The Ultimate Star Trek Guide: How and Where to Watch the Franchise in Order

The Ultimate Star Trek Guide: How and Where to Watch the Franchise in Order

Life can be challenging, but watching Star Trek in order shouldn’t. Here’s how to watch it chronologically or by release date.

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Star Trek

Life can be challenging when you are faced with a difficult task, such as combating climate change or watching all of the Star Trek series chronologically. While we can’t assist with the former (although recycling and using public transport should help), we can help you with the latter right now.

If you’re interested in getting into Star Trek, you’ll find that the franchise is not only entertaining but also contains many chapters scattered across multiple series that don’t always follow a linear storyline. With over 600 hours of content, watching can seem overwhelming. So, where should you begin? We suggest two options: a chronological approach (the traditional way) or skipping around.

However, before we dive into those options, there’s something you should know.

The Star Trek Curse

Here’s a history lesson, specifically about the history of the original Star Trek series and karma, if you believe in it, as the third season was surrounded by bad luck… and bad decisions.

Gene Roddenberry, who was always at odds with NBC, was not at his best either as a writer or as a supervisor during that time. Additionally, the sci-fi geniuses who helped craft some of the best episodes of seasons one and two did not return, and there were questionable production decisions and a budget cut. The network moved the series to the Friday night death slot after a massive fan petition and a Jerry Lewis stunt, which ultimately led to its demise.

Star Trek 1 Gene Roddenberry wasn’t easy to work with.

However, the Star Trek series started to improve substantially from the third season onwards. It’s as if something prevented them from reaching their potential until they passed that barrier that the original could not.

This is not to say that the first two seasons of each series that came after are bad, nor that there are no notable episodes up to that point. But as a series, as a total product in which all the gears work and the premise is truly exploited, none of them take off before then. This is something to keep in mind before watching them all.

Internal Chronological Order

Our purpose with this guide is to suggest a way to watch the Star Trek shows and movies in the order they are set within the narrative. However, this may initially seem a bit confusing since the storytelling approach has evolved over the years, and some series don’t pick up where the previous one left off.

Plus, storytelling has evolved, and the episode approach in the ‘60s has nothing to do with what that of the ‘80s, let alone the ‘90s and ‘00s. Nevertheless, it’s quite satisfying to see how some pieces fit together. Are you ready to start the journey?

Star Trek: Enterprise – The Pioneers’ Story

If you want to watch Star Trek in internal chronological order, you should begin with a quite recent show: Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005). Be prepared for the big ride. The show, created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, is set in the 22nd century. It follows the crew of the first Enterprise capable of warp speed, led by Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula).

The fourth season, in particular, benefits from the addition of Manny Coto, who helped establish the United Federation of Planets, resolved a Temporal Cold War plotline and introduced the Xindi, a set of races that helped save the series from cancellation. Although the show’s focus on serial storytelling gives depth to the characters and improves with each episode, it also requires a complete viewing to appreciate it fully.

However, some episodes, like Precious Cargo from the second season, are difficult to swallow, and the series finale, These Are the Voyages..., should be watched after The Next Generation or not at all.

Star Trek: Discovery – The New One in the Neighborhood

This TV series takes an unconventional approach by setting the story ten years before Captain Kirk’s adventures while still including familiar elements for fans such as Spock’s father, Sarek. Unlike the original series, this show follows a modern model with a season-long mystery to solve. It’s worth noting that the pilot of the original Star Trek, The Cage, should perhaps be watched before this series if you want to watch it chronologically.

Only the first two seasons of this series are available, as the third season takes place in a distant future (the 32nd century) which we won’t discuss here. This fantastic production has been praised for revitalizing the franchise and belongs to the same era as the original Star Trek, along with the recently released Strange New Worlds which is set just before Kirk’s arrival on the Enterprise and focuses on Captain Pike, Number One, and Spock.

Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Animated Series and the Movies – The Classics

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Hold your horses because you’re about to watch Star Trek, the original series. However, it might be a huge jump from Enterprise or Discovery as the staging and dramatic development is different since it’s a series from the sixties.

Additionally, due to syndication and reruns, Gene Roddenberry requested that each episode have a reset button (metaphorically speaking) at the end. This may make today’s viewers nervous as they are accustomed to long-term and more serious storytelling.

But if you can ignore that and appreciate the core of its stories, you’ll see a show with some incredible episodes and concepts and a crew that’s impossible not to grow fond of, especially the core of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty.

