected with a virus that turned them into killing machines… killing machines that could sprint!

Seeing the zombie horde running after the film’s protagonists was a new and incredibly shocking experience in 2002. Though a number of titles have used this more aggressive style of zombie in the years since, for me the portrayal in 28 Days Later remains one of the best and most frightening.

Technically not a “zombie” film as the infected aren’t undead, 28 Days Later nevertheless has a post-apocalyptic feel that is present in a lot of zombie fiction. Anyone who’s seen The Walking Dead (or read the original comic books) should note an eerie similarity in the way 28 Days Later opens… and remember that the film was released before the first issue of the comics!

Number 5: The Shining (1980)

Here’s… a classic horror film!

The Shining is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and as such it’s an unpredictable and very disturbing ride. Stanley Kubrick directed one of his last films, and adapted the book in truly inspired style. Some of the best-known moments in The Shining, including the famous line referenced above, weren’t present in the original book, and the film adaptation is arguably a rare example of a film surpassing its source material.

The film features some truly outstanding special effects. The “blood flood” scene has gone on to become iconic, and was shot in miniaturised form using detailed scale models. The practical special effects give the film a unique charm that today’s CGI can’t match, and in some cases the use of incredibly realistic practical effects ramps up the fear factor.

Jack Nicholson gave the world one of cinema’s most iconic scenes. But The Shining is so much more than that, and his character’s slow descent into madness is what makes the film so tense, exciting, and frightening.

So that’s it! Five horror films to get you into the Halloween spirit.

Don’t have nightmares…

Remember to check out last year’s list for five more horror titles you might enjoy – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. And if you’re interested to see my review of last year’s television adaptation of another Stephen King work, The Stand, you can find that by clicking or tapping here.

I tried to put together a collection of films with different themes, styles, and subjects! Horror is an incredibly varied genre, and just in the five films above we have the natural world turned against us, an undead horseman, Satanism, technically-not-zombies, and finally a film with ghosts and a mad man. And we’ve barely scratched the surface!

Halloween is almost upon us, so stay tuned over the next few days – I have a couple more spooky ideas before the main event rolls around!

All titles included on the list above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 – final thoughts

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

Time flies very quickly, doesn’t it? I think that might be the single spookiest thing about my playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3! I started playing last October, with a view to putting out a full “Let’s Play” series of articles in the run-up to Halloween, but once Halloween had passed by I put the game on the back burner for a while.

I like Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s a fun game with some clever mechanics involved, there aren’t any bugs or random spikes in difficulty, and overall it’s the kind of sweet, lightly scary fun that I like to see at this time of year. From my perspective, though, it just didn’t make for a great game to write about in-depth for a full series of articles.

Let’s wrap up Luigi’s Mansion 3.

The reason for that is simple: Luigi’s Mansion 3 has some fantastic gameplay but is relatively light on story. You know the premise: the spooky Hellen Gravely and King Boo have kidnapped Luigi’s friends, and over the course of a dozen or so levels – represented by the floors of the Last Resort hotel – Luigi has to fight various ghosts and spirits to get them back.

In short, the fact that I can summarise the game’s entire story in a couple of sentences encapsulates what made it a struggle to write about in such depth. I could easily write a review of the game – but to give a blow-by-blow account of every interaction on every level, which I tried to do at first, quickly became repetitive. I didn’t think the articles I was putting together were all that interesting to read, let alone entertaining, so I really didn’t know what to do with Luigi’s Mansion 3 for a while.

The game’s title screen.

I kept promising myself that I’d get back to the series once I had a better idea for making the write-ups interesting. But the only thing I could really think of was condensing the articles into fewer instalments, and even then I still didn’t like what I’d produced.

This website has involved a degree of experimentation on my part. Some things developed organically – like the weekly Star Trek theories I write when a new season is running. Others have been attempted, but for various reasons didn’t work as I initially hoped. The Luigi’s Mansion 3 series of articles has been one such disappointment.

Figuring out how to write about Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a challenge.

However, I like to think I’ve learned something worthwhile from the experience! The biggest takeaway for me is that I have more to say and more to talk about when a game has a strong narrative. Once I’d got the prologue out of the way and settled into the Luigi’s Mansion 3 gameplay loop, I found myself running out of things to say. That says something about the way I write as much as it does about games like Luigi’s Mansion 3, and I know that a lot of people have published playthroughs focusing on this game – and many other titles with a comparable style. But this is my website, and I have my own way of writing and of approaching this format!

I would definitely like to do more playthroughs – but as I approach the subject again, I need to consider the choice of games carefully. I chose Luigi’s Mansion 3 last October specifically because it had a spooky theme, but I didn’t really stop to think about how the game works and what I’d be able to write about at the end of each play session. Having learned a thing or two as a result of this experience, I’d like to think any future playthrough series will be a much more interesting read from your point of view – and a much more enjoyable writing experience from mine!

The titular Luigi.

With all of that out of the way, what did I think of Luigi’s Mansion 3? Having never played the first two games in the series, I was coming at the game from a newbie’s point of view. There were a couple of points where having a bit more knowledge of either the greater Mario franchise as a whole or the prior Luigi’s Mansion titles might’ve provided a player with a little more – but this was mostly in the form of “easter eggs” and references; nothing story-wise or gameplay-wise relied on knowledge of other games.

And that’s the way it should be! Luigi’s Mansion 2 came out for the 3DS in 2013, and the original game was a launch title for the GameCube back in 2001, so expecting Switch players in 2019 – when the game was released – to remember everything from the previous two titles would’ve been an impossible ask! I felt Luigi’s Mansion 3 was approachable and newbie-friendly.

The first title in the series was released in 2001 on the GameCube.

Nintendo’s first-party titles are almost always high quality. I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches, and only a couple of very minor graphical issues. Luigi’s Mansion 3 looked decent even on my 4K television screen, and the Switch’s graphics in general are fantastic considering the console’s size and portability. With a file size of only a little over 6GB, Luigi’s Mansion 3 packs a lot into a small package – making it quick to download and easy to store even on the Switch’s limited internal storage.

Gameplay was fun, and offered several completely unique elements that I’ve never experienced in other titles. Luigi’s main weapon is his vacuum – the Poltergust G-00 – which makes a return from the two older titles, albeit in an updated form. This fun and unique weapon allows Luigi to tackle ghosts in a variety of ways, including slamming them into the ground, bashing them against each other, and firing a shockwave.

Gameplay was great fun.

The Poltergust can also be used to fire a plunger which can be used to interact with the environment. Though it does have applications in combat, the plunger shot was largely useful for navigating previously-blocked areas of the hotel as well as uncovering secrets and hidden items spread throughout the game world.

The addition of Gooigi – Luigi’s gooey doppelganger – made navigating levels much more interesting. Areas that Luigi couldn’t access on his own were easy for Gooigi to reach, and this had functionality both to advance the main story and for idle exploration and retrieving hidden gems. Having two playable characters with different abilities isn’t something new in video games, but Gooigi put a unique and fun spin on the concept, and came in handy on many different occasions!

Gooigi and Luigi.

Story-wise, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was pretty basic. That’s to be expected, though, and what story there was was done very well. These kinds of games don’t go all-in on big, believable narratives, and that’s absolutely fine. What mattered in Luigi’s Mansion 3 wasn’t really the story but the gameplay, and in that regard the game was an enjoyable experience.

Hellen Gravely was a King Boo superfan, and kind of a parody of a certain type of obsessive fan that I think we all see from time to time. Otherwise the story was a riff on a very familiar concept in the Super Mario series – a nefarious evil-doer has kidnapped someone special to our hero, and he must fight his way past the baddie’s minions, working his way up to defeating the big bad herself, in order to save them all.

Hellen Gravely, the game’s villain.

Trapping Mario and the others in paintings was itself a riff on the Super Mario 64 idea, at least on a superficial level, so in that sense nothing about the story of Luigi’s Mansion 3 was groundbreaking. What it did was put its own spin on a couple of existing concepts, then execute those ideas very well. As escapist entertainment it was perfectly enjoyable, and there was enough of a story to keep the game’s momentum going.

As someone who isn’t really into horror, what I liked about the setting was that it retained a spooky, creepy aesthetic, but kept things kid-friendly. I would wager that all but the most sensitive of children would be able to play and enjoy Luigi’s Mansion 3, and as a game to play in the run-up to Halloween I can hardly think of a better one! Striking the right balance in a game all about ghosts in a haunted hotel is a tricky task, and it would’ve been easy for the game to slip up and become scarier than intended. Luckily it avoided that particular pitfall.

I had fun with Luigi’s Mansion 3.

So Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an odd one for me. I failed in my mission to write up a full playthrough, but despite that I actually had fun with the game itself. The fact that it didn’t make for a good writing project is more to do with how I like to write and what I look for when it comes to writing up a full playthrough of a game. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is everything you’d want from a title of this nature.

I’ve been meaning to write this conclusion for a little while now, and October seemed like the right month once again! To those of you who tuned in for my Luigi’s Mansion 3 playthrough last year, thank you. I hope you enjoyed the pieces that I was able to write. Stick around, because I’ve got other ideas for playthroughs that – fingers crossed – will be more substantial!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Super Mario franchise – including Luigi’s Mansion 3 and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What If…? Star Trek edition!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Search for Spock, The Next Generation Season 3, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Star Trek 2009.

Over on Disney+, Marvel has recently put out a series of animated short films with a very interesting premise. These shorts asked what might’ve happened in the Marvel universe if circumstances had changed, characters had taken different actions, or things had ended differently.

Alternate history has always been a subject that fascinated me! So with that in mind, we’re going to consider a few “what ifs” from the Star Trek franchise – from an in-universe point of view, naturally! There are more than 800 Star Trek stories at time of writing, meaning that there are literally hundreds of potential scenarios where a different decision or different outcome could have radically changed the Star Trek galaxy.

Inspired by Marvel’s What If…? series, we’re going to put a Star Trek spin on this concept!

As always, please keep in mind that all of this is one person’s subjective opinion! I’m indulging in fan-fiction and pure speculation based on my own thoughts about how some of these scenarios might’ve unfolded. If you hate all of my ideas, or something you like wasn’t included, that’s okay! Within the Star Trek fandom there’s enough room for different opinions.

With that out of the way, let’s consider some Star Trek “what ifs!”

Number 1: What if… Captain Picard couldn’t be saved after being assimilated?

Locutus of Borg.

This isn’t going to go the way you might be expecting! In this scenario, the events of The Best of Both Worlds play out as we saw on screen: Picard is captured, the Borg defeat the Federation at Wolf-359, Riker and the Enterprise race to confront them over Earth, and Captain Picard is able to communicate to Data how to defeat them. The Borg cube explodes, and the Federation lives to fight another day! But unfortunately Captain Picard then dies – severing his connection to the Collective and/or removing his Borg implants was too much for his body and mind to take, and he doesn’t survive beyond the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.

As Starfleet and the crew of the Enterprise-D mourn the loss of Captain Picard, Captain Edward Jellico is assigned to the ship as his replacement, and many of the events later in The Next Generation proceed unaltered. As Q would tell Picard in the episode Tapestry, even without him in command the Enterprise-D and Starfleet would be fine.

Captain Edward Jellico.

The Federation, armed with new knowledge of the Borg, developed new ships like the Defiant-class and Sovereign-class, and were even able to defend against a second Borg incursion a few years later – albeit at great cost. But the loss of Captain Picard would have a huge impact later, in the year 2379. A coup on Romulus brings a human clone to power – Shinzon. Shinzon’s plot to destroy the Federation was only stopped because of his personal connection to Picard, a connection that fascinated him and that he hoped could save his life.

Without that obstacle in the way, Shinzon sees no reason to wait or to play nice with the Federation before implementing his plan. He takes his flagship, the Reman warbird Scimitar, and heads straight for Earth before the Federation even has time to respond diplomatically to the change in government on Romulus. Under cloak, the Scimitar deploys its thalaron radiation weapon – massacring all life on planet Earth and crippling the Federation government and Starfleet command.

Without Captain Picard to pose a distraction, Shinzon was able to launch his attack on Earth.

With war now assured between the Romulans and Federation, Romulan commanders who had been sceptical of Shinzon rally to the cause. All-out war breaks out between the Romulan Empire and the residual Federation, but without a government or command structure to provide a coordinated response, and seriously demoralised from the attack on Earth, things don’t go well for Starfleet. The Scimitar proves to be an unstoppable force all on its own, and its thalaron radiation weapon is able to devastate multiple other planets: Betazed, Andoria, Alpha Centauri, Mars, and others. The Federation is forced to sue for peace on very unfavourable terms.

However, Shinzon wouldn’t live to see the Romulan victory. Without the original Picard, there was no way to save his life from the DNA degradation that he was suffering from, and shortly after the Federation’s defeat Shinzon dies. His Reman viceroy would succeed him as the new leader of the Romulan Empire, an empire which now incorporated large swathes of what had once been Federation space. Whether the Romulans could hold all of this territory, and whether their empire would accept a Reman leader, are now open questions…

Number 2: What if… Spock wasn’t resurrected on the Genesis Planet?

Spock’s empty coffin on the Genesis Planet.

This scenario sees the events of The Wrath of Khan unfold exactly as we saw on screen. Khan stages an attack on the Enterprise, steals the Genesis device, and is defeated at the Battle in the Mutara Nebula. Spock sacrifices his life repairing the Enterprise’s warp drive, allowing the ship to outrun the blast of the Genesis device. But in our alternate world, Captain Kirk doesn’t give Spock a Starfleet funeral. Instead Spock’s remains are returned to Vulcan, in line with his and his family’s wishes. There is no chance for a resurrection because Spock never came into contact with the Genesis Planet.

Spock would indeed prove instrumental in several key events later in his life that now can’t happen. But we’re going to focus on the Kelvin timeline today. Spock’s actions in the Kelvin timeline saved Earth from Nero’s attack – but without his presence there’s no one to stop the crazed Romulan commander.

Nero.

Assuming that Nero arrived in the Kelvin timeline thanks to Red Matter (presumably deployed by someone else from the Federation as part of a plan to save Romulus), he has no reason to wait for Spock before enacting his revenge plan. After destroying the USS Kelvin (killing the infant Kirk in the process), Nero races to Vulcan and destroys the planet in the year 2233 – decades earlier than he would during the events of Star Trek 2009. Before the Federation even has time to realise what’s happening, and with Vulcan still collapsing, Nero heads to Earth and deploys his weapon for the second time – destroying the planet.

Nero then moves on quickly, targeting Tellar Prime and other Federation member worlds and colonies. The devastating losses mean it takes Starfleet a while to reorganise, but eventually the remaining fleet comes together to make a last stand over Andoria – the last remaining Federation member world. The battle against Nero’s powerful flagship is long and incredibly difficult, but Starfleet eventually prevails through sheer numerical advantage – despite suffering huge losses.

The Narada and the USS Kelvin.

Nero’s defeat wouldn’t mark the end of the rump Federation’s problems, though. With many planets and colonies destroyed, more than half the fleet lost, and millions of people turned into refugees, the Federation is an easy target. First the Klingons come, seizing planets and systems near their borders. Then the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Romulans also join in, picking off star systems that the Federation could no longer manage to defend. Federation space shrinks to a small area in the vicinity of Andoria.

The Andorians were not happy with the large numbers of refugees who sought them out, though. Plans were put in place to resettle humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and others on new colony worlds, even though doing so would leave them vulnerable. After being kicked out by the Andorians, the remaining Federation members maintained their alliance more out of fear and necessity than anything else. How long these small populations can survive in a hostile galaxy is unknown…

Number 3: What if… the USS Voyager went the other way?

The USS Voyager.

The events of Voyager’s premiere episode, Caretaker, play out much the same as they did on screen in this scenario. But after that, things take a very different turn – literally! The Maquis raider Val Jean, under Chakotay’s command, is transported to the Delta Quadrant by an entity known as the Caretaker. The USS Voyager is likewise transported by the Caretaker’s Array, and after the death of the Caretaker and a short battle with the Kazon, Captain Janeway orders the destruction of the Array. Voyager must find a way home.

Instead of taking the most direct route to Earth, Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager consider an alternative idea – heading for the Gamma Quadrant, and the far side of the Bajoran Wormhole. From there it would only be a short journey back to Earth! The crew debate the ideas for a while, and there isn’t a clear consensus. No starship has ever undertaken such a long journey before, so there really aren’t ground rules for route planning when it comes to long-distance interstellar travel.

A non-canon map of the Star Trek galaxy.
Image Credit: Star Trek Star Charts (2002) via Memory Beta

Using the map above (which is non-canon) as a guide, the crew quickly figure out that both a direct route home via the Delta and Beta Quadrants or an indirect route via the Gamma Quadrant and Bajoran Wormhole are roughly the same length and would take roughly the same amount of time.

The two crews can’t agree at first. Chakotay and the Maquis, keen to avoid going anywhere near Cardassian space and fearing being turned over to Cardassian authorities upon their return, firmly advocate for the Delta Quadrant route. Neelix claims to be familiar with space in both directions and along both routes, but ultimately the decision falls to Captain Janeway.

The choice of route ultimately falls to Captain Janeway under the “my ship, my decision” principle.

Somewhat ironically when considering her actions in Endgame, Janeway chooses the Gamma Quadrant route. Why? She’s fearful of the Borg, naturally. Whatever dangers and obstacles may await Voyager in the Gamma Quadrant, she tells her crew, Starfleet has known for years that the Borg’s home territory is the Delta Quadrant. Taking that path seems positively suicidal in comparison, so Voyager will instead head for the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Bajoran wormhole.

Voyager’s superior technology makes battling the Kazon sects in the area around the Caretaker’s Array relatively easy, but they have to be careful to avoid space claimed by the Haakonian Order – the conquerors of Neelix’s people, the Talaxians. After they leave their starting region, though, the truth is that we simply don’t know very much at all in canon about this area of space. Would Voyager find a faster way home through some technological means or natural phenomenon? Or would the ship and crew have to undertake a slow, decades-long journey to reach the wormhole? Would they even survive at all, or instead fall victim to some villainous faction or dangerous anomaly present in this unexplored region?

Number 4: What if… the USS Discovery didn’t go into the far future?

Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery at the mouth of the time-wormhole.

I already have a theory discussing in detail why I think the USS Discovery didn’t need to go into the far future based on the outcome of the battle in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and you can find that one by clicking or tapping here. For the sake of this scenario, though, all we’re going to say is that somehow Captain Pike, Burnham, and Saru figured out a way to defeat the Control AI without sending the USS Discovery into the 32nd Century.

Obviously some changes wouldn’t appear until the 32nd Century. Without the USS Discovery and Michael Burnham, no one is able to discover the source of the Burn or the huge cache of dilithium in the Verubin nebula. Without the USS Discovery and its Spore Drive to fight over, the Emerald Chain doesn’t stage a bold attack on Starfleet HQ. Su’Kal would almost certainly die alone when the KSF Khi’eth is destroyed – whether that event would trigger a second Burn is unclear.

A second Burn could occur.

But more substantial changes could have taken place in the Star Trek galaxy centuries earlier. With the Spore Drive still in existence in the 23rd Century, it stands to reason that Starfleet would have continued to explore the technology – it works, after all, so if a new way of navigating the mycelial network could be discovered, the Spore Drive would be an absolute game-changer for the Federation.

At some point, Starfleet scientists would hit upon the idea of using empaths to connect to the mycelial network in place of augmenting human DNA. After promising test flights using Betazoid and even Vulcan navigators, in the late 23rd Century Starfleet is able to begin a wider rollout of the Spore Drive. At first a handful of ships are kitted out as rapid-response vessels, able to jump across Federation space at a moment’s notice to assist with emergency situations.

Starfleet is able to kit out a whole fleet of Spore Drive-enabled starships.

The Spore Drive would soon attract the attention of other factions, however. Unwilling to allow the Federation a massive tactical advantage, particularly in the aftermath of the Federation-Klingon war, the Klingon Empire begins development on their own Spore Drive programme. The Romulans follow suit, and by the early part of the 24th Century the Spore Drive has become a mainstay of interstellar travel in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

No longer limited by geography or travel time, Starfleet is able to jump to interesting-looking phenomena across the galaxy with ease, initiating dozens of first contacts decades ahead of schedule. On one unfortunate occasion, however, a Spore Drive ship jumps to the Delta Quadrant… right into the heart of Borg space. The Borg quickly assimilate the vessel, taking the Spore Drive technology for themselves and putting a target on the Federation’s back. Due to the distances involved, Starfleet remains unaware of what happened, merely recording the USS Discovery-C as “missing in action…”

Number 5: What if… Benjamin Sisko wasn’t the Emissary of the Prophets?

Commander Benjamin Sisko.

Ignore for a moment the revelation from Image in the Sand about Benjamin Sisko’s Prophet-induced conception! For this scenario, we’re considering that there were two occupants of the Runabout which first discovered the Bajoran Wormhole: Sisko and Jadzia Dax. Though the Prophets would choose Sisko as their Emissary, they could just as easily have chosen Dax instead.

Jadzia Dax returns from the wormhole having been anointed by the Prophets as their Emissary, and receives much respect and adoration from the Bajorans. Meanwhile, Sisko makes good on his threat and quits Starfleet, returning to Earth. Jadzia is promoted to the rank of commander and given “temporary” command of DS9, due in no small part to the way the Bajorans feel about her.

