‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Timeline: Why The New Prime Universe Series And Abramsverse Cannot Coexist

This dude failed to save the 'Star Trek' you care about it.
This dude failed to save the 'Star Trek' you care about it. Paramount Pictures

Those who don’t reject the rebooted Star Trek movies altogether have been guardians of a polite fiction since J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek came out in 2009: the old Star Trek continuity still exists in some parallel timeline. The conceit is straightforward. In 2387 Nero flew his vessel, the Romulan mining vessel Narada, through a black hole (created by Spock to consume a supernova) and into the year 2233. His first act was to destroy the USS Kelvin, including its captain, George Kirk. The future of his son, captain James T. Kirk, and the United Federation of Planets was forever altered.

Uhura described the resulting divergence as an “alternate reality,” leaving open the possibility that the new timeline of the Star Trek reboot movies was not changed, but split off from the coexisting Prime universe.

Asked if the Prime universe timeline continues to exist by TrekMovie, Star Trek writer Roberto Orci answered in the affirmative. “It continues. According to the most successful, most tested scientific theory ever, quantum mechanics, it continues.”

That little loophole has been a guiding principle of the Star Trek series since. The Prime Universe is still out there. William Riker and Jean-Luc Picard are having the exact same adventures. A young Kirk survives Kodos’ purge on Tarsus IV. Benjamin Sisko and Jadzia Dax still discover the wormhole and Data still dies saving the Enterprise from a degenerate Picard clone.


That may or may not be true in quantum mechanics (that the multiverse is confirmed or in any way the “most tested scientific theory ever” is its own absurdity, but we’re talking Star Trek, not physics), and it’s definitely not true in Star Trek.

In Star Trek travelling back in time and changing the events of the past alters the shape of the future. In Star Trek the past is not a parallel universe, it’s the past. There’s even a Department of Temporal Investigations that catalogs alterations of the timeline. Numerous incidents point to the holistic, reactive nature of the Trek time membrane:

  • When the Borg go back in time to attack Earth in the past, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise witness the alteration of their home planet. (Star Trek: First Contact)
  • If Kirk had saved Edith Keeler, the Enterprise and the Federation would never come to be. (Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever”)
  • After witnessing the death of historical figure Gabriel Bell, Benjamin Sisko has no choice but to take the hero of the Bell Riots’ place to maintain the future’s integrity. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Past Tense”)
  • In the parallel Mirror Universe, Kirk’s intervention created a different future, as the crew of Deep Space Nine discovered over a hundred years later.

In each case altering the past has a lasting effect on the future and it’s only through conscious intervention that the original timeline can be restored. When Nero went back in time and altered the past, he changed the future. The Star Trek Prime universe no longer exists.

Of course, Star Trek hasn’t exactly been consistent with its temporal mechanics. With over 700 episodes and multiple movie time travel plots, the series has offered up a baffling selection of conflicting time travel stories. Sometimes the timeline seems to correct itself, with neatly causative solutions suggesting that any action taken in the past has already been counted in the future’s tapestry. Occasionally, temporal anomalies force characters into weird time loops that must be snapped out of, again through the selective intervention of a conscious mind. And let’s not even get into the confusing temporal anomaly that forced Picard to muster three crews in three timelines in The Next Generation finale “All Good Things…”.

Generally, changing the past changes the future in Star Trek. There’s nothing about Nero’s straightforward black hole journey that suggests a parallel universe-creating temporal anomaly. It seems downright straightforward compared to some of Star Trek’s more contorted chronological reasoning. And Spock’s (Quinto Spock) own description — “Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history… thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents” — says nothing about two parallel flows of history.

This is tragic, but true. The repeated insistence on the continued vitality of the Star Trek Prime universe is nothing but a comforting lie, spread by the people who erased it. Perhaps one the characters even tell themselves. Did the elder Spock’s Vulcan logic allow him to accept that all his adventures no longer happened, except in the confines of his memory? Did the younger Spock look upon that photo of the original Enterprise crew and know in his Vulcan heart (right about where we keep our liver) that he wasn’t seeing real people, but less-than-ghosts — non-existent nothings from a void?

This new “Kelvin” (or Abramsverse, if you prefer the pejorative nickname) timeline neatly bracketed most of the events of the Star Trek TV series. Nero came from more than a decade after the consequential Dominion War that defined Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and arrived more than 20 years before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series. So that’s it. All of Star Trek erased in the blink of an eye, except that series with the horrible theme song.

Canonicity is overrated. As Orci pointed out before, “You will notice that whenever the movie comes out, that whatever DVDs you have purchased will continue to exist.” It’s a snide but accurate statement from the screenwriter who turned the Federation into a totalitarian zone of false-flag idiocy with Star Trek: Into Darkness. Whatever. He’s still essentially right. Our easily sparked fury at continuity changes is more about fear that culture has left us behind (a prelude to death) than any actual impact on our favorite stories.

So when Bryan Fuller, showrunner of the upcoming streaming series Star Trek: Discovery, says “we get to re-imagine all of the alien species that we’ve seen before in the series,” try not to get mad at potential retcons. Fuller is playing in a graveyard, puppeteering skeletons. After the Star Trek: Discovery premiere we'll have to reconcile this new canon with old, but here and now, there is only the Abramsverse. The Prime Universe was destroyed by the war criminal Nero.

That said, we can reject this no-win scenario. There is still one way to restore the Prime Universe. It all comes back to heroic and conscious intervention to restore the timeline, a staple of Star Trek time travel. If Kirk and Spock go back in time and stop Nero from destroying the Kelvin, the entire causal loop would collapse. The original timeline would be restored and the Kelvin timeline movies will only ever have existed in a massive, bubbled time loop.

Make no mistake, the Star Trek Prime universe and Abramsverse are not parallel allies and do not exist side-by-side. They are (were?) two timelines at war. And after the Prime universe’s resounding defeat and erasure in 2233, the only way back is through the current timeline’s suicide. So lobby your screenwriters if you care about the original canon (or just get over it). The time for polite pretending is over. Star Trek 4 (or 5, or 6) could kill one universe and restore another.

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