Before jumping into the movies, which make up a fourth season, you could do another exercise in cathodic archaeology and dive into Filmation’s animated series, which is only two seasons long. It goes tentatively beyond some of the original series’ chapters and ventures into some narrative continuity.

When it comes to the movies, there is everything, like in the apothecary of Dr. “Bones” McCoy, but they’re remarkable on average, and some could pass for excellent episodes. They are, in order: a soporific but still appreciable entry, a classic, two remarkable movies in a row, a salvageable disappointment, another marvel, and one that is complicated to place because it also stars the others.

Parallel Routes: the Reboot Series or the J.J. Abrams Universe

The reboots of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise can also be referred to as the J.J. Abrams universe. Consisting of three movies, the first one creates a parallel reality to that of the original series, which was done to avoid upsetting hardcore fans who may have been unhappy with changes to the original plot.

However, its placement in the overall Star Trek chronology is somewhat unclear. On the one hand, the original crew is rejuvenated, but on the other, an older Spock appears in the movie, whose best friend Kirk is dead. This would suggest that the film falls between the sixth film installment, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the TNG series in order to respect the Vulcan timeline.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Other Guys

Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG from now on) is a series that most viewers appreciate for its aesthetics and its sensibility regarding science fiction, which are closer to the best eras of the genre. However, the series struggles with itself, not only as an example of the science fiction genre’s drift but also due to the vestigial reboot button it still possesses, even though it allows itself some progression and rebellious continuity exercises.

Like the original series, the TNG movies form a new season. The series ended in 1994, and the same year saw the release of its first movie, Star Trek: The Next Generation, the sixth of all the Star Trek films. In this movie, they share a starring role with members of the original series. It’s necessary to have seen TNG to understand, for example, why Picard hates the Borg so much in First Contact. Hint: it has to do with the overwhelming ending of the third season.

Unlike Kirk, all the Picard movies, except First Contact, have worse quality than the series. And you can bid farewell to almost the entire crew with Nemesis, an undeserved finale.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The One in the Station

Star Trek 3

There are two Star Trek series yet to discover, each consisting of seven seasons: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9 for short) and Star Trek: Voyager. While they share the same number of seasons and take place in the same era as The Next Generation (TNG), they are actually quite different.

DS9, which stars Captain Benjamin Sisko, takes place in a space station and has a more Western, frontier-style story. The show focuses on seriality and is the most serious of all the Star Trek series, as it deals with both external and internal conflicts with equal gravity.

However, the first season of DS9 does have some of the franchise’s lowest points, such as the Move Along Home episode, which even Ronald D. Moore (the creator of Battlestar: Galactica and a notable Trekkie) saw on TV and wondered if the show’s creators had gone crazy.

Thankfully, the show improves after the dreaded second-season barrier, and a notable character is reintroduced. As I mentioned earlier, Star Trek: Nemesis marked the farewell of almost all of Picard’s crew, but starting from season four, Worf, the charismatic Klingon, is present as part of Sisko’s crew.

If you’re not sure which episodes of DS9 are worth watching, here’s a trick: if Sisko has a shaved head, it’s almost certainly going to be good. Actor Avery Brooks had been asking for a shaved head from the beginning, and when he finally gets it, he comes across as more confident, just like the series itself.

Star Trek: Voyager – The One Who Went Out for Cigarettes

Star Trek 4

Star Trek: Voyager boasts the most diverse crew ever seen on an Enterprise, with women leading the ship and driving the plot.

The series follows the Voyager starship as it attempts to return home after becoming lost in the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years away. While the show has a semblance of seriality, continuity is not always consistent.

Despite this, Star Trek: Voyager has a charismatic captain and a memorable character in Seven of Nine, a former Borg who is more than just a pretty face.

However, the series does have its drawbacks, including an alarming number of episodes that are among the worst in the Trekkie universe. For example, Critical Care features Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) being kidnapped by pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), who is transforming into a lizard. This episode is only suitable for lovers of romantic stories involving amphibians.

Star Trek: Lower DecksA Parody Who Knows It All

As sci-fi fans, and especially as Trekkies, it’s safe to say that we don’t particularly like it when someone makes fun of our beloved franchise. That’s why some fans might be skeptical about the new animated series set after the events of Nemesis.

Despite its excellent starting point–focusing on the lower decks instead of the glamorous bridge–some fans still wrinkle their noses. Lower Decks is a clever parody of Star Trek that stays true to the series’ lore, while also challenging some of its most inherited space opera concepts.