Jadzia Dax assumes command of Deep Space Nine.

First contact with the Dominion occurs, and shortly afterwards the Dominion and Cardassians form an alliance – the work of Dukat, formerly the commander of Bajoran occupying forces on Bajor. The Dominion Cold War begins. Behind the scenes, Dukat is researching the Pah-wraiths, the ancient noncorporeal enemies of the Prophets. In disguise he travels to Deep Space Nine with a lone Pah-wraith, and in the course of unleashing the entity into the wormhole, kills Jadzia.

With no Emissary on the outside to come to their aid, the Prophets are fighting a losing battle against the Pah-wraiths while the Dominion War rages. The loss of Dax, though distressing to the crew of DS9 and her husband Worf, doesn’t appear to matter to the Federation war effort… not at first. In fact, the wormhole’s closure appears to provide the Federation alliance a reprieve, as the threat of Dominion reinforcements is reduced.

Jadzia is killed by the Pah-wraiths.

However, without the Orb of the Emissary re-opening the wormhole and expelling the Pah-wraiths, things go badly for the Prophets. When Dukat is able to implement the next phase of his plan and release the rest of the Pah-wraiths from the Fire Caves, there’s no one to stop him. The Pah-wraiths seize control of the wormhole, and as a thank you to Dukat they destroy the Federation minefield, allowing a massive fleet of Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole. The Dominion conquer DS9 and Bajor with ease.

With no way to stop Dominion reinforcements pouring in through the wormhole, the Federation alliance moves into attrition mode, trying to hold the existing front line for as long as possible against repeated Dominion attacks. Though the Pah-wraiths don’t actively take part in the fighting, their involvement allowed Dukat and the Dominion to swing the balance of the war back in their favour. By controlling Deep Space Nine and the wormhole, the Cardassian-Dominion alliance has the Quadrant’s most significant asset. It seems like only a matter of time until the Federation will have to sue for peace, if the Dominion would even accept…

So that’s it! Five Star Trek “what ifs!”

There are many more “what if” scenarios in the Star Trek universe!

I can already think of more, so watch this space. I might return to this concept in future. I hope this was a bit of fun, and a chance to consider some alternative outcomes to some of the events we’ve seen across Star Trek’s history. I tried to pick a few different ideas from different productions – otherwise this could’ve been “five Captain Picard what ifs!”

As always, this was really just an excuse to spend a little more time in the Star Trek galaxy. It’s totally fine if you disagree with any of the storylines I’ve suggested today, or if you think this whole concept was a silly idea! None of this will ever make it to screen, and it was more of a thought experiment and creative writing project than anything else. I had fun putting this together – and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

What If…? and the logo for the series are the copyright of Marvel and The Walt Disney Company. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The “remastered” Grand Theft Auto trilogy sounds like a complete rip-off…

The last couple of years have been a mixed bag when it comes to bringing back classic games. The likes of Resident Evil 2 and Crash Bandicoot have been remade from the ground up and released to critical acclaim… but then titles such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning and Mass Effect: Legendary Edition have been lacklustre at best, with minimal effort put into what basically amounted to a repackaging.

It’s in light of games like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – which is one of the most disappointing titles of 2021 for me personally – that I look upon the clumsily-named upcoming title Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. With the game seemingly quite close to release but nary a teaser video nor screenshot in sight, I can’t help but feel that it will be, at best, better described as a repackaging or a re-release… one with a hefty new price tag slapped on.

Three older games are getting the so-called “remaster” treatment from Rockstar.

When Warcraft III was “remastered” last year, the original version of the game was pulled from sale. Fans could no longer play the original Warcraft III, and that became a massive problem when the “remaster” ended up being absolutely atrocious. Promised features were missing, the game was riddled with bugs, and overall fans considered it an awful experience. With no way to return to the original version of the game, many fans were left stuck.

The reason I bring up Warcraft III: Reforged as an example of a “remaster” gone wrong is because Grand Theft Auto developers Rockstar have chosen to do the exact same thing with The Definitive Edition’s three constituent games. All three have been de-listed – industry slang meaning they’ve been removed from sale digitally – on all of the platforms where they had been available. As attention shifts to the remaster, Rockstar doesn’t want anyone to be able to purchase the original version of these games.

Warcraft III: Reforged is an example of how not to handle a remaster.

Why? That’s the obvious question. “Money” is part of the answer; Rockstar doesn’t want the renewed attention on these three games pushing people to just pick up the original versions of one or more of the titles instead of paying a reported $70 (£60-65 in the UK) for the new version. But if the remaster is anywhere close to being as good as it should be, that shouldn’t even be a concern!

In short, Rockstar’s decision to pull Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas from sale is the biggest and most clear indicator so far that they don’t have confidence in their own product. They’re already anticipating that the “remaster” is going to be savaged for making no changes or minimal changes to these three older games, so in order to force players to buy it and artificially inflate sales they’ve chosen to pull the original versions from sale – just like Blizzard did with Warcraft III. Despite Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’s many issues, EA and BioWare didn’t have the audacity to pull the original versions of the Mass Effect trilogy from sale.

Promo art for Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition.

I have happy memories of Grand Theft Auto. Scoring the original game in 1997 or ’98 – hot on the heels of press complaints about its violent nature and knowing it would irritate my parents – was a fun adventure and scored me bragging rights with my friends at the time! Someone I knew even got in a ton of trouble for buying the game before he turned 18! The three games from the early/mid 2000s that will be part of this remaster are also games I remember with fondness from that era. I picked up a set which included Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for the original Xbox, then got San Andreas when it was released a couple of years later.

On the Xbox, it was possible to listen to custom soundtracks while cruising around Vice City or Los Santos. The Xbox allowed players to rip CDs to its internal hard drive, which could then be accessed in certain games – and the Grand Theft Auto titles were among them. When I lived with friends during that period, kicking back to play some Grand Theft Auto was a frequent evening and weekend pastime – and though I have no doubt I’m over-romanticising those memories (because damnit Rob, you always hogged the control pad and it drove me mad!) I still have very positive memories of these three titles as social games and as escapist entertainment with friends.

I have fun memories of playing all three games in this set.

I’m sceptical that Rockstar – a company which has spent much of the past decade milking one successful game and not creating anything new – has Grand Theft Auto’s best intentions at heart with this remaster. The price tag is already generating a fair amount of sticker shock, and rightly so, but I doubt the remaster’s issues will end there.

Where are the screenshots, teasers, trailers, and gameplay videos that we should expect to see for a game that’s supposedly weeks away from release? Having seen nothing at all except one piece of box art, I feel certain that Rockstar is hiding the game for a reason. And that reason is probably simple: The Definitive Edition will be better described as a re-release or repackaging than a “remaster.”

We’re still yet to see any screenshots or a trailer for The Definitive Edition.

The Definitive Edition – lacklustre or not – has been created for one reason, and one reason only: to get fans to shut up about the absent Grand Theft Auto 6 for a while. It’s a cheap and easy way for Rockstar to throw fans a bone while continuing to ignore the one thing that’s been requested over and over for almost eight years. Rockstar is unwilling to let go of Grand Theft Auto V and its lucrative online mode, but with fans increasingly agitated by the company’s antics – such as re-releasing the game yet again on the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X – they evidently felt that they had to be seen to offer something.

Remastering Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas was clearly seen as a way to do that without having to shift any development resources away from Grand Theft Auto V and its online mode. The wheels will come off that juggernaut sooner rather than later, though, as the backlash to the announcement of the game’s re-release on the latest generation of consoles showed. I hope Rockstar has been working on something more than The Definitive Edition for when that moment comes – because it’s coming soon.

I might’ve been tempted to go back and replay these three games, but it seems like The Definitive Edition won’t be the best option for doing so, especially not at the price that has been discussed in recent days. But fundamentally, what the Grand Theft Auto series needs is not a re-release of three older titles that are still perfectly playable in their own right, but a proper sequel. Rockstar hopes that The Definitive Edition will buy them some time. Maybe they’re right – but only if it’s any good, and nothing I’ve seen or heard so far has convinced me that it will be.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition will be released before the end of 2021 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The Grand Theft Auto series is the copyright of Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons finally gets an update… and paid DLC

Shortly after Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched in March last year, here’s what I had to say about the game in my review: “When I compare New Horizons to New Leaf, a game that I played way more and for way longer, I feel at least a little disappointed. New Leaf seemed to offer more to do when the shine of playing a new game wore off, and it certainly offered significantly more in terms of playing with friends…”

Many of the criticisms I made of the game – most notably the lack of a significant multiplayer offering and mini-games to play with friends – still hadn’t been addressed, and as 2021 wore on the “updates” that were released for the game were incredibly threadbare. Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, chose to make last year’s holiday-themed updates only valid for one year, meaning much of 2021 was actually spent re-adding holiday events like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas that had already been added in 2020.

Re-adding last year’s holiday events has taken up most of 2021 for New Horizons.

The Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Direct, which premiered yesterday, had the difficult task of making amends with a fanbase that has become disenchanted with the game over the past year or so. Many of New Horizons’ biggest fans hadn’t held back from criticising the game and Nintendo for the lack of proper updates and the lack of communication in 2021, and while the game remains one of the Switch’s best-selling titles, there has been a sense for some time that a lot of folks were simply burnt out and no longer enjoying the experience.

Games have a natural lifespan, so under normal circumstances I’d say that’s just to be expected! But the Animal Crossing series has always been an outlier in that regard; the games challenge players to play long-term, even just for a few minutes a day, but the repetitiveness of the activities and dialogue, combined with no significant updates or new additions, meant New Horizons’ welcome wore out far more quickly than any previous entry in the series.

Brewster and the coffee shop are returning from past games in the Animal Crossing series.

Right off the bat, yesterday’s Nintendo Direct offered a lot of new content, and it’s coming soon – in just under three weeks’ time. The addition of a coffee shop, new islands to visit by boat, a parade of shops (on a separate island), the return of classic characters, more customisation options, more DIY options (including cooking), and an expansion of other aspects of island life, with new items, more storage space, and the like are all incredibly welcome additions. The new update will give players a lot to sink their teeth into – and will probably convince me to either pick up the island I haven’t touched in months or restart the game for a new experience.

However, I do have a few points of criticism. The first is that these updates feel, for the most part, like features that could and should have been part of the game when it arrived in 2020. New Horizons wasn’t exactly threadbare when it launched, but it was missing a number of important features that were part of older games in the series that hampered its longevity. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, New Horizons is basically a “release now, fix later” title.

Kapp’n is another returning character from past games in the series.

The second concern I have, and perhaps the most significant one, is that I don’t see these updates improving the game’s long-term prospects in any meaningful way. They’re going to be a ton of fun… at first. Players who’ve stuck with New Horizons since launch will be thrilled at finally having new things to do, and new players will discover a game that feels much more feature-rich. But when it comes to long-term playing, things like new island tours by boat or a first-person camera are going to lose their shine pretty quickly – just like terraforming and other features did when the original version of the game launched last year.

These new features paper over the cracks and don’t do anything to address New Horizons’ longstanding issues. There was no mention in the Nintendo Direct broadcast of new villager dialogue, for example, which is something the game desperately needs. Anyone who’s sunk a significant amount of time into New Horizons can tell you that villagers simply don’t have much to say after a while, and what they do say is incredibly repetitive. This also extends to Isabelle’s utterly useless “announcements” at the beginning of each day – she usually has nothing of consequence to say, has only a handful of different lines of dialogue, and ignores many goings-on around the island.

No, Isabelle… it really f**king doesn’t.

New Horizons wants to offer players a home-away-from-home on a fantastical island, and the neighbours players will have and befriend are a vital part of that experience. But because the villagers have so little to say, with some common in-game occurrences literally having only one line of dialogue, it makes playing the game feel incredibly repetitive to the point of becoming off-putting. Add into the mix that there are only eight villager “personality types” yet ten villager slots, and you’re always going to have at least two villagers who have identical dialogue even under the best possible conditions.

This was a prime candidate for an overhaul. Unlike adding new gameplay features, new dialogue requires far less development time and far fewer resources. The game’s modest file size could easily handle double the current amount of dialogue – if not more. While the addition of new features like the coffee shop will give villagers a few new things to say, at the end of the day they’re still going to largely be saying the same things that they always have. Once the novelty of some of these new features has worn off, players will be back where they started.

Failing to improve and expand villager dialogue feels like a wasted opportunity – one which seriously hampers New Horizons’ long-term prospects.

Also missing from the update were multiplayer mini-games. This is a feature I’ve argued needs to be part of New Horizons on several occasions now, and while it’s possible it will come in future as paid DLC, I don’t think that’s good enough. New Horizons currently offers incredibly bad value for players who want to play with friends – Switch Online isn’t free, after all – as there really isn’t anything substantial to do in multiplayer. Nothing in this update will change that, because players will be stuck with the same things to do as before: tour their friend’s island, talk to villagers, and that’s it.

Even some of the features that this update has added feel less than they could’ve been. The coffee shop and parade of shops are in fixed locations – in the museum or on a different island. Yet with a small amount of extra effort, surely Nintendo could’ve given players the option to place new shops and new buildings around their islands? As things sit at the moment, players have one shop, one tailor’s shop, and the museum as buildings that can be placed. Islands are decently-sized, so there was scope to add at least two or three new buildings. Giving players the option to create their own parade of shops would have been fun, and it feels like a missed opportunity that the update has added no new buildings at all.

Couldn’t some of these shops have been optional additions to a player’s island?

I’ve heard some fans argue that they’ve finished designing their island now, so they wouldn’t know where to place a new building. But that’s why something like the coffee shop could have been an option: either included as part of the museum or as a separate building like it was in New Leaf.

The main shop itself has also been ignored by the new update. New Leaf offered players five levels of shop expansion, but New Horizons only has one – and it seems like that’s all there will ever be. The shop doesn’t carry a huge amount of stock: six items at the most (if seasonal items are available). There was scope to expand the shop in the same way as the museum has been expanded, growing it to make it more useful – and to give players something to aim for and work towards.

The shop is staying in its current form.

The aforementioned parade of shops, which will be present on a separate island, could have been part of a shop expansion as well. Gardening items, different wallpapers and rugs, and other such things could have been given their own section within the shop if adding more new buildings to the island was off the table – or as an alternative option.

Kapp’n doesn’t feel like he has a lot to offer based on what we saw in the broadcast. Players have already been able to visit random islands via the airport, and adding a second way to visit a second set of random islands feels like something that will have limited use and, at least based on the way I play the game, is likely not to be used very often. Even if there are multiple new plants, shrubs, and trees, once these have been found and collected I don’t really see what else Kapp’n is going to be useful for – and this really comes back to what I was saying about the update’s longevity.

Players could already visit random islands via the airport… Kapp’n doesn’t seem to offer much that’s different.

Gyroids were never my thing in past Animal Crossing games, but they were always a part of the series so it’s nice to see them return. Brewster, the character who runs the coffee shop, was a big fan of Gyroids, so it makes sense that they’d be part of the update that brought him back. The addition of new items, new furniture, wallpapers, and the like is good, and the ability to hang items from the ceiling is likewise an extra dimension to customisation. None of that will be earth-shattering, but I love a game with customisation options, so adding more ways to customise and to make the island and player’s home feel unique is certainly a good thing.

The addition of town ordinances, which were present in New Leaf, will change things up a little and improve the quality-of-life for some players. Being able to shift the island’s activity to earlier or later in the day should allow some players with tight schedules the ability to play more at a more convenient time, and that’s a positive thing. Again, though, I feel like this should really have been part of the game from the beginning – it was part of New Leaf in 2013, so it can hardly be called a “new” feature.

Ordinances return from New Leaf.

Perhaps the one addition that interested me the most was the DIY expansion, particularly cooking. The addition of new vegetables and new crops seems to have opened up a range of new DIY recipes for food – and this looks like something that has the potential to be a lot of fun. New Horizons does have a number of food items already, but adding new ones and different ones that can be created is certainly something I find interesting.

DIY has been a double-edged sword in New Horizons sometimes, though. Item durability – a feature copied from the likes of Minecraft – is almost never handled well in any game, and it doesn’t work well in New Horizons. Having to constantly replace broken tools rapidly stops being fun – if it was ever fun – and the fact that DIY doesn’t work particularly well or especially intuitively has hampered the experience. For example, being able to craft more than one item at a time – particularly for one-time use items like fish bait – would massively improve the experience, as would the ability to craft tools in one step instead of two. Neither of these quality-of-life improvements has been added to New Horizons.

Being able to cook different dishes seems like a fun feature – and something actually new!

The addition of a first-person photo mode looks like fun, but the kind of gimmicky fun that I might use a few times at the most. New hairstyles might be fun for some people – and being able to represent different types of hair in a game is no bad thing. More K.K. Slider songs might be your thing… but it’s definitely not mine!

Being able to set up ladders at particular cliffs is something I can see being useful, even as the number of available inclines is slightly expanded. Also allowing players to navigate smaller gaps in between furniture is likewise something that will be useful in certain circumstances. I wouldn’t say that either are groundbreaking, but smaller quality-of-life improvements like these were definitely needed.

The ability to permanently set up ladders is a small addition, but a decent one.

So let’s talk about money. Everything we’ve discussed so far will be added for free, and that’s no bad thing. New Horizons did promise free updates when it launched. But this update will be the last free one for New Horizons, and the first paid DLC has already been announced.

Considering that there are still missing features, and that some quality-of-life additions, like new dialogue and improvements to crafting, haven’t been made, I can’t be the only one who feels it’s rather bold of Nintendo to begin demanding $25 for an expansion to the game – especially considering the expansion is based on 3DS title Happy Home Designer, and thus is hardly something we can call “new.”

New Horizons is getting its first paid DLC.

It also means that multiplayer mini-games – if they ever come to New Horizons, and it would be such a shame if they didn’t – will now almost certainly be paid DLC as well. The Happy Home Paradise DLC seems like it could be the first of many, and next year could see at least one or two more paid DLC packs as well – which would greatly increase the cost of playing New Horizons in full.

Happy Home Paradise looks like an updated riff on the Happy Home Designer concept. It does add new things, like partition walls, countertops, and so on, some of which can be brought to a player’s main island home as well. I’m not going to argue that Happy Home Paradise should’ve been free – though it absolutely could have been if Nintendo was a more customer-friendly company – but I’m not sure the timing is right considering that the base game will still be missing key features even after this latest – and final – update.

One of the features present in the DLC pack is the ability to build partition walls.

Version 2.0, which will be the final free update for New Horizons, still doesn’t get it over the line. The game is still going to be missing important features that previous entries in the series had. Some of these features – like multiplayer mini-games – gave the Animal Crossing series much of its long-term value, and without them it’s hard to see New Horizons being a game that will live up to the legacy of its predecessors. Don’t get me wrong, practically all of the additions and updates look like fun… but they look like short-term fun at best.

In addition, the game’s final update will do nothing to address player criticisms and complaints about a number of quality-of-life issues, some of which are pretty major. The lack of expanded dialogue for villagers, the lack of fixes for basic DIY issues, and a number of other points have all been ignored by Nintendo in their rush to blitz through New Horizons’ free updates so they could begin selling paid DLC. As a result, New Horizons in its base form is still not good enough for the kind of game it wants to be – and even the addition of this first paid expansion pack won’t address these concerns.

Adding a coffee shop doesn’t fix what’s fundamentally missing from New Horizons.

There are things to look forward to on the fifth of November, and I’m debating whether to jump back into the game or even start a new file in the run-up to the update going live. However, I’m already predicting that many of the new features added into the game will have a relatively short shelf-life, and while they may very well carry New Horizons into the beginning of 2022, the game’s longer-term prospects are still pretty poor.

I judge New Horizons based on how much I enjoyed its predecessor, New Leaf. I played that game on and off for more than seven years because it just had so much to offer and so much going on to convince me to keep coming back. I got bored of New Horizons within a couple of months, and while two months and 100+ hours is definitely a lot of time when compared to many other games, by Animal Crossing standards that’s nothing. Unfortunately everything I’ve seen from this update, and its paid DLC companion, tells me that New Horizons is going to get a short-term fix that will tide fans over for a little while but ultimately does nothing to address the game’s real longevity.

Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong – maybe New Horizons was never meant to be the kind of long-term project that its predecessors were. Perhaps gaming has just changed too much in the past decade or so such that a long-term experience was never something that most players were interested in. If that’s the case then I’m judging New Horizons unfairly. Maybe it was just never meant to be the long-term experience that I expected.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out now for Nintendo Switch. Version 2.0 will launch on the 5th of November 2021 as a free update, and Happy Home Paradise will launch also on the 5th of November 2021 as paid DLC. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 10: First First Contact

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Discovery Season 2, and The Next Generation.

Where has the time gone?! It seems like just yesterday that we were settling in for the premiere episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and now we’re already waving goodbye to the series as the season comes to an end. With a couple of weeks until Prodigy premieres – at least for folks lucky enough to have Paramount+ – and with Discovery Season 4 still a month away, there’s going to be a gaping hole in my entertainment schedule!

In the days ahead I’d like to take a look back at the season as a whole, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website. But for now we’ve got one final episode to get stuck into, so let’s talk about First First Contact!

The episode’s title card.

