Why 'Picard' symbolizes hope for 'Star Trek's' Patrick Stewart

"Star Trek" fans worldwide are rejoicing at the return of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in a new CBS All Access series named for him. But Patrick Stewart, who plays the legendary character, says his younger self would have been surprised to reprise the role.

Stewart played the captain for seven years on television between 1987 and 1994 in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." By the end of the run, he was "pulling down the shutters … I had said and done everything I had wanted to do, and [thought] there was nothing to say," he said in an interview at the premiere of "Picard."

Yet something apparently convinced Stewart. "Picard" is debuting for its first season on Thursday (Jan. 23) and has already committed to a second season. Stewart said that discussions with the creative team convinced him Picard still had new directions to explore after the television series and a handful of movies, which concluded in 2002.

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Isa Briones and Patrick Stewart speak before the premiere of "Star Trek: Picard." (Image credit: Space.com)

"The team that I found myself talking to proved me wrong," Stewart said. "They introduced elements that I had never anticipated would be part of 'Star Trek,' and they've done so successfully."

When asked why "Star Trek" has such staying power after multiple franchises and more than 50 years on the air, Stewart's answer was simple: "Hope. It resonates positive feelings about the future that things can be better."

One of his co-stars, Isa Briones, who joined Stewart during the interview, agreed. "[That's] a sentiment we need more than ever." Briones plays a new character called Dahj, whose background has not been described in detail by the showrunners.

"You speak truth," Stewart said to Briones. "We have to be positive about the difficult situations that we find ourselves in."

Stewart is from the United Kingdom, which is discussing leaving the European Union, in Brexit. But he is also a longtime resident of the U.S., which faces a contentious election this year. "I am speaking personally as an Englishman and yet someone with deep attachment to the United States," he said. "I am just a resident alien."

At age 21, Briones wasn't even born when "The Next Generation" finished its run on television, but grew up with an awareness of "Star Trek" and would occasionally see bits of it while channel-surfing. But Briones didn't watch the show seriously until she knew she would be starring in a “Star Trek” show, she said. 

"I got to a certain point [in the series] … I think it was the episode where Picard gets assimilated by the Borg," said Briones, referring to a notorious alien species in the previous series. "I just got hooked, and started watching the whole way through. I've become a much bigger fan than I knew I would be."

Editor's note: Space.com contributor Scott Snowden contributed to this story with video interviews. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace