How Star Trek: Lower Decks Uses Canon to Its Advantage

Star Trek: Lower Decks is a show made by fans, and that is about fans. But is it only for longtime Trekkies? The shows first few episodes go heavy on the Star Trek references, especially compared to a show like Star Trek: Picard, which tried to go easy on the specific Star Trek references to avoid alienating newcomers. spoke to Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan ahead of the show’s premiere, and he’s confident that the amount of Star Trek references in the show won’t be a problem for anyone who isn’t intimately familiar with the Star Trek universe. For those that are familiar, it’s part of the fun of the series.

“The more you reference Star Trek stuff, the more to a new fan it’s just going to sound like sci-fi stuff,” McMahan says. “There’s nothing in a Lower Decks episode that will keep a new audience member from understanding what the emotional stories are and what the sci-fi story is if they don’t know the term that you’re using that reflects back on an existing Star Trek episode. That being said, nine times out of 10, when we’re doing a sci-fi thing, we come up with the story we want to tell, and then we’re like, ‘Alright, well hold on, is there anything in Star Trek canon that this could just be that we can be careful with?’ And luckily, there’s quite a few Star Trek episodes and movies out there to pull from.

“The problem with most Star Trek shows is, ‘Dang what can we do that no Star Trek has done before?’ If you’ve read The Fifty-Year-Mission, [The Original Series] was all about, ‘What are we doing? What kind of sci-fi voice is going to be here? How Western is it? How sci-fi is it?’ And then every show after is, ‘Oh no, how do we tell a new Star Trek story?’ For us, that’s not a problem because our guys can do it with Star Trek story that’s already been done because they’re the guys who show up and do things that have already been done. That’s what Cerritos is all about. And so all we have to do is find new stories about the characters, and it opens us up to the more references to the existing world the better, and if you’re a new audience, just let it wash over you. If you love the show and you want to dig into existing Star Trek, and you find out that Roga Danar is a real person, great. You have dot have an intimate understanding of Star Trek. But if you do, then this is a party. Let’s go, let’s reference everything all the time because that’s what we are, and that’s what makes us laugh and that what we love, that’s what we love talking about.”

But the series isn’t limited to talking bout classic Star Trek. asked if Lower Decks could reference ongoing Star Trek series like Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

“Everything is on the table,” McMahan says. “It really just is what do we think the characters might know? Some stuff that happens in Discovery is off the books. We have big arguments about Section 31. How many characters in Starfleet actually know about Section 31? Or do they know it’s a known thing that some people think is a rumor and some people think is real or is it out there? The Disco era stuff, all of that, that’s fair game as long as we believe that it would be something that our character would have learned about at Starfleet Academy, that they would have been able to watch on the holodeck, that they would have been to read logs about.

“In every episode that you’ve seen, it leans more heavily on TNG because we’ve been finding as we’ve been writing it that each season — because we’ve been working on Season Two as well — and the Season One flavor is really like TNG.”


When we suggested that Lower Deck‘s second season might be Dominion War II, McMahan only laughed. “Tempting, but you’ve almost had it,” he said. “You’ll have to wait and see. It doesn’t really hit you over the head with it. I think a good way for a fan to figure out what we were diving into is which guest stars are we having each season because then we start geeking out over the folks that we’re watching and we’re like, ‘Oh, we got to try to figure out how to get them to Lower Decks.”

New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks stream on Thursdays on CBS All Access.

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