Last year, Star Trek celebrated its 50th anniversary. Which is incredible for a TV show don’t you think? But, Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 30. And while the original series is where it all started, modern Star Trek owes everything to The Next Generation (TNG). TNG proved that Star Trek is more than just the adventures of a certain group of characters, but an entire universe. TNG also proved that you can do Star Trek without Bones, Kirk, and Spock. And it was a hit from the start.
The Next Generation did keep some of the basics intact. There was a ship was named Enterprise, and it did have a crew whose mission was to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Some argue that the first season was a bit too much like the previous iteration. But even in the first season, TNG was able to introduce some great things to the Star Trek universe. Like what, you ask?
- Q, the omnipotent and capricious judge of humanity
- The holodeck
- Data’s “brother” Lore, and;
- Worf and his relationship to the Klingon culture
If TNG had flopped it would have been disastrous, and Star Trek would surely have just withered away. That means we wouldn’t have gotten Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise. There have been so many great Star Trek movies as well, especially thanks to J.J. Abrams. But would we have the rest? I mean, if TNG hadn’t been successful, or if it hadn’t even existed, there’s a good chance that we wouldn’t have some of the other shows. Sure, you can make the argument that the quality may have been less than amazing, it doesn’t mean that the entire season or show as horrible. We also need to keep in mind that the quality was par for the time period.
The Next Generation also paved the way for other shows to go beyond the Enterprise and its crew on exploratory missions. We saw the Star Trek universe on a space station, on a stranded ship, trying to get home. TNG went beyond keeping the legacy of Star Trek alive and expanded it’s scope. Which makes TNG iconic in its own right. There wouldn’t be a “Kirk vs Picard” argument if Patrick Stewart hadn’t done such a great job as captain. He was very different than Kirk, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t as good. Also, Data’s journey into becoming a “person” was an integral part of the show, and also a major character arc.
The old show didn’t have anything like that in terms of length. The episode “Measure of a Man” remains one of the best episodes of television ever made. Simply because it was the episode where Data’s right to autonomy as a sentient being and not just an object is explored. The Next Generation is not just an amazing Star Trek series, but it is also an amazing show, period. It is what all other science fiction stories aspire to be. Whether or not they are successful is another matter.