Star Trek: Discovery’s Alex Kurtzman defends the series’ approach to canon

Since its debut in 1966, the Star Trek franchise has gone on to spawn hundreds of episodes and over a dozen movies, meaning that there’s an entire universe worth of characters, planets, ships, battles, species, and so much more for fans to digest. When it comes to canon, certain Star Trek fans can get particularly vocal, especially when something seems to step on the toes of the beloved Original Series. Star Trek: Discovery has drawn quite a lot of attention for seemingly disregarding a few key elements of Trek mythology, especially regarding Michael Burnham’s (Sonequq Martin-Green) connections to Spock (Ethan Peck). As Spock has never exactly mentioned having a sister anytime over the past five decades, there seems to be a bit of an inconsistancy, but Discovery co-creator/showrunner Alex Kurtzman told Entertainment Weekly that not only will that issue be addressed, but we’ll also discover how Spock’s relationship with Michael goes a long way towards forming the Spock we know and love.

The fans have a lot of questions about Michael Burnham’s [Sonequa Martin-Green] connections to Spock. And my strong feeling was if we were going to tell a new Spock story we had to tell an unwritten chapter and fill in some blanks about his character that people may not have known. And one of the things I really enjoyed about my time working on the Trek movies is taking a look at certain areas that had been painted so broadly there was a lot of room for interpretation or gaps that could be filled in. We did that last year with the Klingon war. Why Spock has never mentioned his half-sister Michael Burnham is such a major question to anybody who knows that character that it felt like we needed an entire season devoted to the answer rather than just one small episode.

It also gives an opportunity to show a part of Spock we haven’t seen. When we meet Spock in The Original Series he’s more or less the fully formed Vulcan that he remains for the rest of his run; he has come to understand there’s a necessary balance between logic and emotion. The Spock we meet in season 2 is really not there yet. He’s experienced his event that’s fried his logical brain and his emotional side is not equipped to deal with it and he’s really struggling. The big idea was to say this season is about coming to understand that if it were not for his relationship with Michael he would not have become the Spock we know today.

I’m certain whatever explanation is given won’t please everyone, and Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd took the harsh approach and told Kurtzman that franchise canon shouldn’t matter. What should matter is telling the best story you can without having to bend over backwards to stay consistent with the past fifty years of a long-running franchise. I don’t necesarily disagree with that assesment, but I would like to think that there’s a way to do both, something Kurtzman seems to believe as well. “First, I appreciate that you thought that, that’s awesome. I actually think somewhere between what I’m saying and what you’re saying is the truth. We really do spend a lot of time talking a lot about canon and there are people in the writers’ room specifically to tell us where we’re stepping on the line of violation,” Kurtzman said.”I will agree with you, though, that the best version of the story needs to be the driver. But what’s the best version of a story is an entirely subjective thing. That’s why we have so many different voices in the writers room with so many different points of view.

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Alex Kurtzman added, “You want to write a nuanced story to get as many different voices as possible to represent how they feel about different ideas. A big part of my process is listening to the other writers. With Trek, you want to go out and beta-test ideas. But as soon as you do that you’ll get 50 percent of people telling you they love it and 50 percent saying you should be strung up and killed. At a certain point you need to follow your own internal compass, but you don’t want to do it in a vacuum — that’s very dangerous — so we hire people to express what they think Star Trek means, and where we’re violating canon and what we can invent within the grey area. So, yes, we want to stay true to canon, but we’re also doing a lot of new invention that has nothing to do with canon. There’s a lot of conversation online like, “Why don’t you start with new things? Why do you have to look back?” And the answer is, “We can do both.” We have to do both. Star Trek has always done both.

Star Trek: Discovery’s second season will debut on CBS All Access on January 17th.