The episode was surprisingly emotional, presenting the crew with a difficult scientific problem to solve and pushing them to work together, harder than ever before, to save both a stricken starship in jeopardy and an entire planet. It brought back a well-liked character from The Next Generation, gave all four ensigns moments of character development, and had a stunning climax that both mirrored the finale of Season 1 while showing how far the Cerritos and her crew have come. And then, to cap it all off, First First Contact ended on a truly shocking cliff-hanger – one we’ll have to wait until next summer to see resolved!

Sometimes Lower Decks has felt like it’s bitten off more than it could chew, with too many characters and story threads in play such that some or all weren’t all they could have been. But despite First First Contact giving each of its main characters a role to play, as well as bringing in guest stars and recurring characters, it primarily stuck to one main story throughout and thus allowed everyone to participate in that story in a way that felt natural. No character felt under-used, and the story was well-paced.

There were a lot of characters in play in First First Contact.

There were a handful of minor contrivances that we should acknowledge. In order to give all four ensigns a significant role in the story, particularly after three of the four were sidelined last week, the plot of First First Contact did include a little forced drama. There’s nothing wrong with that sometimes, and it isn’t a criticism! But things like Tendi being transferred and Rutherford’s sudden concern about saving backup memories did feel a little contrived. It was done to give everyone a role in the story as well as to give each of the four a strong emotional moment, so I think it’s excusable in that context.

Usually I’d pick on one storyline or sub-plot that I felt was the weakest, but honestly on this occasion every aspect of the episode feels as strong as every other. The drama began during the pre-titles sequence, when Ensign Mariner overheard that Captain Freeman will be offered a transfer to a bigger and better ship – and won’t be able to bring any of her crew or senior staff with her. From there the episode continually upped the stakes, resulting in a tense, exciting, and emotional episode. It was a wild ride from start to finish!

Mariner overheard the news of Captain Freeman’s promotion.

Since we mentioned Captain Freeman, let’s start there. It makes sense that, in light of her achievements particularly with the Pakled conflict but also in other areas, that she’d be a promotion target. She’s been a strong captain across the show’s first two seasons, and I’m sure that Starfleet is always on the lookout for officers like Captain Freeman. We’ve heard on a number of occasions that California-class ships are pretty low down in the Starfleet hierarchy, so transferring a senior officer from a “lowly” post to a more significant post is something I can absolutely imagine the organisation would do – it is, after all, a meritocracy.

What I didn’t like about this transfer storyline was the notion that Starfleet command appears to have essentially written off people like Billups, Shaxs, and especially Freeman’s first officer Commander Ransom. This is one of the aforementioned plot contrivances, as it was necessary for the senior staff to be upset with Captain Freeman to give this aspect of the story some more weight. But purely from an in-universe point of view, I didn’t really like that Starfleet was basically saying that the senior staff of the Cerritos are California-class quality and can never be anything more than that. It kind of undermines the meritocratic nature of the organisation that we were just celebrating!

Apparently Starfleet doesn’t rate California-class officers very highly.

It was interesting to see the senior staff and Captain Freeman at odds with one another, though. That’s something Lower Decks hasn’t really tried before, and it worked well. Both sides are right in their own ways – Captain Freeman wanted to wait for the right moment to discuss the subject, especially with an important mission at hand. But the rest of the senior staff had every right to be upset at being kept out of the loop.

Mariner was, of course, the instigator of this drama. But her arc across the episode didn’t undermine her character progression that we’ve come to see and love over the past two seasons. Her acting out on this occasion wasn’t caused by a desire to be a chaotic troublemaker, but actually came from a place of genuine love. She’s come to enjoy working with her mother, especially since the events of Season 1’s Crisis Point and the unveiling of their family connection in Season 1’s No Small Parts. The idea that she was going to lose her mother after having only recently begun to enjoy their new dynamic was something she found impossible to deal with at first, prompting her to tell the senior staff and cause what she knew would be a fight.

Mariner spilled the beans on purpose.

In some ways, the argument between Mariner and Freeman earlier in the episode – in which Mariner told the captain she’d never want to work with her ever again – did feel regressive. In the moment it seemed as though the progress Mariner had made in her relationship with her mother – which was also reflected in her attitude toward working in Starfleet – was slipping back to its early Season 1 state. But as the story moved along and we came to understand why Mariner was so upset it all made perfect sense and the pieces fell into place.

One of my favourite things about Lower Decks over its first two seasons as a whole has been the way Ensign Mariner’s characterisation has been handled, and First First Contact was the icing on the cake. We got to see firsthand just how much serving with her mother has come to mean to her, and how devastated she was at the thought of losing her. It wasn’t, as she claimed at first, because Captain Freeman would protect her from getting court-martialled! She genuinely came to care about their rebuilt relationship, and that changed her attitude toward at least some of the work she does as an ensign. It’s been a wonderful transformation to see play out, and it needed two full seasons with these moments scattered along the way to properly unfold.

Captain Freeman and Mariner have a heart-to-heart on the bridge.

We also got a moment between Tendi and Mariner that built on their solo adventure in We’ll Always Have Tom Paris earlier in the season. As Mariner was struggling, it was Tendi who snapped at her and finally got her to see sense. I loved her line about friendship, it really knitted together all of the loose ends of Mariner’s season-long character arc. We’ve learned how she’s been avoiding making friendships and pushing people away because she fears losing those friends when they inevitably move on, but as she found with Rutherford, Tendi, and Boimler she doesn’t have to be frightened of that. That conversation prompted her to rush to the bridge and have a heart-to-heart with the captain in what was perhaps the sweetest moment in the entire episode.

Jennifer the Andorian has been a background character this season, and if I were to nitpick Mariner’s storyline in First First Contact I’d say that the Jennifer rivalry wasn’t as well-developed as it could’ve been prior to its resolution at the end of the episode. We’d seen Mariner mention her a couple of times, particularly in the season premiere, Strange Energies. But Mariner’s big rivalry with a secondary character in Season 2 came with Jet in the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open. There was enough of a Mariner-Jennifer conflict to make the way they resolved things work – and I loved seeing Jennifer come to Mariner’s rescue – but it could have been developed further before they sat down together.

Mariner and Jennifer the Andorian made up in the end.

I wasn’t certain if Mariner’s line about “liking” Jennifer when they talked in the bar meant that she has a crush or some kind of romantic feelings toward her, though Jennifer’s reaction seemed to suggest that. Mariner has previously said that she’s dated males, females, and non-binary people, so I think we can infer that she’s pansexual and would thus not be averse to dating someone like Jennifer. Watch this space, because I think it could be interesting to give Mariner a romantic relationship in future.

Rutherford’s story was perhaps the shortest this week. He spent much of his time with Tendi, racing around the ship after she misunderstood Dr T’Ana and felt she was going to be transferred. The Tendi-Rutherford pairing has always worked well, and the pair revisited some of their earlier haunts, including the Jefferies tube where they spent time together in the episode Envoys back in Season 1.

Tendi and Rutherford back in the Jefferies tube.

His main concern this time came from his missing memories, and his desire to never again forget any part of his friendship with Tendi. It was very sweet that Rutherford would be so cautious about backing up his memories after losing them at the end of Season 1, but as with the only other real mention of this storyline this season, I feel like this story came a bit late in the day. Rutherford’s memory loss could have been more than Lower Decks ultimately made of it, and while this week it did lead to a couple of sweet moments both with Tendi and with Billups, I still feel it could’ve been handled better overall.

The visual gag of the pop-up was funny, though, and gave Rutherford a reason to let Tendi guide him – literally as well as figuratively. We know from episodes like Crisis Point that Rutherford has a great respect for Billups, so it made perfect sense for Billups to be the one he’d turn to for advice. He listened to Billups’ advice too, eventually deleting his backups to free up space in his implant.

Rutherford went to Billups for advice – both technical and emotional!

Rutherford’s cyborg status had never been called into question. Everyone on the crew simply accepted him for who he was, and that appeared to be that! However, First First Contact has set up an interesting mystery in regards to Rutherford’s cybernetics: who were the mysterious figures seen augmenting him, and if he didn’t choose to be augmented voluntarily, why does he have his implant? I have no doubt this will be explored in Season 3, so watch this space!

Lower Decks has never been particularly bothered about borrowing themes and character types from Discovery, preferring instead to focus on The Next Generation era. But in Rutherford we have a character who has at least some similarities to Discovery’s Airiam – a character who really only came into her own shortly before her death in Season 2. Airiam was similarly a cybernetically-augmented human, though her cybernetics were a result of an accident she suffered. Rutherford’s suppressed memories could hint at a similar fate – perhaps he was injured while on some clandestine assignment for Starfleet. Maybe Section 31 are involved! In future I might write up some of my guesses about Rutherford’s pre-augmentation past, so be sure to stay tuned for that.

Who could these mysterious figures be? And what did they do to Rutherford?

Though it went somewhat understated in the episode, Rutherford came up with the idea that ultimately saved the day – for the second season finale in a row! It was his plan to jettison the Cerritos’ outer hull that allowed them to make it through the asteroid field in time to save the USS Archimedes, and in an episode that wasn’t all about Rutherford it was nice that he got one of the most significant story moments. First First Contact had several key moments that mirrored the Season 1 finale, No Small Parts, and this was the first of them.

It never seemed plausible that Tendi was so bad at her job that she’d be kicked off the ship, and as mentioned this storyline did feel a little contrived. But it gave Tendi the opportunity to spend time with Rutherford and to give Mariner the talk that she needed to come to her senses and fix her relationship with Captain Freeman. I think it gets a pass in that regard!

Tendi eavesdropping on Dr T’Ana.

“Overhearing something and misunderstanding it” is a bit of a sitcom cliché, but it was generally handled well in the episode, and the moments where Tendi felt like she had to run and hide from Dr T’Ana were kind of funny. It ultimately led to a cute resolution with the pair hugging it out – and Dr T’Ana purring! I’ve said on a number of occasions that I love how Lower Decks has played up the cat-like features of Dr T’Ana, and this was yet another example of that.

However, as a concept I’m not really sure I follow what this storyline wanted to say. Though medical and science are related departments they’re hardly the same thing, and transferring someone who wants to work in medical to a science position doesn’t necessarily feel like a promotion. To be fair, Tendi has never really settled into a specific role in a specific department on the ship – only Rutherford really feels settled as an engineer; the other three ensigns appear to get a variety of different roles depending on the needs of individual episodes. But having Tendi in sickbay has generally worked very well.

Tendi and Dr T’Ana share a hug at the close of their storyline.

Tendi makes for a great medical officer, both from an in-universe and story point of view. We saw this firsthand this week when her quick thinking, ability to stay calm, and medical training helped her save Boimler’s life. Her kindness is a stark contrast to Dr T’Ana’s grumpy nature when dealing with patients, and she’s always seemed to know a lot about biology and medical science – even creating her own animal, The Dog, in the Season 1 episode Much Ado About Boimler. I just didn’t feel that Tendi was in any way trying to position herself for a transfer to a more scientific role, and as recently as I, Excretus a couple of weeks ago seemed thrilled at the idea of taking on the role of chief medical officer.

I wonder if this is just another contrivance for the sake of this episode, and whether we’ll actually see Tendi assigned to scientific bridge duties beginning in Season 3. It would be no bad thing to give her moments on the bridge, particularly if Mariner and/or Boimler are also present at the helm or navigation positions, so perhaps this should be seen more as an expansion of Tendi’s roles aboard the ship rather than a straight transfer. Hopefully shuffling her out of sickbay – if indeed it does happen – won’t mean we get to spend less time with Dr T’Ana; she’s one of my favourite characters!

Dr T’Ana is undeniably awesome.

Boimler got some sweet moments this week. Making a banner for Captain Freeman – based on the famous “Captain Picard Day” banner that recently reappeared in the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard – was incredibly cute, and I’m never not impressed with Boimler’s enthusiasm for his ship, his captain, and all things Starfleet.

He also got to save the day, diving down to release the final exterior hull panel while Mariner rushed to the bridge. Mariner, as mentioned, definitely needed this moment with Captain Freeman to resolve their conflict, but I liked that it gave Boimler the chance to play the hero for a change. We’ve seen Boimler step up while under pressure before, particularly in the episode Kayshon, His Eyes Open earlier in the season. But on this occasion his actions saved two starships and a whole planet – so that’s pretty great going!

Boimler saved the day!

The change in Boimler’s characterisation across Lower Decks’ first couple of seasons has been more subtle when compared with what we’ve seen from Mariner, but when we see Boimler being prepared to take on a difficult task like this, it’s hard to see how the Boimler we met at the beginning of Season 1 would’ve had the confidence to do so. His friendships with Tendi, Rutherford, and especially Mariner – as well as his jaunt aboard the Titan – have seen him grow in confidence. He still has his anxieties and neuroses, but he’s become a more confident person since we met him. That arc has likewise been incredibly satisfying, and culminates in moments like this one.

Are the dolphins aboard the Cerritos Earth dolphins, do we think? It was certainly implied that they could be based on their familiar dolphin chittering! If so, it raises a very interesting question: is Earth now home to more than one sentient life-form? We’d seen with the Xindi that multiple sentient races can evolve on a single world, so it isn’t impossible! Dolphins are, from a real-world point of view, very intelligent. So are crows, so maybe Lower Decks could introduce us to a sentient crow one day! Crows have, after all, recently entered their very own stone age. That might sound bonkers, but it’s true.

Two dolphin Starfleet officers.

It was very sweet that First First Contact brought back the character of Sonya Gomez. We first met her in Q Who, back in Season 2 of The Next Generation, and in the years since she’s clearly done very well for herself – rising all the way to the rank of captain. Lycia Naff, who played the character in The Next Generation, made a welcome return to Star Trek to reprise her role.

Captain Gomez got a very sweet, very poetic moment with an ensign on the bridge of the Archimedes that harkened back to her famous clumsy moment with Captain Picard in Q Who. For us as the audience – and perhaps for the actor too – that moment was a cute way to bring things full-circle, as well as showing off just how much Gomez has grown and changed over the course of her career. She’s in charge of an Excelsior-class ship – and the design of one of my favourite ships was beautifully incorporated into Lower Decks’ animated style.

Captain Sonya Gomez of the USS Archimedes!

Unlike a couple of other guest-stars across both seasons of Lower Decks, Captain Gomez’s role felt substantial. She and her ship weren’t on screen the entire time, but the role they played was significant, both as a driving force for the events of the episode but also in its own right as the reappearance of a significant and well-liked character. It was handled well and it was great to see Captain Gomez in action once more.

In a moment of symmetry with the Season 1 finale, this time the USS Cerritos got to be the ship that saved the day! In No Small Parts the Titan, under the command of Captain Riker, came racing to the aid of the Cerritos when the battle against the Pakleds seemed to be going badly. In First First Contact it was the Cerritos that swooped in to save the Archimedes – and a bridge officer aboard Captain Gomez’s ship even used the same line as Boimler in the Season 1 finale: “it’s the Cerritos!” That moment really got me; it was perfectly poetic, and a fantastic way for the story to end.

“It’s the Cerritos!” A poetic moment of symmetry.

First First Contact presented the crews of the Cerritos and Archimedes with a scientific problem, not a military one. It’s easy to think that Star Trek is at its most exciting and action-packed when there are enemies to fight and battles to participate in, but for me the franchise has always been at its best when it’s looking at exploration and scientific puzzles. First First Contact absolutely epitomises the spirit of Star Trek as a show about science, exploration, and the wild, wonderful, and occasionally dangerous galaxy that awaits humanity beyond Earth.

By presenting the crew with a scientific puzzle, one that wasn’t easy to solve, First First Contact showed how amazing and exciting Star Trek can be when there are no Borg or Klingons or Pakleds bearing down on our heroes. The episode was so well-paced that we really got a sense of this race against time to get the ship ready to race through the asteroids and rescue not only the Archimedes but the planet it was threatening to crash into.

The episode gave the crew a science-based problem to overcome.

I was a little concerned, particularly as Commander Ransom did his best to navigate the asteroid field, that there’d be some kind of deus ex machina ending – the Archimedes would have saved itself or another ship (like the Titan) would have beaten the Cerritos to the punch, with the joke being that all of the crew’s hard work was for nothing. As a comedy series first and foremost, that kind of storyline is always a possibility. But having seen Captain Freeman and the whole crew go to so much effort such an ending would have really fallen flat, and I’m glad that, on this occasion at least, Lower Decks allowed the crew a huge win.

Rescuing the Archimedes was a very emotional moment in what was already an emotional story. The crew came together, despite their initial differences, and pulled off a one-of-a-kind rescue mission. We’ve never seen the likes of this in Star Trek before, yet the idea of stripping off a ship’s outer hull when not at warp feels like it fits perfectly with what we know of the way starships work. It was a fantastic story idea, and it came to fruition perfectly in the finished episode.

The Cerritos tractors the Archimedes to safety.

So we come to the final scenes! After expecting to be offered a promotion, Captain Freeman was arrested by Starfleet security, charged with bombing the Pakleds’ homeworld. This was a truly unexpected twist; it had seemed as though wej Duj last week wanted to draw a line under the Pakled conflict storyline. It was, somewhat unfortunately, the second “misunderstanding” scene after Tendi’s conversation with Dr T’Ana, but I guess that couldn’t be helped.

This epilogue was almost certainly added into the episode later, once the team knew that Season 3 was officially confirmed, as it didn’t flow at all from anything else in the story. It’s left Lower Decks on a cliff-hanger – one which we’ll have to wait a long time to see resolved! That’s not new for Star Trek, of course, as many seasons have done something similar in the past. It was definitely a shocking twist, and it was very well-executed. Even as Captain Freeman walked into the room I had no idea what was about to happen.

Captain Freeman was arrested – and we’ll have to wait almost a year to find out what happens next!

Obviously we know Captain Freeman is innocent – and surely she’ll be able to prove that. But we won’t get to see how that happens until Lower Decks returns next year (well, I hope it’ll be next year!) so I guess we’ll have to sit on our hands until then! Did the Pakleds accidentally blow up their own planet? Or did the rogue Klingon commander from wej Duj plant the bomb as a contingency plan to ensure war would break out? There are a few different possibilities – but if Season 2 has been any guide, Lower Decks won’t go down any path that we might expect!

So that was First First Contact – and that was Lower Decks Season 2! There were a couple of episodes that didn’t hit every high note that I’d have wanted, but overall the season as a whole was fantastic. We got some incredibly fun Star Trek hijinks with the crew of the Cerritos, plenty of unexpected twists and turns, the return of several classic characters, and some wonderful moments of characterisation and drama. It’s been an outstanding ten weeks – and I can hardly wait for Season 3.

Stay tuned here on the website, because sometime soon I’ll write up a retrospective look at Season 2. There are also a couple of theories relating to the Pakled bomb and to Rutherford’s background that might get the full write-up treatment in the run-up to Season 3. Although Season 3 is undoubtedly a long way off – ten months or more, at least – if and when we start to get information about the series, casting announcements, or a teaser trailer I’ll also be taking a look at those as well. It’s sad to bid farewell to Lower Decks – but it’s only a couple of weeks now until Prodigy arrives!

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits – full review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been out for three weeks now, and I finally got around to finishing the game the other day. I like to take my time with a game I’m enjoying, so I didn’t blitz through it at lightning speed! I’d been looking forward to Kena: Bridge of Spirits for months, and my first impressions of the game were fantastic. I already knew that I’d found something special in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but having gone through the full experience I can now say with certainty that this is by far the best game I’ve played in all of 2021.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a rare offering: a visually beautiful game taking advantage of the best of modern graphics combined with an older style of gameplay that feels intuitive and uncomplicated. As silly as it may sound, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is unapologetically a video game – it doesn’t pretend to be an interactive movie. It also ignores many of the tropes of modern gaming: no “expansive open world,” no cluttered heads-up display with arrows pointing exactly where to go, no pop-up tips telling you precisely what combination of buttons to press to solve a puzzle. The game plays, in some respects, like a 3D action-platformer from the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 1 era – and I’m absolutely there for that kind of classic gameplay style!

Promo artwork for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

There are three main “levels” plus a brief tutorial, and with each stage the titular heroine Kena learns a new power that helps her navigate the game world, solve puzzles, and engage in some occasionally complex platforming. Each of the three sections is dedicated to helping track down relics and memories necessary to help a wayward spirit so that Kena can ultimately make her way to the mountain shrine. The story is mostly contained within cut-scenes that are seamlessly woven into gameplay, with Kena triggering a cut-scene upon beating a major boss or discovering a memory.

At first three levels broken down into a few different parts might not seem like a lot, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t the world’s longest game by any stretch. My playthrough, in which I completed the game and found as many hidden items and unlockables as reasonably possible, clocked in at 11 hours and 43 minutes. Anywhere from 9-12 hours seems to be a good guide based on online sources. For £30-35 (approx. $40) I felt that the game offered excellent value at that length.

Kena collecting one of the Rot.

Speaking of unlockables and collectibles, Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t go overboard in the way some titles do. Collecting the Rot – Kena’s adorable little companions – didn’t only feel like a natural part of gameplay, but having more Rot on your team allowed for more attacks and more powerful attacks which gave Kena an advantage particularly during boss fights. This made looking for hidden Rot feel worthwhile, and not just like typical open-world busywork in the way collect-a-thons in many modern games can.

