Here is one possible chronological viewing order of Star Trek, arranged in roughly chronological order within the fiction.
- First Contact (2063 / 2373)
- Enterprise (2151-2156)
- “The Girl Who Made the Stars” [Short Trek]
- “The Brightest Star” [Short Trek]
- Discovery Season 1 (2256)
- “Runaway” [Short Trek]
- Discovery Season 2 (2257)
- Kelvin-timeline movies (2258-2263)
- “Q&A” [Short Trek]
- “The Cage” [ST:TOS]
- “The Trouble with Edward” [Short Trek]
- “Ask Not” [Short Trek]
- Strange New Worlds (2259)
- The Original Series (2265-2269)
- “Ephraim and Dot” [Short Trek]
- The Animated Series (2269-2270)
- “The Escape Artist” [Short Trek]
- ST:TOS movies (2273-2293)
- The Next Generation (2364-2370)
- Generations (2293/2371)
- ST:TNG movies (2371-2379)
- Deep Space Nine (2369-2375)
- Voyager (2371-2378)
- Lower Decks (2380)
- Prodigy (2383)
- “Children of Mars” [Short Trek]
- Picard (2399-2401)
- Discovery Seasons 3-5 (3188-3190)
- “Calypso” [Short Trek] (c. 4200)
In September 2021, I decided to start a multi-year quest to rewatch all of Star Trek in roughly fictional chronological order. Roughly, because I’m not going to interleave TNG and DS9, and DS9 and Voyager, for instance. And roughly because new prequels like Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds, which I watch as they air, mess up the order.
And finally, roughly, as well, because time travel complicates everything. I’m not starting with “All Our Yesterdays” (set 5,000 years in the past!).
(September 2021) I can’t forgo time travel altogether: I actually started with the movie First Contact. This was a great place to begin, ocurring after World War 3 and providing a bleak picture of humanity before the discovery of warp drive changes everything. The first episode of Enterprise immediately immediately calls back to Zefram Cochrane, even having a new scene filmed by James Cromwell.
(October 2021-March 2022) I enjoyed the low-stakes, episodic nature of early Enterprise, but I get why it doesn’t make great television. I regret that they didn’t fully commit to the bit: for instance, within the first episode they are using transporters. I would have happily had an entire Star Trek series without transporters, given that they are science fantasy. I was much happier to see the evolution of the universal translator, even if the science of linguistics was poorly handled.
The showrunners were afraid a prequel would have no stakes, so they introduced a Temporal Cold War, which made Captain Archer into a seminal figure of history before he’d earned that in the series.
The fundamental problem with the show is that it never really knows what it is. The first two seasons stumble along episodically, then the third season is a serialized disaster inspired by 9/11: the Xindi arc. According to IMDB, this is the second most popular season of Star Trek ever, though it’s my least favorite. The fourth season contains a bunch of three-episode arcs and ushers in the era of fan-service Trek, earning it the highest rating of any season.
“These are the Voyages” is the series finale, and it was even more awful than I remembered. This review says it better than I could.
Despite all this, the series is a guilty pleasure, and I enjoyed rewatching it.
Star Trek: Discovery (Seasons 1 & 2)
(March-May 2022) Technology for Enterprise was typically shown with less capability than ST:TOS. Not so the more recent prequels. Discovery has the insanely advanced technology (not re-created in the Star Trek universe for perhaps a thousand years) of a spore drive that lets the ship jump across the galaxy. All the ship tech is amazing in comparison to even ST:TNG. People communicate by hologram.
The Klingons are different yet again then the ST:TOS and ST:TNG Klingons. All in all, I wished this had never been pitched as a prequel.
At least the show can finally be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community in ways that censors wouldn’t permit before.
Early pitches described this as following the career of a young officer, but the hero starts out as a first officer and her path towards a captaincy is unique.
The writing never misses a chance to tell rather than show, often in implausible ways devoid of motion, while making monologue a verb and relegating most characters to the background.
Each season-long story arc centers around a mystery, that once revealed, proves itself to be profoundly stupid.
(May-July 2022) “The Cage” is the original pilot of Star Trek, set 13 years before the first season of ST:TOS. I have fond memories of watching “The Cage” in black and white when Gene Roddenberry came to a local community college and gave a lecture and showed the pilot and a bloopers reel.
Sadly, the premise — collecting humans for an alien zoo — was a trope even then. (Twilight Zone had covered it in 1960, with “People Are Alike All Over.”)
Strange New Worlds
Despite being episodic, SNW takes risks that mostly work, with episodes with widely different tones from one another that typically succeed on their merits.
Again, prequelitis sets in — the Gorn, famous for the slow-moving man in a lizard suit in “Arena” — are now apex predators?! The transporter can be used in a unique manner (spoilers, so I won’t say how) that sure would have come in handy in ST:TOS.
