Everything we know about 'Star Trek: Discovery' so far

From Klingons to starships, warp through all the known details of "Star Trek: Discovery" and its new crew of space explorers.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
9 min read
Star Trek (CBS All Access)
CBS Television Studios

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for " Star Trek : Discovery."

Get ready for aliens, starships and all new space adventures. The next chapter in the Star Trek universe arrives on Sept. 24 with the premiere of "Star Trek: Discovery," a prequel CBS series that takes place about a decade before the five-year mission of the original 1960s "Star Trek." Here are all the important details we know so far. (Disclosure: CBS is CNET's parent company.) 

On Aug. 30, CBS released a teaser for the show, with a new look at Klingon T'Kuvma.

Meet Michael Burnham

In a Star Trek first, the lead role will be a first officer, not a captain. Sonequa Martin-Green of "The Walking Dead" takes on the character of First Officer Michael Burnham. Showrunner Aaron Harberts revealed some of Burnham's backstory to Entertainment Weekly: The character is the first human to attend the Vulcan Science Academy. The series starts with her as the first officer of the USS Shenzhou, a plot point that appears in the show's trailer, but she ends up serving on the USS Discovery under Captain Gabriel Lorca, played by Jason Isaacs of " Harry Potter " franchise fame. 

Martin-Green revealed in July her character was raised from a young age on Vulcan by Spock's father, Sarek (James Frain), and his mother, Amanda Grayson, which would essentially make Burnham Spock's adopted sister. We'll have to wait to see how Burnham's absence from Star Trek canon so far is explained in the show. 

An interesting twist to Burnham's backstory came out in an SFX Magazine interview with Frain, who says her parents were killed during a Klingon attack. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Martin-Green confirmed her parents were killed while on a Vulcan outpost and that Burnham has had "a serious Vulcan indoctrination."  

clip from "Discovery" reveals Burnham specializes in xenoanthropology (the study of alien cultures). 

Martin-Green's starring role will make her the first black woman to take the lead in a Star Trek series. This is a natural expansion on the work of Trek founder Gene Roddenberry, who introduced a diverse cast in the original 1960s show as a vision for the future. "Discovery" lives in this world. "Diversity is inherent," Martin-Green told CNET. "It's not something that needs to be discussed or something that has to be fought for." 

About that name

Burnham's unexpected first name traces back to original showrunner Bryan Fuller, who left "Discovery" in 2016 to focus on other projects. Fuller has given typically male names to female characters in the past. Knowing this, Harberts suggested "Michael" as a double tribute to rock bassist Michael Steele from The Bangles and Chicago Sun-Times journalist Michael Sneed.  

Watch this: Who's the biggest Trekkie in the 'Star Trek: Discovery' cast?

Two starring starships

The USS Discovery may get top billing, but there's another key Federation starship in play for "Discovery." The Shenzhou is helmed by Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). 

We get some good looks at the Shenzhou in the trailer and in an early peek at the ship's intriguingly designed transporter room, but the Discovery, registration number NCC-1031, is still pretty much under wraps for the moment. We do know what it looks like from the outside based on an early teaser. It has an iconic saucer section and dual nacelles, but with a much flatter overall design than the first USS Enterprise.

Look for original-series characters

The show's time period makes it ripe for introducing earlier versions of characters made famous by the original "Star Trek." So far, we know Spock's father, Sarek, will appear, with actor James Frain ("Orphan Black" and "Grimm") taking over as the younger Vulcan. This makes sense knowing Burnham spent a lot of time on Spock and Sarek's home planet. Sarek's presence also hints that Amanda Grayson, Sarek's human wife and Spock's mother, could show up.

Conman and criminal Harry Mudd, who guest-starred in two episodes from the original series, will also show up in the first season, this time with  "The Office" actor Rainn Wilson in the rakish, trouble-making role. Both Mudd and Sarek should provide a strong link to the existing Star Trek canon.

Everything we've seen from 'Star Trek: Discovery' so far

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There will be Klingons

The most famous aliens in the Star Trek universe will figure prominently in the first season of "Discovery." In the trailer, Shenzhou's Captain Georgiou announces, "Contact Starfleet Command. We have engaged the Klingons." 

CBS announced the casting of three Klingons, to be played by Chris Obi ("American Gods"), Shazad Latif ("Penny Dreadful") and Mary Chieffo (known for her stage work). Obi notably plays Klingon leader T'Kuvma. (Latif was later recast as Lt. Tyler, a Starfleet officer.)

What really stands out in the trailer is the radical redesign of the Klingons' look. They're different from the early original Klingons (known for looking more human-like) and the later Worf-style Klingons with ridged foreheads and luxurious hair. The actors will speak in Klingon while subtitles will keep the audience on pace with the dialogue.

These Klingons are hairless, have deep furrows across their entire faces and sport almost Gothic-looking outfits while hanging out in ornate rooms. They wouldn't look out of place on "Game of Thrones." The showrunners for "Discovery" promise an explanation for the reimagined Klingons that will fit in with previous Star Trek lore. 

The late-August teaser above highlights the ridges and spikes on the new Klingon uniforms and includes a voice-over with this hint as to the aliens' motivations: "We must fight for one thing above all: to remain Klingon."

A behind-the-scenes photo of Chieffo in costume as commander L'Rell shows off both the details in her uniform and the elaborate design of the set around her:

The Klingons won't be portrayed as just straight-up villains. Chieffo tells CNET, "You really get to see the nuance and vulnerability in Klingons that you haven't seen before."  


Doug Jones plays a member of a new alien species, a Kelpien.


