'Star Trek: Picard' Explores a Less Utopian Starfleet, Says Patrick Stewart

When Star Trek: Picard opens, retired Starfleet captain Jean-Luc Picard is home on the family vineyard, but is compelled to return to the captain's chair in defense of the United Federation of Planet values he espoused throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation. In a Variety profile, Patrick Stewart, who plays Picard, describes the series' new, more pessimistic take on Starfleet.

"I think what we're trying to say is important," Picard told Variety. "The world of Next Generation doesn't exist anymore. It's different. Nothing is really safe. Nothing is really secure."

Picard, which will debut January 23 on CBS All Access, portrays a corrupted federation, which has turned isolationist in response to a Romulan refugee crisis, caused by the destruction of their home world by a supernova in the year 2387. That same event spawned the parallel timeline setting for 2009's Star Trek reboot movie and its two sequels.

Jean-Luc Picard is reading to "engage" once more in the new series "Star Trek: Picard." CBS All Access

"I am standing up for the federation, for what it should still represent," Picard yells at a Starfleet admiral in a trailer for Picard.

"This is no longer your house, Jean-Luc. Go home," she responds.

Things have changed. The retired captain is also tormented by the loss of his former officer, Data, an android who died in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis. While plot details for Picard are still under wraps, Data, the Romulan crisis and the all-consuming Borg all seem to have something to do with a mysterious young woman named Dahj (Isa Briones), who comes to Picard for help. Whatever she is, she's dangerous.

"She's the end of all," one character says of the character Dahj in the trailer for "Star Trek: Picard." "She's the destroyer!" CBS All Access

"In a way, the world of Next Generation had been too perfect and too protected," Stewart told Variety. "It was the Enterprise. It was a safe world of respect and communication and care and, sometimes, fun."

The United Federation of Planets, founded in 2161, is a multi-planetary government, with numerous alien species living and exploring together within a system of universal liberty, where greed and consumerism are no longer the object of life and even currency is a rarity. It is not a warlike society, though it does have a military wing: the peacekeeping and exploratory armada called Starfleet.

Star Trek: Picard won't be the first series to show how those values can be subverted—draconian admirals, political assassinations, rogue federation superweapons, body-snatching alien centipedes and even contemplated genocide have all tarnished the federation's image in past episodes. But Stewart's description suggests Picard's critique of the Star Trek utopia will go further than anything before.

The expansive profile of Stewart explores the origin of Stewart's new take on Starfleet in the actor's childhood in a poor, working-class family, which informs his current political outlook. Stewart describes Picard as "me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, 'Why hasn't the federation changed? Why hasn't Starfleet changed? Maybe they're not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought."

Stewart described the U.K. as "fucked, completely fucked" in the wake of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's election and a looming Brexit. He similarly described the United States as a "fucked state," before expressing hope that the coming election could reverse the country's direction. But his ultimate prognosis was less optimistic, anticipating the continuance of President Donald Trump's values at the highest levels of government.

"He will likely get re-elected," Steward said in the profile.

It remains to be seen whether the federation and Starfleet have fallen so far that they more closely embody the rise of global right-wing movements instead of the series' traditionally socialistic utopia. But the clear influence of the movie Logan—which similarly realigned a long-running franchise character for a final showdown with a vastly changed world—on Stewart's outlook suggests dark days are ahead.

"Hugh [Jackman] and I were so thrilled when the last thing we did for X-Men was Logan," Stewart said. "It was the X-Men experience we both had, because we were the same characters but their world had been blown apart."

Stewart was less satisfied with Picard's end. After a two-part finale in 1994—still frequently listed among the best TV endings ever made—The Next Generation cast was stretched over four movies. Stewart described the final TNG movie, 2002's Nemesis, as "pretty weak."

If the future depicted in Picard—set in 2399, nearly 30 years after The Next Generation—is half as bleak as the one in Logan, it could be a devastating depiction of a fallen utopia. But, knowing Picard, it's always possible the retired captain we'll find a way to reassert federation values once more, through heroism and forthright oratory.