The Original Series
(July 2022 – May 2023) I didn’t hurry through these 78 episodes. I’m old enough that I watched the first run of Star Trek with my dad, while not being old enough to remember having done that. My memories of the show came from syndication in the 1970s, so I just absorbed the show in random order, missing episodes at a time in the days before streaming. I do advise watching these shows in production order, as they were inventing key details on the fly and it’s fun to watch the development of these ideas. (Episodes were aired in a different order than they were filmed, as some required far more time-consuming special effects than other episodes.)
Detailed review—Star Trek: Planet, Monster, Romance of the Week.
(May 2023) – Overall, if you thought the third season of TOS was bad (and it was), these are worse. A few episodes go where no Trek had gone before (holodecks! undersea shuttles! fun aliens that aren’t just people wearing makeup!). But for the most part the series is sequels and rehashes—The Animated Series: Where Star Trek Had Gone Before.
(May 2023) The best thing about the success of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is its legacy:
- Setting a box office record for its opening weekend, ST:TMP sold more tickets than any subsequent Star Trek movie until 2009. This success led to the Star Trek movie franchise. Had ST:TMP failed, it might have taken until 2009 for there to be a second movie.
- The Jerry Goldsmith score was incorporated into the ST:TNG fanfare.
- The novelization led to the line of Star Trek Pocket Books. (I think I bought and read 100 before stopping.)
The movie is as esthetically unlike 1960s Trek as it is unlike 1980s Trek. Though the 1960s film 2001 clearly influenced the filming and pacing. But 1970s’ NASA gave the movie its signature villain.
For a movie about the future, it’s actually steeped in nostalgia, an ode to the canceled Original Series. The four minute flyby of the Enterprise, the reuniting of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy… the plot, which has been dismissed as “Where Nomad Has Gone Before.”
Random thoughts: It’s weird to watch the movie three decades after Voyager 6 was supposed to have launched; our timelines keep diverging. I enjoyed reading up on the USS Enterprise XCV-330, displayed amongst other famous Enterprises.
(September 2022) I took my youngest to see The Wrath of Khan in theaters last fall for what I’m told is its 40th anniversary, though I believe the math must be wrong. The movie held up and was phenomenal to see on the big screen again. More thoughts when I rewatch these movies this summer.
(May 2023) The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country.
- What’s great about The Voyage Home, in retrospect, is that it has the most of any of the episodes for the supporting cast to do; based on how Nimoy pushed for their inclusion even in The Animated Series, that’s clearly a sign of his generosity of spirit, and the movie is better for it. Having just watched ST:TMP, it was weird to see Earth besieged again by another alien probe so soon. Starfleet needs to improve their defenses.
- The Final Frontier has the second worst IMBD rating of TOS-centered episodes and movies, including the episodes of The Animated Series, falling below only: “And the Children Shall Lead.” The Sam Kirk erasure hits weird after Strange New Worlds.
- Not sure The Undiscovered Country, wrapping up the arc of Klingons as enemies, needed to embrace bad Admirals, but given Kirk’s own willingness to disobey orders, it’s probably not a stretch.
(1987-1994) I watched this in its first run but never developed a fondness for it. The first few seasons are pretty bad, and I loathe Q.
(1994-2002) See First Contact above. I disliked Generations and otherwise don’t remember these.
(August 2020 – October 2022) I had low expectations for these but greatly enjoyed them. To my surprise, when watching season 2, my youngest, then 15, was interested, even though he had not watched any Star Trek. Lower Decks proved to be a great gateway for him into the Star Trek universe.
(August 2023) I ended up rewatching the first three seasons and preparing a Top 10 Episodes of Lower Decks chronologically.
(2020) This was one of the shows I rewatched during the pandemic. I continue to believe it has the worst opening episode of any Star Trek series. I fell asleep the first time trying to rewatch it, and I didn’t enjoy it anymore when awake. I hadn’t watched every episode when it first aired, at the time being overwhelmed with young twins and working two jobs.
In retrospect, the show was clearly ahead of its time, with its serialized storytelling and its character evolution. As a result, the show holds up well and is rewarding to watch streamed.
(1995-2001) While I enjoyed watching Voyager at the time, it’s episodic nature really detracted from the premise. Hey, at least it inspired the BSG reboot.
(October 2021 – December 2022) The pilot was the worst Clone Wars episode ever, but hopefully served its target audience: its outsider characters are an excellent proxy for its target audience of kids and teens who know little or nothing about Star Trek, introducing them to the franchise a concept at a time over the first season.
(2020 – 2023) Season 1 started great then ended with the bleating of electric sheep. Season 2 of Picard is arguably the worst single season in Star Trek history. Season 3 ended in an orgy of fan service and nostalgia.
Discovery (Seasons 3-5)
A much bigger time jump than necessary, presumably to give shows like Picard and Lower Decks breathing room.
- The Original Series
- Deep Space Nine
- Lower Decks
- Strange New Worlds
- The Next Generation
- Short Treks
- The Animated Series
Cover photo by StarTrek.com.