In March 2023, it was proudly announced the next entry in the Star Trek canon would be a series based around Starfleet Academy. In very much the same way Strange New Worlds’ recent musical episode felt like an inevitability, it seems that it would only be a matter of time before we ended up getting a show which would focus on the lives of a group of cadets in training.
In fact, the prospect of a Starfleet Academy series has been in the offing for almost as long as there has been a Star Trek. One of the earliest examples goes all the way back to the end of the original Trek’s run, with Filmation exec Lou Scheimer having pitched the idea to Gene Roddenberry. A different attempt to try and get a Starfleet Academy-based project off the ground – this time as a motion picture – came after the box office drubbing of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Harve Bennett, producer of the Star Trek motion picture series for the last four films, felt that the future lay in the past, and he devised a plan for the sixth feature.
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Bennett’s story would have the first meeting of a young Kirk, Spock and McCoy at the Academy, and act as a prequel to the original show. Ethan Hawke was eyed up as a potential Kirk, with John Cusack in line to possibly portray Spock. It was the change in execs at Paramount that meant the proposal lost momentum, and the legacy cast ultimately returned for one last outing in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Who in their right mind would ever think that the recasting of Kirk and his shipmates to depict their early years at the Academy would be a good idea? Well, other than J.J. Abrams, obviously.
As surely as day follows night, it seemed a certainty that at some point we would end up with a fully-fledged Starfleet Academy project. However, one which was surely not on the horizon was IDW’s latest title, Star Trek: Picard’s Academy. Nowadays, it would seem that prequels are the order of the day, with Strange New Worlds showing us life aboard a pre-Captain Kirk Enterprise, so what good is a bandwagon if you can’t jump onto it? Lo and behold, we now have the tale of a rookie Cadet Jean-Luc Picard, many years before he baldly went, and we get to see what his life at the Academy was like as a twentysomething.
Writer Sam Maggs’ take on a young Picard gives us someone so rigid and inflexible that even the rod up his arse surely had a rod up its arse. Having had glimpses into Picard’s Academy years from episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, here Maggs expands upon the various continuity references – like Boothby the groundskeeper, and Professor Galen – while at the same time building an ensemble of classmates who she uses to flesh out Picard’s world. Maggs also seems to realise that Picard needs an adversary to face off against, and here we have a rival for the position of being top of the class, who is described in no uncertain terms as “a total dick”.
While this is in some ways a handy shortcut, there is little to truly explain at this stage the antipathy that exists between the pair, something hopefully to be remedied in short order with the next issue, lest Picard’s Academy foe be little more than an empty cypher (albeit one with great hair). The art by Ornella Greco is more cartoonish than in other IDW Star Trek titles, which very much reflects the tone of the writing so far, with the impression being that this is pitched more towards the Star Trek: Prodigy market, which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, as the Trek franchise can and should be a very broad church.
With the foundations having now been laid down by Maggs, and a final killer frame which pretty much ensures the reader will want to return for the next issue, it remains to be seen if she can deliver on the setup and make it pay off. Not yet top of the class, and potentially must try harder.
Star Trek: Picard’s Academy #1 is out on 13th September from IDW Publishing.