For those who have been sleeping on the rebirth of Star Trek in the past three years or so, let me tell you, you’ve been missing out. If the triumphant return of Space Dad Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard didn’t get you excited about Trek, I am personally very confused and so, I’ve decided that maybe you need some more convincing as to why watching some of this new Star Trek could be good for your soul. I mean, I could list all the ways in which watching old Star Trek could make parents feel a little bit more optimistic and hopeful about the future, but isn’t it fun to watch something new and exciting?
If you’re not a diehard Trekkie, I get that there’s a perception that watching Star Trek can sometimes feel like being forced to eat your vegetables. With the notable exceptions of the J.J. Abrams films, the vast majority of Star Trek is more thoughtful and ruminative than your average sci-fi action flick. People have long-debated (including me and Rainn Wilson in one interview) the differences between Star Trek and Star Wars, but I think for exhausted parents at the end of the day, historically, Star Trek is more like reading The New Yorker, and Star Wars is more like watching sports. Basically, they’re not the same thing at all.
But…what if the new Star Trek was more like Star Wars, a big sci-fi action romp that somehow didn’t lose any of its political and intellectual edge? With the debut of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, that’s exactly what’s happened. Thanks to a new character, the swashbuckling Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) Trek now has a resident Indiana Jones-style badass. Book has a slick-ass spaceship that looks like the Millennium Falcon crossed with a hatchet and he flies around with a giant Maine Coon cat named “Grudge.” Book brings a cool-dude swagger to Star Trek that is familiar, but also, refreshing.
We’re used to the hard-boiled space smuggler who claims he doesn’t want to help out. That’s Han Solo. In the new Discovery season premiere, that’s what Book acts like at first: A dude who doesn’t care about the problems of the time-traveling Commander Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green.) He’s got his own problems and tells her that her “rocket girl” outfit isn’t really going to convince him to help her. But, Book is different from Han or Lando in one specific way: He’s not really smuggling for money and he’s not some space gambler or con-man. It just seems that way. Instead (spoilers!) Book is all about rescuing endangered alien animals, and then, smuggling them back to sanctuary planets. Basically, he’s a tough guy who is also all about saving nature for the sake of saving it. If Indiana Jones was a Black man, rode around in space, and rescued space animals instead of old artifacts, he’d probably be Book. (I mean, Cleveland Booker even sounds like an updated version of Indiana Jones, right?)
Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery is our introduction to Book, but you might remember David Ajala from The Dark Knight or more recently, the CW’s Supergirl. He’s a funny actor, who has an imposing action-star vibe. He kicks some alien ass in this first new Discovery episode, but after much cajoling, he reveals himself to be basically, a better person than Han Solo ever was.
Male action stars in big sci-fi narratives often fall into some problematic cliches. What’s nice about Book in Star Trek is that the character seems to have taken on some of that space pirate baggage, and then, flipped it all on its head. Instead of Han Solo, we’ve got a space Robin Hood, who is teaming up with a time-traveler from Star Trek’s most recent series. In case you’re confused, Discovery is now set in the year 3188, even though its two previous seasons were set in 2257. But honestly, unless you’re a hardcore fan (hi, it’s me), you don’t need to worry about this stuff too much. The reason why Discovery Season 3 is so watchable is that Book and Burnham make for a romantic and dashing pair of space adventurers. Burnham is a woman unstuck in time trying to find her starship, and Book is the cool anti-poacher space smuggler who can help her.
It’s an uplifting type of narrative that contemporary sci-fi sometimes struggles to pull-off. Meanwhile, outside of Marvel, action heroes tend to have a cynical or one-note personality. For men, particularly dads, this kind of trope can get old. What’s so great about Book is that he’s a new sort of action hero. He’s got the spaceship. He’s got the cool mission. He’s got the wisecracks. But, he’s also got a moral compass and a giant cat. Most of all, he seems happy about the future. Which is something everyone could use a little bit more of right now.
Star Trek: Discovery airs new episodes on Thursdays on CBS All Access. In January, CBS All Access will become “Parmount+.” It might be smart to sign-up now.