‘Star Trek: Picard’ Successfully Returns Patrick Stewart to a Future of High Adventure

Star Trek: Picard” knows how to do nostalgia well. It doesn’t just bring back an iconic character, it knows how to use him in a context that renders homage to its franchise while reflecting on time itself. Patrick Stewart has donned many roles in his long career, but it is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and subsequent movies, that has forever established him as sci-fi icon. To see Stewart back in action inspires joy and admiration. He’s an eternal hero with a patrician manner, bringing a classic style to fantastical adventures.

Set in a distant future, “Picard” begins 15 years since Picard’s final adventures with the crew of the USS Enterprise. An opening scene finds him spending time with Data (Brent Spiner), the synthetic droid crew member who fans will remember died in the events of “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Haunted by what transpired during a failed mission to rescue Romulans following the implosion of the Romulan sun (it’s the kind of show for you non-Trekkies), Picard (Stewart) has retired to a farm in France. He spends his days with his dog and surrounded by helpers. Synthetics have been banned after a rebellion of their kind caused mass paranoia. In another city, a young woman (Isa Briones) is suddenly assaulted by assassins who killed her boyfriend. But during the incident she discovers incredible fighting abilities. Fleeing for her life, she makes her way to Picard who immediately suspects she might be synthetic. Even more astounding, her face resembles the figure in a painting once drawn by Data.

“Picard” will prove to be enjoyable for both the longtime Trekkie and fresh viewer. Narratively it picks up from the events of 2003’s “Nemesis,” the last movie featuring the “Next Generation” crew. But those who have not followed every development in the “Star Trek” universe of shows and films can appreciate the story of an aged captain finding a new calling. “Picard” was developed by two keen storytellers, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and acclaimed author Michael Chabon, who has regularly lent his pen to great scripts like “Spider-Man 2.” What they do here is never pretend to bring back the old Picard, but to treat him as what he is, a retired hero. He idles on a farm, is haunted by dreams of the past, especially of Data and a cataclysm that has left Mars eternally on fire. In the pilot there are no cameos except for the beloved synthetic, but the reflective tone of a man looking back at his career. There are no big starships in the first chapter, and Picard has all but discarded the Federation. He’s a free agent now. It has always been a fun feature of the “Star Trek” world how it imagines familiar elements for a more futuristic setting. For example Picard is invited to go on a futuristic equivalent of “60 Minutes” for an interview, where he is harassed by the reporter on his attempts to rescue Romulans. Picard snaps and walks away after delivering one of his trademark arias about war and duty, citing Dunkirk as an example of making decisions under pressure. One wonders if three centuries from now there wouldn’t be fresh references when discussing war, but it doesn’t matter, it gives this world a continued sense of immediacy. 

The central plot of “Picard” is classic science fiction thriller, with even some noir elements thrown in. The young woman who seeks Picard’s help establishes a central mystery, that being if Data could have possibly left descendants. If so, how? It sets the old timer on a fresh journey, digging through the archives for clues and engaging in rooftop chases. Necklaces also hold links and clues to the bigger picture yet to be revealed. The final moments of the pilot reveal the Romulans, the oldest foes of the Federation per some expository dialogue, are coming back for another round. Like a good paperback not all is instantly explained and we have to keep watching.

Making it all work so well is Patrick Stewart who amid lush photography and digital effects, again gives this character a classical air. In “The Next Generation” Picard was always the more sophisticated alternative to the original Enterprise legend, the more ruffian James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Now without a crew he functions like a refined detective, full of the wisdom of age. 

“Star Trek: Picard” proves good revivals are still possible of beloved characters. Because this is a franchise based on the future there’s a particular charm in catching up again with Jean-Luc Picard as yet more decades have gone by. Fans can rejoice at one of the greats again boldly going where few stars have gone before.

Star Trek: Picard” season one premieres Jan. 23 with new episodes streaming every Thursday on CBS All Access.