There were also gems to collect, which were found hidden in chests, barrels, pots, and the like across the map. Gems can be spent on Rot hats, and while these aesthetic elements don’t have a gameplay impact, it was a lot of fun to collect the various hats and give different Rot different looks. By the end of the game, my 80+ Rot had dozens of different styles, including absolutely adorable ones like a dinosaur hat, a baseball cap, and even a cowboy hat. Anyone who loves animals or cute things will have a blast with the Rot and their hats, that’s for sure!

A Rot wearing the dinosaur hat – with examples of other available hats at the hat cart.

The Rot added a lot to gameplay as well. Kena could use the Rot to heal herself in combat, and the limited number of Rot Actions meant that timing became a consideration, particularly during long boss battles. Figuring out when to use the Rot and in what way added a much-needed extra dimension to combat. Otherwise, Kena had a light and heavy melee attack, a light and heavy ranged attack, and eventually a bomb as well. Each of these could be upgraded to deal more damage or to give Kena extra ammunition, and each could also be upgraded to give a Rot-powered attack.

The choice in some combat encounters was often between using a powerful Rot attack or using the Rot to heal, and it wasn’t always an easy decision to make! My personal favourite was the Rot-upgraded ranged attack, known in-game as the Rot Arrow, as this powerful attack was effective against many different enemies.

Kena using an upgraded Rot attack.

Kena was also equipped with a shield, which could also be upgraded, and a dodge/roll ability. By the end of the game she had also learned one final power: dash. In some boss fights, keeping out of range of a powerful boss who could do a huge amount of damage meant hitting the dodge button repeatedly! As the game progressed and Kena encountered a number of different enemy types, combat encounters became more varied. There were flying enemies, ghostly enemies that needed to be made corporeal before any attacks would harm them, and a range of different melee and ranged enemies, and they would appear in different combinations during combat.

If I were to make one criticism of the combat it would be that there were a couple of random difficulty spikes. At a relatively early point in the game I encountered a boss who, even on the easiest difficulty setting, could kill Kena in three hits. After he’d struck once, Kena was sent flying through the air and before she could recover had been hit a second time. This boss fight took a few attempts to complete, and while I admit I’m by no means the world’s best gamer, I felt that this spike in difficulty was noticeable. The boss was so much more difficult to defeat than any enemy before him, yet after beating him the game seemed to return to normal. It was odd – and frustrating!

This early boss fight was particularly difficult for some reason.

Aside from those couple of particularly difficult boss encounters, combat in Kena: Bridge of Spirits was outstanding. The relative simplicity of giving Kena one weapon – her magical staff – but allowing it to be used in three very different ways was interesting and fun. It also kept things uncomplicated, and I never felt like I had “forgotten” about some powerful attack or spell! Some games which offer a huge variety of weapons in a player’s arsenal can be overwhelming, and when the majority of players only use a handful of attacks at the most, there’s something to be said for keeping the options simple.

Despite that, there was still plenty of variety. Kena had light and heavy options for both melee attacks and ranged attacks, as well as a bomb – and then there were the aforementioned Rot-upgraded attacks that dealt more damage. There were enough options that I felt I had a choice of how to take out enemies and bosses, but not so many options that I felt overwhelmed or that combat was too complicated.

Kena using her ranged attack.

Kena’s magical staff and its different abilities also played a major role in traversing the game world. Arrows could be fired at targets that pulled Kena across long distances, and bombs could be used on certain highlighted areas to create new platforms for Kena to jump across. Arrows could also be fired to rotate platforms into the correct alignment, and later in the game Kena could use her dash ability to cross through portals and even jump across gaps too wide for her standard jump or double jump. Combining different powers and abilities led to plenty of variety when it came to exploring the game’s stunningly beautiful world.

There was a lot of platforming in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and I loved that. When handled well, 3D platforming can be a huge amount of fun and offers incredibly rewarding gameplay, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits absolutely nailed that aspect of gameplay. Puzzles were complicated enough to not be incredibly obvious, yet simple enough that I never once needed to look up a solution online. I was always able to figure out what to do, where to go, and how to solve the platforming puzzles that the game presented based on what I’d learned through gameplay, and that’s a difficult balance for a game to get right!

Kena has to combine her powers and skills to traverse the game world.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits doesn’t hold your hand, though. After introducing you to a new power or attack that Kena can use, the game drops you into a new section of the map where that power can be used to its full effect. But there are no other hints pushing you in the right direction nor telling you how to solve a puzzle. It’s up to the player to use what they’ve learned and figure out how to get from point A to point B to keep the story moving, and I like that the game is bold enough not to offer too much help.

Many modern games across practically every genre hold players hands the whole time. I’ve played racing games that literally have an on-screen arrow the entire time, pointing exactly where to go, telling you when to slow down, speed up, etc. And games like Skyrim started the fad of having on-screen pointers guiding you to your precise destination. I’m a huge believer in accessibility features for disabled gamers, as I’m disabled myself, but even I consider that some of these features go too far for my personal taste. Kena: Bridge of Spirits was delightfully old-fashioned in that regard. It doesn’t drag you along the path it wants you to take, instead setting you down with all of the skills you need to walk the path alone and leaving you to do so.

Hanging from a ledge early in the game.

Fun combat and great platforming wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable, though, if Kena: Bridge of Spirits didn’t have an interesting and engaging story holding it all together. I was very keen during my playthrough to avoid spoilers, and the game was definitely much more enjoyable for experiencing the highs and lows of Kena’s journey first-hand.

Kena’s quest to reach the mountain shrine is motivated by the loss of her father, and this aspect of the story was quite emotional. Seeing Kena as a young child at one point really hammered home how this quest has been years in the making for her. At the same time, though, Kena was incredibly empathetic to the spirits she met along the way – even those she had to do battle with. Defeating one of the game’s three big bosses didn’t kill them – instead Kena, as a spirit guide, helped them overcome whatever was keeping them trapped in this world and make the transition to the spirit realm. She showed genuine empathy to everyone she encountered, and while she was on a mission of her own, she showed no hesitation when it came to getting side-tracked to help others.

Kena with her younger self in the spirit realm.

At the same time, going off in different directions didn’t feel like Kena was being sent on some disconnected side-mission. Helping Taro, the game’s first spirit, and Adira, the second spirit, were both presented as the next step to reaching the mountain shrine, and Kena was happy to help both of those spirits along with helping herself and moving her quest forward. The story thus flowed smoothly from point to point with nothing feeling unnecessary or like time-wasting fluff.

The third spirit Kena had to help was Toshi, and he was directly in the way of Kena’s progress to the mountain shrine, so once again this felt like a natural progression of the story.

That being said, I think the way the game was structured meant that coming to the aid of three spirits was probably the maximum the story could’ve gotten away with. Adding in any more might well have made them feel like unnecessary hurdles, and the fact that each spirit had three relics to collect before engaging in a boss fight would have risked becoming repetitive had it been repeated many more times. Three spirits was a good number, then, based on the way the game chose to handle each of them.

Kena helped several spirits while on her journey.

As well as learning of Kena’s father, the game had a number of emotional moments. Each of the spirits genuinely wanted to help their families or the people of their village, and letting go of what was anchoring them made all three cut-scenes after the big boss battles feel genuinely emotional. I may have shed a tear on more than one occasion!

Toward the end of the game, having collected many Rot (and many Rot hats) in different places and in different ways, Toshi stole all of the Rot from Kena after the first of two epic climactic battles. Seeing her lose her companions was heart-breaking – and definitely got me riled up for the next phase of the fight! After saving the Rot and defeating Toshi, allowing his spirit to achieve peace, the Rot were transformed back into their true form, a form which resembled a giant panther or cat. As a cat lover myself, this was an incredibly sweet moment; the high point of the game’s final story.

The Rot – restored to their true form.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits does seem to have left things open-ended, though. We didn’t get to see what happened after Kena achieved her goal and meditated at the mountain shrine, with the credits rolling after she settled down to meditate having saved and restored the Rot. Did she find her father, or information about him? Did she find something else that she didn’t know she was seeking?

Perhaps the game is teasing an expansion or sequel in future, and if that’s the case I’m absolutely going to be there! As it is, though, after the emotional loss of the Rot, the big battle to save them, and ultimately letting them go to restore their true form and bring balance back to the forest, for Kena to just plop down and close her eyes risks feeling like a bit of an anticlimactic ending. We saw her reach the goal she’d been working towards for the entire game, but we didn’t get to see what, if anything, that moment meant to her.

Kena made it to the mountain shrine… but what will happen next?

This could certainly be setting up a continuation of Kena’s story, and I’m okay with that. As things sit, her story doesn’t yet feel complete. I’m wondering what the future might hold for her! At the same time, developers Ember Lab did such a fantastic job on what is their debut game that I’d love to see them tackle a different project in future. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been a huge success, topping the charts here in the UK and elsewhere, so the studio has the world at its feet. Should they simply move on to a sequel right away, or might they want to turn their attention to other projects?

Overall, I had a wonderful time playing Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s by far the best game I’ve played all year, and I don’t think it will be surpassed in the next couple of months before 2022 rolls around! It was one of those games where I didn’t want to rush through it too quickly; I wanted to preserve this moment in time and keep enjoying it for as long as I possibly could.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a visual masterpiece, a uniquely-styled game pushing modern-day graphics to their limit. It’s also a wonderful return to a style of gameplay that has fallen out of favour in recent years. Every element has clearly been lovingly crafted and honed to near-perfection, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the copyright of Ember Lab. Some promotional artwork courtesy of Ember Lab. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 theory: The abandoned Borg origin story

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, First Contact, and The Next Generation.

While Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was running I wasn’t writing about the show; it wasn’t until November 2019 that I founded this website. Because of that I have a number of theories and ideas kicking around from the first two seasons of Discovery that I haven’t found time to talk about yet! On this occasion we’re going to look into one idea I had during Season 2 that has both in-universe and production-side elements to it – the “Borg origin story.”

I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg. Shortly after the season ended a friend of mine from way back was in the area for a visit, and we got talking about precisely this subject – yes, we’re both huge geeks! I’m also well aware that other fans have posited some variant or other of this theory online both during and after the season’s run, so please don’t interpret this article as me claiming to have independently and uniquely come up with this idea!

We’re revisiting Season 2 on this occasion!

Here’s the theory in brief: the Control AI, which was the main adversary during the story of Season 2, was originally intended to be the progenitor of the Borg. Its use of nano-technology, its ability to “assimilate” organic beings, and its murderous quest for true sentience that, if left unchecked, would have wiped out all sentient life in the galaxy are all indicators of this. In addition, the inclusion of time travel and the Red Angel suits in the story could have teed up a situation where Control was able to travel backwards through time and far across the galaxy in order to become the originator of the Borg Collective.

Because of Control’s similarities to the Borg in terms of its use of nanites, its single-mindedness, and its lack of care for the survival of organic individuals, this felt like a very real prospect right up until the final moments of the season finale. I really do wonder whether a Borg origin story was included in the original draft of Season 2, perhaps being modified later on once production had already commenced. What we saw on screen would thus contain the residual elements of that story, but with a different ending written – one which sent Burnham and the USS Discovery into the far future.

Captain Leland being “assimilated” by Control.

It’s this decision which I believe would be responsible for changing the story – if indeed such a change were mandated. Discovery had received criticism in Season 1 for its real or perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon, and it’s this reaction which surely contributed to sending the ship and crew far into the future. It could be that Season 2 was hastily re-written to include the time travel ending, dropping the Borg origin story in the process.

As a narrative concept, the idea that it was the Federation, through out-of-control technological and AI research, who inadvertently created the biggest threat to themselves and to the wider galaxy would be an incredibly impactful one, and something ripe for exploration in detail. The cyclical nature of such a story, with the Federation creating the Borg, then the Borg one day coming for the Federation, could be absolutely phenomenal if done well, and would highlight the morally questionable actions of senior Federation leaders and Starfleet admirals.

Admiral Patar – one of the senior figures involved in the Control AI project.

It would also be profoundly ironic that the Borg – almost universally acknowledged as the Federation’s biggest adversary – were ultimately a Federation creation. This revelation would have a huge impact on the Federation as a whole – and on our crew of Starfleet heroes when they discovered it – and could form the basis for a new Borg story that would surpass even the likes of The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact in its scope.

Had Discovery gone down this road in Season 2, it may not have fallen to Michael Burnham and the crew to be the ones to learn of the consequences of their battle to defeat Control. Picard Season 1 could have picked up this storyline, with information stored aboard the Artifact (the abandoned Borg Cube) finally revealing the Borg’s origins to the Federation more than a century later. This would have tied the two shows together in a very real and significant way – something I’ve argued on a number of occasions that Star Trek needs to be more adept at doing.

The Artifact in Picard Season 1.

In canon, we don’t know much about the Borg’s early history. The Control AI could have been slotted into the bits and pieces that we do know in a way that didn’t overwrite anything we’ve seen or been told on screen, with every past Borg story being allowed to unfold exactly as we know they did.

In-universe, the Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant “thousands of centuries” before the 24th Century. There was an original Borg race – a race of purely organic beings – but they began using nanotechnology and augmenting themselves, and eventually hooked up every facet of themselves to the Hive Mind. As of the late 15th Century, the Borg had assimilated a number of neighbouring star systems, but weren’t anywhere near as large as they would come to be in the 24th Century. Nothing in the early history of the Borg precludes the involvement of an outside force – the Control AI. It could have been the Control AI’s arrival on the world populated by the Borg’s organic ancestors that led them down a path of assimilation and augmentation.

Borg assimilation in the 24th Century.

The Red Angel suits and time crystals present in Season 2 would have provided Control with a method of travelling backwards through time. And as Dr Gabrielle Burnham found to her cost, the Red Angel suits are imperfect and prone to malfunctioning. Based on these pieces of evidence, it would’ve been possible for Control to have seized a Red Angel suit with the intention of travelling either backwards or forwards in time to defeat Captain Pike and Discovery, only for something to go wrong – emerging on the far side of the galaxy millennia in the past.

We are now firmly in the realm of speculation! But had such a scenario come to pass, Control may have found itself alone in the vicinity of a planet populated by humanoids: the Borg’s organic ancestors. Control may have begun the process of assimilating them, injecting its nanotechnology into more and more individuals and bending them to its will.

Control used nanites to “assimilate” Captain Leland.

Control had a forceful personality, but we don’t know what effect mass assimilations of individuals would have had on it. Would it have retained its own personality in the face of potentially thousands or millions of new “drones” – or would its own personality have begun to change, impacted by the personalities and desires of those it assimilated? Perhaps this is where the Borg’s quest for perfection comes from.

This could also explain why the Borg seemed not to recognise humanity or the Federation upon re-encountering them millennia later: Control had simply forgotten its origins, or whatever remained of Control within the Borg Collective was so small and insignificant that the knowledge of its creators had been lost. As the Borg continued to evolve and assimilated more and more beings, perhaps Control’s personality didn’t survive intact.

Perhaps the Borg had forgotten their origins by the time they encountered the Enterprise-D.

Alternatively, we could have learned that the Borg did retain all of Control’s memories and knowledge – but simply chose not to make the Federation aware of the connection during their encounters. This could be the Borg’s equivalent of “forbidden knowledge,” something kept secret and known only to the Borg Queen – who may be an embodiment of the evolved Control AI.

It would make sense from the Borg’s point of view not to allow Starfleet to find out about the connection to Control – perhaps out of fear that the Federation could use that information to find a weakness in the Borg’s core synthetic programming. It would only be when Starfleet had access to a derelict but intact Borg vessel – like the Artifact from Picard Season 1 – that they’d be able to hack into the Borg’s systems deeply enough to learn the truth.

The Borg Queen could be a new avatar for the evolved Control AI.

So that’s the theory, along with a couple of different ways it could have panned out.

I wouldn’t say I was “100% convinced” that this was going to happen as Season 2 rolled on, but it certainly felt like a distinct possibility. When I later saw the Artifact featured in the trailers for Picard Season 1 I wondered if the reason this story didn’t come to pass was because Picard actually had a Borg origin story of its own in the works!

Had this theory made it to screen I think we could’ve seen one of the most interesting connections between Discovery and the wider Star Trek franchise. Borg stories could be seen through a wholly new lens, and the themes of rogue artificial intelligence that both Discovery and Picard examined in their respective storylines could have been elevated by this “creation wants to destroy its creator” angle. That isn’t something original in science fiction, but it would have been a uniquely “Star Trek” take on the concept.

Borg drones from First Contact.

Whether a Borg origin story was actually present in the original Season 2 pitch or not is something we may never know. However, the team behind Season 2 must have been aware of the similarities between the way Control operated and the way the Borg have always been depicted, and I can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Someone involved in the production of Season 2 must have at least raised the point that the story was going down a very Borg-esque road!

To me it feels like any attempt to tell a story of this nature was superseded by the decision to take Discovery out of the 23rd Century altogether. If there was only room for one time travel ending to the season, the one that was chosen was to send the ship and crew into the far future. Control was left behind in the 23rd Century and seemingly defeated by Captain Pike, so any chance of it having a role in the creation of the Borg now seems to be entirely off the table.

Perhaps all of this was simply misdirection; the writers and producers of the season putting out deliberate red herrings so that fans wouldn’t figure out the ultimate direction of the story! If that’s the case, they definitely got me! Even if that’s what happened, though, as a concept the idea that the Federation accidentally created the Borg is one that could have led to some absolutely fascinating stories. Perhaps we’ll see something like it one day!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – new trailer analysis

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

As many folks had predicted, 2021’s New York Comic-Con saw a brand-new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s impending fourth season make its debut! The trailer was certainly jam-packed with action and plenty of teases, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the “gravitational anomaly” that seems to be at the core of the main storyline. Though there will almost certainly be smaller sub-plots and one-off stories like last season, the trailer mostly focused on Captain Burnham and the crew’s attempts to tackle the unknown anomaly.

First of all, none of the theories that I posited a few months ago about the nature of the gravitational anomaly now seem to be anywhere close to plausible! I had a feeling that this would be the case; that Discovery would once again create something wholly new rather than rely on a phenomenon we’d seen in a past iteration of the franchise.

Discovery is coming back in just over a month!

Captain Burnham was heard in the trailer telling her crew that the anomaly was unlike anything the galaxy had ever seen, and that once they “enter” it, they will be literally going “where no one has gone before.” I appreciated the callback to the line heard over the opening titles of The Original Series and The Next Generation – it’s a line which encapsulates Star Trek’s spirit of exploration with a side of adventure, and to me the use of that phrase represents Discovery staking its claim to be the successor of those exploration-focused shows.

Between what Burnham and Stamets had to say about the newness and unknown nature of the anomaly, we can seemingly rule out any connection to things like the Nexus, a graviton ellipse, and Tyken’s rift – as well as anything else we’ve seen before in Star Trek. That isn’t to say there categorically will not be any connection to other Star Trek stories, but that the anomaly itself will be something altogether new.

A beautiful CGI shot of the anomaly.

As mentioned, we got a couple of glimpses of what seems to be the anomaly itself. The first time we saw it it seemed to resemble a black hole within a black hole within a black hole… a kind of recursive black hole phenomenon. Discovery’s second season showed off a great recreation of a black hole (that was actually a Talosian illusion) and while the anomaly seen at the beginning of the trailer was different, especially in terms of colour, the design is comparable.

The second time we saw the anomaly in the trailer it looked very different, as though a “rip” or “tear” in the fabric of the universe, surrounded by glowing light but appearing as a dark smear. Unlike the black hole-inspired visual effect seen near the beginning of the trailer, this second look at the anomaly didn’t feature the same light-bending effect, nor was anything inside the anomaly visible.

The USS Discovery approaches the anomaly.

Of the two depictions that seem to be of the anomaly – assuming that they are, in fact, both supposed to represent the phenomenon – the first black hole-esque look is, from purely an aesthetic standpoint, my favourite. It was more memorable and different, and the way the anomaly bent light around it seems more in line with its stated gravitational effects. The “dark smear” was fine – but it wasn’t particularly visually exciting, and could have represented any one of dozens of anomalies seen in past iterations of Star Trek.

There were some short sequences that could be taking place on the other side of the anomaly, depending on how we view things. There seemed to be glimpses of characters fighting with swords, a large explosion, a forest that looked a lot like Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a child in a forest that could all be taking place after the USS Discovery enters the anomaly. We’ve seen parallel universes and different dimensions in Star Trek on a number of occasions, and I wonder if this anomaly could be the gateway to a different dimension once again.

Could this be on the “other side?”

But that’s enough story speculation for now! We won’t know more about the gravitational anomaly until the season kicks off in just over a month’s time, so let’s take a look at some of the other imagery from the trailer to see what else we can discover.

Firstly, it looks as though Ni’Var – the new name for Vulcan since the reunification of Romulans and Vulcans – will indeed rejoin the Federation. A brief scene showed the Federation president – a character identified during the Comic-Con panel as a part-Cardassian, part-Bajoran, part-human character named Rillak – presenting the leader of Ni’Var with a folded Federation flag. This was something teased during the epilogue of Season 3, with Saru’s diplomatic initiatives seeming to bear fruit.

Captain Burnham looks on as the Federation President gives a flag to the leader of Ni’Var.

Speaking of Saru, after being unceremoniously shuffled out of the captain’s chair in that same epilogue sequence to make way for Michael Burnham, he was back in uniform in the new trailer. The first trailer only showed us a glimpse of Saru out of uniform, and there was confusion over the position he could have both aboard the ship and within the new story after taking a leave of absence and returning to Kaminar.

Saru’s role still isn’t clear – he seems to retain the rank of captain but hasn’t been restored to the captaincy of Discovery. He was also depicted wearing a different badge on his uniform alongside his combadge – I wonder if this might indicate a diplomatic role of some kind. Regardless, it’s great to see Saru back on the ship, and presumably he’ll be part of the crew. What role he will play in the ship’s command structure as an ex-captain is still not clear, though.

Saru is back in uniform – and is sporting a new badge!

I couldn’t identify every single alien race seen in the trailer, but there were quite a few! At Federation HQ we saw an Orion woman not wearing a Starfleet uniform; she could be a representative of the Emerald Chain – or whatever remains of it. There seemed to be Tellarite crew members aboard Discovery, as at least one was present during an away mission. Also featured prominently at Federation HQ was a Ferengi Starfleet captain.

I liked the Ferengi design; it felt familiar enough to be obvious, while at the same time taking advantage of improvements in prosthetic makeup that have been made since the Ferengi debuted. There was more detail in this Ferengi’s face and ears than we ever saw in the likes of Quark and others. That isn’t to say the older makeup and prosthetics were bad, just that there have been advancements in the thirty-five years since the Ferengi were originally created! After Season 3 teased us with glimpses of Cardassians, Andorians, and Lurians who ultimately played no role in the story, I’m not getting my hopes up that this new Ferengi character will play a major part in the story of the season – but you never know!

The Ferengi captain.

The existence of President Rillak seems to conclusively rule out the idea that the mysterious Kovich is in charge of the Federation. This had been a rumour or theory that some fans seemed to be quite attached to last time, but I was convinced for much of Season 3 that Kovich is in fact the head of Section 31 – or perhaps Starfleet security. We saw Kovich very briefly in the trailer, and previous statements from David Cronenberg – the famed director who plays the character – had already confirmed that he will be back in some capacity in Season 4.

Tilly appears to have been promoted to lieutenant, at least based on the emblem she’s wearing on her collar in the trailer. Whether that will happen off-screen isn’t clear, but it would be kind of neat after her arc in Season 3 to see her rewarded with a promotion. Tilly was originally Burnham’s choice for first officer, but with Saru back perhaps he’ll fill that role? Either way, it seems that Tilly will be returning to the sciences division and not wearing the red uniform of the command division – something that was ham-fistedly digitally edited in the Season 3 finale!

Tilly is back in science division blue.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham and the Qowat Milat are making a return as well, as we saw them involved in a couple of different scenes during the trailer. It wasn’t clear whether the scenes we saw were all taken from the same episode or not, so the Qowat Milat could be in more than one episode. It was great that Discovery found a way to connect with events from Picard Season 1 in this way, and I wonder if we’ll get any other callbacks to the events of Discovery’s sister show. Due to the pandemic and its associated disruptions, Picard Season 2 won’t arrive until after Discovery Season 4 – though the original plan was surely for things to be the other way around!

We got brief looks at Dr Culber, Adira, and Gray. Gray will supposedly be made visible this season after finally being seen by Dr Culber in the Season 3 finale. The short scenes featuring Adira and Gray in the trailer weren’t clear as to Gray’s visibility, and when Adira interacted with Tilly, Gray wasn’t present. But at the Comic-Con panel, Wilson Cruz teased that Gray will indeed become visible and that he may have a connection to the season’s main story in some way!

Adira in away mission gear.

One of the most interesting shots from the teaser showed Michael Burnham pulling back a shroud over a reptilian-looking alien. This alien seems to be dead, but interestingly seemed to be noticeably larger than the humanoids we’re used to seeing in Star Trek. That could be a consequence of how this one scene was framed, but the idea of aliens – perhaps from inside the anomaly – being “more alien” in appearance is an interesting one in theory. I don’t believe we’ve seen this species before, though the dead alien’s reptilian-inspired look has superficial similarities to a few past Star Trek races.

Burnham with the dead alien.

There was a shot on a snowy planet that I was also taken by. I wonder if this might be a return to the Guardian of Forever’s new homeworld – the one seen in the two-part Season 3 episode Terra Firma. That’s just a gut feeling and it could be somewhere else entirely, but it would be interesting if Discovery didn’t just abandon the Guardian of Forever. If the crew are on a quest to understand a completely alien and unknown phenomenon, the Guardian could be a good place to start. Maybe it has encountered the anomaly before, or at least is aware of it and knows something about it?

Is this scene taking place on the Guardian of Forever’s planet?

Book and Grudge were back – thank goodness! David Ajala was such a wonderful addition to the cast, providing the Starfleet crew of Discovery with an outsider’s perspective while serving as a guide of sorts to the 32nd Century. And Grudge is beautiful, of course! Book’s ship also made a return. We caught a glimpse of Book in the Spore Cube – his telepathy allows him to serve as Discovery’s navigator alongside Stamets. This could be an interesting source of conflict; how will Stamets feel about someone else muscling in on his job? But at the same time the ability of Book to navigate the mycelial network opens up the Spore Drive’s potential. With multiple navigators available – perhaps millions of potential navigators if any Kweijian or anyone who’s telepathic can take on the role – the Spore Drive could finally be rolled out to other Starfleet vessels.

Whether that will actually happen in Season 4 or not is still an open question, but I think finding a way for the Spore Drive to be more than just a gimmick to be used occasionally by Discovery is a good direction for the series to take. With the show now set in the far future of the 32nd Century, it wouldn’t tread on anyone’s toes in terms of canon – and it would be a great way for Starfleet to mitigate the dilithium shortage and future-proof their fleet. I might write this one up as a full theory, so watch this space!

I couldn’t resist including Grudge!

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats by the anomaly’s gravitational effects is stunning. We’re not really used to seeing artificial gravity failures in Star Trek. Aside from The Undiscovered Country, I can’t really call to mind a time where the failure of a starship’s artificial gravity was a significant story element. Even when ships are badly battered and at the point of destruction, artificial gravity usually continues to function! If Discovery uses this effect sparingly I think it could be very impactful in Season 4.

We saw several members of the cast – and a number of unidentified characters – involved in hand-to-hand violence. Some of this looked utterly barbaric, not at all the kind of thing we’d expect from Starfleet officers. At one point the Qowat Milat even seemed to be engaging a Starfleet officer. I wonder if this is all connected to the anomaly – perhaps things on the other side are more violent, like they are in the Mirror Universe, for example? Or perhaps the anomaly has different effects on people, driving some to become violent? Either way, there seemed to be a lot of that on show in the trailer, and some sort of explanation is required!

Captain Burnham looks on while Owosekun appears to be involved in a fight. This was just one of many examples of hand-to-hand violence seen in the trailer.

Though present, Admiral Vance didn’t have much to say in the trailer. I’m glad he’s coming back, though, as he was a great character in Season 3 as someone who embodied the values of Starfleet. We saw several scenes set at Federation HQ, which was of course Admiral Vance’s home base in Season 3. HQ seemed to look at least a little busier in the trailer than it had in Season 3; this could be a visual representation of the growth of the Federation as it begins to bring back wayward members and expand its fleet. The inclusion of President Rillak may mean Admiral Vance has less to do; both characters seem to occupy a similar role as superiors to Captain Burnham.

Speaking of Captain Burnham and President Rillak, a scene appeared to show Discovery’s captain receiving a stern telling-off from the Federation president. My suspicion is that this is something that happens early in the season prior to the discovery of the anomaly. That’s definitely just a gut feeling, but something about this conversation seemed to suggest the stakes weren’t quite so high. Perhaps Burnham did something in an early mission to earn the president’s ire, but the grave threat of the anomaly will force them to work together despite their differences of opinion and leadership styles.

President Rillak apparently doesn’t like Captain Burnham.

This sequence, out of everything we saw in the trailer, was my least-favourite. It felt like forced drama for the sake of forced drama, and the use of the word “bravery” when giving an officer a dressing-down was incredibly clumsy dialogue. It was a way to communicate to us as the audience that Burnham is brave and that she’s some kind of maverick who doesn’t always conform or do what authority figures tell her – but it just felt a little too forced. We know Burnham doesn’t always play by the rules having seen the way she operates over three seasons, and having a brand-new character dropped in to reinforce that point may not be the best use of the show’s time. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen the full sequence in context, but in the trailer I didn’t like the way it came across.

So I think that’s all I have to say for now. Stay tuned because there are a couple of nascent theory ideas that I have based on the trailer, so it’s possible they could get the full write-up treatment in the days ahead. Discovery Season 4 is offering another “natural disaster” storyline after the Burn in Season 3, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I confess to being genuinely curious to learn more about this anomaly. What is it? What danger does it really pose? Could it be a weapon rather than a natural occurrence? There are many, many questions running through my mind!

Cleveland Booker in the new trailer.

Whatever the ultimate cause of the anomaly, Season 4 looks like it’s on a good track. The trailer was action-packed and exciting, with ample interpersonal drama and an awful lot to unpack. I’ve tried to hit the main points here, but I’d encourage you to check out what other fans and publications have to say as they break down the trailer, as I’m sure there are points I missed or overlooked.

I’m really looking forward to Discovery Season 4 now, and with barely a month left there’s not long to wait. When the new season arrives I’ll be writing reviews of each episode and probably indulging in a spot of theory-crafting, just as I did during Season 3 last year. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere a day later. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 9: wej Duj

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2.

wej Duj – which is Klingon for “three ships” – was an exceptionally funny episode, and certainly one of the highlights of Season 2. What makes it stand out is that much of the humour came not from the main cast, nor even from secondary characters like the senior staff, but from guest-stars who gave us a glimpse at life on the lower decks of both Klingon and Vulcan ships.

Lower Decks promised us right from the beginning that we’d be looking at junior officers who get the worst assignments, so taking that concept and expanding it to show us the same kind of people on other vessels felt incredibly natural. It’s one of those ideas that just makes sense – and leaves you wondering why you didn’t think of it sooner!

The title card – in Klingon!

The episode skipped the usual pre-titles sequence, so after the opening titles rolled we were straight into the action. The title of the episode was displayed in Klingon (or should that be Klingonese?), which was a very neat little touch. As an aside, wej Duj is the first Star Trek episode – out of more than eight hundred – to have a Klingon title!

The setup for the episode was interesting, and gave us a rare glimpse at a starship during a period of downtime. Most episodes naturally focus on adventures of one kind or another, yet when you think about it, at least some interstellar travel is going to be dull, waiting for the ship to arrive at its next destination. We’ve seen glimpses of that in episodes like Voyager’s Season 5 opener Night, but this was its first appearance in Lower Decks. As above, this concept feels like another natural fit for the series – showing us what some of the junior officers get up to while the ship is warping to its next destination.

Dr T’Ana and Tendi enjoying some downtime together.

wej Duj used that premise as an excuse to shuffle the ensigns off-stage, and the story progressed without much significant involvement from Mariner, Rutherford, or Tendi. Boimler got a B-plot of sorts as he tried to buddy up to Commander Ransom. This sub-plot relied on a lot of sitcom-style “cringe” humour as Boimler pretended to be from Hawai’i to ingratiate himself with Ransom and a couple of other officers.

This kind of humour, popularised by shows like Friends, isn’t always to my taste. While Boimler’s story definitely had some funny moments, its reliance on a sitcom cliché premise made it the lesser part of the episode – at least in my opinion. The way it ended was definitely amusing in its irony, though, as it turned out that neither Ransom nor any of the others were in fact from Hawai’i either – all having made up the same lie at different times.

Though it wasn’t bad per se, Boimler’s sub-plot featured a style of humour that I generally don’t enjoy.

The main thrust of the episode focused on two guest-stars: junior Klingon officer Ma’ah, played by Jon Curry, and Vulcan lower decker T’Lyn, played by Gabrielle Ruiz. Pinning the bulk of an episode on two brand-new characters was a risk, but it was one that paid off and worked exceptionally well.

Both characters – and their supporting cast of fellow lower deckers and the senior officers aboard their respective ships – were exceptionally funny in completely different ways. The juxtaposition of two of Star Trek’s best-known races was at the core of what made this comedy work; seeing the aggressive, barbaric Klingons drinking bloodwine and engaging in fights to the death then immediately hopping over to the stoic Vulcans who showed no emotion was key to making the episode as funny as it was.

T’Lyn (left) and Ma’ah were the breakout characters from wej Duj.

wej Duj was also a very well-paced episode. In barely twenty minutes it had to bring together multiple story threads that began in very different ways and different places. It also had to balance three entirely disconnected segments and sets of characters, giving each enough screen time to allow for some development and for story beats to play out naturally. Not only did all of this work, with the pacing of each character’s story feeling just right, but wej Duj also connected the events every character experienced into the Pakled storyline that has been running since the end of Season 1!

I haven’t been afraid to criticise Lower Decks earlier in Season 2 when episodes felt overcrowded. Some potentially interesting storylines just didn’t get quite enough time to be fully-realised, and I stand by those criticisms. wej Duj was already an incredibly ambitious episode, considering everything it had to include, but seen in that light I think the fact that the writers, producers, and editors managed to pull it off is nothing short of remarkable.

There were a lot of different elements packed into a single episode this week, and the way they came together was brilliantly-executed!

It would’ve been easy to overlook one or more of the different stories considering the episode’s runtime and just how many characters and ships were in play. It really is a triumph of writing – and undoubtedly editing as well – that wej Duj worked as fantastically well as it did.

The Klingons were featured prominently in Star Trek Into Darkness as well as the first two seasons of Discovery, where some elements of their redesign proved to be controversial. Lower Decks returned the Klingons firmly to their familiar look – the one present from The Motion Picture right through to Enterprise. And as much as I enjoyed some of the Ancient Egyptian influence present in Discovery’s Klingon redesign, it felt absolutely wonderful to be back with the Klingons in their best-known aesthetic and to spend time aboard one of their ships again.

Commander Togg and other Klingon officers aboard the bridge of their Bird-of-Prey.

The aesthetic of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey on the inside was again very much in line with prior depictions. Everything from the lighting to the design used for Klingon computer monitors could’ve been lifted straight from Deep Space Nine or The Search for Spock – and I loved that the lower deckers were forced to sleep in hammocks that made the ensigns’ hallway look palatial in comparison!

The Vulcan ship was clearly based on the design of ships seen in Enterprise. Though Starfleet is the Federation’s main military and exploratory force, throughout Star Trek the Vulcans have been depicted as maintaining their own fleet of ships alongside Starfleet, so I don’t think it’s in any way a canon problem to have a Vulcan cruiser like this in Lower Decks. The relative power of the Vulcan cruiser compared to the USS Cerritos, which was on full display in the climactic battle, was very reminiscent of the way Vulcan ships would constantly outclass and outmatch the NX-01 in Enterprise – a neat little understated callback to Star Trek’s first prequel.

T’Lyn’s Vulcan cruiser at warp.

With the Klingon commander in league with the Pakleds, T’Lyn and Ma’ah – and later the USS Cerritos – were all drawn to the same place. The Pakleds had detonated a bomb given to them by the Klingon commander in the hope of destabilising peace in the Alpha Quadrant and sparking a war, and while Ma’ah challenged his commander, T’Lyn and the USS Cerritos both detected the residual after-effects of the Pakleds’ weapon detonation.

This moment set up the storylines coming together, and it was based once again on the Pakleds’ stupidity, which was pretty funny. The way Commander Togg reacted to the Pakleds’ detonating the bomb he’d provided was one of the funniest moments in the whole episode! Captain Riker had speculated that someone had been manipulating the Pakleds to become so aggressive, and wej Duj gave us the answer – a rogue Klingon commander.

It turns out that a rogue Klingon commander has been arming the Pakleds and pushing them to attack the Federation.

As Discovery showed in its first couple of seasons, there’s plenty of life in the Klingons as villains. When stories get their warrior-barbarian culture right, the Klingons can feel very threatening indeed. I’d point to the Deep Space Nine Season 5 episode Nor the Battle to the Strong as just one example of that. But having seen the Klingons as allies throughout Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War in particular, and having had sympathetic characters like Worf, B’Elanna Torres, and General Martok, making the Klingon Empire as a whole an enemy once again wouldn’t be my first choice in Star Trek any more.

wej Duj found a clever way around this by giving us a character somewhat inspired by The Undiscovered Country’s General Chang. By making it clear that Togg was acting on his own, without the backing of the Klingon High Council or Chancellor – which should be Martok at this point in time, surely! – the story managed to be interesting and entertaining, but without dragging the Federation and Klingons into open conflict with one another. I think many Trekkies like the Klingons far better when they’re allies, with their aggressive nature turned on mutual enemies, than when they come into direct conflict with Starfleet – and I’m generally in that place too. While the Klingons can and do make entertaining villains, I enjoyed the way they were portrayed in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and would be loathe to see them as enemies once again.

The Klingons made a welcome return in a semi-adversarial capacity.

T’Lyn and her Vulcan colleagues also provided the episode with plenty of humour. The absolutely deadpan way that all of the Vulcans spoke to one another was hilarious, and the way they interpreted very politely-worded statements as emotional outbursts or insults was a very funny send-up of Vulcan culture from Lower Decks’ writers.

Though they featured prominently in the images shown off before the episode’s broadcast, wej Duj only contained brief scenes involving Tendi, Mariner, and Rutherford. I’d have liked to have seen a little more of the ensigns and their “bridge buddies” during their down time. Tendi’s rock-climbing outing with Dr T’Ana was a cute reference to The Final Frontier, which saw Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy enjoying shore leave at Yosemite national park. Rutherford’s pottery-making class with Shaxs actually contained a very sweet moment between the two, with Rutherford calling Shaxs “Papa Bear” when the latter became angry and upset by Boimler mentioning Bajor.

This moment between Rutherford and Shaxs was surprisingly touching.

Mariner didn’t appear to be enjoying her time with Captain Freeman at first, as the pair engaged in some mother-daughter bonding time on the holodeck and later in the captain’s ready room. But as they parted ways, both admitted that they had a good time together – another very sweet moment, and further evidence of the change in Mariner’s character and attitude that we’ve been tracking since midway through Season 1.

As the crew of the Cerritos scrambled to their posts from their leisure activities, the ship was awash with out-of-uniform officers. It was a pretty funny mix of characters in different outfits, and the sight gag of characters in everything from ball gowns to winter coats worked very well. It also showed that the crew are capable, despite serving on a “lowly” ship. These are still professional Starfleet officers, after all!

The crew of the USS Cerritos dropped what they were doing to rush to their posts!

Two questions remain now that wej Duj is over. Firstly: is the Pakled threat now over? Their reliance on Klingon weaponry has now been exposed, and with Commander Togg dead there isn’t anyone left to manipulate the Pakleds and push them closer to all-out war, so perhaps the threat is now largely at an end. I feel that the Pakleds have been very funny in Lower Decks as adversaries, but the way they’ve been presented has left them feeling like a one-trick – or one-joke – pony. Perhaps the “Pakleds are really dumb” joke has run its course, even though there was plenty of humour derived from that premise this week. Better to end it before it outstays its welcome, though!

Secondly, the end of the episode saw T’Lyn dismissed by her Vulcan commander and forcibly reassigned aboard a Starfleet vessel. Could she be making her way to the USS Cerritos, perhaps? T’Lyn provided ample humour in her own incredibly Vulcan way in wej Duj, and while there probably isn’t room for a fifth lower decker as a major character, bringing her in as a recurring character or in a different department could be an interesting way for the series to go as Season 3 beckons. It’s probably not going to happen… but you never know!

T’Lyn has been reassigned – could we see her aboard the Cerritos one day?

The worst thing about wej Duj is that now it’s over that means there’s only one episode left in Lower Decks Season 2! The ten-episode seasons that many modern television shows use are a double-edged sword in some ways. We get more shows, and the episodes that are made generally get a higher budget as a result. But it does mean that seasons seem to race by very quickly! I’m sure that Lower Decks has a suitably explosive finale planned for the end of the season, though.

wej Duj was a completely different kind of episode for Lower Decks. It saw guest-stars take centre-stage for the first time, and the episode was largely carried not by anyone aboard the USS Cerritos but by a pair of Klingons and some stoic, bickering Vulcans. Seeing the life of lower deckers on a couple of different ships was an absolutely outstanding premise, and wej Duj pulled it off with aplomb. The complicated story was expertly weaved together as it reached its climax, and appears to have exposed and perhaps resolved the lingering Pakled threat.

I had a lot of fun with wej Duj, and it will go down as one of the highlights of Season 2 without a doubt. It was funny almost from the first moment, with suitable moments of tension as the complex four-starship battle unfolded. It’s set a high bar for next week’s season finale!

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales – a review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise, including the following films and shows: The Mandalorian Season 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Rise of Skywalker.

It’s Spooktober – the spookiest month of the year! To celebrate Halloween at the end of the month, Disney and Lucasfilm released Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales on Disney+, a Star Wars-themed kid-friendly Halloween special. Last year’s The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – which I didn’t get around to reviewing in time for Christmas – was a ton of fun, so I had high hopes going into Terrifying Tales. Stay tuned for a review of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special in late November or December, by the way, as I’m adamant that I’ll finally review it this year!

Terrifying Tales was incredibly funny, at least equalling last year’s Lego Star Wars offering. It was the kind of silly, irreverent style of humour that Lego Star Wars is known for, and also drew on a number of different classic horror tropes. I had a wonderful time with the forty-five minute special, and if I had one criticism it would be that I wish we got these Lego Star Wars special episodes more often!

Poe Dameron and BB-8 with new character Dean.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror. Some horror stories can be a mental health trigger for me, so I tend to avoid the genre as a whole unless I’m really sure that I’m in the right frame of mind. But Terrifying Tales was exactly the kind of child-friendly light horror that appeals to me. The animated special made use of a horror-themed aesthetic and horror-based stories, and played up some familiar tropes, but it did so without being frightening. If you’re concerned about younger kids or anyone of an especially sensitive disposition, I didn’t see anything in Terrifying Tales that I feel would be particularly scary or upsetting.

Lego Star Wars has been something I’ve adored since the release of the first video games in the mid/late 2000s; 2007’s Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga is undoubtedly one of the best video games I played during the Xbox 360 era. I’ve also been eagerly awaiting the newest Lego Star Wars video game which is due for release in the spring. Watch this space again, because I hope to review the game when it’s released!

I’m already looking forward to the next Lego Star Wars project!

Last year’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special managed to get a great balance of prequel era, original era, and sequel era references and stories, and I was incredibly pleased to see Terrifying Tales managed to do the same. At first I was worried that the special was going to lean very heavily on the sequels, with Poe Dameron as its primary character. However, while the frame narrative focused on Poe, there were plenty of references and callbacks even then to past iterations of Star Wars. Overall, Terrifying Tales managed to get the right mix of characters and storylines from the cinematic franchise’s three main eras.

The frame narrative was typical Lego Star Wars silliness, with a Hutt having taken over Darth Vader’s abandoned Mustafar castle. Planning to turn the Sith fortress into a Las Vegas-style hotel, the setting was a great mix of creepy and silly – there was more than enough light-heartedness in the modifications made to the intimidating castle to tone it down and take the edge off the spookiness. At the same time, the castle was a great setting. It had a fairly typical “haunted castle” vibe, complete with darkened hallways and imposing architecture. Even in the lobby, which was brimming with Vegas-inspired (or perhaps Disneyland-inspired) kitsch and souvenir shops, there was still a creepy background note, as though the place wasn’t entirely safe.

Darth Vader’s castle – now with gift shop!

As the characters ventured further into Vader’s castle, however, the setting took on a different feel. It became less of a haunted castle and more akin to an ancient temple – or a pyramid from a classic mummy film. Deep within the bowels of Vader’s abandoned fortress, hidden rooms with unclaimed – yet cursed – treasures and cleverly-operated switches and traps awaited Poe, BB-8, and the rest of the cast. The castle thus served a dual purpose, and to cram both settings into one locale in a way that felt natural and that didn’t feel rushed shows some pretty great writing.

The only thing that the frame narrative perhaps lacked were more recognisable characters. I’ve argued on a number of occasions that the Star Wars franchise is overly-reliant on characters from its past and that I wanted to see more original creations – but Terrifying Tales isn’t really where I expected to meet a whole bunch of newbies! To see Poe without Rey or Finn was just odd, and as much fun as characters like Vaneé and Graballa the Hutt were, the frame narrative could’ve found a way to include more familiar characters. Lego Star Wars is the one place where bringing back classic characters makes sense – and it’s also where logic and internal consistency matter far less, so there’s plenty of ways to do so! It wasn’t a fatal flaw by any means, and I enjoyed Poe’s mentoring of young Dean in particular. But it was certainly noteworthy that this part of the story really only had Poe and BB-8 in terms of familiar faces.

Poe was the main character in Terrifying Tales.

Graballa the Hutt gave me almost a Ferengi vibe with his unchecked capitalistic greed, and though we didn’t get much time for any of these characters to be truly fleshed-out, there was enough of a moral shadiness to him that left me in no doubt the kind of character this was. Graballa’s the kind of money-driven dodgy boss who’ll cut any corner to save a buck and would’ve sold out Poe and Dean and everyone else for his own safety. He made a fun addition to the group as comic relief, but at the same time he was a constant cause for concern – he’d trade everyone’s lives for a shot at his own survival, and in horror stories those kinds of characters can cause a lot of trouble!

Vaneé is a character who first appeared in Rogue One, and whose role was expanded upon in the novelisation of the film. He’s also made appearances in a number of Star Wars comics – none of which I’m familiar with. For all intents and purposes, though, the character we met in Terrifying Tales was a blank slate upon which the animated special could craft a suitably over-the-top villain!

This character from Rogue One, seen bowing to Darth Vader and informing him of Krennic’s arrival, is Vaneé.

Vaneé definitely had a creepiness to him during the story. He set up the three vignettes in a suitably spooky manner, and the voice performance from Tony Hale was an exquisite parody of these kinds of characters from classic horror films and shows like The Twilight Zone. The downtrodden, overlooked butler or apprentice with an evil streak is an archetype of the genre, and Vaneé slotted into that role perfectly in Terrifying Tales.

At the climax of the story, after we’d been treated to the three vignettes, Vaneé made his grab for power via a Sith artefact that looked an awful lot like the wayfinder from The Rise of Skywalker. From that moment on he was no longer a creepy character but a completely over-the-top pantomime villain – and I loved that transformation! In a story like Terrifying Tales, with all of the silliness and light-heartedness of the Lego Star Wars brand, a villain who goes completely hell-for-leather into wanting to rule the galaxy was pitch-perfect.

The villainous Vaneé!

But we’re racing ahead of ourselves! Before we get to Vaneé’s endgame and thus the end of Terrifying Tales we first have to look at… well, the titular terrifying tales themselves!

The first of the three was titled The Lost Boy, and focused on Ben Solo and the Knights of Ren some time prior to The Force Awakens. And it was surprisingly fun! The Knights of Ren were presented as basically a motorcycle gang, wreaking havoc on a village or community somewhere in the vicinity of Luke’s new Jedi Temple. The idea that the Knights of Ren already existed before Ben Solo became Kylo Ren is actually an interesting one, and the cameo from Christian Slater as the leader of the gang was neat as well.

The Lost Boy lasted six minutes, yet managed to contain more backstory for Kylo Ren than the entire sequel trilogy! And no, this isn’t going to turn into another rant about The Rise of Skywalker, but I really felt that the way we saw Ben Solo presented in this short story was far better and more sympathetic than we ever saw in the live-action films. We saw his bad attitude as a student, his arrogance and desire to learn the Force more quickly, and these things informed his fall as the story ran on. Feeling constrained and restricted by his uncle, he was tempted by the Knights of Ren and their charismatic leader, and that set him on a dark path.

The Lost Boy gave us Kylo Ren’s backstory that was missing from the sequel trilogy!

Sadly that isn’t canon! But it was surprisingly cathartic, especially after the way The Rise of Skywalker ended, to get some kind of origin story for Ben Solo that we could see for ourselves and not hear second-hand from other characters.

The dream sequence during this short story was fantastic. It was incredibly well-animated, and had a very trippy presentation that really did feel like we were following Ben Solo into a nightmare. The way Ben was haunted by a face seeming to come out of the ceiling, then was transported into a creepy dream-world was incredibly well-done, and by far the highlight of this part of the story. As the leader of the Knights of Ren appeared to Ben in his dreams I got a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe – as if something deadly was about to happen.

The leader of the Knights of Ren.

Though this was an “alternative” take on Kylo Ren’s creation and Ben Solo’s fall, I really liked it. There were some great moments of humour, particularly Ben commenting on Luke training for “like twenty minutes” on Dagobah – a reference to The Empire Strikes Back and how Jedi training seems to progress very differently for Luke compared to other characters! But it was also a story of teen angst, rebellion, and the fall of a character to the Dark Side. Because we didn’t get to see Ben’s fall in canon, I found it particularly interesting.

The second vignette brought us a battle between General Grievous and Darth Maul. Terrifying Tales called out how patently ridiculous it was for Darth Maul to have been revived – finally! The Star Wars franchise apparently loves to bring back characters who were clearly and unequivocally dead: Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, Boba Fett in The Mandalorian, and of course Darth Maul in The Clone Wars television series and Solo. But the fact that such “back from the dead” moments are ridiculous needed to be called out, and it was done so here in incredibly fun fashion!

Darth Maul’s return from being dead was always ridiculous… and Terrifying Tales pointed that out!

Maybe you’ve always wondered who would win in a fight between Grievous and Maul. I hadn’t, but their duel was still action-packed and fun to watch. This was perhaps the least “terrifying” of the three stories, by which I mean it had the least focus on any horror trope or element. The cursed lightsaber was an interesting macguffin, but I didn’t really feel that it had much of an impact on either mechanical monstrosity as they fought over it. If anything, it had a similar effect to the Ring in The Lord of the Rings, giving both characters a Gollum-like craving.

The real standout star of The Duelling Monstrosities, though, was Palpatine. This version of Palpatine as a nonchalant, almost casual manager of his Empire is never not funny! If you’re familiar with the way Palpatine was parodied in the likes of Robot Chicken and the Family Guy Star Wars specials, this depiction is comparable. If not, go and watch the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials at the very least, because they’re hilarious!

Palpatine was hilarious in this vignette.

Palpatine carried this segment and provided much of its comedy. He was hilarious as he pitted Maul and Grievous against one another – accidentally, of course! And then betrayed the victor to claim his prize of the broken cursed lightsaber. We never did find out why he wanted it, but it didn’t matter!

The third vignette was inspired by the 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw, and there were elements of the 1960 Twilight Zone episode Man in the Bottle too – itself a loose adaptation of that short story. It was by far the creepiest short story in terms of its setup and premise, and Vaneé gave his best Twilight Zone-inspired speech to tee up the tale.

The Twilight Zone-inspired title card for The Wookie’s Paw.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were the stars this time around, with Luke wishing upon a Wookie’s paw to grant wishes for himself. In this alternate version of A New Hope, Luke becomes an Imperial pilot and Darth Vader’s Dark Side protégé. If you’ve ever wondered what might’ve happened had Luke been trained by Vader, The Wookie’s Paw gives us a glimpse into that alternate reality!

In true Monkey’s Paw fashion, though, everything is not what it seems. Luke’s wishes come with a price – and after using the cursed Wookie’s paw to rise through the ranks and become a pilot and Sith apprentice, Luke goes too far. By wishing for fame he actually gets notoriety, accidentally blowing up the Death Star while trying to defend it from a Rebel attack. It was actually pretty funny to see him make such a catastrophic mistake!

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

The interplay between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader was surprisingly cute in The Wookie’s Paw. Though both remained blissfully unaware of their familial connection, Vader took on a similar mentor/fatherly role to Luke as Obi-Wan had in A New Hope, and seeing Luke go through a Dark Side version of some classic training scenes – from the training droid to carrying Vader on his back – was both sweet and funny at the same time.

If you’ll forgive a short detour, what I liked about this story was that the cursed Wookie’s paw didn’t actually change the outcome of A New Hope. Princess Leia stepped up to lead the assault on the Death Star in Luke’s absence, aided by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who survived in this alternate timeline. Luke still fired the torpedoes that destroyed the battlestation, even if he didn’t mean to. The message, aside from “be careful what you wish for,” is one of fate and destiny. Even if Luke Skywalker were removed from the equation – or fighting for the other side – the Rebellion still prevailed.

Be careful what you wish for, Luke!

So we come to the finale! Once the three vignettes were over and Poe had been led deep into the heart of Darth Vader’s fortress, Vaneé revealed his ultimate plan. Using Dean to open the Sith holocron, he used it to seize the power of the Dark Side. Cloaking himself in armour he resembled a Sith monster, and he used his newfound power to turn an army of zombified battle droids on Poe, Dean, and Graballa.

This was perhaps the most intimidating battle droids have ever felt in Star Wars! From their first appearance in The Phantom Menace all the way through the prequels battle droids were presented as cheap cannon fodder and even comic relief to be laughed at. Turning them into zombies with glowing red eyes, and pitting a small band of heroes against them and their master, was an interesting and surprisingly fun turn. One of the battle droids even got a moment inspired by classic film The Shining, which was absolutely hilarious!

Zombified battle droids!

After a conversation between Poe and the charming Dean about how fear is natural and something everyone experiences, the duo were able to save the day and defeat Vaneé. There was a neat battle between Poe and Vaneé that showed off Lego versions of the AT-ST and AT-AT walkers, before Vaneé was finally thrown into Mustafar’s lava just like his master before him! It was a tense yet fun battle, and giving Dean the opportunity to save the day was perfectly in line with the kind of story that Terrifying Tales aimed to be.

I had fun with Terrifying Tales. It was a cute Lego Star Wars parody that delivered everything I wanted and expected, and even managed to throw in a few neat surprises and things I didn’t even know I needed to see! The animation work was fantastic, a perfect blend between computer-animated Star Wars locales and a distinctive Lego aesthetic for the characters and vehicles. A project like this could’ve come across as an extra-long toy commercial, but I didn’t get that sense at all. It was a fun Star Wars-themed Halloween romp.

Terrifying Tales was a great way to kick off the spookiest season of the year for me! There’s only a little over three weeks left until Halloween, and I have a few more spooky ideas up my sleeve before the month is over, so I hope you’ll come back for some of those! Happy Spooktober!

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is boldly going for asexual representation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2, particularly the episode Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

This article deals with the subjects of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

Growing up asexual is difficult. We live in a world that seems to revolve around sex and sexuality much of the time, with an awful lot of music, art, and entertainment dedicated to relationships and to sex. Graphic depictions of sex on screen may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but even in the 1980s and 1990s sex was a frequent subject on television, in cinema, in music, and in practically every other form of media.

Even the arrival on the scene of more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans characters in media didn’t bring much respite. Who people were having sex with changed, but the fact that they were having sex – and spent much of their time pursuing it in one form or another – had not. The growth in LGBT+ representation in media has been fantastic (though it is still far from perfect) but speaking for myself as an asexual person, it didn’t always succeed at resonating with me. I still felt alone, that my perspective wasn’t being represented.

The asexuality flag or asexual pride flag. You might’ve seen it before – it’s permanently flown in the upper-right corner here on the website.

In the few “sex education” lessons that I was given at school, there was no mention of the LGBT+ community, let alone asexuality. Sex was something that “everyone” had and wanted to have, and between the depictions and talk of sex in all forms of art and media through to peer pressure from my adolescent peer group, it was inescapable. The only people who might be celibate were monks, nuns, Catholic priests, and losers who couldn’t find a date. That was the way sex and sexuality appeared at the time I was discovering my own.

In the time and place where I was growing up, away from the more liberal and cosmopolitan cities, even being homosexual was considered something abhorrent, let alone being trans, non-binary, or asexual. People didn’t understand what any of those terms meant because they’d never been exposed to it, and even being suspected of being a “poof” or a “bum boy” was enough to send the bullies into a frenzy.

The new “progress” LGBT+ pride flag.

The process of “normalising” – and gosh do I hate that term – asexuality can only begin when asexuality is visible. There may be a handful of asexual activists both within and outside of the broader LGBT+ movement, but generally speaking the level of visibility remains low. Without that visibility, understanding and acceptance can’t follow. The same is true of any minority group – including transgender and non-binary.

It’s for this reason that I get so irritated when I hear people talking about “too many” gay characters on television, or how “in-your-face” LGBT+ representation feels. It’s like that specifically because these groups have been so underrepresented for such a long time, and by making LGBT+ depictions more overt and obvious, it raises awareness and draws attention to the LGBT+ movement and the quest for acceptance within society as a whole.

Greater representation of LGBT+ people is still needed.

Since I went public with my asexuality, I’ve started displaying the asexual pride flag right here on the website. You can see it in the upper-right corner both on PC and mobile devices. I do that deliberately with the express intention of raising awareness and pointing out that asexual people exist in all areas of life. My chosen subjects here on the website are entertainment – Star Trek, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, among others. But there are asexual people in all walks of life and with as broad a range of interests as everyone else.

Being open about my asexuality was a choice that I made in part because of the lack of representation and lack of awareness many folks have of asexuals and asexuality. Even by offering my singular perspective on the subject in a small way in my little corner of the internet, I feel like I’m doing something to advocate for greater awareness and greater visibility, because without those things I fear that asexuality will never be understood. And without understanding it’s very hard to see a pathway to broader acceptance of asexuality in society.

If you’re interested to read a more detailed account of how I came to terms with my asexuality, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Title card for Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

So we turn to Star Trek. As an adolescent dealing with some of these issues surrounding my sexuality, the Star Trek franchise – and other sci-fi and fantasy worlds – could offer an escape. Science fiction and fantasy tend not to be as heavily reliant on themes of sex as, say, drama or even comedies can be, and I think that may have been a factor in my enjoyment of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its original run.

Despite that, the Star Trek franchise is hardly nonsexual. Characters like Captain Kirk and Commander Riker are well-known for their many relationships, and episodes like The Naked Time and Amok Time, while never showing as much overt sexuality as some more modern shows, do reference the subject. Even characters who have proven popular in the asexual community – like Spock and Data – had sexual relationships. While the Star Trek franchise has been at the forefront of many battles for representation – famously showing the first interracial kiss and with episodes like Rejoined promoting LGBT+ issues – asexuality itself had never been overtly referenced in Star Trek.

Characters like Data have been talked about in an asexual context before.

Though the depiction of Lower Decks’ chief engineer Andy Billups wasn’t explicitly about asexuality, his story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie presented the first significant analogy for asexuality in the Star Trek franchise – and one of the first ever on television, certainly the first that I’ve ever seen. In typical Star Trek fashion, the episode looked at the subject through a science fiction lens, with Billups’ unwillingness to have sex being tied to the medieval-spacefaring culture from which he came.

Star Trek has often done this. Rather than explicitly referencing a contemporary issue, writers will devise an in-universe comparison. The Doomsday Machine featured a planet-killing superweapon in an analogy about nuclear proliferation. In The Hands Of The Prophets told a story about Bajoran religion clashing with secular teaching in a story that was clearly about the creationism/evolution debate but that made no explicit references. Likewise we can say that Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a story about asexuality – but one seen through a Star Trek filter.

The episode told a story about asexuality through a typical Star Trek lens.

As an asexual person watching the episode, I was floored. For the first time, a character in Star Trek shared my sexuality and feelings about sex. More than that, as the Hysperians’ plot to trick Andy Billups into having sex reached its endgame, the poor man looked so incredibly uncomfortable and ill at ease with what he was about to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been Andy Billups in that moment, and to see that portrayal was incredibly cathartic.

When I was fifteen I lost my virginity, succumbing to the pressure from my peer group and having talked myself into it. I thought that by doing so I could convince others – and myself – that I was “normal,” just like everyone else. Never having heard the term “asexual,” nor understanding that the way I felt about sex and genitalia was valid, I convinced myself that I must be the one who was wrong, that I was broken and that my sexuality simply did not exist as I now understand it. In that moment I felt a great deal of trepidation. This wasn’t simply the anxiety of one’s “first time,” but I was forcing myself to do something that I fundamentally did not want to do; something that disgusted and repulsed me.

I related to Billups so much during this sequence.

If you’re heterosexual, I guess a reasonable comparison would be having sex with a same-sex partner. Even if you could talk yourself into it, it wouldn’t feel right. And vice versa if you’re homosexual; having sex with an opposite-sex partner would feel fundamentally wrong. That’s the expression that I saw stamped on Andy Billups’ face in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, and if I had looked in the mirror on that day in my mid-teens – or on any of the other occasions on which I talked myself into having sex with partners both male and female – I would have seen the exact same thing.

I believe that this is the power of representation. To truly see myself reflected in a fictional character has been an entirely new experience for me, and no doubt for other asexual folks as well. Lower Decks may be a comedy series, but this storyline has become one of the most powerful that I’ve seen in all of Star Trek. It was the first time I ever saw my sexuality represented on screen, and for as long as I live I will be able to go back to that moment and point it out to other people. There is finally an understandable, sympathetic metaphor for asexuality on screen.

Chief engineer Andy Billups: asexual icon!

As I stated in my review of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, the depiction of Billups wasn’t perfect. There was a jokiness and a light-heartedness to elements of the story that clashed with the heavier themes that were present. But in spite of that, Billups’ story resonated with me. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to see any kind of asexual representation, and although there were jokes at Billups’ expense in the episode, he came across incredibly sympathetically. He even had his entire team cheering for him and chanting his name at the end – celebrating how he remained true to himself and didn’t have sex.

No asexual person should ever feel that they’re obligated to have sex. Sex education classes need to include asexuality alongside the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum so that asexual kids and teenagers can understand that the way they are is normal and valid. But education is only one thing that needs to change. Representation in all forms of media is exceptionally important too, and even a single depiction of a secondary character in one episode is already the best and most powerful asexual story that there has been in a long time – possibly ever. As more people become aware of asexuality and understand its place alongside heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and other sexual orientations, the stigma or prejudice against asexuals and asexuality that exists in society will – in time – decrease.

Whether intentional or not, Lower Decks has joined the conversation and brought asexuality to mainstream attention in a way that I’d never seen before. It’s now possible for me to point to Where Pleasant Fountains Lie to show anyone who’s interested to learn more about asexuality and to see it represented on screen. That opportunity didn’t exist before, and I’m incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for this episode, this character, and this powerful story.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Will House of the Dragon bring back disappointed Game of Thrones fans?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones Seasons 1-8 and the teaser trailer for House of the Dragon.

Practically everyone I’ve spoken to, from hardcore fans to casual viewers, felt that Game of Thrones ended in a way that was rushed and disappointing. Individual reasons for disappointment may vary, but the broad consensus is that Game of Thrones Season 8 – and to a degree parts of Seasons 6 and 7 too – didn’t provide fans with a satisfying ending to a well-established, decade-long story. Now that we’ve seen the first teaser for House of the Dragon, and gotten a release window of 2022, the question I want to ask is simple: can the new series successfully bring back fans who were disappointed with the way that Game of Thrones ended?

I haven’t gone back to re-watch Game of Thrones since it went off the air in mid-2019, and I’m not alone. As I wrote last year, at the height of the pandemic when folks were stuck at home looking for films and shows to binge-watch, Game of Thrones didn’t even enter the conversation. The way the ending landed for fans was so bad that it made going back and starting over an unappealing prospect. Despite the first few seasons being some of the best serialised television ever brought to screen, even those fantastic scenes and episodes are now tainted for many fans with the knowledge that the story they set up went off the rails.

The way Game of Thrones Season 8 ended has left many fans with a bitter aftertaste.

This article isn’t a re-hash of my Game of Thrones Season 8 arguments. If you want to get my full thoughts on what happened with Game of Thrones, I have a two-part essay which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Instead I want to use Game of Thrones Season 8 as a starting point for the conversation about House of the Dragon, because whatever HBO and George R R Martin might want people to focus on as the new show’s marketing campaign kicks off, there can be no denying that it exists in its predecessor’s shadow – for better or for worse.

One thing that struck me about the House of the Dragon teaser was how heavily the new series is borrowing from Game of Thrones in terms of aesthetic. It’s a prequel set in the same universe, so similarities are to be expected, but if I didn’t know any better or I’d been out of the loop for a couple of years, you could’ve shown me the teaser and told me it was Game of Thrones Season 9 and I’d have believed it. We aren’t just talking about obvious things either, like the Hand of the King badge or the throne room set. The way the teaser used camera shots, the lighting for scenes and characters, and even the music all leaned very heavily on Game of Thrones.

Everything about this shot, from the lighting to the position of the camera, feels like it has been lifted directly from Game of Thrones.

It’s hard to see House of the Dragon as its own thing right now, and that could become an issue for HBO. Any prequel or spin-off naturally relies on what came before, but when you compare House of the Dragon to similar projects, there are key differences. Star Trek: Enterprise created an entirely new look for its 22nd Century setting, one which aimed to blend the modern world with Star Trek’s futuristic technology in a way that felt like a half-step between the world of 2001 and Captain Kirk’s 23rd Century. It didn’t always succeed at that, but it made the effort to distinguish itself from other parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Even the Star Wars prequels changed up significant visual elements. Some of the starships and armour designs shown off in the prequel trilogy managed to feel like a natural ancestor of the familiar Star Destroyers and Stormtrooper helmets we knew and loved from the original films. Other prequels and spin-offs likewise make an effort to appear new, different, or to have at least some distinctive elements that make the project unique. I didn’t see any of that in the House of the Dragon teaser.

The familiar emblem of the Hand of the King.

When HBO greenlit House of the Dragon and considered scripts and story treatments for at least four other Game of Thrones spin-offs, the original show was riding high. Maybe Seasons 6 and 7 had started the process of tarnishing its halo a little, but there was hope and optimism that Season 8 would see the series end on an explosive high note – setting the stage for prequels and spin-offs and getting fans incredibly hyped for what was to come. The ending of Season 8 killed much of that hype stone-dead, and in the intervening couple of years it really does feel like Game of Thrones has completely dropped out of our collective cultural conversation.

In that environment, House of the Dragon needed to do more in this first look to reassure wayward fans that lessons have been learned and that there won’t be a repeat of Game of Thrones Season 8. The teaser needed to demonstrate that House of the Dragon will be worth fans’ time and investment because it’s something different, a series with a planned story that won’t go off the rails. By showing us something that felt very familiar and very samey, this first teaser hasn’t achieved any of those objectives. Instead it seemed explicitly designed to offer fans more of the same – more Game of Thrones. It’s as if the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Season 8 fell entirely on deaf ears at HBO.

The lighting in this shot feels just like the lighting in the Game of Thrones episode The Long Night… and that isn’t a compliment.

Imagine being a huge Star Wars fan, then absolutely hating Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to remember now, but that film was once considered the weakest part of the Star Wars trilogy, with fans deriding things like the Ewoks and the Death Star redux storyline. But imagine being a Star Wars fan who’d absolutely detested the way Return of the Jedi ended – and then a few years later being offered the Star Wars prequels and The Phantom Menace. Would you want to go back and get invested in that world all over again? Or would you be cautious, unwilling to make a commitment to a new story when the last one just plain sucked? That’s the position many Game of Thrones fans – or ex-fans – are in at the moment. HBO is offering more Game of Thrones to a fanbase embittered by the way Season 8 was handled.

None of this addresses the merits of House of the Dragon. The series may very well be good – as the first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were. But the task that lies before it is a difficult one, and I don’t think that the way it’s being marketed – at least based on this first teaser – has helped.

Promo poster for House of the Dragon.

House of the Dragon has to demonstrate that there’s more to Westeros than Daenerys, Jon Snow, and the Night King. It has to take a familiar setting and make us care about new characters and new factions all over again, to reset the lands of A Song of Ice and Fire and potentially tee up even more shows and films down the line. It has the task that Star Trek: The Next Generation had in 1987 – to demonstrate that a successful series can become a successful franchise.

For all of the lore and detailed history of Westeros that George R R Martin has written over the years, only one part of that has thus far made it to the screen. Many fans, even those deeply invested in the television show during its run, were only aware of events like Robert’s Rebellion, Aegon’s Conquest, or the Dance of Dragons from throwaway lines spoken by characters in dialogue. The lore of Game of Thrones was backstory for the events happening in that show – and whether any of it will translate to standalone projects and stories is now up for debate.

A return to the throne room in King’s Landing seems to be on the agenda.

Where Game of Thrones excelled in its earlier seasons was its sense of scale. The world-building beyond the characters we got to know was exquisitely handled, and it was only in the latter part of Season 7 and through Season 8, as the number of characters and locales shrunk, that that sense of scale diminished. In short, the world of Westeros does feel lived-in, as though there are more stories out there to be told. That’s a huge point in favour of House of the Dragon – and other potential spin-offs that may be coming in future.

House of the Dragon also has the task of trying to appeal to new fans. Perhaps those who tried Game of Thrones but found its large number of characters confusing in those first few episodes, or fans of the books who didn’t give Game of Thrones a chance, as well as a broader television audience. The show can’t just rely on fans of the original series to flock back – it has to have more to offer beyond the existing fanbase.

King Viserys I in the teaser for House of the Dragon.

With The Witcher Season 2 coming soon, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel, The Wheel of Time, and now House of the Dragon, there’s a lot for fans of fantasy to look forward to. That’s also a potential pitfall for House of the Dragon, though, as Game of Thrones blazed a trail in the big-budget fantasy television genre that others are now scrambling to follow. House of the Dragon won’t have the genre all to itself, and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series in particular will be a major competitor.

Although I have gripes with the way Game of Thrones ended, I’m interested to see more of Westeros. But “interested” is as much as I can muster right now. I’m not hyped, I’m not excited. I’m interested… cautiously so. HBO has work to do to rebuild trust between its creative team and the fanbase, and the number one objective has to be convincing lapsed fans to get back aboard the hype train. I don’t believe that the right way to go about that is simply to say “here’s more of the same,” because that’s what fans got burned by last time. House of the Dragon has to balance its place in the expanded franchise with offering something at least slightly different, and from this first teaser I saw nothing even superficially so.

I’d love to see House of the Dragon be successful. Heck, I’d like to see it surpass Game of Thrones and reinvigorate interest in Westeros and A Song of Ice and Fire after the disastrous ending to Game of Thrones tainted the brand. Maybe then George R R Martin might actually finish the novels! A fan can dream, eh?

House of the Dragon will stream on HBO Max in 2022. All properties mentioned above – including Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon – are the copyright of HBO and/or Warner Bros. Television. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Walt Disney World at 50

In October 1971 Walt Disney World first opened its doors, making this month the park’s fiftieth anniversary. Though competitors have risen in the years since – Universal Studios most prominently, but there are others – Disney is still the world’s preeminent theme park brand in 2021, which is no small accomplishment!

2006 was the last time I managed to get to Walt Disney World in Florida, and it seems unlikely I’ll be able to make another trip – my health generally prevents me from travelling these days. But I’ve made some wonderful memories at Walt Disney World, from my first trip when I was very young with my parents through to an incredibly fun jaunt with friends while at university. Walt Disney World has always had a lot to offer – and not just for children.

Mickey and Minnie are celebrating 50 years of Walt Disney World!

Recently I put together a list of ten of my favourite Walt Disney World attractions – and you can find it by clicking or tapping here. Long story short, some of the best experiences at Disney – at least in my opinion – aren’t the most extreme roller coasters with the highest drops or fastest speeds. What Walt Disney World has always excelled at is its world-building, crafting lovingly-detailed experiences that don’t need to rely on speed or being an adrenaline rush to hook riders in.

Attractions like Spaceship Earth, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and even the Monorail are all incredibly fun to ride over and over again, and in many ways it’s these slower rides that made me fall in love with the Disney theme parks. It’s this combination of slow rides, dark rides, fast-paced rides, shows, and simulation experiences that has meant Walt Disney World has so much to offer to such a range of visitors. Many theme parks – especially here in the UK – tend to be built around one or two big attractions, and these are almost always ultra-fast adrenaline rush roller coasters. Once you’ve ridden one or two, you’ve ridden them all!

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is one of my favourite rides!

Every aspect of Walt Disney World was planned in detail – with early plans coming from Walt Disney himself before his death in 1966. The idea of corridors running underground to allow employees – better known as “cast members” – to secretly move from one location to another out of sight of guests is a genius move. It means that guests never see a character “out of place;” no cowboys in Tomorrowland nor spacemen in Frontierland.

On a smaller scale, no shop in Walt Disney World sells chewing gum. Why? Because it’s one of the worst forms of litter and the hardest to clean. If every road and pavement were covered with discarded gum the entire park would feel ever so slightly less polished, and Walt Disney was very keen that visitors should feel as if they’d been transported to a magical land away from their everyday lives. He wanted everyone to have the perfect experience – at least within their budgets!

Walt Disney.

The food at Walt Disney World is also exquisite. The park has a huge variety of restaurants and fast-food joints both in the parks and attached to the numerous hotels spread across the property. Many of these are themed experiences in and of themselves, offering guests a chance to dine in the banquet hall of a castle or an orbiting space station – with themed menus to match. And of course, many restaurants bring Mickey Mouse and other characters right to the table.

Walt Disney World didn’t pioneer the concept of the theme park. It wasn’t even the first Disney theme park, with California’s Disneyland having been open for more than sixteen years before it came along. But Walt Disney World took the theme park concept and honed it to near-perfection, having learned the lessons not only of Disneyland but also of other theme parks as well. With years of experience under their collective belts, the team behind Walt Disney World came together to build what they hoped would be the best theme park in the world. Fifty years later the park is still right at the pinnacle of the theme park industry, so it’s hard to say that they didn’t succeed.

The original Walt Disney World logo. It was in use from the park’s opening in October 1971 until 1996.

There are controversies about the way Walt Disney World came to be, of course. Not least the Walt Disney Company’s policy of buying up the land that the parks would ultimately be built upon using dummy companies with fake names to avoid the price shooting up! And of course it’s sad that Walt Disney didn’t live to see his project to completion.

As we look back at Walt Disney World, it’s only natural to look forward, and I’m afraid it’s here that I see new controversies, as well as problems ahead.

In the early 2000s when I was planning a trip to the parks with friends, it was quite achievable for students to put a bit of money aside from part-time jobs to be able to afford not only to visit Walt Disney World, but to do so in style! After saving up, my friends and I were able to afford flights there and back from the UK, as well as a moderately-priced hotel, park tickets, food, and we still had money left over for souvenirs. I can’t remember the exact amount of money we spent apiece, but none of us were wealthy and we still managed to have a wonderful time.

Visiting Walt Disney World is an increasingly expensive proposition.

Nowadays, the inflated prices Walt Disney World charges – and the dozens of hidden extra charges – make it so much more difficult to consider a trip there a worthwhile investment for a lot of folks. Walt Disney World now charges for parking – even at hotels – which is something that never used to happen. And coming very soon is the “Disney Genie Plus” app and programme, which includes paying to skip some of the lines at popular attractions – including on a ride-by-ride basis in some cases, with prices rising dynamically depending on how busy the park gets.

Add into the mix the generally inflated prices of everything from tickets to food, and Walt Disney World is no longer a holiday within reach of everyone. It’s beginning to feel like an attraction targeting wealthier folks exclusively, and when a vacation for a small family is now easily running around the $6-8,000 mark (not including flights, which from the UK aren’t exactly cheap) it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The new Disney Genie Plus paid-for service is going to make Walt Disney World more expensive – and a worse experience.

Just to give one example, a single portion of popcorn from one of the popcorn stands scattered throughout the parks now comes in at $5.25 (£3.90). That’s a heck of a lot for something as basic as popcorn, so you can imagine that other snacks and meals are priced similarly. Because Walt Disney World knows it has a captive audience, prices have shot up. It was never a cheap place, don’t get me wrong, but recent years have seen price hikes left, right, and centre.

In addition, Walt Disney World is losing many of the things that made it unique. One-of-a-kind attractions are being replaced with bland-looking roller coasters, and rides that used to have unique animatronic characters are being closed down or altered to include Disney-branded characters. One of my favourite rides at Epcot was called El Rio del Tiempo, and it was a slow boat ride that brought guests a small taste of Mexico and Mexican history. Since I last visited it’s been re-themed to include Donald Duck.

El Rio del Tiempo is one of many Walt Disney World attractions that you can’t find any more.

Rides and attractions like El Rio del Tiempo – and many more – were part of what gave Walt Disney World its unique charm. There were always Disney-themed rides like Peter Pan’s Flight or the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (from Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland respectively), but they were balanced out by these other rides that weren’t associated with a film or television series. With some rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise having been turned into films in recent years, there aren’t many attractions left that exist purely for their own sakes any more. Perhaps I’m showing my age by lamenting that change of focus!

To end on a much happier note, one of my favourite memories as a geeky, nerdy kid came at Walt Disney World in the early 1990s. Not long after having seen the Star Wars trilogy for the first time, I got to go on a Star Wars ride – Star Tours – at Walt Disney World. After queuing up excitedly, the moment the doors to the Starspeeder 3000 wooshed open for the first time was truly thrilling! Boarding an actual spaceship complete with a droid pilot and going on my own little Star Wars adventure felt like a dream come true.

I have incredible memories of Star Tours!

Walt Disney World has delivered an uncountable number of moments just like that one to children and to adults. My cousin visited a couple of years ago, and her daughter got a complete “princess makeover,” complete with makeup, a tiara, and a princess dress. Wherever she went all day long the cast members would bow and wave and treat her like a real Disney Princess. These kinds of once-in-a-lifetime experiences really don’t exist anywhere else, not in the same way. Just like I had my moment of wonder as I boarded a ship in the Star Wars galaxy, so too did my cousin’s daughter as she was transformed into a princess. Walt Disney World makes magical memories like that, and I hope it always will.

The only reason I criticise Walt Disney World for some of the recent changes – particularly the way things are being priced and the “stealth” costs like charging for hotel parking – is because I wish those kinds of experiences were available to as many people as possible. Walt Disney’s dream was that families could visit his theme parks together, and he even said: “Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.” Try telling that to the executives of the company today, eh!

I doubt that I’ll ever get back to Walt Disney World. But the park holds happy memories for me from childhood – and from adulthood as well. I hope that the park succeeds and will endure for another fifty years, bringing those same happy memories to new generations.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of The Walt Disney Company. Some images courtesy of The Walt Disney Company and the Disney Wiki. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Book of Boba Fett: Thoughts, hopes, and expectations

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2 and Return of the Jedi.

“Mixed feelings” might be the best phrase to describe my attitude toward the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars series The Book of Boba Fett. I have no doubt that the series will do a lot of things well, from visual effects to exciting action sequences. But if you recall my criticisms from 2020 when it was first rumoured that Boba Fett might be included in Season 2 of The Mandalorian, the bare premise of the series is enough to leave me underwhelmed.

Let’s be blunt for a moment. Boba Fett was a dull character whose entire popularity in the early 1980s came from his unique-looking armour. This led to sales of action figures, models, and dolls – and an oversized, undue gravitas given to a minor, one-dimensional foil for Han Solo. Boba Fett does have a unique, cool look, I won’t deny that. But his role in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was minor, and his death in the latter film was a fittingly unspectacular end for an unspectacular character.

Boba Fett’s popularity stems from toys and action figures. By the way, does anyone else really dislike Pop Vinyl/Funko Pop? I just can’t get on board with the design of practically any of their figures…

However, Boba Fett’s popularity endured over the years, helped in no small part by his character being fleshed out in a fan-fictiony way by writers of the old Expanded Universe books and comics. So by the time of the prequels, George Lucas and others involved in the production of those films clearly felt an obligation to include backstory for him as well.

I don’t hate Boba Fett, but when I watched the Star Wars trilogy for the first time I just didn’t get the hype. Why was this character so remarkable considering he did one thing – captured Han Solo – then died in a pretty stupid way when his jetpack misfired? And he didn’t even capture Han Solo himself, he had to enlist the help of Darth Vader and a whole legion of Stormtroopers. In short: cool-looking armour, but that’s about as much as I can say about Boba Fett in his original incarnation.

Boba Fett’s first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back.

However, The Book of Boba Fett isn’t following the character as he appeared in the original films. As I noted in my review of Season 2 of The Mandalorian, the character introduced to us as “Boba Fett” feels a long, long way removed from the bounty hunter we met in The Empire Strikes Back. His entire demeanour was so radically different that I said in my review that the two characters feel entirely separate. The plot of The Mandalorian Season 2 wouldn’t have been any different had that character been given a different name and Boba Fett never been mentioned.

One thing I will credit The Mandalorian’s Boba Fett with is that I felt the character got a more nuanced portrayal than he ever did in the films. There was a sense that this man was a weary veteran, ready to hang up the armour and live a quiet life somewhere. He’d fought all the battles he wanted to fight and was ready to try something new – at least until we saw him in the final moments of the season seemingly intent on seizing control of Tatooine’s underworld.

Boba Fett as he initially appeared in The Mandalorian Season 2.

Just like The Rise of Skywalker had done before it with Palpatine, The Mandalorian Season 2 completely ignored what has to be the most important point about Boba Fett: how on earth is he still alive? If the new series can find a way to pull an answer to that question out of its backside that even makes a degree of sense, it’ll have made progress. And I think that’s my biggest single request when it comes to the storyline of The Book of Boba Fett: find some way to give us a plausible explanation for the main character’s survival.

Remember that Boba Fett fell into the gaping mouth of a giant monster in the Tatooine desert. The Sarlaac monster in the Pit of Carkoon was presented as a truly awful torturous death, supposedly taking a long time in its inescapable digestive tract. Jabba the Hutt was said to favour this method of execution, and planned to execute Luke Skywalker and Han Solo there in Return of the Jedi. Boba Fett fell into the monster’s mouth, and that seemed to be a very definitive end for him!

How did Boba Fett survive? Finding a plausible answer is key to the show’s success.

One aspect of the story of The Mandalorian Season 2 has potentially complicated any story of Boba’s escape. The fact that his armour had been lost on Tatooine, recovered by Jawas and later sold to Cobb Vanth clearly indicates that Boba didn’t simply blast his way out of the creature as soon as the battle on Jabba’s barge was over. Because he fell into the pit wearing his armour – and thus carrying at least some of his weapons – the show might’ve been able to argue that he didn’t die and simply shot his way out. But if so, he’d have kept his armour.

So the question of his survival remains, and in the aftermath of just how poorly the awful line “somehow Palpatine returned” went down in The Rise of Skywalker, I can’t imagine that The Book of Boba Fett would try to ignore this point. Even if all we get are a few lines of dialogue saying that he climbed out and was saved by roaming scavengers or Chewbacca’s great-aunt, I think we need some kind of closure before we can take seriously the fact that Boba Fett is back.

Boba Fett, moments before dying like a chump.

Then we come to the premise of the series itself, and this is perhaps what I’m most interested in. One of my biggest disappointments when it came to The Mandalorian was that the show’s basic premise remains unfulfilled despite sounding incredibly promising. I wanted to see “the adventures of a gunslinger away from the reach of the New Republic,” but instead the show brought Baby Yoda, the Force, the Empire, and even Luke Skywalker into play in a story that increasingly felt like Return of the Jedi II as Season 2 wore on.

The Book of Boba Fett promises us the following: “Legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett and mercenary Fennec Shand navigating the galaxy’s underworld when they return to the sands of Tatooine to stake their claim on the territory once ruled by Jabba the Hutt and his crime syndicate.”

Though I stand by my criticisms of the Star Wars franchise making desperate nostalgia plays for characters and settings from the original films, that premise doesn’t sound half bad. Though I don’t want to get my hopes up too high after being burned by The Mandalorian, maybe we can finally get a look at the Star Wars galaxy away from the Force and the Skywalker family.

Hopefully The Book of Boba Fett won’t be repeating scenes like this one…

Boba’s survival after falling into the Pit of Carkoon risks coming across as cheap, fan-servicey, and just plain dumb. But if the show can find some way to navigate that sizeable pitfall (pun intended), then Boba Fett could actually prove to be an interesting point-of-view character for exploring the darker side of the Star Wars galaxy.

As an ex-bounty hunter, Boba Fett used to inhabit this seedy underworld that the show’s official description is teasing us with. But as someone who’s been out of action for almost a decade at this point, things have moved on in his absence. The biggest change, most likely, is the fall of the Empire. Without the Empire to crack down on criminals, and with the New Republic taking a different approach, it’s possible that the criminal underworld has grown since Return of the Jedi.

What will the criminal underworld be like after the fall of the Empire?

Boba Fett will have to navigate a changed world, and that offers up a lot of potential for exposition and explanation to be dropped into the series in a way that makes sense. There’s a high probability of learning more about the Star Wars galaxy – and particularly its criminal side – than we ever have before. That idea is definitely an interesting one, and though I wouldn’t personally have chosen to bring Boba Fett back from the dead in order to tell this kind of story, as a concept it’s hard to fault.

As a character, Boba Fett is perhaps open to further exploration. As I noted above, in his original appearances he was fairly one-dimensional, and his role in The Mandalorian Season 2 came with a degree of mystery to it. There’s scope to learn more about Boba Fett the man: who is the person underneath the armour? What drives him? What are his ambitions now that he’s got his armour back and taken over Jabba’s former throne? All of these things could potentially lead to interesting moments of characterisation, and as a concept the idea of an anti-hero or a villain with a heart and understandable motivations can work exceptionally well.

Din Djarin with Boba Fett in The Mandalorian Season 2.

All of this could come to pass if the show stays true to its premise! And this is where my concerns kick in. As Boba Fett’s return proves in and of itself, the Star Wars franchise is completely and utterly dependant on its original films and the characters and concepts that were present there. The Mandalorian brought us Baby Yoda, the Force, Ahsoka, the Empire, and Luke Skywalker in its first two seasons – along with dozens of other throwbacks to Star Wars’ past. Some of these elements came close to working, but overall they drowned out any originality the series could’ve had. I fear that The Book of Boba Fett will meet a similar fate.

There are all manner of ways this could happen. Off the top of my head, here are a few: Boba Fett comes into conflict with Luke Skywalker and his new Jedi Order somehow, perhaps even seeking revenge for his encounter with the Sarlacc. Maybe Han Solo will be a target of Boba Fett’s over the course of the show, again looking for revenge. Some other Jedi could emerge, perhaps a character from the prequels or one of the kids’ shows. Boba Fett could encounter Jedi or Sith artefacts, which would bring the Force into the series. And so on. There are many ways that we could see the show fall back on these nostalgia plays and fail to live up to its potential.

Promotional poster for The Book of Boba Fett.

I’d love for The Book of Boba Fett to have more to offer than nostalgic throwbacks, good visual effects, and well-constructed moments of action and excitement. Whether it will or not… well, the jury’s still out. I’m hopeful, but cautious.

The Book of Boba Fett exists in a strange space for me. I should feel more excitement for what is only the second ever live-action Star Wars television series, especially considering the huge budget afforded to shows made for Disney+ and the platform’s excellent track record with visual effects. Star Wars has literally never looked better in terms of visuals and special effects, and with the franchise taking a different turn to perhaps visit the seedier underworld in depth for the first time, there are things that pique my interest. I’m just having a hard time jumping on the hype train.

Despite that, I will do my utmost to give The Book of Boba Fett a fair shake. It will premiere on the 29th of December – right in the middle of Star Trek: Discovery’s imminent fourth season. I can’t promise I’ll have time to review every individual episode with so much else happening in December, but I’ll certainly share my thoughts on the series at some point, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that. I’d love to be able to come back after the show’s first season and say that my fears and doubts were unfounded.

The Book of Boba Fett will premiere on Disney+ on the 29th of December 2021. The Star Wars franchise – including The Book of Boba Fett and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fighting the urge to panic-buy

The media is truly excellent at manipulation. Take the UK’s recent petrol and diesel shortages as an example. A “leak” from a private meeting between government officials and industry leaders suggested that the chronic shortage of lorry drivers – which extends far beyond Britain’s borders, afflicting much of western Europe and even the United States – could make it harder to ensure fuel deliveries to petrol stations. The inevitable and quite predictable result of the press reporting this as if it were imminent was panic-buying; a run on fuel.

It wasn’t until the media-reported “leak” that the panic-buying began, which led to the very fuel shortages that headlines screamed were coming. In short, the UK’s current fuel predicament is entirely a media-created problem, but I doubt very much that the responsible parties will ever be held accountable.

There has been a run on petrol stations in the UK over the last few days, all thanks to the media.

The same is true of other instances of panic-buying over the last couple of years. The infamous toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic was, once again, a media-created firestorm. And many media outlets, particularly tabloids, haven’t stopped trying to create more “shortages” to report on ever since. They prioritise sales, clickbait, and the revenue that panic-inducing headlines provide over any semblance of journalistic integrity, taking photos of supposedly “empty” shelves in supermarkets and showing them to the world under exaggerated headlines promising imminent doom.

My first ever job when I was still at school was working in a convenience shop in a small town. On any day of the week it was possible to find an empty shelf – most shops and supermarkets don’t have large stockrooms any more, with the just-in-time delivery system bringing everything on a daily basis. By the time evening rolled around, some shelves could look pretty bare. It’s at these times of day that many tabloid “journalists” and their photographer allies sneak into supermarkets to snap pictures of empty shelves in a desperate quest to keep the public buying newspapers (a dying format) or clicking on headlines proclaiming that we’re all about to starve to death.

You can find scenes like this seven days a week in most supermarkets, convenience stores, and food shops.

Even if there are individual industry-specific shortages or supply chain problems, these aren’t going to be permanent. The fuel panic has already blown over in much of the country, with only the London area still fully in the grip of the crisis. And promises of additional drivers and tankers backed up by the army should see that settle within a matter of days. Likewise in food, where certain products have been out of stock. These things don’t last forever, because it’s in everyone’s interest, from the government to the shops to their suppliers, to figure out solutions as quickly as possible. The only ones who benefit in any way from these shortages – or reported “shortages” – are the media.

So why, then, am I finding it hard to resist the temptation to join in and start panic-buying?

Partly this is an anxiety thing, and folks who suffer from anxiety to a worse degree than I do must surely be feeling awful right now. Headlines are screaming of shortages in fuel, meat, fruits and vegetables, and even proclaiming that Christmas is about to be “cancelled” due to a lack of festive food and toys. For people with mental health conditions, these kinds of headlines are just awful.

“Christmas is cancelled!” scream the headlines in some failing newspapers.

The rational part of my brain is fighting the irrational side – as it always has to. Are there enough lorries to transport everything I need? Will I have enough food? Will I be able to get enough food for the cats? What about my medication? What about cat litter? What about bin liners? What about this, that, and the other things?

It’s so very tempting to say “I’ll just pick up a couple of extras.” That doesn’t feel like panic-buying, and I can even rationalise it to myself by saying that I’m not panicking, I’m just being sensible and taking precautions in case other people start panic-buying. Besides, the supermarket won’t miss a couple of extra tins of potatoes and packets of cat food, right? They’ve got loads of stuff on the shelves (despite the false pictures printed in the newspapers!)

A shortage of HGV drivers is one factor in some of these “shortages.”

The problem with that mindset is that, when everyone does the same thing, shops run out of everything more quickly. When people who have their tanks half-full stop by the petrol station for a top-up “just in case,” fuel runs out. And that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing over the past week. People who didn’t need to buy fuel, and wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, have started queueing up to top up their vehicles in case there’s a shortage caused by panic-buying… not realising or acknowledging that they themselves are part of the problem.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. And it’s easy to talk oneself into it, too. After all, if there’s even the possibility of things running out, it makes sense to jump in ahead of the panic and stock up, right? The mindset of “other people panic-buy; I’m just being sensible” is a way for all of us to rationalise what is really not rational behaviour. The fear of missing out, of sitting at home without food or toilet paper or petrol wishing we’d taken action sooner is pushing people on, spurring them to take irrational action and do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

Other people panic-buy, but when *I* rush out to buy things I don’t need, I’m “just taking sensible precautions” or “stocking up.”

In the west, most people have never had to experience a genuine shortage of anything. In the UK, there haven’t really been any major problems or shortages since the 1970s, meaning anyone under the age of 50 can’t remember the three-day week or rolling blackouts. There hasn’t been a petrol shortage since fuel protests in the year 2000, and that was swiftly resolved. While there were supply issues for a few select products – like toilet paper – early last year that are certainly playing into people’s fears, it’s been a generation since the country last endured any major shortages.

With no experience of hard times to fall back on, people are more inclined to panic. Some genuinely fear starvation – though their girth suggests that such a fate would take a very long time indeed. But most people simply fear the unknown: what will a world without easy access to abundant supplies of food look like? Not knowing leaves folks much more inclined to panic.

The UK hasn’t experienced problems like these since Ted Heath was Prime Minister in the mid-1970s.

The media as a whole is being phenomenally irresponsible, though certain publications are worse than others. The incompetent government isn’t helping, of course, and things like a cut to benefits (welfare), a lower-than-expected rise in pensions, tax rises, and major price rises for electricity and gas bills all pile on top of the supposed shortages, adding to a sense of unease and worry among the population. On a personal level, I’m seeing my income shrink right at the moment my bills rise. With people already worried about paying for the basics like food and heating, the threat of food supplies drying up or no fuel at the pumps was the last straw for a lot of people.

It’s understandable, then, why people feel compelled to join the queues at petrol stations or push their way into packed supermarkets to chase down the last roll of Andrex. And I can take some degree of comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Fighting the urge to panic-buy isn’t easy… but it’s worth doing. In fact, it’s the only way to prevent more panic-buying in the long term. That and not buying any newspaper with a red top or clicking on a clickbait headline on a poorly-coded website.

I’m going to try hard to avoid succumbing and contributing to the panic. Hopefully the reward will be a government that pays attention and actually takes action to fix the systemic issues that got us to this point – but I won’t hold my breath for that. Until then, I think I’m going to take a break from the news and focus on happier things. Like re-watching yesterday’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Damn, that was a fine episode.

Some stock images courtesy of Unsplash and/or Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 8: I, Excretus

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

I, Excretus was an exceptionally funny episode. Where other episodes of Lower Decks this season have offered a mixture of comic moments and drama, this week the comedy started in the first moment of the story and didn’t let up until the very end. Though the crew were put in peril thanks to the actions of a rogue drill instructor, the entire story was light-hearted and funny, with the villainous Shari Yn Yem played in an incredibly over-the-top way.

The episode had a “Saturday morning cartoon” vibe, feeling like a story in the vein of classic cartoons such as Wacky Races or Scooby-Doo, Where Are You. For the first time this season, all four ensigns and all four main members of the senior staff participated in a single story. Each of the ensigns had their own moments in the spotlight, but every drill they participated in and every action they took all played into the same overarching plotline.

“We won’t let you get away with this!”

This makes a change from the way Lower Decks has often operated. There wasn’t a B-plot this time to balance things out, and though Boimler spent much of the episode focusing on his own drill this still connected to the rest of the story in a significant way. As a result of bringing its characters together, everyone felt like they had a significant role to play; no character felt extraneous or unnecessary. And because there was only one real story to focus on, with no need to bring in side-characters or send anyone on their own mission, the entire episode felt well-paced.

I’ve commented on a couple of Lower Decks episodes this season that didn’t manage to strike the right balance in terms of stories and characters – usually as a result of trying to cram too many plotlines and characters into a single twenty-minute timeframe. But there’s no denying that I, Excretus doesn’t have that problem!

It was great to bring the show’s main characters together for a change.

Lower Decks has been rather odd in the way it’s used some returning characters and actors from past iterations of Star Trek. John de Lancie as Q and Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris both felt under-used in the episodes they appeared in, and if I were to make one criticism of I, Excretus it would be that Alice Krige’s role as the (holographic) Borg Queen was incredibly minor. It’s another case where it was wonderful to welcome back an actor from Star Trek’s past, but I would’ve liked to have seen her given more than just a couple of lines.

Sticking with the Borg, although Boimler was only facing off against them in holographic form, it’s still the first time we’ve seen active Borg drones in modern Star Trek. Star Trek: Picard Season 1 featured scenes set on a derelict Borg cube, and of course brought back Hugh, Seven of Nine, and other ex-Borg. But there was never any danger posed by the Borg; no threat of assimilation, no legions of drones, etc. It was actually great fun to see a semi-Borg story for the first time in such a long time in Lower Decks – even if it was just a simulation!

Boimler’s Borg encounter was a fun element of the episode’s storyline.

The design of the Borg was particularly neat. The entire aesthetic, from the drones to their ship, was right in line with their earlier appearances in The Next Generation, complete with larger “helmets,” black undershirts, and so on. Though the design of the Borg hasn’t changed that much, by the time of First Contact and Voyager they’d taken on a more streamlined look. Lower Decks brought back what I guess we could call “original” Borg, and that made their inclusion in the story even more fun.

As a complete aside, how much fun would it be to give Lower Decks a proper Borg story sometime? An episode structured like I, Excretus would be perfect, too, with the ensigns and senior staff all having to work together to overcome their cybernetic enemies. Of course the USS Cerritos wouldn’t do well against a Borg cube… but perhaps they could have trouble tangling with a Borg scout ship or probe! For a moment as the episode drew to a close I actually wondered if Boimler’s “assimilation” would be something the series would return to next week, perhaps even ending on a cliffhanger. But I suspect the season will close out with the return of the Pakleds either this week or next. Still, I’m officially putting it out there: a Lower Decks Borg episode would be fantastic!

Boimler faced off against the Borg Queen this week… albeit in holographic form.

The drill format and the use of what looked like portable mini-holodecks allowed I, Excretus to be absolutely jam-packed with throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. The episode’s entire premise gave the writers an excuse to delve deeply into Star Trek’s past, picking out classic episodes and thrusting members of the Lower Decks crew into those scenarios. It worked exceptionally well, and there were overt references to The Original Series, films, and The Next Generation that all slotted seamlessly into the plot.

It was also a lot of fun to welcome back a Pandronian. These “colony creatures” were first encountered in The Animated Series, but for obvious reasons proved impractical to depict in any of the live-action shows. Lower Decks has had a number of references to The Animated Series, and this latest one was neat too. Apparently the Pandronians are now on friendlier terms with the Federation than they were in Captain Kirk’s day!

The episode’s villain, Shari Yn Yem, was the first Pandronian seen in Star Trek since The Animated Series.

I, Excretus had a fun opening gag, but unfortunately it was one that had been spoiled by pre-release trailers. Though it was a lot of fun to see the ensigns accidentally abandoned by the Cerritos while on a spacewalk, knowing that it was coming kind of robbed the moment of much of its humour. As I said shortly before Lower Decks Season 2 premiered on an episode of my podcast, the marketing team seemed to go overboard with throwing out trailers, clips, and mini-teasers in the run-up to the season premiere. I actually ended up switching off and not watching all of them specifically because I wanted to avoid this feeling.

This is something I call “the Simpsons Movie phenomenon” – named for the incredibly bad way that film was marketed. Long story short, by the time I sat down to watch The Simpsons Movie I’d literally already seen every single good joke, visual gag, and funny moment because they were all included in the trailers! Lower Decks isn’t that bad – at least not yet – but it’s definitely something the marketing team should keep in mind. There’s a line to walk between getting viewers interested in an upcoming production and revealing too much, and Lower Decks has definitely come close to skirting that line sometimes. The entire opening of the episode prior to the titles set up this one joke – the ship warping away and leaving the ensigns behind. But a lot of folks will have already seen that moment because it was included in full in the trailers, depriving it of much of its impact. Though the episode as a whole was fantastic, and that moment at the beginning is quite funny, it’s something that I feel the show’s marketing team need to be aware of.

This moment had been shown ahead of time in the trailers for Season 2.

The opening joke came back into play later in the episode, and this is something Lower Decks has excelled at, particularly during Season 2. What seem to be one-off gags or jokes disconnected from the rest of the story actually prove to be important later on – such as the anbo-jyutsu match in Mugato, Gumato. Though the show still makes abundant use of throwaway jokes and one-off scenes, the fact that some seemingly innocuous moments end up connecting to the plot in a big way is testament to the quality of the writing. As a viewer it keeps us on our toes – we can’t be sure what’s just a joke and what might be important to the plot!

A big part of I, Excretus was showing how both the ensigns and senior staff struggled when forced to switch roles. This kind of team-building exercise can be important to morale, and perhaps we’ll see a future episode or story make reference to the lessons that the characters learned this week. Tendi’s story in particular highlighted this aspect of the episode – being put into a situation drawn from The Next Generation Season 5 episode Ethics, she came away from the experience with a great deal of respect for the decisions Dr T’Ana has to make on a daily basis.

Having the characters swap roles gave them a greater appreciation for their colleagues and the work they do.

Mariner was the character we spent the most time with during this portion of the episode. She got three separate drills whereas the others only got one each. Her first drill harkened back to Mirror, Mirror from The Original Series, complete with classic Terran Empire uniforms. Though the Mirror Universe has never been a personal favourite of mine, I’d actually be interested to see Lower Decks’ take on the setting in future. The glimpse we got this time was tantalising, and just like the Prime Timeline’s Cadet Tilly was a captain in the Terran Empire, maybe the alternate universe could shake up the command structure of the Cerritos as well. Captain Mariner, perhaps?

Her second drill took her to The Original Series again, this time the third season episode Spectre of the Gun. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this Wild West-themed story, and though it didn’t take up a lot of time in the episode it was still neat to see. It also led to the revelation from Captain Freeman that Mariner took horse-riding lessons for two years, which was kind of cute.

Mariner during her Wild West drill.

Finally, Mariner got to experience polywater intoxication first-hand. And my goodness, if folks thought that Mugato, Gumato was “too adult” a couple of weeks ago, this sequence must’ve made their heads explode! As the holographic crew suffered from the strange affliction seen in The Original Series first season episode The Naked Time and The Next Generation first season episode The Naked Now, they engaged in all kinds of debauchery, much to Mariner’s shock and disgust.

There will be criticisms of that sequence, especially considering the weirdly squeamish, reactionary response to a five-second clip in Mugato, Gumato, and Lower Decks will have to face up to that. Some fans simply don’t like this style of humour. But as I said when I talked about this issue in more detail, as someone who is asexual I’m one of the people that you’d think would be offended or upset by these kinds of sexual jokes. But again, as with the moment in Mugato, Gumato, I just didn’t think it was a problem at all. In fact, some of the individual jokes during this sequence – such as Ransom getting a spanking and Mariner’s horrified reaction to it – actually made me chuckle.

Mariner did not enjoy this particular drill…

Rutherford got a Wrath of Khan-inspired moment during his drill, but unlike Spock was unable to sacrifice himself to save the ship. It was actually really cool to see the “monster maroon” uniforms in animated form, as well as to catch a very brief glimpse of what I assume would be the USS Enterprise in its refit configuration. Rutherford didn’t get as much screen time during this part of the episode, but his scenes harkened back to one of the best Star Trek films.

At first the senior staff thought they’d got it made! But as their drill ramped up and they were left in a cargo bay to stack crates while all manner of excitement seemed to be happening outside, they quickly became frustrated. Lower Decks originally promised us a look at the mundane activities away from the bridge, and stacking crates in a cargo bay seems about as boring a task as there is in Starfleet! Thinking back to episodes of Voyager or The Next Generation, though… someone has to have stacked those crates in the cargo bays!

The senior staff got a turn at being lower deckers!

As a “fish out of water” story, this side of the episode was fun. Putting the entire crew through their paces, then having them team up and use what they’d learned to defeat the villain made for an exciting, well-connected episode. Episodes like I, Excretus were exactly what I had in mind when Lower Decks was first announced, and although the A-plot/B-plot structure the show favours can work very well, once in a while it’s nice to see most of the characters working together and involved in the same storyline.

I had a great time with I, Excretus. The story was packed to the brim with very obvious callbacks to Star Trek’s past; the Mirror Universe, The Animated Series, even The Search for Spock were all represented in an incredibly fun, light-hearted story. Bringing the show’s main characters together for an outing that harkened back to old-school cartoons was truly fantastic, and I, Excretus will surely go down as one of the highlights of Season 2. Speaking of which… there are only two episodes remaining now that we’re into October. Where does the time go, eh?

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: The Original Series + Star Trek: Lower Decks crossover theory: Lost human colonies

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.

Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one which connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!

Has the existence of the Hysperians in Lower Decks solved a fifty-five-year-old mystery?

Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.

Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.

Did ancient humanoids “seed” the galaxy with their genetic data? And if so, does that account for the abundance of humanoid races?

But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.

Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

A Roman centurion from the planet 892-IV.

Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.

So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.

The Hysperians have their own system of government, led by a monarch.

Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.

So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.

Bringloidi leader Danilo Odell with Captain Picard.

Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.

Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.

Burnham, Owosekun, and Captain Pike on the planet Terralysium. The inhabitants were descended from humans saved by the Red Angel.

Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.

I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.