What’s great about Lower Deck is that it’s an official series of the franchise, which means it can cite the chronology of the saga without any problems. It’s refreshing to see a series that doesn’t have to walk on eggshells around the established canon.

Star Trek: PicardThe Legend Retires

A series that continues to divide fans due to its overtly pessimistic tone and a departure from depicting a future society in which everything goes smoothly, to focus on a retired Picard jaded by space adventures. An android rebellion leads to a ban on synthetic life, which gives an idea of the tone in which the series moves.

For a franchise so believing in a bright future for the human species (and whatever else is out there), Picard feels almost like a betrayal of that tone, and its status as an “epilogue” to everything seen in the other series reinforces its pessimistic condition. Both this and Discovery make fans wonder: does the saga need this kind of “modernization”, or is it precisely that optimism that makes it timeless? Definitely a debate piece.

Star Trek: Strange New WorldsBack to the Origins

This is a tribute to the classic series of the sixties. It’s not only a prequel that anticipates the era of the mythical voyages in Kirk’s Enterprise and the rest, but it also inherits the episodic style of the original planet of the week structure.

The show features Pike, Spock and Number One as the main characters from the original series. The production is absolutely in tune with the classic spirit of the franchise in form, wonderful background and even a certain carefree conception of science fiction.

Chronological Order and Where to Watch

Here is a viewing scheme that will make things clearer and allow you to cross out as you go along:

The list above can be divided into different centuries:

  • 23rd century: This includes the original series, the prequel Enterprise, and the new Strange New Worlds, which is also a prequel.
  • 24th century: It begins with The Next Generation and comprises a shared universe of three series (TNG, Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and the VII to X films, all combined within the same timeline. Also, the latest animated additions to the franchise, Lower Decks and Prodigy, belong to this era. Abrams’ first film takes place in this century, where the destruction of Romulus and Spock’s journey to a time before the original series happens after Nemesis.
  • 25th century: This is shown in Picard, chronologically later than Nemesis and after the destruction of Romulus was glimpsed in Abrams’ Star Trek. In this new stage, Picard is retired in France; an android rebellion leads to a ban on synthetic life and a Borg Cube is examined for technology.
  • 32nd century: This is the farthest point in time, where the end of the second season of Discovery takes us, and it unfolds in the third. It’s a mission that takes place 900 years into the future to save the world. In this era, most of the galaxy’s dilithium has been destroyed, and the warp engines no longer exist. The Federation has almost disintegrated, and the Earth is no longer a part of it.

Watch ‘Star Trek’ by Release Date

In case you prefer to see the natural evolution of the series, here’s the chronological order in which it was released, years of broadcast/premiere included:

  • Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)
  • Star Trek (1979)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
  • Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
  • Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
  • Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005)
  • Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
  • Star Trek (2009)
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
  • Star Trek Beyond (2016)
  • Star Trek: Discovery (2017-)
  • Star Trek: Picard (2020-)
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks (2020-)
  • Star Trek: Prodigy (2021)
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022-)

Organised Chaos: Xataka’s Approach

But there is another way to get started in the Star Trek universe, and that’s the way I discovered it–starting with the movies. You may prefer to begin with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek universe and then jump into the original series, or you may prefer to start with the ten films starring William Shatner as Kirk and the TNG films before getting into Abram’s universe. Either way, they are an attractive gateway.

The films, even if they continue or expand on what wasn’t seen on TV, need a narrative concreteness that allows you to jump right into their universe and familiarize yourself with the franchise.

Undoubtedly, you will miss certain details, but the affection acquired for the movies will make it more bearable, especially considering that the first two seasons of any Trekkie series are drier compared to those that come later.

From there, you can jump into the series, starting with Enterprise, followed by Deep Space Nine (if you watch the movies first, the appearance of Worf or the Borg won’t catch you by surprise) and Voyager. If any of those three series disappoint you, you can watch the original series episodes and TNG, and alternate. It’s not orthodox viewing, and some will get mad at me, but it’s more lively.

But there’s more–like any cultural product that has developed over the decades, Star Trek has introduced nods to itself. After the movies, you can always watch the series in order of broadcast.

Star Trek 5

Under the ships, aliens, and scientific paraphernalia hides a product that has explored the human condition like few others and has preferred reflection on brainless violence to tackle its problems. In these times, one cannot ask for more, nor demand less.

Related | God of War: How to Play All Saga’s Titles in Chronological Order

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