A brand new alien species

Klingons and Vulcans have long been established in Star Trek, but "Discovery" will also introduce us to an entirely new race as Doug Jones ("Hellboy," "Pan's Labyrinth") takes on the physically challenging role of Kelpien Lt. Saru, the Discovery's science officer. Kelpiens have hoofed feet. Special shoes give the already tall Jones a lilting, gazelle-like walk to go along with a sculptural face. 

We know from a "Discovery" trailer that Kelpiens are "biologically determined" to sense the coming of death. That makes it sound a little like Kelpiens are a more goth version of the telepathic Betazoid aliens from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The actual explanation is Kelpiens are a prey species on their home planet and are under threat from a more dominant predator species. That has required them to develop high-level survival instincts.

There's an openly gay character

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Anthony Rapp plays astromycologist Lt. Stamets.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

John Cho's Hikaru Sulu in the reboot Star Trek movies is gay, a decision that attracted some controversy based on the character's history. As we learned at Comic-Con in July during the "Discovery" panel, the series will feature Anthony Rapp in the role of openly gay Lt. Paul Stamets, an astromycologist (fungus expert) on board the Discovery. Stamets' partner is the ship's medical officer, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).

"You see my character in a relationship with my partner, who's a man," Rapp told TV Guide. "And there's no commentary about it, and there's no issue about it among my captain or my crewmates or anything like that. It just is."

The new cast knows (some) Star Trek history

Cast members from "Discovery" tackled a series of Trek trivia questions in honor of Star Trek Day on Sept. 8, which marks the franchise's 51st anniversary in 2017. Most of them can field basic queries on the original ship, the Vulcan salute and Star Trek's creator with no problem. Mary Wiseman, who plays Cadet Sylvia Tilly on the Discovery, is the only one who knows Spock is half-human and half-Vulcan. See the whole video here:

Modern movie magic will reign

Though "Discovery" takes place before the original "Trek," the filmmakers aren't trying to go retro with the props, uniforms or special effects. The series' first-look trailer shows sweeping panoramic shots, epic space views, immersive alien makeup and elaborate sets.

"Discovery" writer and producer Ted Sullivan got permission to tweet a behind-the-scenes photo on Star Trek Day, Sept. 8. It showcases the futuristic starship bridge design where the displays look way more high-tech than the now-dated versions seen in the original Trek series:

Some design aspects will look familiar to original-series fans. The communicators keep the old flip-style look, but the prop designers fit them with Apple iPod Nanos to play back images or video as needed. 

The new Federation uniforms have clean lines and metallic accents that hint at some of the details of the very first "Trek" uniforms, but feature a much more refined, futuristic design than those sported by Captain Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy. These outfits make sense as an evolution of the uniforms seen in the "Enterprise" prequel show. 

One big change fans should watch out for is the use of copper-color uniforms for the security division, which means all your red-shirt jokes might have to become copper-shirt jokes.

Watch this: 'Star Trek: Discovery' trailer has big stakes, bigger explosions

The trailer drops some hints

The two-minute first-look trailer tells us the USS Shenzhou is visiting "the edge of Federation space." Burnham is in contact with a hologram version of Sarek, who seems to be a mentor figure to her. There appears to be a flashback scene depicting Burnham as a young child on Vulcan, showing her deep history with the desert planet. 

The trailer also generates a lot of questions. Are Burnham and Georgiou strolling around on Vulcan? Who's the "great unifier" Sarek refers to? What's the "object of unknown origin?" And what's in that crazy floating sarcophagus-looking thing the Klingons have?

Expect "Discovery" to embrace a serialized storyline spanning its episodes, rather than a fully contained story-of-the-week format. That will make it more spiritually akin to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" than the Kirk-led series or "The Next Generation." 

Comic-Con: The concept art of 'Star Trek: Discovery'

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Burnham's journey and character development will be key to the new show. CBS sums up the season by saying "'Star Trek: Discovery' will follow the voyages of Starfleet on their missions to discover new worlds and new lifeforms, and one Starfleet officer who must learn that to truly understand all things alien, you must first understand yourself." 

This is war

"Discovery" will jump right into one of the show's main conflicts: a war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets. 

Be prepared. Your favorite characters might not survive the conflict. "It's wartime; not everyone makes it," co-executive producer Aaron Harberts told CNET.  Harberts promises the wartime story arc will wrap up by the end of the season. 

CBS All Access shared the titles of the first four episodes on Sept. 18: "The Vulcan Hello," "Battle at the Binary Stars," "Context is for Kings" and "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry." That last title sounds particularly ominous.

The theme music should sound familiar

The main title theme for "Discovery" hits some familiar notes thanks to the work of composer Jeff Russo. Portions of the theme echo the famous Alexander Courage intro from the original Star Trek television show. "There is a beautiful segue in and out of the original theme into the more modern theme," says "Discovery" co-creator Alex Kurtzman in a preview video showing the full-orchestra recording session for the new music.

How to watch the new Star Trek

The debut season of "Discovery" will span 15 episodes, with the premiere episode appearing on CBS broadcast television in the US on Sept. 24 and the rest streaming through the CBS All Access subscription service. Canadian viewers can catch it on the Space channel. Fans outside the US and Canada will be able to watch the show through Netflix. 

The first season is divided up into two chapters with the first eight episodes playing through Nov. 5 and the second half picking up in January.

Up close and personal with Star Trek: Discovery props at Comic-Con

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First published, July 1, 6 a.m. PT.
Update, Aug. 30 at 1:17 p.m. PT:
Adds new details about the upcoming show. 
Update, Sept. 8 at 2:23 p.m. PT: Adds details about Burnham, the Klingons and the cast. 
Update, Sept. 11 at 9:05 a.m. PT: Adds details about the plot and characters. 
Update, Sept. 18 at 9:30 a.m. PT: Adds details on Burnham, episode titles and theme music.

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